Dumbo is a welcome return to classic Burton-esque Danny Elfman, complete with a memorable main theme, some truly incredible individual compositions and spectacular orchestration all-round.
Despite being yet another reboot, after hearing that Danny Elfman was involved I decided to give the score to the new Dumbo a chance, and I’m very glad I did. In recent years I’ve been rather critical of Elfman, particularly of his works for Avengers: Age Of Ultron and Justice League, which I found considerably subpar in comparison to his previous scores. I know he’s a damn good composer, and so those albums frustrated me to no end as I knew he could do so much better. Finally though, with Dumbo I can happily say that classic Danny Elfman is back, as it’s easily his best work that I’ve heard in quite a long time.
The main theme is introduced in Logos, and it’s an upbeat, hopeful and rather complex motif – being at least ten or so notes in length. Despite this though it’s actually quite memorable, and post-initial-listening I’ve caught myself humming it quite a few times. It’s introduction in Logos is quite short and a tad pensive, as it is played out primarily via vocals and backing strings. The orchestral style here is incredibly reminiscent of previous Burton-Elfman scores (for those who don’t know, think dark & moody atmosphere), so almost immediately as the album begins you know you’re in for something special.
Train’s a Comin’ then kicks the mood up a notch, elevating it from slow and melancholic to fast-paced and rather hopeful with rapid percussion and brass. Stylistically it’s quite a jarring switch from the previous track, as the music here is happy and almost heroic in places – particularly when the dramatic vocals kick in at the just under two minute mark. The track then sadly ends as quickly as it began, which marks one of my biggest issues with the score overall – most of the tracks here are under two minutes long, which would be a shame for most composers but for Elfman it’s even worse, as he does like his build-ups, and he doesn’t get much room for them here.
Dumbo’s Theme makes a swift return to the more gloomy and Burton-esque side of Elfman’s scoring here, with slow strings and dramatic vocals taking up most of the two-and-a-half-minute runtime as they play out several rather sad and deliberate statements of the main theme. Despite the track’s title I would actually say it’s one of the more uninteresting showcases of the main theme on the album, with later tracks such as Dumbo Soars doing a much better job of showing it off. Said cue expertly combines vocals with triumphant brass and elegant strings for a number of renditions of the memorable motif, and even makes a few strings-based callbacks to Elfman’s Spider-Man at several points along the way.
Things then get a bit trippy with Pink Elephants On Parade; a track that presumably represents a redo of that rather bizarre musical elephants scene from the original 1941 Dumbo movie, which given its drugs-based hallucination connotations I’m surprised they’d include in the reboot, but this is Tim Burton after all so I guess I shouldn’t be that taken aback. Elfman uses some particularly weird-sounding instruments along with his classic vocal and brass combination to set the mood, and while there weren’t any particular musical references to it I found myself comparing the piece to the composer’s previous work for Charlie & The Chocolate Factory, which was similarly wacky in style.
The score then starts to draw to a close with Nightmare Island, the first in a series of a few finale-esque action tracks that if nothing else harken heavily back to the compositional likes of Batman ’89, complete with loud brass and considerable reliance on deep and dark vocals. The music here is a tad more light-hearted than that of the caped crusader, but not by much. Things get decidely heroic in Rescuing The Ferriers, a sweeping and fast-paced piece that essentially sets the scene for the big action setpiece; The Final Confrontation (I mean, of course he called it that). It opens with a rather victorious-sounding rendition of the main theme before then sticking to hero territory (for a little while anyway) with some fast-paced vocal and brass combinations. The cue then slows down rather dramatically as it ends, finishing up on a rather sad and melancholic strings-based note.
The standout cue award goes to Soaring Suite, an orchestrally rich and particularly epic piece of music that contains the best renditions by far of the main theme for Dumbo. It wins the award simply because it allows Elfman to go all-out with his score, resulting in some truly astounding combinations of musical instruments as well as some overall breathtaking musical moments. If you like the composer and his orchestral styles, then this is the track for you.
All-in, Danny Elman’s score for the new Dumbo is nothing short of fantastic. The main theme is great, being compositionally flexible enough to support all the emotional range of the movie while at the same time being quite memorable, not to mention highly enjoyable as a motif. The album overall is a welcome return to the more traditional musical styles of an Elfman-Burton team-up, and that combined with some superb action tracks and one hell of a standout cue makes Dumbo one of Elfman’s best pieces of work in a good while, so make sure you give it a listen.
Standout Cue: 28. Soaring Suite