Danny Elfman's songs and score for Charlie and The Chocolate Factory marks his eleventh collaboration with director Tim Burton. Elfman's work for Burton is widely regarded as his best, with the composer writing three classic scores -- Pee-Wee's Big Adventure, Beetlejuice and Batman -- in the '80s alone, before proceeding to burn up the early half of the '90s with three more Burton-score-classics -- Edward Scissorhands, Batman Returns and The Nightmare Before Christmas. This is a director/composer collaboration on par with Hitchcock/Herrmann and Spielberg/Williams. And while Burton's films from the last decade haven't necessarily set the box office on fire (Sleepy Hollow and Planet of The Apes are considered 'hits'), they each have offered something unique from the visionary filmmaker... And sadly underrated Elfman scores. Spielberg/Williams, the cash-cows of our generation, might be considered the ultimate helmer/scorer combo to the suburban mall crowd, popular with the sweatpants-on-Saturday set. But it's the fantasy-film-duo of Burton/Elfman that jibes with the urban-hipster crowd who might protect their cellphone in a Jack Skellington case.
It's these folks that might appreciate the fragrant fromage of Elfman's "Wonka's Welcome Song" (with lyrical assist by screenwriter John August), an intentionally tacky musical arcade show (think the creepy musical robots at Chuck-E-Cheese). It's this funhouse of horrors, complete with Elfman's processed vocals, exclaimed "woo-hoo!" and yodelling that opens the soundtrack album for Warner Bros. $150 million motion picture investment, and what an opening it is! Triumphantly announcing the entry into Willy Wonka's mad world, we immediately segue into the chewey-nuget of the album: four songs with lyrics by Charlie novel scribe, the legendary Roald Dahl (in the end Elfman made 'em work), set to the composer's wild-ride style. Each song is completely different from the last, and each one is unmistakably Danny Elfman. "Augustus Gloop", a brash, gaudy Bollywood number ("so big and vile, so greedy foul and infantile") with chorus, rythmic percussion and rip-snortin' brass blasts; "Violet Beauregarde", which opens with flatulent percussion straight from Elfman's Forbidden Zone before moving into funkdified strings, brass and organ; "Veruca Salt" mimics '60s sugar-pop sure to please your momma or poppa, with the chorus hitting a gorgeous melody as they sing "horrid smellllll!", and "Mike Teavee", a slashing 70s/80s hair metal rock mix of Men In Black, Bernard Herrmann, and The Muppets! "Mike Teavee" also features a deft homage to Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody" before chugging back into full-bore infectious Elfman territory. It's here that Elfman's oxygen-defying vocals show his committment to the music that may end up having him committed!
Whew -- and we haven't even gotten to the score yet. Elfman belting out five bizarre tunes just isn't enough, you say? Attempting to avoid all candy metaphors, I'll use just one: prepare to have your cake and eat it too. As The Joker once said: "I get a grin, again", and you will too, once Elfman's infectiously propulsive musical noodles in "Main Titles" unspools. Here the composer pulls out all the stops, moving through familiar and proven territory: a whizz-banging mix of choir, percussion, looped rythms, aggressive strings and (new!) a hypnotic, psychedelic guitar riff seemingly nipped from Doctor Who! This is a main title that can sit along with Elfman's best (the undulating-theremin-rich Mars Attacks!, the unabashed grand-gothic Sleepy Hollow, the delicate plink-plank-plunk of Edward Scissorhands). It's in these main titles that Elfman reveals his main theme, six notes alternating on strings and brass, usually with an oscillating chime figure as counterpoint. It is repeated full-bore throughout the album, most notably in "Wheels In Motion", and "The Golden Ticket/Factory".
The Oompa Loompa's get a theme all for themselves. It's a pounding soldier-barge battle hymn, underneath grand, arching brass and chorus cut with quick string flexes, complete with grasshopper-hum-like vocals by the OL's ("Loompa Land", "The Boat Arrives", "The River Cruise" and "The River Cruise - Part 2"). Perfect for their devoted little cocoa-bean worshipping hearts! It's Elfman at his hypnotic-percussion best and perhaps his most linear bit of writing since the "March of The Dead" from Army of Darkness.
