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Paper Planes (Nigel Westlake)

March 21, 2015

Cover_PaperPlanesPAPER PLANES

Nigel Westlake, 2015, ABC Music
15 tracks, 49:51

The composer of “Babe” takes to the skies with “Paper Planes”. Will he soar like an eagle or crash and burn? (I should one day apologise for the poor puns.)

Review by Pete Simons

What is it?

An imaginative children’s film directed by Robert Connolly, about a young Australian boy’s passion for flight and his challenge to compete in the World Paper Plane Championships in Japan. Twelve-year-old Dylan meets the junior Japanese champion Kimi in the national paper plane championships in Sydney, Australia. They develop a close bond, challenging each other to create a plane that has never been seen before.The original score is by Nigel Westlake, who is probably most famous for his work on “Babe” and “Babe: Pig in the City”. If those scores didn’t catch your attention, which is quite possible as after all there was a talking pig on the screen(!), then “Paper Planes” most certainly will.

What does it sound like?

The album opens with the title track “Paper Planes”, a joyous and colourful cue that present a rising main themes. This is immediately followed by my favorite, and the most whimsical, melody on the album — “Ready to Launch”. In true call-and-answer style, there are four long notes (horns) followed by a lively downward spiral of winds and strings. As the cue progresses, it picks up the tempo and various additional motifs pass by.

The score moves from strength to strength, from one melody to the next and so on. Each as beautiful as the one before. The writing is constantly playful and the orchestrations are forever colourful. “Flight Research” offers a little celtic-sounding theme for flute, amongst a host of other motifs. The flute also features magnificently in “A Bird That Cannot Fly”. Words struggle to describe the beauty and elegance of Westlake’s theme. Look out for its reprise in “Do Emus Dream of Flying”. And as it fades out, the “Launch” theme reprises. So beautiful.

“My Journey Starts Here” gradually moves towards an epic outburst of furiously racing strings and dramatic brass chords (not far off Elfman’s “Batman”). “Dog Fight” offers some exciting action material, including an “Battle of Britain”-esque fanfare for trumpet and strident strings and percussion. “Take Your Positions” features brief moments of explosive action, as well as some Japanese instrumentations. Elsewhere, “Pavane” offers respite from the cheerful excitement. It’s a sombre cue for minimalistic piano offset against strings (including brief emphasis on violin and cello), that superficially reminds me of Max Richter, Olafur Arnalds and those type of composers.

Various themes come together gloriously in “The Final Challenge”; whilst “Is There a Movie on this Flight” briefly reprises the sombre piano from “Pavane” before turning a more cheerful corner. “Tokyo by Night” is lively, cabaret-esque show-piece for string, brass, winds and percussion. And then… there is the 9-minute “The Competition”, or ‘a master-class in film-scoring’ as you might just as well call it. All of the score’s themes and all of its emotions, and a few new ones, come together in this epic and enormously satisfying cue. Westlake’s music truly soars as the main themes are offset against exciting Japanese percussion. When the percussion dies down, the “Paper Planes” main theme emerges triumphantly, soon followed by an increasingly heroic rendition of the “Launch”-theme.

The album closes with “For As Long As I Live” which mirrors the opening cues, thus book-ending the score quite nicely. It’s then concluded with Lior’s folksy pop-song “Learn to Live”.

Is it any good?

Nigel Westlake’s “Paper Planes” is a triumph on every possible level. There is a multitude of magnificent themes; the writing is always playful with tonnes of details and flourishes; and the orchestrations are ever so colourful with clever and exciting interactions between instruments. The score does display a high level of mickey-mousing and is quite schizophrenic at times, but it doesn’t matter. Not this time, because the writing is so infectious and joyous, yet so satisfyingly complex. And despite its light-hearted nature, there’s plenty of gravitas here. In those regards it’s similar to (and easily on par with) “How To Train Your Dragon” and its sequel. Equally, it sounds ‘pastorale’ and evokes memories of childhood in ways that remind me of Mark Isham’s “A River Runs Through It” or Danny Elfman’s “Black Beauty” — not literally (perhaps even barely stylistically), but emotionally. “Paper Planes” is an absolutely must-have for any soundtrack collector.

Rating [5/5]


01. Paper Planes (1:57)
02. Ready to Launch (2:53)
03. Flight Research (4:36)
04. My Journey Starts Here (5:20)
05. Dog Fight (1:16)
06. A Bird That Cannot Fly (2:30)
07. Pavane (2:50)
08. Take Your Positions (2:38)
09. Do Emus Dream of Flying? (3:40)
10. The Final Challenge (3:28)
11. Is There a Movie on This Flight? (2:02)
12. Tokyo by Night (1:14)
13. The Competition (9:08)
14. For As Long As It Takes (2:52)
15. Learn to Live (Lior) (3:27)


Lior vocals & guitar • Cameron Deyell guitar • Luke Howard piano [15]
Hannah Coleman recorder [2], [3], [6], [9], [11]
Michael Kieran Harvey piano [7], [11], [13]
Riley Lee shakuhachi [8], [13]
Melbourne Symphony Orchestra [1-14]
Nigel Westlake conductor

For more information via the ABC Music website.


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