The Secret Life of Pets


The Secret Life of Pets Score Cover
Alexandre Desplat (2016)

Why You Should…
Charm, creativity and occasional sophistry inhabit this pleasant score from Alexandre Desplat.

Why You Shouldn’t…
If you have only strict limits on the jazz you listen to, or the abundance of styles proves too much of an ovebearing experience.

Release Date: July 8th 2016 (GENERAL RELEASE)
Composer: Alexandre Desplat
Length: 51:31
Recorded By/ At: –
Label: Backlot Music


Something seems to have clicked for Illumination Studios. Their penchant for creating anthropomorphic animated films with affable characters and genuine charm seemingly repeats in THE SECRET LIFE OF PETS, another example of a deserving film that seems to have become caught in the cinematic undercurrent of 2016. Loosely following in the footsteps of similarly structured Disney venture Zootopia, the notion of household pets seems to be the last thing on the minds of two dogs, whom in the absence of their carefree owner, explore the metropolitan world. Befriending a rather radicalised rabbit leads to the questioning of the relationship between a pet and its owner, as the pets form an alliance among a wide variety of animals, whilst trying to avert the capture of the Animal Control in pursuit. Of course, with a reputation built on the largely successful Despicable Me franchise, not to mention a hugely successful spin-off project, one can only invite such warm reception with a film like this. Even with multiple projects lined in his career year, French composer Alexandre Desplat seems to have mastered both the art of interpolating various musical styles and multitasking (take that, social stereotypes!) through the many genres of cinema. The renowned musician strikes a uniform chord with both his cohort of admirers and casual listeners alike in this score, infusing a sense of creative energy rarely heard in films today, enhancing the animated genre as a welcome avenue of musical approach. To summarise the score in effect, a remarkably effective partnership between the orchestra and the contemporary jazz swing hustle is what renders this score as a pure delight, Desplat’s ability to shift between moments of ensemble activity and focused bursts of manic precision most commendable. There is no titular theme, the best representation being that of the opening cue, “Meet The Pets”, built on a muscular drum beat with bass and caper movement. Trumpets and saxophones playfully cement a repeated idea, accompanied by manic, eclectic brass, evocative of scores very precocious in John Williams’ career, with tenuous woodwinds imitating 4-note phrases, and occasional flashes of solo piano and jazz guitar.

Atypical to many a Desplat effort, the composer compensates the lack of a clearly identifiable main theme with several supplementary character themes and motifs. Of mention is “Meet Duke”, the newly adopted dog characterised by muted trumpets and a laidback swing, with 3-note muted trumpet phrases, with faint celesta ostinati and strings and flutes coyly complimenting. While the intricacy of most cues will warrant your appreciation, the abundance of noticeable but unnecessary complexity will serve as the core of the orchestration, eliciting varied response from the listener. The secondary theme for Gidget, a Pomeranina dog harbouring an intense attraction for Max, the protagonist canine in “Gidget Meets Tiberius,” using a flavoured melodic progression that will raise heads to the late James Horner’s Zorro scores, bouncing with vigour and appeal, with fleeting, serenading strings and tubular gongs. Tapped cymbals and manic descending flutes introduce the tertiary motif for Tiberius, a tempered hawk, by a 4-note bass pattern, with bass choral regions and Taiko drums. Oddly enough, between 2:42 and 2:47, a rather obnoxious mute trumpet plays a statement seemingly poking fun at Kylo Ren’s octave descent. This motif is repeated in “Initiation Time”, countered on flutes instead. Max himself gets a thematic cue in “Good Morning Max”, once again with swing rhythm and 4-note phrasing, highlighted by rolling woodwinds and staccato piano with pizzicato triplets and strings. Desplat briefly intertwines Max’s and Gidget’s themes together in “Max and Gidget”, eventually signifying their blossomed love with tinkling piano and lovely woodwinds.

The second and defining aspect of the score is its instrumentation.  You hear every instrument come to life in part to the stellar recording and precision. The accentuation and timbre help this score breathe freely with spirit and energy, and optimism in full flow. Cues such as “Telenovela Squirrels” rely on amusing Mexican vibes, with sweeping strings and guitar and trumpets, providing a highly amusing twist into soft jazz territory. The dynamic range of the orchestra is revealed in “Hijack!” with harps and alternating rippling flutes and snare rolls. String ostinatos play sixteenth notes over piano quavers, with electric piano. The highlighting two cues of the score follow in “Me Like What Me See”, a rhumba movement with jazz guitar and muted trumpets, not to mention cowbells (when was the last time we heard one of those?) and tom-toms, and “Travelling Bossa” utilises the Bossa Nova format with a crisp, punchy drumkit and a creative percussive palette. “Katie’s Leaving” tenderly uses plucked acoustic guitar and pizzicato and soft woodwinds, with melodies of piano descent and warmth, whilst “Wet But Handsome Blue Taxi” incorporates lush, romantic strings and soothing improvisation on the flute, before exploding with an energetic burst of funk with wild brass and guitars on distortion. Strong brass work lends a swashbuckling feel in “Flushed Out To Brooklyn”, fluctuating in metre and ending in a major cadence piano flourish. Orchestral grandeur segues into a nostalgic swoon of strings and cymbals followed by a burst of carnival like mania in “Sausages”, evidently showcasing the blend of stylistic writing in singular cues. The score bizarrely ends with a kid-friendly version of “We Go Together” from cult musical Grease. Overall, you have to give points to Desplat for livening the proceedings with his style and ruckus, but the glossy over-intelligence of certain cues will inevitably arch eyebrows from some listeners. Rarely does a cue emotionally connect, a shame given the tremendous breadth of creativity and hyperactive instrumental performances. Still, in fine busy year for the composer, The Secret Life of Pets is further proof that Desplat can adapt his style to suit conventional needs, one of his finest scores in recent memory, and a worthy feather to add to his cap. Desplat garners a Synaesthesia Awards nomination for Animation Score of the Year.

 Rating: ****

Track Listing:
(all music except where noted written by Alexandre Desplat)

1)Meet The Pets (2:37)
2)Katie’s Leaving (0:55)
3)Meet Duke (3:36)
4)Fetch Me A Stick (3:09)
5)Telenovela Squirrels (1:24)
6)Hijack! (2:00)
7)Gidget Meets Tiberius (4:56)
8)Initiation Time (1:01)
9)Roofop Route (1:27)
10)The Viper (1:49)
11)You Have An Owner? (3:04)
12)Good Morning Max (1:29)
13)Sewer Chase (1:10)
14)Who’s With Me? (1:21)
15)Me Like What Me See (0:54)
16)Travelling Bossa (1:57)
17)Flushed Out To Brooklyn (2:48)
18)Sausages (1:13)
19)Duke’s Old House Captured (3:03)
20)Brooklyn Bridge Showdown (2:34)
21)Rescuing Duke (2:46)
22)Wet But Handsome/Blue Taxi (1:24)
23)Max and Gidget (1:36)
24)Welcome Home (1:57)
25)We Go Together (1:25)- performed by the Sausage Factory Singers



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