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Born in China
  • Composed by Barnaby Taylor
  • Walt Disney Records / 2017 / 64m

The seventh in Disney’s series of big-screen nature documentaries aimed at children, Born in China follows the fortune of a snow leopard and her cubs, a golden snub-nosed monkey, a giant panda and her daughter and a herd of Tibetan antelope.  While these types of thing are inevitably anthropomorphic, I thought some of the earlier entries went rather too far and ended up being a little insulting to the intelligence, gorgeous though they are to look at; I don’t know if this one fares any better.  The BBC’s remarkable record of their nature documentaries containing wonderful scores came to an abrupt halt with the sometimes amateur-sounding music in the extraordinary Planet Earth II, but fortunately this Disney series – while not otherwise being nearly so artful – is not yet showing signs of following suit.  Barnaby Taylor wrote fine score for a couple of BBC series, Wild China and Wild Arabia, both made by the producers of this film, so he was a natural choice to score it and the results are very impressive.

The score is essentially comprised of three parts.  The first – and best – is the sweeping, romantic music, highlighted by a very fine main theme given a stirring airing at the start, and it goes through various feelings, including occasionally darker and more dramatic ones.  When the emotion really flows (“Tau Tau’s Rejection”) it’s a joy to behold.  Then there are several comic sections, playful little scherzos which are usually delightful (I just adore “High Plains Tango”).  So far, so George Fenton (which is a very good thing).  Finally, Taylor incorporates various Chinese elements, sometimes adding an extra colour or two to the orchestra, sometimes acting solo.  For the more urgent parts of the score, when it comes closest to “action” music, Taylor often relies on an array of ethnic percussion to provide the rhythmic undercurrent.  The three elements frequently combine and the composer pulls it all off very well.  If there is a fault, it is that the majority of the tracks are very short – there are 40 of them on the hour-long album.  Little ideas are heard but there is rarely time to really develop them.  That’s a shame, and it does pull it back from being considered alongside the very best of these things, but this is still a very entertaining album (as are Wild China and Wild Arabia, by the way) which is easy to recommend.

Rating: **** | |

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