Film Score Friday: ‘Puss in Boots’ by Henry Jackman

OK, I am calling it right now. Henry Jackman is a composer to watch. So far this year he has scored three films, all with a unique, interesting and fun sound. First it was the stellar X-Men: First Class, my review of which can be found here, followed by Winnie the Pooh which was really good in very different ways. Now Jackman brings his up and coming stylings to another animated feature, although this time one that has it’s roots in a decidedly different musical lineage.

Puss in Boots is the first spin off film in the Shrek franchise, and it follows the titular Puss (tee hee), played by Antonio Bandaras, in his own adventures. Puss was a highlight of the second film and one of the few good parts of the third and fourth movies so a stand alone feature might work.

The film is about sword-wielding avenger with a thick Spanish accent played by Antonio Bandaras, and if you immediately thought Zorro then you and Mr. Jackman might have something in common.

From the first track you get strong vibes from James Horner’s Zorro scores. Sometimes so much so that if I didn’t know better I would have thought I was actually listening some Horner himself wrote, sans his ever present “Danger motif” of course. I don’t know that I would even knock the score for this, music is a part of the language of film, and it was a filmmaker choice four movies ago to play up the similarities in the two characters, and now that we have Puss’ own movie it feels right.

Before I get into the meat of the soundtrack I did want to spend a moment talking about Rodrigo y Gabriela. The guitarist duo have made a couple of appearances on soundtracks lately, starting with a track on the Nightmare Before Christmas cover album Nightmare Revisited and then again this summer on Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides. I am starting to get really excited when I see their names attached to a soundtrack, their amazing guitar abilities elevate anything they are apart of, and on this album their style fits so well with Jackman’s music that it is often hard to determine where their music begins and ends. Needless to say their addition to this album makes a ton of sense and it works.

Now I mentioned that the music sounds very much like Zorro, I really hope that doesn’t come off as an insult. The choice to make the musical layer of this film reminiscent of the classic Horner score makes a lot of sense. Also while it does sound a lot like Zorro, it by no means is a direct rip off, once you are really listening to the music you can hear what Jackman is doing and the similarities become more like set dressing that the subtly influences the score.

My main complaint about this score is that, aside from the splended Puss theme, the music lacks more strong themes. The soundtrack is wonderful, but the hooks just don’t seem to be there. After listening to the score all the way through I find it difficult to pinpoint specific moments where individual character themes come forward. Granted that might change once I see the movie and I have the context where this all fits in, but from an album experience stand point I don’t feel this gives us as many strong individual themes in the same way Jackman delivered the goods with X-Men: First Class.

Three Favorite Tracks:

The Orphanage by Henry Jackman: This is probably my favorite track on the album, mostly because it has a wonderful and emotional core to it. It has a lot of the same bombastic Spanish guitar sounds that permeate the rest of the album, but after a minute or so of that it really evolves into some beautiful music. Honestly I got chills during some of the later portion of this track. I very much like the sweet, innocent and beautiful music that we are introduced to in this track.

Hanuman by Rodrigo y Gabriela: Both of the tracks by the Spanish guitar duo are excellent, and it was tough to choose just one for the three favorites list. I ultimately chose the second track because it has a more listenable quality. It flows more like a song than a piece of film music and it is just so damned fun. I am in awe of their guitar abilities, and their quick playing sounds just works perfectly for Puss in Boots. An obvious, but genius mix.

The Puss Suite by Henry Jackman: I complained about the lack of themes, and I feel that is a valid criticism, but I will give props to this track for it’s crystal clear presentation of the Puss theme. This theme is really very excellent, mixing in several musical styles to create an exciting suite showcasing the main theme for the movie. The occasional “olay!” helps sell the exotic flavor of the music, and the the choral backing on the theme really highlights a pretty epic track. This is one of those perfect tracks that encapsulates most of what is so great about the score in just over three minutes.

Least Favorite Track:

Jack and Jill by Henry Jackman: Ugh! 23 seconds? Really, that is all you felt obligated to give in this track? I have stated many times in the past that tiny tracks make virtually no sense to me. Especially tiny tracks that are seemingly the theme to a pair of important characters. It is too short of a track and thus this criticism will also be too short. Me… track… think… bad!

In all, it took me a little while to come around to the soundtrack, but once I really got a grasp for the music I really dug what I was hearing. I think this is a case where a score borrows heavily from several other influences, but it comes together really well and ultimately works. The Shrek franchise has a history of good film music, and this spin off has not disappointed that tradition.

Final Score for Puss in Boots

4 out of 5

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