(Welcome to The Disney Discourse, a recurring feature where Josh Spiegel discusses the latest in Disney news. He goes deep on everything from the animated classics to the theme parks to live-action franchises. In this edition: )

When Pixar Animation Studios began making features, they wanted to differentiate themselves in more ways than one from other animation companies. In the mid-1990s, it was daring to make a full-length computer-animated feature, but Pixar knew there was another trend of modern animation that they should boldly sidestep. To quote Monty Python and the Holy Grail: no singing.

The Disney Renaissance of the 1990s was marked by Broadway-style songs in Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid, The Lion King and more. For a while, Pixar’s filmmakers would compromise with Disney, to the point where a song or two played over the soundtrack in their early films, such as Toy Story and A Bug’s Life. Nearly a quarter-century later, Pixar is the standard-bearer of American animation, only slightly delving into the musical genre with last year’s Coco. Though Pixar’s cautiously utilized songs in their films, they’ve had a very strong association with music, akin to Disney and its relationship with the late Howard Ashman, even if they intended to avoid such associations. With Pixar, many of their recent films have been defined and enhanced by the work of Oscar-winning composer Michael Giacchino.

The Incredibles and Incredibles 2

Michael Giacchino didn’t get his start with Pixar; he came to renown thanks to his work on the Call of Duty video game series as well as two of JJ Abrams’ TV shows, Alias and Lost. (His work on the latter program is among the finest musical work in TV history, bar none.) But as soon as the opening strains of “The Glory Days” are heard in Brad Bird’s 2004 superhero film The Incredibles, Giacchino stepped into his own as one of the most important factors in any Pixar film’s success.

With the release of Incredibles 2, Giacchino has now composed the score for seven of Pixar’s 20 feature films; only Randy Newman, who scored the studio’s first four films, has worked more for Pixar with eight features under his belt. Though Giacchino got his start later in Pixar’s run, the films he’s scored have the studio’s most distinctive themes. There’s the snappy and swooning sounds of Ratatouille, his vibrant work on Coco, and the two scores he’s produced for Pete Docter’s Pixar features, Inside Out and Up, the latter of which garnered Giacchino a richly deserved Academy Award.

Starting with The Incredibles, Michael Giacchino was able to both recall the work of past great composers as well as make something uniquely his own. Bird originally wanted John Barry to score the film, in homage to his iconic work on the James Bond sequel On Her Majesty’s Secret Service; when Barry passed on the gig, Giacchino stepped in. No doubt, the bombastic, retro-styled score feels indebted to the Bond films of the 1960s as well as other jazzy compositions. However, Giacchino steps beyond simply cribbing from the past by creating his own distinct themes within that recognizable era of music.

The brassy quality of the score not only recalls the era of Bird’s youth, but adds an epic quality to the film that’s arguably missing from a lot of superhero movies these days. (Is it a hot take to say that most live-action superhero movies are lacking in the music department? Because they are, and there’s just no excuse.) Both in depicting the superheroic Parr family at their best — as when paterfamilias Bob’s mid-life crisis takes a positive turn in “Life’s Incredible Again” — as well as revealing the villain Syndrome and his vicious plan in “Kronos Unveiled”, Giacchino’s first Pixar score is as exciting and bold a debut as you’ll find among modern composers. With just one film, it became clear that this was a musical talent to…well, listen out for.

Unfortunately for us, the Incredibles 2 score has yet to be released to the public; it’ll be available for purchase on June 29, two weeks after the film opens. On first blush, hearing it within the context of the overall film, Giacchino is going back to the basics that established him as a composer to watch. Though the setup of the film is reversed — Helen Parr/Elastigirl gets to be the hero, while Bob stays at home — the score feels both distinct to the story as well as dipping into a lot of familiar themes. There’s plenty of trumpet-heavy themes, along with more than a — sorry for the pun — dash of saxophones and other woodwinds. It’s maybe not Giacchino’s best score, but feels like a natural continuation of what made his 2004 work stand out so much.

Ratatouille

Though Giacchino worked with Brad Bird for the second of five collaborations on Ratatouille, the 2007 character study is tonally much different from the director’s other output. Though there’s a chase sequence or two, the action is much more minimal than in either Incredibles film or Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol. Yet the score for Ratatouille, including Giacchino’s song “Le Festin,” is symphonically exciting, leaping from high to low emotion deftly.

Granny Get Your Gun” — one thing that Michael Giacchino has always done is get very clever with the names of the tracks on his scores — starts calmly with almost a rustic charm. That charming, down-home quality, sounding almost like Remy the rat’s internal soundtrack, shifts drastically. It builds in intensity, with screeching brass and strings, matching an early scene where an elderly woman discovers that Remy’s family lives in her ceiling, and tries to blow them all to bits with a shotgun.

The same mix of excitement and urgency is present in “A Real Gourmet Kitchen,” in which Remy finds himself in the middle of the kitchen at Gusteau’s Restaurant in Paris, trying to avoid being found out by the humans inside even as every facet of the kitchen cries out to him. In Ratatouille especially, Giacchino can confidently, comfortably move from emotional peak to valley, and back again; we get the sense in the music alone how much the kitchen excites Remy even as its participants terrify him.

The blend hits a fever pitch in “Dinner Rush,” when Remy, his human friend Alfredo Linguine, and a whole lot of rats must serve, among others, the fearsome critic Anton Ego. This piece alone shifts from the frantic sense of keeping a Parisian kitchen afloat to the thrill to serving “a peasant dish” to a literal tastemaker, to the winsome triumph of making that critic Remy’s fiercest champion. Ratatouille may not be Giacchino’s flashiest score, but it’s as vital a part of the film’s success as any of its other elements.

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