Show Review: Pixar in Concert with the SF Symphony

by Chad Liffmann on July 18, 2014


The magic of Pixar Animation Studios has produced 13 films since it debuted its first feature in 1995 with Toy Story.  These films have consistently raised the bar for animated storytelling, and with such an impressive list of titles including the Toy Story series, The Incredibles, Ratatouille, Up, Finding Nemo, and more, it’s no surprise that one of the hardest questions to ask a movie lover is ‘what’s your favorite Pixar film?’  Part of the magical formula that contributes to the wide success of the studio are the film scores, composed by four incredible talents: Randy Newman, Thomas Newman, Patrick Doyle, and (my personal favorite) Michael Giacchino.  The Pixar film scores have garnered 10 Oscar nominations and 1 win, not including original songs.  Last night, the San Francisco Symphony held the first night of its Pixar in Concert series, a fantastic musical evening featuring excerpts from each of the 14 Pixar titles accompanied by a montage of each film.

The night was hosted by director Lee Unkrich (Finding Nemo, Toy Story 3), who provided some kind words to the work of the four contributing composers. He praised their skill, celebrating their ability to create musical layers of emotion, dazzlement, and excitement that have contributed so much to Pixar’s recipe for success.  The remarkable Sarah Hicks took the stand and began conducting the evening.  The first half of the evening was a welcome dose of nostalgia for those in the audience who had the privilege of seeing Toy Story and A Bug’s Life in the theaters (when Pixar was just starting to emerge as a studio powerhouse).  However, the highlights of the half went to the excerpts from Ratatouille and Up, the latter which moved some audience members to tears (try not to cry — click here).  The second half featured performances from recent Pixar titles, including last year’s Monsters University.  Toy Story 3 was the highlight of the second half, helped by Unkrich declaring that composer Randy Newman had claimed the score to be “the best he’s ever written”.  As a bonus surprise, the Blue Devils joined in the performance of the excerpt from MU, providing some crisp collegiate percussion that ended the evening with a rhythmic bang.

I highly recommend you attend Pixar in Concert.  The event originated a few years back in San Francisco and the program has since traveled to over 80 different countries.  The popularity of the show is a testament to the power of these scores and the impact the films have had on multiple generations of filmgoers.  You owe it to yourself, to Buzz and Woody, to Marlin and Dory, and to your children (if you have children) to experience a live performance of the music that brought so many memorable cinematic moments into our lives.

Pixar in Concert continues for three more nights, July 18-20, with guest hosts John Lasseter (Pixar’s Chief Creative Officer) and Brad Bird (The Incredibles, Ratatouille).  Davies Symphony Hall also features special photo booths circling the lobby, each one dedicated to a colorful cast from the different films.  Yes, it’s fun for all ages.

You can find information and tickets for Pixar in Concert at


Original Pixar in Concert trailer:

Blue Devils performing on the Monsters University soundtrack:

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