This may be becoming a theme for my articles, but I should put a disclaimer here at the beginning of this review. I don’t really consider myself a fanboy when it comes to anything that I enjoy. I try to have an objective opinion about anything that I put time into for recreation. This applies to everything I enjoy… everything except for Pixar. When it comes to Pixar, everything they do is perfect and anything somewhat comparable done by anybody else is complete garbage! So with that being said, The Phoenix Symphony already won me over when they decided to dedicate an entire concert to the splendor that is Pixar movies.
I love orchestral music, and The Phoenix Symphony is amazing in that regard. Going in, though, I really didn’t know what to expect. This particular event was held at Symphony Hall in Phoenix, as opposed to the Harry Potter themed “Halloween at Hogwarts” show I last attended which was at the Orpheum Theatre in Mesa. The first, and probably biggest, difference between the venues was that the Symphony Hall had a giant screen above the stage which was able to project scenes from the movies that the music was accompanying. I knew this was going to be a good show, but nothing was able to prepare me for what I was about to witness.
Hearing the “Toy Story” intro live for the first time, played by an orchestra of almost 70 people in a room built for acoustics, sent shivers down my spine and sent me back to when I was an 8 year old boy still living in California and pining after a coveted and hard to find Buzz Lightyear toy for a Christmas present. Each Pixar movie up to “Monsters University” had its own performance where the orchestra would play a few scores from the movie and the screen would display some highlights of the movie that would match up with the music. I need to give credit to whoever edited the clips to show highlights of the movies. They managed to perfectly capture the essence of each movie within 5-7 minutes worth of footage. My catchphrase for the evening became “I forgot how much I loved this movie.” I was also impressed with how well the music matched up with the projected video, but what was even more impressive was how true to the source The Phoenix Symphony kept the music. The scores were performed so flawlessly that at times I almost forgot that the music was being played by an orchestra.
Typically when I think of an orchestra, I think of large sections of violins, cellos, trumpets, and tubas playing in harmony. What impressed me with this performance was their ability to emphasize certain non-conventional instruments to keep the music true to the movie. An accordion was emphasized for “Ratatouille”, a banjo for “Cars”, and even a keyboard was used to emulate a bagpipe for “Brave”. Tito Munoz conducted the Phoenix Symphony Orchestra performance to a standard that I’m sure Randy Newman, Michael Giacchino, and Patrick Doyle would be proud of. Each movie that was featured reminded me more than the last how much of an impact Pixar has had on my life, and The Phoenix Symphony Orchestra does more than enough to pay proper tribute to Pixar’s many classics.
The highlight of the evening though would definitely have to be the end of the performance. Here’s my attempt to set scene:
The orchestra finishes their performance of the music from “Monsters University”. The screen displays Mike Wazowski being hoisted up by his monstrous frat mates, then fades to black. The orchestra lowers their instruments and allows time for applause. After the applause, the conductor instructs everyone on stage to stand and take a bow, at which point the applause rise and crowd gives a standing ovation. The conductor, Tito Munoz, exits stage right, but curiously the orchestra remains seated and the house lights are still dimmed. After a few moments, Tito returns to more applause and takes a moment for a break in applause to tell the audience, “Thank you, but we have one more performance.” A chuckle from the audience. “You know we couldn’t leave without doing this.” He then turns to the orchestra and signals for them to ready their instruments. At first I was confused, the brochure only showed performances up to “Monsters University”. I think I realized a split second before the music started that the hit song from “Toy Story” (essentially the entire series’ theme song) hadn’t been played yet. The orchestra then performed the only orchestral rendition of “You’ve Got A Friend In Me” that I’ve ever heard while the screen above the stage displayed a highlight reel of all 14 featured Pixar movies mashed together. I’d only seen one better tribute to Pixar before this, and that was put on by Disney themselves and involved a parade.
Overall, the entire event was amazing. I found myself lost in the experience for a vast majority of the concert, to the extent that at one point during the evening I forgot I was sitting in a seat surrounded by hundreds of people in the middle of a concert hall. My only complaint is that they should probably do a better job dusting beforehand. It seemed like a good number of people had something in their eye going into Intermission, right after the “Up” portion of the performance.