WALL-EThis is the soundtrack of a movie whose composer was either in love with the assignment, or lived in fear of it. Most movie scores are tasked with the job of underlining the emotional intent of any given scene, but with most movies this job is occasionally obscured by dialogue or sound effects. WALL-E had sound effects aplenty, but instead of dialogue, virtually the first half hour of the movie is expressed in terms of “robotic” processed grunts and exclamations. There are visual cues to the emotions being expressed, but the bulk of the legwork falls to the music: a unique opportunity for any composer to shine, but also a daunting task for modern-day composers accustomed to dialing the music back to make room for dialogue.

Thomas Newman, who had already worked with Pixar on Finding Nemo, took on the task and delivered what may be one of the best film scores of the 2000s, hands down. There’s a lot of music on the CD – and there’s a heap of music in the movie as well. Occasionally there’s a little burst of sound effects and “robot dialogue” from the movie in between songs, but to its credit, it never overlaps the music – and to be honest, I’d buy a whole CD of Ben Burtt’s brilliant soundscapes because the former Star Wars sound guru topped himself here.

The three songs heard prominently in the movie are heard here – the Louis Armstrong version of “La Vie En Rose” and the two numbers from Hello Dolly! – as well as Peter Gabriel‘s hammer-the-theme-of-the-movie-home end credits song “Down To Earth” (which, to be honest, I liked better than either of the albums he’s foisted on us since being involved with this movie).

The bulk of the soundtrack is taken up with Newman’s intricate, well-thought-out score, though. In some ways, he does the same thing Jerry Goldsmith did with Logan’s Run, but in reverse order: the “exterior” scenes on Earth and treated orchestrally, but once WALL-E boards the Axiom and enters the woeful artificial environment now inhabited by the descendants of the human race, our glimpses into life aboard that ship and the scenes involving the Axiom robots are given an electronic (but still melodic and playful) sound. As the action centers more and more on the fate of the sample of a live plant from Earth, the music returns to the orchestral vein, because the Earth is what’s at stake.

Tracks such as “The Spaceship”, “Worry Wait”, “EVE Retrieve”, “Hyperjump” and “WALL-E’s Pod Adventure” are orchestral spectaculars befitting just about any big-screen science fiction epic you could name. The music here has the entire weight of carrying the implications to the audience, and does the job brilliantly. Newman treats these scenes as Serious Events without worrying about scaring the kids off with spooky or scary music – so much so that even my own son has been asking me what the music “means,” enabling me to kick open some interesting conversations about soundtrack music and music in general with him. At the age of four. Thank you, Mr. Newman, for not “talking down” to the audience.

That’s not to say that the soundtrack doesn’t have a sense of humor. “First Date,” accompanying a montage of WALL-E sheltering the inert EVE from the elements (scenes that director Andrew Stanton reportedly wanted set to the vapid tune of “Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head”), gets the kind of music you’d expect from a first date movie montage, except that most movies don’t have the girlfriend sitting comatose and unresponsive throughout the proceedings. The music is deceptively cheerful and becomes its own punch line.

Aboard the Axiom, there are some standout electronic and electronic/orchestral tracks – “Foreign Contaminant”, “Repair Ward” and “72 Degrees And Sunny” among them – which convey the robotic precision of the Axiom’s automated crew a mixture of acoustic and electronic percussion and a lot of intricate guitar progressions from George Doering (a veteran session guitarist who’s also played on numerous Star Trek soundtracks). The dreamy “Define Dancing” was rescored late in production so Newman could hint at “Down To Earth,” which he co-wrote with Peter Gabriel.

Late in the movie, as the humans have to shake off the shackles of their own mechanical support systems in order to regain some semblance of a human existence and return to Earth, tracks like “March Of The Gels”, “Tilt”, “Desperate EVE” and “Mutiny!” – the latter of which sounds in places like it could’ve been part of The Matrix, of all things – combine the two approaches.

4 out of 4It’s a brilliantly cohesive collection of music for a movie that actually has meaning, and I applaud Disney for putting an entire album of orchestral score out there for the young set. The soundtrack album from WALL-E may just have the effect on my son’s generation that the soundtrack from Star Wars had on me. And that’s not a bad thing at all. This is one of the best genre soundtracks of the past decade from one of the best genre movies of the past decade.

  1. Put On Your Sunday Clothes performed by Michael Crawford (1:17)
  2. Order this CD2815 A.D. (3:28)
  3. WALL-E (2:00)
  4. The Spaceship (1:42)
  5. EVE (1:02)
  6. Thrust (0:41)
  7. Bubble Wrap (0:50)
  8. La Vie En Rose performed by Louis Armstrong (3:24)
  9. Eye Surgery (0:40)
  10. Worry Wait (1:19)
  11. First Date (1:19)
  12. EVE Retrieve (2:19)
  13. The Axiom (2:24)
  14. BNL (0:20)
  15. Foreign Contaminant (2:06)
  16. Repair Ward (2:20)
  17. 72 Degrees and Sunny (3:12)
  18. Typing Bot (0:47)
  19. Septuacentennial (0:15)
  20. Gopher (0:40)
  21. WALL-E’s Pod Adventure (1:13)
  22. Define Dancing (2:23)
  23. No Splashing No Diving (0:47)
  24. All That Love’s About (0:37)
  25. M-O (0:47)
  26. Directive A-113 (2:05)
  27. Mutiny! (1:28)
  28. Fixing WALL-E (2:08)
  29. Rogue Robots (2:03)
  30. March of the Gels (0:54)
  31. Tilt (2:00)
  32. The Holo-Detector (1:07)
  33. Hyperjump (1:04)
  34. Desperate EVE (0:57)
  35. Static (1:43)
  36. It Only Takes a Moment performed by Michael Crawford (1:07)
  37. Down to Earth performed by Peter Gabriel (5:58)
  38. Horizon 12.2 (1:27)

Released by: Walt Disney Records
Release date: 2008
Total running time: 61:54