Animated feature films or indeed animated series for television always seem to be popular, maybe its because we all know that what is happening on screen is a little more far fetch and impossible than real life or indeed any of the live action movies etc. Our superheroes or crusaders for law, order and at times the American way are many but not as many it seems as the villains and unsavoury characters that said superheroes do battle with. SUPERMAN is of course the main character we all associate with the super hero genre, then we have SPIDERMAN, BATMAN, CAPTAIN AMERICAN etc etc the list is endless. Its probably true to say that the antics and adventures of these super beings transfers well and comes over as more exciting and outlandish in animated films, simply because these super characters are able to do more when presented as an animated character. This is just a theory and personal opinion. Music in these animated features too plays a big part and helps to create and establish atmospheres and moods giving storylines a greater impact. Many composers have underlined, supported and given our superheroes a musical helping hand over the years, but I have to say that with the emergence of BATMAN all’a Tim Burton and Danny Elfman’s dark yet impish and playful take on the soundtrack things did seem to step up a gear or two. Elfman’s brooding but at the same time richly dark and anthem like theme for the caped crusader is one now that has become synonymous with the franchise and in later movies when Elfman was not involved the images seemed to be lacking that dark and offbeat support, not that I am saying Zimmer, Newton Howard et al did not do a great job because as time moves on so do requirements of movies and everything else, but there just seemed to be something of a void there musically speaking. Back to the animated features and subsequent TV spin off’s and again producers turned to Danny Elfman to enhance the BATMAN character but only within the central theme department as many of the scores were penned by the brilliantly talented Shirley Walker who worked with Elfman on many occasions. I am no expert in the area of music for animation in fact it’s a case of listening to what I like and that’s the end of it, numerous composers were called in to work their musical magic on BATMAN the animated series for Warners/DC comics , some familiar others still remaining obscure and unfamiliar even after their BATMAN scoring experience. Todd Hayen, Carlos Rodriguez, Mark Koval, James Stemple and many others made invaluable contributions to the BATMAN animated series for TV and although they may not be familiar names in film music collecting circles its certainly worth checking out their wares.
So lets concentrate firstly on BATMAN THE ANIMATED SERIES volume three as released by La la land records.
This four disc set is in one word impressive or to use two Impressive and powerful. It contains music from around twenty three episodes or at least selections from these episodes, the opening is courtesy of Danny Elfman with his now familiar BATMAN theme strains and flourishes setting the scene deliciously and darkly for the remainder of the four discs. Track two through to seven are taken from ROBINS RECKONING, these first tracks being the work of composer Carlos Rodriguez written for part one of the story and tracks eight through to fifteen are the work of composer Peter Tomashek for part two of the same tale. The first six cues in my opinion are in many ways similar to the sound that was achieved by Elman on the original movies ie BATMAN and BATMAN RETURNS, there is a certain sense of the operatic at times within the work but at the same time Rodriguez maintains a certain amount of the dark and quirky persona that Elfman created, this I think is mainly down to the orchestration, strings and brass playing a major part in the make up of the score, with not only drama but hints of the romantic being included along the way. Sections nine through to fifteen are somewhat different in their sound and overall style although saying this composer Peter Tomashek does retain that air of mystery throughout that is tinged with urgency and underlined with driving strings that are supported by booming percussive elements and at times rasps from the brass section that seem to sneer and push their way into the proceedings, his approach however is removed slightly from both Rodriguez’s approach and Elfman’s original take with the composer producing an inventive and original work that although dark at times does towards the end of the score transform into a more heroic or courageous sounding work which for me any way works a treat.
Track number sixteen is billed as a bonus track from ROBIN’S RECKONING, and is composed by Carlos Rodriguez, it has a kind of circus style to it but in a macabre and somewhat unsettling way. Tracks seventeen to twenty three are the handiwork of the brilliantly talented Shirley Walker, taken from P.O.V. or POINT OF VIEW and is one of the composers earliest contributions to the series, which is reflected in her score as she refers to the original Elfman theme during some of the action sequences, a trait that seemed to become less and less as the series progressed.
This is a powerful score from Walker, and one that contains so many of her own themes it literally oozes charisma and brilliance which is why she is considered still to be the foremost composer when it comes to the BATMAN animated series, P.O.V. is in my opinion a return to a more traditional way of scoring, bold themes, a march, numerous motifs and highly exhilarating action cues with driving strings and tense sounding brass stabs that certainly get the adrenaline going. Above all Walker’s music entertains away from the images as well as working with them. There are another seven sections on this four disc set credited to Shirley Walker and each and everyone of them is a delight and pleasure to listen to. SEE NO EVIL, THE MAN WHO KILLED BATMAN, THE FORGOTTEN,TERROR IN THE SKY among them. To review every section or every scrap of music on this collection would take hours, so based on what I have thus far told you about I would say go and buy this compilation a.s.a.p. You will not regret it, I promise. Over five hours of glorious dark and exciting music that is laced with the romantic and at times the melancholy, presented wonderfully and filled with informative sleeve notes and numerous stills from the series, highly recommended.
Right from THE BATMAN we move to SUPERMAN, again from the animated series and again this is a four disc set released by La la land records with a running time of over five hours. Shirley Walker again provides us with some pretty impressive music to accompany the man of steel. Her spirited sounding opening theme also opens the compilation, with a proud and anthem like sound created by flyaway woodwind and timpani acting as a background to somewhat cautious sounding brass flourishes that are them selves supported by driving strings and transform from furtive to full blown, in just over a minute Walker sets the scene perfectly for the adventures of this super superhero. Lolita Ritmanis is first up in the running order of the CD with her music for THE LAST SON OF KRYPTON, this was according to John Takis (who penned the excellent sleeve notes for this compilation and also the BATMAN collection) originally broadcast as a feature length movie, but is divided into three sections, the first part being scored by Ritmanis, who created a quite unrelenting score filled with action cues and a multitude of thematic material, in my opinion her style is not dissimilar to that of the late Elmer Bernstein, especially in the more action orientated passages and even at times within the quieter moments of the work as well.
Dark underlying strings laced with brass and percussion erupt into a more sustained onslaught if that is the right way to describe it that although essentially action music somehow remains melodic, Ritmanis at times echoes the Shirley Walker theme or at least fleeting references to it within her score, at times enlisting the aid of synthetic sounds.
Part two of the story is scored by Michael Mc Cuistion with part three being the work of Harvey B. Cohen, Mc Cuistion penned a suitably poignant soundtrack for the coming of age section of the story where we see the young Kal-El taken in by his earth parents after crash landing near their farm in Smallville and then growing into the young Clark Kent, Mc Cuistion’s score is an accomplished one that includes many variations of musical styles and also has within it a particularly rousing SUPERMAN central theme where we see Clark learning to fly. This is an album that is pleasantly surprising, it is grand and epic, filled with action cues but also has its fair share of compositions that ooze melancholy, romance and emotion. Don’t wait any longer, buy it, listen to it, enjoy it….