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The Good Dinosaur
  • Composed by Mychael Danna and Jeff Danna
  • Walt Disney Records / 2015 / 63m

That rare thing – a troubled Pixar production – The Good Dinosaur was many years in the making and finally appeared at the end of 2015, to lukewarm reviews and box office.  It is set in an alternative universe where dinosaurs didn’t die out, and ended up living in the Old West in America.  Mychael Danna was eventually hired to score the film by the replacement director Peter Sohn on the basis of Life of Pi, but due to his workload the composer enlisted the help of his brother Jeff.  The score is split into distinct sections.  By far my favourite comes in the opening half-dozen cues, with a gentle Americana reflecting the Montana location – folksy and pastoral, it has a very Randy Newman-like flavour to it, as the main theme is explored at some length.  A generally small orchestra provides great warmth behind various featured soloists (most prominently fiddle and guitar) and it’s just a lovely ten minutes or so of music.  These elements don’t disappear completely, but the character of the score then shifts completely from the seventh cue to nearly the end.

There’s more action material, some of it with a darker flavour, and while it’s competently done it is a bit on the generic side and doesn’t stick around in the memory at all.  This mixes not entirely seamlessly with some comic material which is – except when returning to the delightful style of the early tracks – frankly a bit irritating.  I don’t know quite what to make of the score’s secondary theme, introduced in “Offerings” (where I guess the third part of the score begins): a Morriconean whistling recorder and some metallic clanking percussion in that instance, getting somewhat tribal later on, it is certainly creative but not always exactly endearing.  After a few cues of this, the score becomes much softer, slower, calmer in “Orphans”, its longest cue, which is really very pleasant.  A rather uneven sequence of cues follows this, mixing the various styles heard along with some surprisingly conventional animated action sequences, which finally gain a real focus near the end in the somewhat John Powell-like “Run with the Herd”, a fluid and very entertaining piece.  There’s another excellent action cue later, “Rescue”, driving and rhythmic and exciting.  The Good Dinosaur has a number of moments of great quality but is an unusually uneven listening experience as an album which makes it a bit less than the sum of its parts.  Still, there’s more than enough here to make it worth returning to.

Rating: *** | |

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