Film scores

Soundtrack review: Yellowbird (Stephen Warbeck – 2015)

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„Yellowbird” is a 3D French animation movie about the leader of a flock of birds who is injured just before going on migration. The role must be assumed by this eager but inexperienced Yellowbird. Stephen Warbeck wrote the score and he’s well known for his work on „Shakespeare in love”. I enjoyed more his work on „Captain Corelli’s Mandolin” though.

“Le debut” is a beautiful and sensitive opening for this score. It has that extra touch of emotion that for me separates it from usual animation music. Stephen Warbeck uses the flute for that sense of magic and nostalgia and it works marvels. This opening puts me in a very good mood. The gentle breeze of “Yellowbird” continues in “Les saisons”. A slow guitar and the flute make the music flow very warmly. There aren’t any of those sharp changes of mood you usually find in animation scores, no sudden bursts of energy or anything you could find intrusive.

The composer used instruments which make a sound without edges. The music of “Yellowbird” is soft to the touch, like a cozy blanket. Even an “action” cue in theory, “La pursouite” stars slow and melodic. I realize now that the flute goes very well with the idea of birds flying. The second half of this cue is more alert but still only based on different strings. The middle section is very exciting and fun with a banjo like sound giving voice to the chase.

There are some cats in the movie as well and they get a gypsy like theme. “Les chats” has that eastern European sound you might be familiar with from Hans Zimmer’s “Sherlock Holmes”. To it’s even more familiar and ethnic and I love it. It has that lush and sneaky sound you would associate with cats. “La mort de Darius” is pure emotion. It’s soft and elegiac and I can feel all the sadness of the situation. This is not animation like sadness; it’s the real deal, with ascension choirs and strings. Had I heard this cue out of context I would have imagined it for a World War II drama about the Holocaust, not an animation movie about birds.

“Paris” keeps the gypsy rhythm going. It’s fitting that one of the vocal songs of this score is performed by the most famous gypsy bad of them all, Gogol Bordello. Again to me this sound is familiar and hits close to home. Those violins just warm my heart. I am curious who performed all these instrumental pieces.

The assortment of strings goes on with “Les souris”. This time it’s more of a Tango / Flamenco sound which adds to the diversity of this score. I am very surprised at how “Yellowbird” is turning out. Guess I should have expected it from a composer like Warbeck. He brought his A game here and this is a score I know I will come back to. He didn’t go for full orchestral and it was a good decision. With just a few instruments, most of them string based; he created a warm and interesting atmosphere and a very rewarding listening experience.

“Fleck” cements the identity of the score. The Eastern European violins come back, joyful and fresh and they will make you just jump out of your chair and dance. “La neige” becomes my favorite piece from this score. It’s just so beautiful and it evokes to me the mystery and beauty of winter. It has small sparks of magic that shine just like the snow when the light plays tricks on you. The flute enhances the listening experience and I am just mesmerized by this piece. It is fairy tale music at its best.

“Yellowbird” was a very nice surprise and I think everyone will find something to enjoy in it. Give it a listen!

Cue rating: 83 / 100

Total minutes of excellence: 11 / 34

Album excellence: 32%

Highlights:

Le debut

Les chats

La mort de Darius

Fleck

La neige

About the author

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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