Dreamworks' animated movie branch has churned out what seems like dozens of cartoons in the last 15 or so years, ranging in the quality from very good (Shrek, How to Train Your Dragon) to utterly forgettable (Shark Tale, Bee Movie). By most critics' accounts, their first 2014 offering, Mr. Peabody and Sherman, falls somewhere in the middle, meaning it's probably not quite worth your time to see it in a theater unless you're accompanied by a child. A highly intriguing aspect of the production, however, is Danny Elfman's involvement as composer. Dreamworks in the past usually worked with Hans Zimmer (who is actually the head of their music division and helmed scores such as The Prince of Egypt and Mega-Mind), John Powell (who composed the masterpiece score How to Train Your Dragon), and Harry Gregson-Williams (the Shrek series), among others. This would be their first collaboration with Elfman. The zany movie seemed like a good match for Elfman's off-kilter and always-clever style of writing.
Your impression of the score may immediately be marred the minute you hear the main theme: it's a good theme, but unfortunately it's almost a direct copy of the theme that Elfman wrote for the TV show Desperate Housewives 10 years ago. Right off the bat it makes you ask “could he really not have come up with an original theme?” Fortunately, Elfman redeems himself later on with a secondary theme that as far as I can tell, is original, and is quite evocative in its slightly downtrodden progressions. The general style of the score is also a perfect fit for the film and exactly what any Elfman fan would want: frenetic, frenzied, fun, and fantastic, with the players of the orchestra being exercised in all kinds of ways. The music has a friendly persona that may you remind you of the tone for Elfman's “Simpson's” theme, and by the final tracks you feel like you've taken a journey with these themes, and by extension, the characters. In fact, by the end, it's even possible to forget that the whole time, the main theme was actually from a TV show that is very different from this movie. Some of the standout tracks for me include #14 “The Flying Machine”, #15 “Trojan Horse”, and #17 “History Mash-Up” which features a cute quote of the opening bars of Beethoven's Fifth. Overall, imaginative animated films are a good fit for Danny Elfman's sensibilities and each project, including his score last year for Epic, makes you wish he'd explore this genre even more. While this score falls short of the quality of Elfman's most tightly-woven soundtracks, it's consistently entertaining and worth a purchase.