Sometimes you approach listening to a film score with no idea of what to expect and it’s not until you listen to the audio clips that you realise that you may be onto a winner. This is the case with Guillaume Houzé’s score for the 2016 French animated film, Dofus. Livre 1: Julith. The film is one of several spin-off projects from a popular 2005 massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG). Set in a world featured in two earlier animated TV series shown in France (Wakfu and Dofus: Aux Trésors de Kérubim), Dofus. Livre 1: Julith is a feature-length film, directed by Jean-Jacques Denis and Anthony Roux, and is based upon the 52-episode Dofus: Aux Trésors de Kérubim. The movie tells the story of Joris, a spirited and inquisitive youngster who lives with his (humanoid cat) father and sister. Joris works in a magic shop and his life is forever changed when the witch Julith returns from exile and steals a powerful dragon egg. Joris and his friends must set out to save their city from the witch’s dark magic. Having already composed the music for the two previous TV shows, French composer Guillaume Houzé returns to the Dofus universe for this feature. It’s clear that the composer is comfortable in this world because he has fashioned an exciting and impressive orchestral score full of magic and energy.
The album opens (“Prologue”) with a summary of a couple of musical ideas that are used at various points throughout the score. A catchy motif in the strings immediately gives pace to the score with an accompaniment of low woodwinds and brass adding a sense of menace. The energy of the strings and the appearance of percussion as a strong rhythmic support, particularly for the middle section of this cue, is a common feature of Dofus. Livre 1: Julith and propels most of the action scoring. This bridging section of “Prologue” has a fantasy/magical feel courtesy of some subtle electronics and ethereal wordless voices before leading into the briefest of hints at the darker side of the score to come. The cue finishes with a statement of a short heroic 4-note motif, again associated with the film’s action sequences. Presumably related to a backstory for the film, this opening track reflects the action scoring that doesn’t really appear in the opening third of the score.
This opening 20 minutes or so mainly features the most reflective and lightest moments of the score; when Joris and his friends are living their lives prior to the appearance of the witch. “Joris et Lilotte” and “Papycha” are excellent examples of the composer’s deft touch at creating a sense of innocence for these happier times. The former track opens with a lovely flute passage and progresses to a light and jaunty melody, with pizzicato strings and playful woodwinds illustrating the friendship of Joris and his best friend, Lilotte (a humanoid dog). “En route pour le stade” is perhaps the pinnacle of the score in terms of the innocence of life for the friends. Here, a joyous string melody oozes love and happiness as the friends head off on an innocent adventure, with a jaunty rhythm to enhance the warmth of the track. In addition, one of the most beautiful and emotional parts of the score appears in this opening act of the film. “Le rêve de ma vie” is a soaring piece with the strings of the orchestra capturing the love and longing of friendships forged.
It is worth noting here that sadness as well as happiness is to be found in Dofus. Livre 1: Julith. “Je serai toujours avec toi”, with its feelings of loss, and “Sacrifice”, which opens with the same sense of bereavement as “Je serai toujours avec toi”, offer some respite from the action scoring found later in the score. Resolute statements in the horns of the 4-note motif first heard in “Prologue” also provide a nobility to sacrifice, a major theme of the film.
Alongside the repeated statements of happiness and friendship mentioned earlier, the music of the returning witch Julith appears. First heard in full in “Julith”, Houzé uses pitch-bending trombones, tongue-fluttering brass and synths as a musical “calling card” to represent the evil and her music can be heard at various points throughout the score (e.g., “Julith est de retour”, “Julith est là”). The composer tends to use the musical devices representing Julith in subtle ways, using perhaps 1-2 of these devices (which also include wordless vocals (“Julith vs. Kerubim”)) as hints in the action scoring rather than having overt musical statements dominating the score.
The most notable cues of Dofus. Livre 1: Julith are, without doubt, the action tracks. Once Joris and his friends come into direct conflict with Julith the musical stakes are raised. The musical ideas first heard in “Prologue” re-appear in “Julith vs. Kerubim” where a frenetic pace is maintained by strings and supporting percussion. These elements combine with full-blooded brass to create an exciting musical landscape. The interplay of a number of the brass section in the mid-section of this cue is of particular note. Houzé does vary the pace of the cue, adding various snippets of musical ideas of various tempo to keep everything interesting. For example, a lonely piano passage brings everything to a slower pace before a cacophony of dissonance and pitch-bending brass indicates the presence once again of Julith. The cue then ends with the familiar action motifs, bringing to a conclusion a score highlight. Much of what is heard in “Julith vs. Kerubim” is used as the musical palette for the remaining action cues. But they are used in ever-interesting variations. The slow staccato low strings, prominent harp and piano is a hypnotic opening to “Julith contre Bakara” and the whole cue builds in tempo and intensity as various additional elements are added to the mix to create something akin to a demented waltz. One of the things that’s particularly appealing in this score – and it’s highlighted in this cue – is that the composer doesn’t continue to throw everything into the pot so that a track has nowhere left to go other than to just stop. For example, in “Julith contre Bakara”, Houzé pulls back from the whirling waltz to end the track with a much more muted tone that includes an emotionally drained harp motif.
