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Soundtrack review: Paper planes (Nigel Westlake – 2015)

Film scores

Soundtrack review: Paper planes (Nigel Westlake – 2015)


“Paper planes” is a family movie about a 12 year old Australian boy’s passion for flying and dream to compete int he World Paper Plane Championships in Japan. I was not familiar with composer Nigel Westlake before hearing this score.

I am expecting a lot of dreamy and romantic cues, since this is a family movie. The second track makes my heart skip a beat. “Ready to launch” has all the beauty and stride of a childhood dream. The orchestra soars at heights to match the ones where the paper planes venture and I feel like a little kid with his head tilted so I can see as high as I can. My hand shields my eyes from the sun and my dad is near me helping me with the launch of that paper plane…

Even if the setting of the movie is Australia and the performers of the score are Australians I hear echoes of Celtic music in “Paper planes”. It’s probably because of the flute which gives the music just that extra dash of melancholy to make it even more memorable. “Flight research” is a wonderful rollercoaster. It has highs, it has lows and it wakes up butterflies in the stomach. The orchestra plays with us and I am sure the composer imagined himself as a kid and channeled some happy memories from his childhood when he wrote this cue. It couldn’t have sounded so honest otherwise.

“My journey starts here” takes a turn for the serious and adventurous and the orchestra just rises to the occasion. At times this cue reminds me of the atmosphere from the Harry Potter movies and I love it. Not even halfway through it and “Paper planes” already has a thematic variety that takes it above your normal light family movie. “Dog fight” is a joy to listen to. It sounds like a symphonic improvisation but with a method.

This score has a lot of heart. It’s alive and it is playing hide and seek with me. The music brings me joy and it reminds me of my own long summer afternoons as a child. The composer isn’t afraid to experiment and give each instrument a time to shine. The rolling piano in “A bird that cannot fly” actually made me think of James Horner.

I love that this score keeps me guessing. Usually family movie scores can very easily fall in the generic trap. Far from it here. “Paper planes” is interesting and surprising and each cue brings a fresh take on a certain feeling. The music tells a story itself and the Melbourne Symphony orchestra and its soloists (special mention for the flute once again) play as if they were doing it for their own families. There’s warmth and tenderness in Nigel Westlake’s composition and I can’t get enough of it. I want to be that kid and have the passion that the music communicates. I am impressed at how the composer and orchestra went all in for this score. I hear passion and joy and “Paper planes” is a celebration of childhood dreams. It takes them as seriously as your own kid would want to be taken and I am just happy to listen to a composition like this.

The longest cue of the score (over 9 minutes) is “The competition” and it’s a riot. It keeps me connected and invested for its duration and I feel like I am part of it. It goes through the whole range of emotions and it’s magic. We have suspense, we have triumph, we have doubts and the addition of wooden percussion builds up the excitement. I feel real joy while listening to it and I almost don’t want it to end. The final two minutes give me goosebumps and make me want to just cheer and applaud.

“Paper planes” is the nicest surprise of 2015 so far, a joyful little score which found its way inside me as if from nowhere. You can’t go wrong with an orchestral gem like this one.  I dearly recommend you give it a listen. It will make your day brighter. The kid in me wants to thank Nigel Westlake for this gift.

Cue rating: 89 / 100

Total minutes of excellence: 23 / 46

Album excellence: 50%


Ready to Launch
Flight Research

Dog Fight
A Bird That Cannot Fly

The Competition
For As Long As It Takes



Mihnea Manduteanu

I have been listening to film music for 25 years and writing about it since 2014. I've written over 1000 reviews and I can't imagine myself doing anything else. I am also a member of IFMCA (International Film Music Critics Association).

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