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Comments about the soundtrack for Dinosaur (James Newton Howard)
Filmtracks Sponsored Donated Review

Jon Turner
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Filmtracks Sponsored Donated Review   Sunday, June 22, 2008 (6:02 p.m.) 

(The following donated review by Jon Turner was moved by Filmtracks to this comment section in June, 2008)

Dinosaur: (James Newton Howard) In many ways, Dinosaur charts a new direction for Disney, both in terms of animated films and music soundtrack albums. With the exception of The Black Cauldron and The Rescuers Down Under, all of the soundtracks from Disney's animated films were musicals. This format has proven to be very successful, although things like this cannot last forever. Probably beginning to notice the fact that more non-musical animated films are currently attracting more attention than even the Disney films of the past, this probably explains why Dinosaur is a non-musical.

Disney's soundtrack albums haven't really featured a whole lot of the scores from its animated films (even though there were some exceptions), and it feels like a breath of fresh air that Disney is finally releasing a score-only album to its recent animated film. Well, actually, their first in-house computer animated film. And it's a non-musical. And the music packed inside this 52 minute album, contributed by James Newton Howard, is anything but destined to go the way of the dinosaur.

For the score to Dinosaur, James Newton Howard employs a full symphony orchestra, a few keyboards, and a chorus. The result is a rich full sound that is definitely not normally something you'd hear in a typical Disney soundtrack. In addition, there are a few primitive percussion instruments, and a lot of really impressive choral chanting, particularly on tracks 2, 4, 14, and 16. There are moments where we hear a few synthesizers, but they work beautifully with the orchestration. There is a very brief moment on track 7 where we get to hear some really fast - and awesome - percussion beating. Yes, it's brief, but its still very impressive to hear something like this in any score.

The whole score sounds like a combination of The Land Before Time and The Lion King. This shows tremendously throughout the whole album, from the lovely lyrical moments on track 1 to the furiously exciting action cues on some of the later tracks. Track 7 in particular is arguably one of the most exciting cues I'e ever heard in a Disney soundtrack aside from the battle music in Mulan. There are some moments when the music is dissonant - and eerie - but I guess that's to conjure up a feeling of suspense for some of the more intense scenes in the film. A score has to contain themes in order to work well, but as I listened, I heard a vast number of themes introduced carefully in the opening tracks, then hinted as the score moves on.

My one puzzlement is that Howard seems somewhat indecisive when it comes to using a chorus. There are moments when the choir sounds African when they do chanting (incidentally, Lebo M, responsible for the choir vocals in The Lion King, worked on this soundtrack as well). Such shifting seems somewhat jarring, especially since at other times the chorus sounds more like people humming or 'ooing' along in the backround, like a church choir. But on the other hand, this switching of styles makes this score interesting to listen to.

All in all, Dinosaur is a soundtrack album that isn't just worthy of the name Disney. Some could mistake this for coming from a dramatic or a science-fiction flick. Mulan fell into the category of almost getting mistaken for a dramatic score, and Dinosaur does the same thing. It's really impressive to say something like that about a score to come from Disney, especially when one looks back at the scores that are in their past films. Credit, of course, should go to James Newton Howard for making this score spin. If you think Disney's soundtracks are just lame and forgettable, give this one a try. Jampacked with enough themes, action, and loveliness, Dinosaur should satisfy die-hard score collectors, and grown-up fans of Disney. (It was even included in the trailers for the movie - a sign that Disney is also proud of this score as well.) Now if only the album was a little bit more longer. ****

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