After Newman's own success working on Pixar's Toy Story and then Danny Elfman working on The Nightmare Before Christmas, this stop motion version of Roald Dahl's classic fantasy children's book went with something a little less gory than Elfman's efforts and in fact is very subtle indeed. Much of the action matching music that made Toy Story a bit of a yawn at times (even if the songs were terrific) is replaced by an almost chamber scale score that gradually increases in confidence to the quite rousing closing scenes in New York. Kicking off with four entertaining songs, perhaps my favourite of these is That's the Life which is only slightly unfortunate in that it doesn't have a proper ending (the reprise later on is basically a more complete version of the ending to the song). My Name is James sounds disgustingly twee to start with, but I suspect what Newman was attempting to do was to write a song that sounds like the kid was making it up and so the very child like lyrics seem more appropriately placed. The tune is sweet and treacle, but very endearing. The other two songs are subtle and quite stately even if Eating the Peach does get a little mad toward the end.
The score proper starts with the very whimsical and quiet Main Title but quickly the song tunes are worked into other tracks to tie all parts of the score together. Newman has great fun in using more quirky orchestration such as tuba and bassoon plodding about mostly for comedic effect. To counter the comedy, there are plenty of very fragile orchestral moments which utilise strings that shimmer away and make the whole thing much more magical and poignant that could have been achieved by a more traditional heavily sentimental score. The finale few cues introduce some more bouncy material for when James and the bugs arrive on the peach in New York, although it never goes over the top. In fact, the only point where Newman lets rip completely is in the final song, Good News. In some ways it seems a bit too lively compared to the rest which is often so delicate, but it's a great song on its own terms and one of Newman's greatest toe tapping numbers even if it lacks his acid wit lyrics.
People expecting another Toy Story or Bug's Life will possibly be disappointed since this much more akin to a child like version of his beautfiul scores for Pleasantville or Awakenings that the other animated efforts. I wonder whether it perhaps errs a little too much on the side of subtle. It's never boring, but you often wonder whether it should pick up a bit more than it does, after all kid's films are supposed to be bold and dynamic so they actually appeal to their audience. That having been said, this is probably one of the only recent animation scores that adults will probably like a lot more than the kids, even if they find the songs a bit much. Newman himself said he found this to be one of the most difficult scoring assignments he's had, but he certainly pulled it off and managed to pen and quite enchanting fantasy.