Dinosaur

Composed by: James Newton Howard

Towards the tail-end of its Renaissance era, Disney released an ambitious fully CGI dinosaur film simply titled Dinosaur. Visually the film is great, but the story and characters are so clichéd and predictable that it becomes a surprisingly forgettable experience. It’s telling that the best part of the movie is the first five or so minutes, when there is no dialogue. The plot itself concerns an orphaned Iguanodon named Aladar who is raised by lemurs. Displaced by the meteor that supposedly wiped out the dinosaurs, he teaches a herd of migrating herbivores on how to work as a team. One of the positives is James Newton Howard’s score, one of the best of his career. Howard had a brief tenure as a lead composer for Disney as it shifted its animation department towards non-musical action-adventure films. While he does not have the songs to make his scores iconic as, say, Beauty and Beast or Lion King, I have to say that the actual instrumental scores are generally superior to Alan Menken’s.

Howard utilizes an eclectic set of instruments, evoking the prehistoric past with a multi-ethnic selection of instruments. Perhaps drawing comparisons between dinosaurs and Africa’s large wildlife, he uses African-style vocals a lot as well (perhaps he used Lion King, another Disney film absent of humans, as musical inspiration).  The score opens with a flute over peaceful music in “Inner Sanctum/Nesting Grounds.” After the introduction of a secondary emotional theme, a bit of choir suggests the destiny of the still egg-bound Aladar. The rest of the track features peaceful percussion and choir. “The Egg Travels” is the go-to track, following the peril-ridden, Moses-like journey of an egg. The music starts with playful mischief as two Oviraptors bicker over who gets to eat the egg. The music then makes a playful descending motion as the egg falls into a river. The river journey is accompanied by chants and percussion, until at the 1:38 mark a pterosaur picks up the egg, swooping across a vista of a dinosaur herd. This moment introduces the powerful main theme. The track finally ends on a perilous note as the egg falls onto an island with lemurs (and here the film immediately takes a plunge as well).

“Aladar & Neera” introduces a neat love theme. “The Courtship” introduces another motif amidst high-energy African chanting. “The End of the Island” starts off ethereally as characters witness falling lights from the sky. The music gradually takes a more sinister tone when the meteor shards are revealed to be coming to devastate the planet. The rest of the track is an action cue. “They’re All Gone” is a sad piece as Aladar and the lemurs traverse a desolated landscape. “Raptors/Stand Together” is the next big cue. It starts off with an action piece that sounds partially inspired by John Williams’ raptor motif from Jurassic Park. The track really takes off at 1:30 when the herd theme is introduced. The herd theme does first appear at the end of the raptor attack in the film, but this is actually the final battle cue (complete with a couple action motifs). Unfortunately this meant that the herd introduction cue was left off the main commercial release, though it does appear free of sound effects in the end credits suite. “Raptors/Stand Together” stands out as the action highlight of the album.

“Across the Desert” has a few trumpet notes then brings back the African vocals. A more modern jungle drumbeat comes in along with the herd theme. “Finding Water” starts off as an ominous cue as a promised lake turns out to be one tiny waterhole. The main theme appears in despairing fashion at 1:11, but once Aladar learns there is more water buried under the ground, it returns triumphantly at 3:21. “The Cave” is a lighter emotional cue which sees the return of the theme from “Inner Sanctum” at 0:44. “The Carnotaur Attack” is an action track that brings to mind Howard’s later King Kong score. “Neera Rescues the Orphans” is a short percussion-and-choral track. “Breakout” is one of the great emotional highlights of the album. After a somber beginning the music starts to repetitively swell until a big fanfare. The music quiets down with the Inner Sanctum theme before main theme triumphantly returns. “It Comes with a Pool” starts with the African vocal motif from “Courtship” and then gets into more generic suspense fare. “Kron & Aladar Fight” serves as the climax, but is a bit underwhelming compared to “Stand Together.” (in fact much of the action material is weak compared to the rest of the score) “Epilogue” is a very upbeat track. The Inner Sanctum theme appears with a more triumphal edge at 0:31 before a reworking of “The Egg Travels.”

Dinosaur has a very good score. In fact, any time the film manages to make an emotional connection, it’s entirely due to Howard’s work. James Newton Howard was thrust into the limelight thanks to this score and his concurrent association with M. Night Shyamalan. “The Egg Travels” is, without hyperbole, one of the greatest and most memorable film cues of all time. Perhaps if none of the characters started talking Howard would have had to compensate further with his music and created a masterpiece.

Final Rating: 8/10

The album can be bought here.

Tracklisting

  1. Inner Sanctum/The Nesting Grounds (2:57)
  2. The Egg Travels (2:43)
  3. Aladar & Neera (3:28)
  4. The Courtship (4:12)
  5. The End of the Island (4:00)
  6. They’re All Gone (2:08)
  7. Raptors/Stand Together (5:37)
  8. Across the Desert (2:24)
  9. Finding Water (4:13)
  10. The Cave (3:40)
  11. The Carnotaur Attack (3:52)
  12. Neera Rescues the Orphans (1:12)
  13. Breakout (2:43)
  14. It Comes with a Pool (3:01)
  15. Kron & Aladar Fight (2:58)
  16. Epilogue (2:34)

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