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June 26, 1996

Soundtrack Roundup

James and the Giant PeachSoundtrack to James & the Giant Peach (Disney Records 1996) - The soundtrack to Disney's new stop-motion animation and live action film, James & the Giant Peach, was created by acclaimed singer and songwriter Randy Newman. Newman is one of this country's treasures, and this soundtrack is another feather in his hat.

Based on the 1961 classic children's book by Roald Dahl, James & the Giant Peach is a fantasy-adventure that intertwines various film techniques such as live-action, stop-motion animation, and computer-generated imagery. The film tells the tale of nine-year-old James, whose adventures become bigger than life after a mysterious, old man gives the boy a sack of magical glowing green things.

AvalonIn addition to writing such hits songs as "Short People" (1978), Newman has also scored the soundtracks to such films as Ragtime, Avalon (a great instrumental soundtrack), and Maverick. His most recent studio album, Faust, was a mixed bag - some great songs, but not a coherent package.

On James & the Giant Peach, Newman adds charm, wit, and emotion. The soundtrack tracks the story in a linear fashion, and features five new vocal pieces, including "My Names is James," an engaging ballad that expresses the boy's lonely predicament and offers a glimpse of his hopes for the future, and "That's the Life for Me," an arousing music hall-style romp in which each of the insects (who are James' companions for his adventures) detail their ultimate plans for fun and excitement.

In addition to the lyrical numbers, Newman also contributes more than a dozen instrumental pieces, each with his trademark blend of compassion, daring, and introspection.

My young son and I had a fine time at this film, which includes a balloon trip over the Atlantic Ocean and a celebratory landing in New York City, and also like the soundtrack (dad better than son).

Toy StorySoundtrack to Toy Story (Disney Records 1995) - Randy Newman also wrote the soundtrack to last Christmas' blockbuster animated adventure, Toy Story. In addition to three vocal numbers by Newman (including a duet between Newman and Lyle Lovett on "You've Got a Friend in Me"), Toy Story also features Newman's full-length score.

I enjoyed the soundtrack to Toy Story better when I heard it in the movie house: in the theater, the soundtrack to James (which features vocals by the actors, not by Newman), didn't grab me.

But on CD, I like the soundtrack to James & the Giant Peach better. Toy Story is enjoyable, but James has more of Newman's edge and uncertainty; the songs are challenging, endearing, and (sometimes) plaintive. Both are treats for your children.

Mission ImpossibleSoundtrack to Mission: Impossible (Island Records 1996) - Speaking of treats for your children, my three-year-old son is enthralled by the soundtrack to Mission: Impossible. While the theme song is great, I have reservations about the overall integrity of this collection.

But let's start with the good stuff. The adventure thriller Mission: Impossible stars Tom Cruise, Jon Voigt, Henry Czerny, Emmanuel Beart, and Vanessa Redgrave, and is based on the classic American television series of the late 60s and 70s.

Some people have complained that the film's script is either (i) dumb or (ii) too complicated. I don't agree. I thought the movie was well-written, in a Fugitive sense; only a few special effects, but big ones when they arrive.

The highlights of the soundtrack are two versions of the "Mission Impossible" theme recorded by Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen (both of U2). These two arrangements of Lalo Schifrin's classic tunes are gems, and my son plays them constantly. With a little push, these tracks could become surprise hits.

Also included on the album are three instrumental tracks by composer Danny Elfman (formerly of Oingo Boingo, and best known for his work on the soundtracks to the Batman films). Island Records will release the instrumental score in a separate album.

But here's my grievance. Of the 15 tracks on the Mission: Impossible soundtrack, a total of ten don't appear anywhere in the film. While this "soundtrack" includes fine tracks from such artists as Cast, Bjork, and Pulp, their contributions aren't in the movie.

In fact, the only rock number that appears in the film is the Cranberries excellent, "Dreams" (and this cut may be the best track that the Cranberries have ever recorded, with Dolores O'Riordan's searing, Middle-Eastern influenced vocals at the end).

Otherwise, none of the rock tracks listed on this soundtrack appear in the film. I think that's deceptive. When an album is billed as a "soundtrack," it should be a memento of the film.

It's grossly misleading to call an album a "soundtrack," but then only include one or two of the actual tracks in the film. Such an album is nothing more than a hodgepodge sampler, with a couple tracks from the film added as filler. But I still like the Mission Impossible theme.

-- Randy Krbechek

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