October 2005

George Fenton - Valiant
Disney 861388
Released: 2005
Format: CD

by Anthony Di Marco

Musical Performance ***
Recording Quality **1/2
Overall Enjoyment ***1/2

As the advertisement says, "Valiant is an animated film from the producers who brought you Shrek and Shrek 2." I expected the same disposable music and irritating songs, and was relieved to see George Fenton’s name associated with the film. Known in part for composing fabulously lush and romantic scores that are steeped in '40s pop and jazz, the British composer’s work for the BBC eclipses his better-known effort on the IMAX feature Blue Planet and the Michael Caton-Jones film Memphis Belle.

Knowing the power of producers, Fenton’s illustrious resume didn’t prevent me from fearing the worst. I expected a score similar to the claptrap penned by Randy Newman for the Toy Story films. The opening title track immediately dispelled those fears, and each cut thereafter made it clear that Fenton had not sold out. His music for this story of heroic carrier pigeons during World War II is uplifting and immensely enjoyable. Fenton even resists the temptation to pen a forgettable pop song for the end credits; instead, with the help of the British pop group MisTeeq, he resurrects the doo-wop tune "Shoo-Shoo Baby." This energetic cut and the hip big-band cue "Arrival at Camp" show off Fenton’s affinity for classic swing arrangements.

The sound quality fluctuates from bracing and dynamic to moderately compressed. The big-band swing tracks exhibit the most open sound and dynamic shading. The swelling energy of full orchestral cues falls victim to crushed dynamic peaks. You can feel how truncated dynamics can rob music of its emotional power when you compare Valiant to the extended and unrestricted dynamics of a recent reference recording like War of the Worlds.