Planes (Mark Mancina)
Mark Mancina, 2013, Disney
29 tracks, 53:24
Mark Mancina, where have you been? The 2000s have been relatively quiet for him. Whilst he’s never really been away, I do dare proclaim that with Disney’s “Planes” he is back! He’s in form! And he shows the kids how it’s done! Boom!
Review by Pete Simons
What is it?
Disney’s “Planes” is yet another variation on the same old story… An underdog dreams big and, in spite of numerous obstacles, makes it big. On this occasion the underdog is an airplane; a crop duster named… yup, Dusty! (Is he voiced by Dust-in Hoffman? No… missed opportunity!) Anyway, this crop duster strives to be top gun (see what I did there?) and enters “the most exhilarating around-the-world race in history”. Needless to say, Dusty is no racer so there’s adversary aplenty before, undoubtedly, winning the trophy. Dusty is voiced by Dane Cook; and other voice-stars include John Cleese and Val Kilmer. Direction is in the hands of Klay Hall, who’s previously directed numerous episodes of “Father of the Pride” and “King of the Hill”. Albeit predictable, first impressions of the movie are good. What’s even better is its score by Mark Mancina.
Youngsters who got into film music off the back of “Lord of the Rings” and “Batman Begins” may be forgiven for not immediately recognising Mancina’s name. His output in the 2000s has been limited, with only a few titles of relative fame (e.g. “Training Day”, “Brother Bear”) and even those are nearly ten years ago. Go back a little further and you find this is the guy who wrote “Speed”, “Twister”, “Con Air”, “Bad Boys”, all the cool stuff.
What does it sound like?
It sounds exactly what you’d want Mark Mancina to sound like. Remember that gorgeous theme from “Return to Paradise” or the exhilarating one from “Twister”? This guy can write some seriously catchy stuff. And that is exactly what he’s asked to do here. The long-lined main theme, especially when performed by trumpet and horn, brings back memories of his former scores, as well as “Remember the Titans” (Trevor Rabin) and maybe even a touch of “Apollo 13” (James Horner); and heck, maybe even a little bit of John Williams.
The score is book-ended by a number of songs; of which Mark Holman’s rock track “Nothing can stop me now” is arguably the best. Carlos Alazraqui and Dave Wittenberg contribute two supposedly humorous tracks, but their cheesyness is a bit too much for this reviewer.
Mark Mancina opens his title track “Planes” with soft strings and a noble solo trumpet before a rock drum kit and electric guitar are added. Strings swell, horns are added, and next thing you know your feet are tapping along uncontrollably. The melody and its harmonies (especially how the trumpet and horn interact) owe a lot to “Twister” and “Remember the Titans”… or the 90s in general; and it’s a knock-out theme, full of hope and nobility. I probably show my age in writing this, but you don’t hear big, memorable themes like this very often anymore.
What follows is a varied score for large orchestra, subtle electronics, guitar and percussion. “Dusty steps into History” offers a rousing repeat of the main theme; and “Leg 2/Bulldog thanks Dusty” is an exciting action cue that makes great use of brass and percussion (incidentally, fans of Silvestri will probably enjoy the passage for muted horn and timpani). The album contains plenty more exciting cues (most of them offering variations on the main theme or introducing new ones) such as “The Tunnel”, “Racing on Fumes”, “Leg 7”, “Dusty Soars” and the jubilant “Honorary Jolly Wrench”; all relying heavily on brass and all harking back to the days when these types of adventure scores by the likes of Mancina, Silvestri and Arnold were all the rage (and before the market got flooded with overly serious and overly produced scores).
With tracks like “Skipper tries to fly” Mancina shows a gentler side, where strings and woodwinds take centre-stage. There’s even room for some lovely Indian influences in “Dusty & Ishani” and “You’re a Racer”; whilst “1st Place” and “A True Victory” are exuberant yet reflective. The score section effectively ends with a heart-felt choral rendition of “Skipper’s Theme”. The writing here is sincere, innocent and engaging. Truly heart-warming.
Is it any good?
It is fabulous. A lot of the enjoyment is down to that, now nostalgic, 90s sound. Where others have tried (and failed, in my opinion) to either parody it (“Red 2“, Alan Silvestri) or modernise it (“Man of Steel“, Hans Zimmer), Mancina stays true to the style. And yet, it does not sound dated. Beyond the initial nostalgia though, lies a rousing score with several great themes, rich harmonies, colourful orchestrations and clear production values. Synths are present, but only very subtly. Percussion plays a significant role in this score to provide ‘rock’ like rhythms. It is surprisingly refreshing to hear these acoustic drums, rather than the same sample libraries that are being used all over the place. It’s telling about current trends in film music that we get this excited over ‘rich orchestrations’, but really when is the last time you heard a muted horn in a crowd-pleasing blockbuster? Or the last time you heard a score so rich in- and dependent on melodies (…probably not since the early “Potter” scores)? “Planes” is all about the themes; even the action cues are derived from them. Mancina has always had a knack for them. It’s so satisfying to hear he’s still got it.
01. Mark Holman – Nothing Can Stop Me Now (3:14) *
02. Chris Classic and Alana D – You Don’t Stop/NYC (3:49) *
03. Jon Stevens – Fly (2:58) *
04. Planes (2:33)
05. Crop Duster (1:19)
06. Last Contestant (1:27)
07. Hello Lincoln/Sixth Place (1:07)
08. Show Me What You Got (1:21)
09. Dusty Steps Into History (1:06)
10. Start Your Engines (1:59)
11. Leg 2/Bulldog Thanks Dusty (2:22)
12. Skipper Tries To Fly (0:51)
13. Dusty & Ishani (2:38)
14. The Tunnel (1:22)
15. Running on Fumes (3:10)
16. Get Above the Storm (1:11)
17. Dusty Has to Ditch (0:58)
18. Skipper’s Story (2:16)
19. You’re a Racer (2:52)
20. Leg 7 (3:04)
21. Skipper to the Rescue (1:58)
22. Dusty Soars (1:32)
23. 1st Place (1:54)
24. A True Victory (0:40)
25. Honorary Jolly Wrench (0:54)
26. Skipper’s Theme (Volo Pro Veritas) (1:14)
27. Carlos Alazraqui and Antonio Sol – Love Machine (1:45) *
28. Dave Wittenberg – Ein Crop Duster Can Race (1:12) *
29. Armadillo (0:38)
Available digitally and on CD.