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CD Reviews: Return to Never Land and In the Bedroom

Return to Never Land ** 1/2


Walt Disney 60744-7

23 tracks - 53:43

Return to NeverLand is not Disney's worst attempt to wring milky profit from the cash cows of decades past (that honor belongs to the execrable Hunchback of Notre Dame II or perhaps Cinderella II, both direct-to-video monstrosities). One might even make a convincing argument that the Peter Pan myth welcomes re-telling. Unfortunately, an unmistakeable cloud of "this has all happened before, and it will happen again" hangs over the proceedings. The finished film, though possessing a few magical sparks, borrows too heavily from previous Pan outings and ends up wallowing in redundancy and mediocrity. Unless Captain Hook tangling with the Nazi Blitzkrieg over London is the kind of thing that floats your boat. To complicate matters, some brilliant executive decided that the film would be best served by filling it with ridiculous pop-tunes of the type only digestible by indiscriminating pre-teen girls. To that end, they recruited the blandest of the bland: John B. Sebastian, Sammy Fain, Jonatha Brooke, Randy Rogel and others.

Enter Joel McNeely. It's somehow fitting that such an uninspired and mediocre film be serviced by an uninspired and mediocre composer. As a writer of music, McNeely has proven himself to be an apt cobbler of themes, but not much else. Here, he never really moves beyond the work of Golden Age great Oliver Wallace (the original Disney Pan composer) and John Williams' masterpiece Hook. In addition to the classic Disney themes, McNeely gives us two new ones: a melody for the character of Jane (which appears to quote "Yoda's Theme" ??) and a theme for the octopus that is lifted from Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet. That said, the score is not altogether unsuccessful in evoking a welcome nostalgia, especially the overture-like presentation of the classic themes that makes up the "Main Title." If you're looking for something new, leave this CD on the shelf. If you yearn for a taste of that old Disney magic...well, you'll probably be better served by going back to the original scores. Otherwise, this album is for completists and McNeely die-hards only.  -- John Takis

In the Bedroom *** 1/2


Varèse Sarabande 302 066 3192

19 tracks - 30:33

Perhaps it's the Maine setting, the seething emotions, and the murders, but Thomas Newman's score to Todd Field's In the Bedroom reminded me of Danny Elfman's churning, agitated score to Dolores Claiborne -- and I mean that in a good way. Thematically and musically the two scores are closely linked, but Newman's less-oppressive style gives the former film a more naturalistic feel, while Elfman's music gives the latter a more operatic one. Newman is, again, tackling offbeat independent material, and this choice results in music that will no doubt irritate fans of his more accessible material.

With In the Bedroom, Newman's working in mostly brief cues; most of them hover around the one-minute mark. That's certainly not a drawback -- any more, and the score would swallow the film up. In the Bedroom is a story that unfolds deliberately, and with understatement and nuance; a score along the lines of The Shawshank Redemption would render it silly and trite. Newman's score punctuates key moments, and key moments alone -- the film trusts you to trace the emotional trajectory yourself, without a symphony orchestra leading you along.

Newman appears to have dialed back the self-defeating, wholly-textural approach that seems to have become overwrought in the past few years; the In the Bedroom score is mostly built out of elegiac, fragmentary themes ("House," "VFW"), jaunty, slightly agitated string patterns in the bookending main- and end-title cues, darker, more threatening moments ("North on 73," "Last Call") and ethereal electronic effects (the two "Can't Sleep" cues, "Henry") No Big Themes jump out at you -- this is a score that relies on delicacy, and while there are isolated moments of great, subdued beauty (like the halting string writing in "Baseball," the hopeful strains of "Blocks"), it isn't one that's meant to stick in your head after the credits have rolled.

Generally speaking, with scores like this it might be more rewarding to critique the musical approach than the music itself; the score is tonally and thematically coherent, but in the end it's meant to subtly enhance a film that needs very little enhancement. The album itself barely hits the 30-minute mark, even with the medieval-era choral music that figures with such thematic prominence in the film ("Zeni Me, Mamo," "Oj Savice," "Dobro Dosle"). However, it need be not a second longer.  -- Jason Comerford

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