Walt Disney Records, 2000
REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 06/01/2000
Usually, when I review a soundtrack to a Disney movie, I have a pretty solid idea about what is happening in the plot, even if I haven't seen the movie at that point. Their latest release, Dinosaur, is one film I haven't seen - I was going to take my four-year-old after being stunned by the preview trailer we saw waiting for Toy Story 2 to start, but a co-worker of mine said the film was incredibly violent and scared her 10-year-old. (Then again, my daughter watches "Trauma: Life In The E.R." with me, so it can't be that bad.)
But after listening to the soundtrack to Dinosaur, I'm struck by two distinct things. First, it's not as easy to follow any sort of natural progression in the movie based on the songs alone. Second - and this is much more important and a little disturbing - it feels like there is some magic that is lost throughout a good portion of the music.
Granted, there are moments in James Newton Howard's score that are almost as breathtaking as some of the shots I've seen of the film. On pieces like "The Egg Travels," "The Courtship" and "It Comes With A Pool," the true atmosphere of the film seems to be captured musically, and these selections are the ones you'll undoubtedly find yourself going back to again and again.
But early on in the soundtrack, the first problem hits. At times, it's almost like the master volume had been accidentally podded down to almost a whisper. This makes selections like "Inner Sanctum/The Nesting Grounds" very difficult to hear - and almost guarantees you'll be blown through your living room wall once the volume returns to normal on other selections. In all, a better balance could have been attempted.
But this kind of leads into the other problem I have with Dinosaur. I don't necessarily mind that I can't follow some kind of a mental script when listening to the disc, though there are times that such a picture in one's mind can help. What I do mind is that there really seems to be no spark that lights up the bulk of the music. Selections like "Raptors/Stand Together," "The Cave," "Kron & Aladar Fight" and "They're All Gone" all fail to move the listener in any direction... they just sit there. That is something I've rarely said about any Disney soundtrack, but it's sadly the case with this one.
Admittedly, Howard had a difficult task ahead of him with this score. I mean, how do you determine what kind of music best fits prehistoric scenes? (While I've enjoyed Lebo M's work on other soundtracks, his presence on Dinosaur regrettably doesn't add anything special to the mix.) It's almost as if Howard was fighting a losing battle before he wrote note number one, though if anyone could have overcome such odds, it's Howard.
I don't want to leave the impression that Dinosaur is a terrible disc; it has its solid moments, though I hardly think the tots will want to make this disc daily required listening as they would with other Disney soundtracks. But what is troublesome is that even the grown-up kids might not see this soundtrack as magical as others they grew up with -- and that's a possibly disturbing trend that could be set with this disc. Let's hope that it's a temporary blip on Disney's soundtrack radar.