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The Good Dinosaur (Mychael & Jeff Danna)

December 5, 2015

Cover_TheGoodDinosaurTHE GOOD DINOSAUR

Mychael & Jeff Danna, 2015, Walt Disney Records
30 tracks, 63:23

Mychael and Jeff take to the Disney stage for the first time. So, how good is this dinosaur of theirs? And why isn’t it called “The Good Dannasaur”?

Review by Pete Simons

What is it?

Directed by Peter Sohn, “The Good Dinosaur” is a beautiful-looking animation film about the friendship between a human child and a dinosaur.

The original score is by the brothers Mychael and Jeff Danna, for whom this is the first time working on a Disney animated film. The film-makers were allegedly impressed with Mychael’s Oscar-winning score for “Life of Pi”. Some of the colours, the magic and the lightness of that score carry over into this one.

What does it sound like?

The album opens with “Homestead”, which initially reminds me of the quieter Western cues from “Ride with the Devil”. Danna introduces a pleasant theme that at once reminds of the Shire theme from “Lord of the Rings” with a touch of “Wallace and Gromit”. It’s nice, utterly harmless, but sounds a tad familiar.

The comedy is cranked up in “Hello Arlo”, where various woodwinds and guitars (banjos or ukuleles, that sort of thing) provide a colourful palette. This is also where I’m really expecting that theme to segue into “Wallace & Gromit”. It makes way for another melody, here on guitar, that has me thinking of “Braveheart”. During the second half of the cue there is another new melody, one that will prove to be a key player throughout the score, and it’s a doozy! Really very lovely.

Occasionally the composers utilise a piano, likely an upright, and the opening of “Make Your Mark” is a great example. I can’t be entirely sure if it’s an upright, but it’s certainly not a grand piano. There’s something much more homely about the sound. Again, it’s a really nice addition to the lively sound palette.

Bells and winds dominate “Fireflies”, a magical cue; whilst “Critter Problem” goes through a host of different instruments (from banjos to trumpet, cello and tuba). The latter also features that “Braveheart”-esque theme again. The album’s first action cue comes in the form of “You’re Me and More”, featuring racing strings and dramatic brass writing. It’s surprisingly dark!

“Unexpected Friend” opens with a heartfelt flute performance, backed by harp and strings. Unfortunately, the music can’t stay too serious for too long, so the melody is taken over by all kinds of metallic mallets, backed by guitar and light percussion. There’s definitely something John Powell-ish about the instrumentation here (as I’m reminded of “Robots”). This continues into “Swimming Lessons”, which again features metallic mallets and woodwinds… until they make way for banjos or ukuleles and bassoon.

Thankfully, “Ophans” is allowed to be 4:39 of beauty, sans comic interruptions. Flute, strings, violins, the occasional strum… it’s very ethereal. Dramatic strings and brass announce “The Storm”; whilst “Storm Chasers” features an exciting, fast-paced passage for banjo and solo violin with percussive accents. The cue ends with some fierce aleatoric effects. “Bloodhound” is an upbeat cue that again has a Powell-vibe to it, this time thanks to the saxophone.

“Fight them Rustlers” offers an infectious ostinato for strings, but also offers some aggressive, aleatoric writing for brass. “Run with the Herd” is a joyful and rousing cue, that reprises the main theme gloriously. The jumpy rhythm and added saxophone make the first minute still sound a bit Powellesque, but as a heartfelt solo trumpet takes centre stage we’re back in Danna-land; and it’s arguably the album’s highlight.

Percussion of all kinds plays a pivotal role in the action cue “Sky Sharks” and even more so in the rousing “Rescue”. Things calm down throughout “Over the Falls” (there’s even a touch of “Ride with the Devil” about that one, due to it’s Western strumming guitar), before the album comes to a beautiful and poignant close with “Goodbye Spot”.

Is it any good?

There is a lot to like about Mychael and Jeff Danna’s “The Good Dinosaur”, and yet I do struggle with it – a little. It’s quite a fragmented score, in the same way that some of Powell’s animation scores jump all over the place. There are 22 cues, and most of those change direction at least twice. It’s just about held together by a couple of lovely melodies and the Danna’s excellent orchestrations, but I desperately want the music to build up some momentum and it’s not allowed to do that, bar a couple of tracks. It’s nowhere near as schizophrenic as Powell can be, the Danna brothers are much more sensitive, but it still makes for a fragmented listening experience. It’s literally one great idea after another after another, without getting the chance to really develop into something more than just the sum of its parts. I also find the mix a little dry. This is fine for the guitars, the bells and all that, but it takes the ‘oomph’ out of the more traditional orchestral elements.

There is a lot of love out there for “The Good Dinosaur”, and for good reason. It is a very charming little score. Unfortunately, for reasons outlined earlier, my personal enthusiasm is a little more tempered. That said… When the music is allowed to play, for example in “Run with the Herd”, it absolutely soars. That cue is an absolute corker. “Orphans” is gorgeous; and so is “Goodbye Spot”. Elsewhere the orchestrations are simply out of this world. It’s so colourful, so vibrant, so fantastical yet so homely. If there was a separate award for orchestrations, this would be one this year’s strongest contenders.

Rating [3.5/5]

* Note, my review is based on a review copy that contained 22 tracks, totalling around 52 minutes.


01. Homestead (2:11)
02. Hello Arlo (2:49)
03. Chores (0:55)
04. Make Your Mark (2:07)
05. Fireflies (2:16)
06. Critter Problem (1:04)
07. You’re Me and More (3:05)
08. Family Struggle (1:23)
09. Swept Away (1:33)
10. Mountain Top (0:51)
11. Lost in the Wild (3:35)
12. Offerings (1:32)
13. Unexpected Friend (2:56)
14. Pet Collector (2:24)
15. Swimming Lessons (2:29)
16. Orphans (4:39)
17. The Storm (1:17)
18. I’m Never Getting Home (0:44)
19. Storm Chasers (1:22)
20. Bloodhound (1:37)
21. Fight Them Rustlers (1:46)
22. Run With the Herd (3:51)
23. Returned Call (1:25)
24. Sky Sharks (1:47)
25. Arlo’s Vision (1:35)
26. Rescue (2:31)
27. Over the Falls (2:41)
28. Goodbye Spot (4:12)
29. Homecoming (1:24)
30. Arlo Makes His Mark (1:22)

  1. Pin permalink

    I also thought of Braveheart when I heard the songs. I looked it up to compare them, they sound a bit similar. The music gave me the feeling that the movie was in Scotland or Ireland instead of America

  2. Nathan permalink

    I found this review insightful and original. I like knowing someone else hears similarities and allusions to other soundtracks. I can’t imagine these are unintentional. It is a creative technique to evoke the feeling associated with other movies. Thank you.

    PS. The similarity with the Braveheart theme drove me on my quest that ended here.

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