Film Music Review
The Sammy awards








Black Beauty (1994)


  • 33 Tracks (Playing Time = 78:44)

Reissue produced by Dan Goldwasser. Album produced by Danny Elfman and Steve Bartek. Music composed by Danny Elfman. Orchestrations by Steve Bartek and Jeff Atmajian. Music conducted by J.A.C. Redford. Reissue digitally mastered by James Nelson at Digital Outland. Original recording by Shawn Murphy and Geoff Foster. Music edited by Bob Badami. Reissue album art direction by Dan Goldwasser at Warm Butter Design.

La-La Land Records 1273

Rating: ***1/2

 Limited edition of 3000 units.


Carol Thompson made her directorial debut in 1994 with her adaptation of Anna Sewell’s 1877 novel, BLACK BEAUTY. Her intent was to remain faithful to Sewell’s approach of telling the story from the perspective of the horses through narration. The film received good reviews and has since gained respect and a devoted following as one of the best films about horses ever made.

To craft the emotional musical core, Thompson chose Danny Elfman. Elfman had built a steady string of memorable scores for Tim Burton by this point in his career from quirky (PEE WEE’S BIG ADVENTURE, BEETLEJUICE) to the darker Batman. It was his work on EDWARD SCISSORHANDS where he had met Thompson and the two were dating when she suggested he tackle this project.

In Elfman’s oeuvre, BLACK BEAUTY certainly stands out. The score perhaps has its roots in the equally romantic score from 1993’s SOMMERSBY. That score, along with DOLORES CLAIBORNE and BLACK BEAUTY marked a decided shift in Elfman’s music and demonstrated he was on his way to the A-list of Hollywood composers. The striking thing about BLACK BEAUTY is that it has a sound that one might more associate with Rachel Portman’s EMMA (still two years away).

The opening “Main Titles” and “Birth” have a somewhat minimalist arpeggio that gives way to a gorgeous, romantic theme. The waltz-like thematic material soon gains a bit of melancholy that is one of the first personal stamps in the score and functions as a sort of love theme. For fans of more contemporary scores, the most striking aspect about Black Beauty is that these primary thematic ideas are in practically every cue providing a host of variation and orchestral color to explore. The second thematic idea, often heard with pennywhistle, lends the music an almost Celtic feel at times to the score. The music may also feel reminiscent of Williams’ scoring style, but with Elfman’s own orchestral color that expands his own scoring approaches. The more action-based and intense cues, like ‘The Rescue”, provide an opportunity for the movie to turn a bit darker and better balances the later “Wild Ride/Dream”.

La-La Land has crafted another excellent expanded score that will allow Elfman fans the chance to appreciate this music far better. There are about 17+ minutes here of previously unreleased material including a host of bonus tracks of alternate and album tracks.

The accompanying booklet is equally beautiful with great photos, overview of each track, and discussion of the film. Those who have the original release may still wish to hold on to it as it has its own general flow and the new release combines some of these shorter tracks in different ways to present the score in film order.

The limited release is certain to gain further respect for this beautiful score.

-- Steven A. Kennedy, 8 November 2013

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