James Newton Howard, Water For Elephants

James Newton Howard, Water For Elephants

Static Mass Rating: 5/5
Sony Classical

Release date: 2nd May 2011
Running time: 60.26 mins

Composer: James Newton Howard

Movie Review
Official Movie Site

Academy and Grammy Award nominated Composer James Newton Howard is no stranger when it comes to creating the majestic. Having started off touring with Elton John in the late 1970’s as a keyboardist, he then moved onto scoring for films and television shows.

Over the years he has frequently worked with director M. Night Shyamalan on films such as The Sixth Sense (1999), Unbreakable (2000), Signs (2002) and The Lady In The Water (2006) to create incredibly diverse scores that fit seamlessly with the stories.

Water For Elephant

In addition to those, he has also worked with Christopher Nolan and Hans Zimmer on the scores for the recent Batman films, as well as two of my all-time personal favourites, Dreamcatcher (2003) and Hidalgo (2004).

His latest score is for Water For Elephants and it does not disappoint. The cues are as varied as they are magical and dramatic, fitting the period the story is set in.

Starting with the short piece, “Did I Miss It?”, where Jacob returns to the circus as a 90 year old man, only to find that he’s missed the show, the cue is soft, playful and yet melancholy. We get a sense of the duality of the circus here; there’s an air of magic and wonder but also the bittersweetness which comes at the show’s end, when the sparkle and illusion begins to fade. It’s a simple arrangement, composed using keys, strings and very light chorals that swell and soar toward the middle before the strings lead out with its resounding notes.


1. Did I Miss It? (1.53)
2. The Circus Sets Up (3.45)
3. Circus Fantasy (2.32)
4. Jacob Sees Marlena (5.01)
5. Button Up Your Overcoat (0.32)
6. Prosze, Rosie, Dac Noge (4.12)
7. Rosie (3.25)
8. Speakeasy Kiss (1.34)
9. I’m Confessin’ That I Love You (1.41)
10. Barbara’s Tent (1.18)
11. Jacob Returns (5.31)
12. Don’t Tell Him What Happened To Me (2.03)
13. Shooting Star (2.26)
14. The Job Is Yours (0.57)
15. I Need A Little Sugar In My Bowl (2.47)
16. Stomp Time Blues (2.34)
17. I Can See Straight Through You (6.00)
18. Sanctuary (1.55)
19. Baptism – Jacob & Rosie (1.59)
20. The Stampede – I’m Coming Home (8.21)

The second track, “The Circus Sets Up”, picks up with that light motif again and expands on it with slightly more variations. Things take a different turn with “Circus Fantasy” where it becomes much more dramatic with the orchestra in full swing. Strings, guitars, tambourines and drums come together as the show gets underway.

The soundtrack also features jazz selections which were popular during the 1920’s and 30’s. Spliced between Newton Howard’s cues are Ruth Etting’s “Button Up Your Overcoat” from 1928, “Stomp Time Blues” by Jasper Taylor & His Statestreet Boys from 1927 and “I Need A Little Sugar In My Bowl” by Bessie Smith, likely to be from around the same time. They add a wonderful twist with their sultry sounds and fanciful melodies.

Water For Elephant

My favourite piece is “I’m Confessin’ That I Love You” performed by Newton Howard. It was composed by Doc Daugherty and Ellis Reynolds with lyrics by Al Neiburg in 1930 and since then has been recorded by many artists such as Louis Armstrong, Perry Como, Doris Day, Ella Fitzgerald, Peggy Lee and Dean Martin, but is featured here as an instrumental.

Jacob Returns” is very dramatic and is the one track on Water For Elephants which has the strongest contemporary feel to it with its galloping drums. The soundtrack comes to a close the same way the film does; after the stampede there is calm and the music plays out in a rather contemplative way. Both stir the heart and force a tear, even if for just a moment, before it all fades.

You might also be interested in these articles:

Disney’s 50th animated film is a retelling of the Brothers Grimm Rupunzel. Locked away in a tower by the witch who stole her as a baby, she longs for freedom.

Vampires vs. humans. Since Bram Stoker published his novel almost 100 years ago, we’ve been swamped with new takes. This one gives us a dystopian future.

Set one hundred years in the future when our solar system is protected by Titan Force Five, a team of pilots whose spaceships combine to form one giant robot, Titan Maximum.

Juan Jose Campanella directs this powerful genre traversing morality tale which won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film at the 2009 Academy Awards.

We caught up with writer and director Reg Traviss for a chat about Psychosis, working with Charisma Carpenter and his love for British horror films.