The finale action tracks, “La revanche de Julith”, “Mascotte” and “La grande finale”, offer an excellent ten minute conclusion to the album. Subtle synths are included into the rhythmic spine of “La revanche de Julith” to reflect Julith’s influence on the events unfolding in the movie and the catchy staccato motif on the strings drives the score forward. The punctuation of this motif with a memorable cascading of the strings down the musical scale and the mixture of wailing vocals and bombastic percussion sets things up for a fine finish. “La grande finale” is a breathtakingly fluid track that moves between a number of frenetic music ideas. Fast-paced strings mix with drums (featuring pop-influenced rhythms) to give the track’s opening a distinct 80s action film feel. Swirling strings and a seemingly-familiar countermelody played in brass then offer a brief respite before the track reaches a conclusion with an almost funereal rhythm on snare drum (with tolling bell) leading into a final burst of energy. A repeating motif on synths and the persistence of the tolling bell drives the action to a satisfying end. The score proper then ends with “Retour à la vie”.
Dofus. Livre 1: Julith is an exciting and varied score with the action scoring being the highlight. Also, there’s a real sense of the story unfolding in Houzé’s score. I found that the composer’s interplay of bold action scoring alongside smaller-scale ensemble (and solo) writing made for an interesting dynamic aspect to the score. The musicians of the National Orchestra Lille and the Star Pop Orchestra (the latter directed by Julien Leroy) do an admirable job at translating Houzé’s orchestrations. There are a couple of things though that are worth noting and that are slight detractors from the overall work. Firstly, there are a significant number of tracks that are relatively short in length, where ideas seem to be over before they’ve really begun. This feature of film scores is part of the nature of the beast I suppose. My second comment is more related to the style of Houzé’s action music writing. How he uses the strings and brass, and the interplay between them, reminds me a lot of Murray Gold’s early work on the BBC’s Doctor Who “reboot”. Just take a listen to “La grande finale” and tell me you don’t hear it too! Gold’s early scores for the Time Lord’s adventures are still some of the best music written for television so this isn’t really too much of a complaint from me, but it is certainly worth noting.
Guillaume Houzé’s score for Dofus. Livre 1: Julith is certainly one of my highlights of 2016 so far, and I fully expect it to feature in any highlight lists at the end of the year. There’s so much more that I could have talked about with this score and it’s been a frustrating process putting together this review as the quality of the music has exposed by limited descriptive vocabulary. But, hopefully I have managed to convey some of the enthusiasm I have for this score and the reasons why I rate it so highly. Finally, it would be great if Houzé’s music for the TV shows (Wakfu and Dofus: Aux Trésors de Kérubim) was available to hear but a brief search online confirms that this is not the case. Dofus. Livre 1: Julith is an excellent album and heartily recommended.
Dofus. Livre 1: Julith is available to buy at the usual online digital outlets and audio clips can be heard HERE. It is also available to stream on Spotify.
- Prologue (1:46)
- Hommage à Jahash (1:36)
- Julith (1:03)
- Joris et Lilotte (2:27)
- Papycha (0:52)
- Soyez sages, je fais au plus vite (1:15)
- Julith est de retour (0:44)
- En route pour le stade (0:52)
- Suis-moi! (1:51)
- Khan (0:40)
- Le rêve de ma vie (2:00)
- Seul (1:02)
- Cheveux blonds, odeur de pêche (1:06)
- Julith est là (2:06)
- Julith vs. Kerubim (4:54)
- Je serai toujours avec toi (1:58)
- Ruelle de Brakmar (1:44)
- Sacrifice (2:12)
- La dimension Ecaflip (1:50)
- Atcham (3:16)
- L’antre de Julith (0:50)
- Julith contre Bakara (5:36)
- Changement de programme (1:26)
- N’aie pas peur (2:01)
- La revanche de Julith (2:04)
- Mascotte (1:47)
- La grande finale (6:19)
- Retour à la vie (2:16)
Running Time: 57:48
Ankama Music (2016)