Movie Wave Home | Reviews by Title | Reviews by Composer
ONCE UPON A FOREST
Vivid, colourful music is highly-impressive
A review by JAMES SOUTHALL
Music composed by
* * * *
Songs written by
Album running time
Album cover copyright (c) 1993 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation; review copyright (c) 2006 James Southall
The only one of his six animations not to be produced by Steven Spielberg, Once Upon a Forest seems a slightly odd choice for James Horner, a rather low-key animation of low quality (albeit a Hanna-Barbera production), one of those environmentalist pieces where animals suffer from man's stupidity - a mouse, a mole and a hedgehog have to search the forest to find the right kind of herbs to save their friend, a badger, who has been poisoned by pollution. It didn't do particularly well.
Horner's score is something else, though, as usual. There are three original songs here which - in a hardly surprising way - boast lovely melodies but are rather let down by twee performances. "Once Upon a Time With Me" is particularly awful - it's such a lovely melody, but with Will Jennings's cloying lyrics and, especially, the children's choir which accompanies Florence Warner Jones just make it irritating and enough to warrant any sane person to skip ahead. Again, "Please Wake Up" is very well-intentioned and built around a gorgeous melody, but the awful Michael Crawford completely butchers it - what were they thinking? "He's Back" is utterly bizarre and completely out of place, a gospel song sung by Ben Vereen.
The score itself is a real treat. It opens with a nine-minute track "The Forest" which is beautifully evocative, using a sweeping version of the main tune from "Once Upon a Time With Me" to great effect, and also conjuring up colourful imagery through the use of pan flutes and other chirpy wind solos. There's a section of comedy music in the middle, with tuba and wood blocks and the other ingredients Horner always uses on these occasions, and it fits in surprisingly well. "Cornelius's Nature Lesson" is a rapturous presentation of the secondary theme, a beautifully florid piece again boasting some imaginative wind solos.
"The Accident" is the first real action music, opening with a surprisingly dissonant burst from the full orchestra before becoming a really rather dark piece, with a spooky choral accompaniment which works very well at setting the tone. As you might imagine, "Bedside Vigil" is not the cheeriest of pieces, but an impressively sincere-sounding, vaguely impassioned even, string-dominated piece which captures friends' feelings of worry and anxiety very well indeed. "The Journey Begins" is another lengthy piece, incorporating a strange dance-like Irish-influenced piece amongst the glorious orchestral exposition. It's not quite as well-focused as Horner's longer pieces tend to be. This lack of focus also affects "Flying", which has the ingredients to be a piece as inspiring as similar ones in (say) The Rocketeer, but when put together they just don't flow that naturally. (It also marks the first appearance of the four-note danger motif if a Horner animation score, I believe.)
Far more impressive is the action cue "Escaping from the Yellow Dragons / The Meadow", which features some vintage Horner action music, crashing pianos and all, though it does also feature one of the score's most soaring presentations of the main theme. "Flying Home to Michelle" is a dramatic, urgent piece - again very lengthy - and again featuring various Horner trademarks which his fans have come to know and love. After that comes the predictably sweet, lovely finale which rounds things off splendidly (though sadly after that comes an identical reprise of the "Once Upon a Time With Me" song). Once Upon a Forest is a very strong score, though suffers a little from being too long - one or two cues could have been pruned to make a far tighter album overall - and the songs let it down badly. Still, it goes without saying that it's highly-recommended to Horner collectors - all of his animated scores are great, and this is no exception.