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Once Upon a Forest
  • Composed by James Horner
  • Fox / 67m

Produced by Hanna-Barbera and released by Fox in 1993, Once Upon a Forest is a heavily environmentalist animation originally conceived as a tv project, given more money and bumped up to a theatrical release, then chopped down in length (the film is actually a little shorter than this soundtrack album) when the money ran out and released to a chorus of reviews saying it would have been better-suited to tv.

James Horner’s approach to scoring animations was balletic, usually involving long-lined themes clearly borrowed from Russian classical standards, lots of intricate details and often leaving not much of a hint to someone listening that it is music from an animation. The results could be incredible – The Land Before Time is certainly that – and were rarely less than impressive. Once Upon a Forest the movie may be long forgotten but Horner’s score is really wonderful.

James Horner

There are three songs featured (the film is a curious not-quite-a-musical). Opening and closing the album is the end title song “Once Upon a Time With Me”, sung by Florence Warner Jones. It’s a very sweet song but the children’s choir makes it very twee and it was never going to be another “Somewhere Out There”. Michael Crawford sings the beautiful “Please Wake Up” – well, the melody is beautiful but Crawford has had finer moments. Finally, bizarrely, is a gospel song “He’s Back” sung by Ben Vereen, which is so far detached from the rest of the music it just seems like an oddity.

The score opens with the spectacular nine-minute “The Forest”, which serves as a wonderful summary of the majority of the building blocks from which the whole score will be built. We begin with the romantic main theme, based on the “Once Upon a Time With Me” song melody, which is gorgeous; later in the piece there are echoes of Willow with the tuba.

The second cue, “Cornelius’s Nature Lesson”, offers up the score’s secondary theme, one of those great Horner pieces representing the natural world. There are two performances within the cue, sandwiching some slightly darker material in between, and they are delightful. This contrasts with the orchestral violence that introduces “The Accident”, a blast of action music that leads into much darker fantasy material which again has some hints of Willow.

The gorgeous “Bedside Vigil” uses the melody from the “Please Wake Up” song – sounding so much better here without the distraction of the vocal – heartfelt and touching, it’s a definite highlight. The same melody is reprised at the opening of the sprawling “The Journey Begins” before a new theme is introduced, sprightly and playful. In the second half, Horner indulges in some rare mickey-mousing for action scenes and there’s also a really nice horn version of the main theme.

“Flying” is appropriately soaring, the secondary theme getting an airing at first before that tuba theme from the opening track is heard again. It doesn’t quite set off like The Rocketeer or something but remains very satisfying (complete with a few blasts of the danger motif). The score’s best action material comes in the wonderfully bold and full-bodied “Escape from the Yellow Dragons / The Meadows” – a lot of the familiar techniques are there, including crashing pianos, and there’s also one of the most majestic performances of the score’s main theme. It isn’t quite as good but there is also a real energy running through “Flying Home to Michelle”, reprising both the secondary theme and also the secondary melody from “Once Upon a Time With Me” (the first time it’s heard in the score itself) alongside some anguished suspense material. This leads to the score’s final track, “The Children / Maybe One Day, Maybe One Day…” which is every bit as sweet and lovely as you might expect.

James Horner’s half-dozen scores for animations all have their qualities and this is no exception – it’s got a slightly more piecemeal feel than the best of them (The Land Before Time, An American Tail and Balto) but remains a very solid and enjoyable listen. There’s strong thematic material, a thunderous performance from the London Symphony Orchestra and some parts are right from the top drawer. The film may have disappeared into obscurity but the album deserves a place in any Horner collection.

Rating: **** | |


  1. Nic (Reply) on Saturday 30 May, 2020 at 14:33

    Another wonderful Horner review and I completely agree that this is solid 4 star stuff.
    Side note- Horner’s songs have always had some pretty naff and hysterically bad lyrics but “Please Wake Up” may be the worst!
    “ It’s your morning golden day to find.” never fails to make me laugh when I hear it.

    • James Southall (Reply) on Saturday 30 May, 2020 at 17:44

      I think Will Jennings did some famous songs but most of the lyrics he did with Horner are terrible. He did American Tail with A&M Bergman and I wish he’d stuck with them.