This being an Burton/Elfman collaboration there has to be a few sinister moments, most notably the churning, Sleepy Hollow-lite "First Candy" (a Willy Wonka flashback) and the final-reel, Great Glass Elevator "Up and Out" escape. For the most part however, Charlie and The Chocolate Factory floats atop a crested wave of ebullient grandiose fantasy with it's gorgeous orchestra and choir combination ("Charlie Declines", the subued but no less satisfying "Finale") that has made Elfman the mult-millionaire he is today. The "End Credit Suite" should satisfy karakoke fans, as the suite features instrumental versions of Elfman's five songs.
Technical credits are top-notch. Dennis Sands proves why he is the best in the biz, with the Charlie and The Chocolate Factory score portion of the album sounding alert, aggressive and clean. The songs are mixed to the hilt and will even sound great (but bizarre) blasting from your Kia Sephia's weakling factory system. Included in the notes are lyrics to all five songs and extensive credits. No notes from Tim Burton. Again!
Like most of Danny Elfman's scores, the most appreciation listeners will be his devoted legion of fans who have been chomping at the bit for an opportunity to hear the former Oingo Boingo frontman sing again (it's been twelve long years since Elfman crooned "What's this!?", if you don't count the quickie "Floop's Song" from Spy Kids). You've got to admire the guy, bravely performing these whacked out numbers by himself. But it's the solid 1-2 combination of inventive songs and memorable and engaging score that make this album an absolute must buy, Elfman mega-nerd or not. - Review by Ryan Keaveney (July, 2005) from Cinemusic.net.
(From the film's Production Notes) Providing the film's distinctive score and putting Roald Dahl's Oompa-Loopah lyrical chants to original music for four special songs is multiple Oscar and Grammy Award nominated composer/musician Danny Elfman.
Although not a musical (no one but the Oompas sing), Charlie and the Chocolate Factory includes four scenes in which the Oompa-Loompas recount, in song, the woeful misadventures of the unruly children on the factory tour. All the Oompa-Loompa vocals are performed by Elfman, formerly lead singer of Oingo Boingo. Using Dahl's own words from the book, he tailored the pieces stylistically to each child -- Violet, Augustus, Veruca and Mike -- whose bad behavior sets off alarming consequences and illustrates a moral lesson.
"The challenge was to give each song for each child its own distinct feel, and have each one go to a completely different place," says Elfman. "Augustus Gloop was inspired by big brassy Bollywood production pieces. For Violet, the gum-chewer, I threw back to a retro 70's funk feel. For Mike Teavee, I needed something frenetic and hyperactive like he is -- the short attention span, video game, rock kid. Because Veruca goes down the garbage chute and all the lyrics were about fish heads and such, Tim suggested we contrast that with a really sweet sound, so we went in a 60-ish kind of hippie/happy love-psychedelic direction."
For the song's lyrics, Elfman went directly to the book. "I wanted to stay as true to Roald Dahl's words as possible. In the book, they were written more like extended chants than songs, but his lyrics already had a wonderful rhythm to them. In the end, I had to do a lot of editing, but I think I was 95% true to the book, with just a bit of tweaking here and there."
The creative collaboration between Tim Burton and the multi-talented Elfman is one of the longest-running and most successful director/composer relationships in the industry, beginning with Burton's 1985 feature debut, Pee-Wee's Big Adventure, and spanning 20 years to include such memorable titles as Batman, Beetlejuice, Edward Scissorhands, The Nightmare Before Christmas and Sleepy Hollow. Of Elfman's seven Grammy nominations, four were for Burton films (Batman, Edward Scissorhands, Planet of the Apes and Big Fish), with 2003's Big Fish also bringing him the most recent of three Oscar nominations.
For Burton, "his music has always been a guidepost, a way to help define the various elements of a story and draw it all together. In a way, he's like another actor in the film."
"The great part of working with Tim on the music was that he kept throwing me off center by suggesting different styles of music that I wasn't expecting, but we had worked together enough times so that I knew I could do a lot of crazy things without shocking him," says Elfman. "Likewise, his ideas have so many times led me to places that I wouldn't have thought of but that remain my favorites. In particular, on the songs for Charlie, Tim and I worked very closely together and I'd have to say, I can't remember when I've had more fun working at all. It was truly and wonderfully nuts!"
Music Composed and Produced by Danny Elfman
Orchestrations by Steve Bartek, Edgardo Simone, David Sloanaker, Bruce Fowler
Score Conducted by Rick Wentworth
Supervising Score Programmmer: Marc Mann
Recorded and Mixed by Dennis Sands
Album Produced by Danny Elfman and Steve Bartek
Label (Catalogue): Warner Sunset Records, (72264)
Availability: In Print
Purchasing options: Available at Amazon.com
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