The Muppet Movie is a hard act to follow. Released in 1979, there have been a number of Muppet attempts to duplicate the first film's magic, none of which quite succeeded. I think that's due primarily to the first film's soundtrack, written by Paul Williams and Kenny Ascher, which was nominated for an Oscar, and remains today a source of inspiration and cover songs. Now comes the latest attempt, the Disney-produced movie The Muppets, which is released on Wednesday, Nov. 23rd, starring Jason Segel, Amy Adams, Chris Cooper, and, yes, a whole bunch of Muppets. Let's get this out of the way up front -- The Muppets Original Soundtrack isn't as good as the soundtrack to The Muppet Movie. It's too closely tied to the movie for the most part to provide the universality that the Williams-Ascher tunes did. But. Once you drop the notion that this is going to be as timeless as songs like "Rainbow Connection," you (and your kids) can enjoy the music from The Muppets on its own terms -- as a very good movie musical, fitting well into Disney's storied movie-musical history. It's not like you need to see the movie in order to understand what you're getting into (and I couldn't make the pre-release press screenings so I lack the context for the songs), but the soundtrack lays it out pretty clearly, even adding about 15 dialogue interstitials from the movie. So that means you have familiar tropes like the character-introducing opening number (the excellent "Life's a Happy Song"), Act 2 conflict songs ("Me Party," featuring a duet between Amy Adams and Miss Piggy), and the-song-where-the-villain-gets-to-shine ("Let's Talk About Me," which features couplets like "I got more cheddar than super-size nachos / I got cashflow like Robert has DeNiros"). Those songs and one more were written by Bret McKenzie (Flight of the Conchords), who was music supervisor for the soundtrack and who, therefore, can be blamed for the inclusion of Starship's "We Built This City" on it as well. (Seriously, I don't care how funny the scene is in the movie -- was there no other song that would have worked?) There are a lot of nods in the direction of longtime fans, such as Kermit's "Pictures in My Head" or Fozzie's cover band The Moopets "covering" "Rainbow Connection." The parents who'll be watching the movie will also be entertained -- the barbershop quartet version of Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit" sent the internet into spasms of (totally appropriate) apoplexy, and the Camilla and the Chickens version of "Forget You" (which I like to think of as "Cluck You") is a nifty way to satisfy the mixed audience for the PG movie. You can ignore the mostly superfluous cameos (I would not advise Joanna Newsom and Feist superfans to buy this soundtrack solely for their blink-and-you'll-miss-'em appearances), though Andrew Bird's performance on the "The Whistling Caruso" is cool and actually plot-relevant. You can hear samples from the soundtrack here. It's totally appropriate for kids of all ages, though I don't expect kids under the age of 5 to be that interested. In the end, is The Muppets an album you'd listen to from start to finish solely for the music? Probably not. But as a complement to what appears to be (sight unseen) a solid entry in the Muppet canon, it works very well. It's recommended for any family who enjoyed the movie and wants to relive the musical high points. Disclosure: I was provided with an electronic copy of the album for possible review.
Can you call a movie franchise a "re-boot" if you're trying to make it look (and sound) like it was made fifty years ago? Well, if so, then Disney's successfully rebooted at least the soundtrack for Winnie the Pooh, the latest film about A.A. Milne's silly old bear and his friends in the Hundred Acre Wood. The chief allure for most readers here will be the tracks feature Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward, more commonly known as the duo She & Him. Deschanel's voice is a very good fit for the retro sound employed here, such as on the theme song and "A Very Important Thing to Do." Deschanel's original contribution to the soundtrack is the end-credit song "So Long," and it's very much a She & Him track. If you're going to pick up any single song from the soundtrack, it should be that one, though traditionalists might prefer the theme song. I also liked (sight unseen) one of the new tracks, "The Backson Song," which features Craig Ferguson's voicing of "Owl" whipping the cast into a frenzy. The score from Henry Jackman (found on the latter half of the disk) sounds pleasant enough, but unless you have a budding Mozart in the household, that is not the draw for your 4-year-old. (The soundtrack is most appropriate for the movie's target age range, that of about 3 to 6.) The soundtrack to Winnie the Pooh is not attempting to break any new ground, but that's precisely the point -- it's intended to serve a movie which is trying very hard to envelop the viewer (and listener) in Milne's timelessness. In that regard, the soundtrack succeeds in being as satisfying as a pot of
hunny honey. Recommended for fans of the movie and of Pooh Bear; even She & Him fans are bound to find a track or two worth adding to their collection.
OK, I know that what I'm about to write is just my attempt to spruce up a press release and give it a fun and slightly ironic spin. But. Zooey Deschanel! Winnie the Pooh! Really, that's almost worth the exclamation points. So Disney is releasing a new movie called Winnie the Pooh on July 15. And they've recruited "Actress/Musician/Singer/ Songwriter/Lumberjack" (OK, that last one wasn't in the press release) Zooey Deschanel to perform three songs for the film -- the "Winnie the Pooh" theme song, “A Very Important Thing to Do” and the original end-credit song “So Long,” written by Deschanel and performed with She & Him bandmate M. Ward. (She also lends backing vocals to a couple other songs.) I'll spare you the silly, gushing words from everyone to say only that Deschanel apparently plays the ukulele in the theme song. Why am I writing all this? Only because the few clips you can hear of "So Long" in the YouTube clip below make it seem like Deschanel was a great choice, a worthy successor to Jenny Lewis' work on the Bolt soundtrack.
We are no longer the Imagination Movers' target audience, if indeed we ever were. Back before they were a Disney sensation, they were known to us only via CDs, CDs that I was just sort of "meh" about. And their good fortune (based on a lot of work) of securing a Disney TV show didn't help us, a non-cable-TV household. (We've only seen the show maybe a couple times.) So while I was definitely interested in seeing the band in concert on their West Coast swing, I wasn't quite sure what to expect, either from my own perspective or that of Miss Mary Mack and Little Boy Blue. First off, I expected, and found, a sizable audience for the band. The lovely new Mesa Arts Center was hopping Friday with attendees for various events, but the Movers had the biggest theatre and given that the Ikeda Theatre seats nearly 1,600, I'd guess that at least 1,000 of those were filled, which, well, beat out Dan Zanes when he last came through on a Friday night. It helps to have Disney's muscle backing the band, I suppose, so I got this shot of labelmates' TMBG's cover/reworking of "Davy Crockett (In Outer Space)" playing on the video screen before the show. (I have chosen to omit photos of my kids' slackjawed appreciation of the familiar video.) But 7:08 rolled around, the scrim went up, the band came out, and we were off.
I'm almost ready to end the listening party for Los Lobos' album of Disney covers called (appropriately enough) Los Lobos Goes Disney, but here's a new video for the utterly awesome leadoff track, "Heigh Ho." It's like one of those YouTube mashups except it's officially sanctioned and makes perfect sense, though watching the dwarves march with Los Lobos' voices coming out of their mouths is a little odd... Los Lobos - "Heigh Ho" [YouTube]
Well, it wasn't September 1, as I mentioned earlier, but we have proof that the Los Lobos album of Disney covers not only exists, but will be sprung upon the population this month. Los Lobos Goes Disney is the title (check out that awesome cover art to the left), and it's being released September 22 as an Amazon exclusive. [Update: For a limited time, go here and listen to the whole thing.] The tracklisting -- a mix of stuff obvious and not (yay! it includes a song from Toy Story that isn't "You've Got a Friend in Me") after the jump.