In the last quarter-century, Pixar Animation Studios has redefined the world’s expectations for an animated film, with impeccable visuals, compelling storylines, timeless humor, true, bold emotions and evocative music.
In “Pixar in Concert,” the music, typically required to enhance the visual storytelling without subsuming it, was brought center stage.
The show came to the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts for the Kansas City Symphony’s Screenland at the Symphony series. Friday’s audience included a fair number of children, some clutching their Sulley or Nemo toys, but the primary demographic was adults, a telling sign of the universal appeal of the Pixar franchise.
Butch Rigby, founder of Screenland Theatres, served as host for the show with introductions to the pieces and background on the composers: Randy Newman, Thomas Newman, Michael Giacchino and Patrick Doyle.
Jason Seber, incoming associate conductor in the 2016-17 season, conducted. He was assured and undemonstrative, buckling down to lead the ensemble through full throttle playing with commanding brass, nuanced winds, demanding percussion parts and, for the strings, a chance to pull at the heart.
The film element, projected on the big screen behind the orchestra, featured scenes from all 16 full-length films, sometimes in full, some montages, some loosely fashioned plot lines cut and shuffled to fit with the scores (though without dialogue). The moments that worked the best were the ones originally designed together, such as the frantic scurry in “Ratatouille” or the brutal love story arc of “Up.”
Really, it was Pixar’s fine-tuned ability to evoke every emotion at its most raw that was the theme of the show, and the music certainly served this goal. These award-winning composers pulled from timeless cinematic tropes through familiar and effective orchestral colors and wholehearted, unambiguous melodies.
Keeping in mind that the composers were writing for Hollywood’s first-call studio musicians, the orchestra, for the most part, embraced the diversity and challenge of the program for a sturdy reading, flipping from Western motifs to jazz, Celtic reels to simple melodies underscored by wrenching string vibrato, bombastic themes of adventure and 1960s spy drama, and even a bout of drumline cadences.
Standard instrumentation was supplemented by saxophones, guitars, banjo, electric bass, drum set, synthesized accordion, lots and lots of percussion toys, and bagpipes, the piper in full-kilted regalia.
It was a loud, exciting performance and allowed a deeper appreciation for both the exacting visual details and the expressive musical scene-setting.
Randy Newman (“Toy Story”); Thomas Newman (“Finding Nemo”); Michael Giacchino (“Ratatouille”); Randy Newman (“A Bug’s Life”); Thomas Newman (“WALL*E”); Randy Newman (“Toy Story 2,” “Cars”); Michael Giacchino (“Up,” The Incredibles”); Randy Newman (Monsters, Inc.”); Michael Giacchino (“Cars 2,” “Inside/Out”); Randy Newman (“Toy Story 3”); Patrick Doyle (“Brave”); Randy Newman (“Monsters University”); Encore: Mychael Danna, Jeff Danna (“The Good Dinosaur”); Randy Newman (“You’ve Got a Friend in Me” montage, ending credits)