Music By James Newton Howard
“Once Upon A Dream” Performed By Lana Del Rey
Walt Disney Records
23 Tracks/Disc Time: 75:10
After destroying the competition which was very fierce with the likes of “X-Men: Days Of Future’s Past”, “Godzilla” and “Neighbors”, “Maleficent” is now at the box office penthouse despite some negative reviews, but still a striking visual marvel. The film stars Oscar winner Angelina Jolie as Maleficent, who has a great life growing up in a peaceable forest kingdom, until one day when an invading army threatens the harmony of the land. She soon becomes the land’s fiercest protector, but she ultimately suffers a ruthless betrayal that begins to turn her pure heart to stone. Bent on revenge, Maleficent faces a battle with the invading king’s successor and, as a result, places a curse upon his newborn infant Aurora (Elle Fanning, “Super 8”). As the child grows, Maleficent realizes that Aurora holds the key to peace in the kingdom and another chance at true happiness as well. The film features some very striking visuals based on the original Disney film “Sleeping Beauty” and features a bright cast of up and coming stars including Juno Temple, Sharlito Copley, Sam Riley and Leslie Manvile.
The film features a grand production design that is just beautiful eye candy and to perfectly match that, the producers turned to the work of Oscar nominee James Newton Howard to provide what would be the great and final compliment to the film: great music. Howard has been struggling to return to the form that made him one of the most sought after composers throughout the 1990’s and early 2000’s before teaming up with Oscar Winner Hans Zimmer on the “Batman” trilogy that in my view really set him back and did alot of damage for his own musical voice for more than a few years now. With the few exceptions of recent work on “The Hunger Games”, which was the start of his resurgence, “Maleficent” is easily one of his best scores not only of this year, but for a truly long time! The score will please his fans in that it is a throwback to 1990’s when his work was not only dynamic but many people loved the way he wrote, but the passion that was behind each one.
The album begins with the “Maleficent Suite” which sets up all of the scores’ central thematic material featured throughout the score and this album. The score is just bristling full of thematic and energetic material right from the on set with the lush “Welcome To The Moors” a track that is magical in its’ orchestration and execution that really takes full musical flight in “Maleficent Flies” with its’ gorgeous piano and chorus tracks that channel Howard’s 90’s music and works exceptionally well here in both musical structure and thematically speaking. “Are You Maleficent?” is another terrific track that has an almost musically tragic feel to it that borders on dark brooding material giving way to a brilliant waltz that is wonderful. There is some light and regal material for the character of Aurora in the score that is pleasant, upbeat and musically playful at times showcased in the tracks “Three Peasant Women”, “Aurora And The Fawn”, “Aurora In Faerieland”, “Phillip’s Kiss” and “True Love’s Kiss”. Howard does also channel some excellent action material that is both full blooded by the way of aggressive string, percussion and brass work that is very melodic and powerful in the tracks “Battle Of The Moors”, “Path Of Destruction”, “The Wall Defends Itself”, “The Army Dances”, and the very memorable “Maleficent Is Captured” which is the scores’ major set piece that is lengthy and exciting listen. The score ends on a beautiful sweeping highlight in “The Queen Of Faerieland” which lush and showcases a beautiful choral passage along with the gorgeous “Maleficent waltz” for a resounding and rewarding finish.
Disney’s album is a packed album recorded with gusto with the London musicians with a full complement of huge orchestra and chorus which is simply a dynamic recording in which the orchestra really shines in their performance. Howard really benefits here as well with a stellar score that without a doubt his best and most accomplished work in a decade. This is definitely the James Newton Howard we came to love as film score fans and the James Newton Howard that I’m definitely glad to hear again. Lana Del Rey performs the song “Once Upon A Dream” which is based on Howard’s theme from the score in a very sultry and passionate manner that does work as a compliment to the score. Welcome back James. Major thumbs up!