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To infinity and beyond: Florida Orchestra takes on Pixar catalog

Thomas Newman goes for New Age-y sounds. He had a hand in Finding Nemo.
Published Nov. 25, 2014

The keys to Pixar's animation domination are myriad: narratives that deftly seduce all ages (Up, Finding Nemo); cutting-edge images that advance the form yet retain unmistakable warmth (The Incredibles, Wall-E); exceptional vocal turns from bold-faced actors who understand they're working for one of the greatest Hollywood studios of all time (Tom Hanks and Tim Allen in the Toy Story canon).

And yet just as crucial for the success of the Disney-owned blockbuster machine has been the music, almost always a rousing array of symphonic whimsy and sweet pop songs, all conjured by playful, compassionate leaders of the film-music field.

An orchestral tour of Pixar music not only made sense but seemed money-in-the-bank mandatory. So kudos to the always-game Florida Orchestra, which will bring "Pixar in Concert" to the Straz Center in Tampa on Friday and then the Mahaffey Theater in St. Petersburg on Saturday. All 14 Pixar movies will be represented via both music and accompanying movie clips on a high-defintion "big screen."

Appropriately enough, the shows will be guest-conducted by Lawrence Loh of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra; one of his popular programs with the PSO is "Bringing Music to the Lives of Children." Not that Pixar's scores are merely kid stuff; a century from now, a lot of this will be regarded as the finest "classical" music of the 21st century.

Four composers have scored music for Pixar films. Here's a quick look at the work of each.

Randy Newman (Toy Story, A Bug's Life, Toy Story 2, Monsters, Inc., Cars, Toy Story 3, Monsters University) First, a bit of news. After Newman's recent show at the Capitol Theatre in Clearwater, I had a chance to meet the 70-year-old Rock Hall of Famer, who has scored more Pixar movies than anyone else. When asked if he'd take the job for the just-announced Toy Story 4, he said, "Yeah, I'm going to do it." So there's that! Newman's rompy music for Woody and Buzz is his most iconic; if you don't hear You've Got a Friend in Me, I'll eat my cowboy hat. But just as good is the brassy clatter of big-city and big-corporate life he captured for Monsters, Inc. And when Cars gets to the town of Radiator Springs, Newman merges a dusty Western shuffle with Aaron Copland grandeur, especially on the wonderful road-trip piece McQueen and Sally.

Thomas Newman (Finding Nemo, Wall-E) Yes, he's related to Randy: They're cousins. But their styles vary wildly, as Thomas opts for fluid, New Age-y sounds, whether capturing the unsure world of the deep blue sea (Wow from Nemo) or deep black space (Define Dancing from Wall-E). There's heart in his compositions, and yet there's a burbling meditativeness, as well.

Michael Giacchino (The Incredibles, Ratatouille, Up, Cars 2) Giacchino is Pixar's resident musical impressionist: He mined John Barry's James Bond music for The Incredibles and Cars 2; he went puckishly Francophilic for Ratatouille; and he honored buddy Randy Newman for the music in Up, which, it should be noted, WILL MAKE YOU SOB WHEN YOU HEAR IT.

Patrick Doyle (Brave) The Scottish composer (who has also done the music for Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire and Thor) was brought in to help tell the story of crazy-haired Highlands wild-child Princess Merida. This is rousing, horse-clomping stuff, although here's hoping the Florida Orchestra also does the song Touch the Sky, a gorgeous girl-power anthem and a particular favorite of my crazy-haired wild-child young daughters.

Contact Sean Daly at sdaly@tampabay.com. Follow @seandalypoplife.

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