Original Review by Alan Rogers

The Gruffalo is an award-winning animated film based on the already-classic children’s picture book written by Julia Donaldson and illustrated by Axel Scheffler. The book tells the story of a mouse’s walk in the woods and his encounter with three dangerous animals who all wish to eat him. In turn, a fox, an owl and a snake are frightened off when the mouse tells them that he is meeting his friend, the gruffalo, whose favourite food just happens to be the relevant animal. Events take a turn when the mouse discovers that the gruffalo is in fact real and the mouse has to again think quickly to avoid becoming the monster’s next meal. Using the voice talents of an all-star cast, the half-hour 2009 film – a mixture of model and CGI animation – skilfully recreates the look and feel of the book. It’s a wonderful film that quickly became a classic, a definite feel-good animated film that is destined to become regular in holiday season TV programming schedules for years to come.

René Aubry’s lovely and evocative score makes a major contribution to the success of the film. Aubry, a French composer who has composed for both TV and film as well as composing music for several dance choreographers, is best-known for his blending of classical harmonies with modern instrumentation. But with his score for The Gruffalo, he uses a small ensemble of traditional instruments (acoustic guitar, piano, strings, woodwinds and percussion) in a variety of combinations to provide character to each of the story’s main protagonists. “The Forest” opens the album with a light, tinkling piano line played over a pattering guitar sequence that transports us to the story proper: we are in a place of babbling brooks, bright sunshine and an optimistic outlook. This is similar in style to the jaunty theme Aubry gives to “The Mouse”, the track that ends the album. The music reflects effectively the mouse’s optimistic temperament as well as re-inforcing his own success over his adversaries. Overall, each of the six tracks on The Gruffalo play as a “character study” for the various protagonists and, on the album, play as self-contained compositions (with various passages being used at appropriate parts in the story). 

Aubry makes some interesting and pleasing instrument choices for the various animals and it helps to show off the lovely animation to its best advantage. “The Fox” gets a laid-back, almost cocky theme on mandolin/guitar that suggests that this fox is a bit of a charmer and not to be trusted, “The Owl”’s experience as a formidable predator is highlighted by frantic strings in the style of John Powell that gives the score its most animated (no pun intended) sequence, underscoring the mouse’s frantic (and ultimately fruitless) efforts to evade the owl’s pursuit and there’s a hypnotic motif on double bass for “The Snake” that taps into everyone’s subconscious ideas of snakes that have been amassed over the years from watching the likes of Disney’s Sir Hiss (Robin Hood) and Kaa (The Jungle Book). Aubry’s music for the snake highlights some of the exotic orchestration combinations within the score: castanets (suggestive of a rattlesnake’s “rattle”?), banjo, accordion and snare drum all contribute to establishing a particularly foreign (and darker) environment for the forest at this point. The motif for “The Gruffalo” seems to be the simplest of all the themes; a two-note motif played on pounding timpani marking the presence of the monster giant. This short motif is answered by an accompanying four-note motif that gives a particularly rhythmic motif for the gruffalo (that has a feel of David Shire’s The Taking of Pelham 1-2-3 about it.). Also, as each animal has the table turned on him by the quick-witted murine hero, the animal’s themes/motifs are slowly become infiltrated by the mouse’s jaunty rhythms.

The final track, “The Mouse”, is a beautiful track. Acoustic guitar and piano re-establishes the status quo first heard at the beginning of the album as the mouse gets his sought-after nut and can enjoy it in peace without fear from any other animals of the wood – including the gruffalo. As the story comes to a conclusion the composer fills out the score with additional strings. What the listener is left with is a warm glow inside. The Gruffalo is a lovely, bright and jaunty listen with just the right level of light and dark (with the dark never getting too dark) and by the end I was left wanting more. The music inspires you to hunt out the film and watching the film encourages you to hunt out the music. I just loved this score and it is available to buy on iTunes.

Rating: ****

  1. The Forest (2:38)
  2. The Fox (1:58)
  3. The Owl (2:17)
  4. The Snake (2:06)
  5. The Gruffalo (2:41)
  6. The Mouse (2:13)

Running Time: 13:56

Orange Eyes (2010)

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