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Film Music Review (Volumes 1-7)






Score composed and produced by Alan Menken.

17 Tracks (Playing Time = 52:50; 10 score tracks; playing time = 29:31)

Orchestration supervision by Jeff Atmajian. Orchestrations by Jon Kull, Pete Anthony, Harvey Cohen, and Patrick Russ. Performed by the Hollywood Studio Symphony (uncredited on CD) conducted by Michael Kosarin. Score recorded and mixed by Bruce Botnick at Todd AO Scoring Stage. Music edited by Joanie Diener and Helena Lea. Mastered by Bruce Botnick at Uniteye, Ojai, CA. Album design by Steve Sterling.

Walt Disney Records 61452-7

Rating: ***


Disney continues to revisit their back catalogue of family films with this update to the Dean Jones outing, The SHAGGY DA (1976) which featured a score by Buddy Baker, one of Disney’s house composers. This time Tim Allen undergoes the transformation into the family pet. It was a bit surprising that there was even a score release at all but it does give fans of Alan Menken a chance to hear his underscoring approach for a film that is not a musical.

First there are seven pop songs to open the disc. Crass commercialism wins out with six of those that did not even appear in the film (at least Disney admits this on the packaging). Akon’s “Big Dog” opens the disc. Then follow the other six songs, or the album for non-film score fans. At least the disc has that going for it. The Baha Men’s “Who Let the Dogs Out?” which does appear in the film is absent here. The songs are by C Brown, George Clinton, JaJa Biggs, The Doghouse Biscuit Band, Kevin Mathurin, and Kyle Massey.

The rest of the disc is devoted to Menken’s score presented without interruption which is an unusual step for these sort of things, but a welcome one. “ Tibet” opens the score section of the disc. There are some nice ethnic bell touches here. “First Signs” is an appropriate piece of comedic underscore that is similar to Shaiman’s comedy scoring style. It seems edited together from shorter cues but is pulled together by the primary thematic idea. The approach is to suggest the comedy rather than hit everything that happens on screen with a zing or two. The “Transformation” sequence which features chorus and a blend of dramatic underscore alongside the comedic style is one standout track. The bluesy turns in the melody are a nice touch alongside the scarier sounding music. As in most comedy scoring, the ability to keep interest on screen always supersedes what the music will sound like on its own. Good scores can keep interest if there are some strong thematic ideas. Menken is very adept at writing lyrical ideas and this is what keeps this particular score from sounding like a lot of the same thing. “Breaking Through” has a moment for piano and strings which is heartbreakingly beautiful—the kind of music that one writes to help tug away at fragile young heartstrings. There are some abrupt stops to some tracks which is somewhat typical of these kinds of scores. In some cases, as in “Kozak Gets a Tail,” one can practically visualize the surprise as the track ends. “Escaping the Lab” is one of the more delightful action cues with a fun jazzy clarinet line. The variety of the score is what lifts this effort above the generic sounding scores often written for kid films.

THE SHAGGY DOG will remind you of any number of efforts by other top notch composers. That Menken is often overlooked as one of them is unfortunate since this is a fine effort that actually grows on you. What will surprise most listeners is the strength of the dramatic underscore. Whether you enjoy the score will depend on your interest in the genre and if you like the themes.

--Steven A. Kennedy , 9 May 2006

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