Review: Dinosaur (2000)

Composer: James Newton Howard

Label: Walt Disney Records

Catalogue Nr.: 60672-7



Walt Disney's step into the new millenium was supposed to introduce a whole new and unusual cinematic experience. It was planned to show the diverse, colourful but very brute world of prehistoric creatures in a new level of realism with the help of ultra modern computer animation. As radical as the concept was, it failed to convince Disney's executives since all films from the studios are always supposed to be family friendly and moral for kids. Except for the animation, nothing much survived of the radical original concept and instead, Dinosaur ended up as another family movie with talking animals that is too childish for adults and too heavy for kids due to many violent and dark scenes. After all, the main topic of this film is death and survival at the edge of extinction which is a dangerous topic itself but especially if you give the characters human traits and pair it with photo realistic visuals. Don Bluth's genre classic The Land Before Time (1988) is much more of a family film and therefore million years ahead of Disney's troubled mega production even after all these years.

The score:

James Newton Howard's first expedition into the world of animation films was hugely successful. People questioned if the composer could be able to produce a decent score because the only comparable film that Howard scored to that date was Space Jam (1996) and while it was a technically perfect cartoon score it was widely smashed by film music critics. But the composer delivered even more than just a decent score for Dinosaur. Howard's music for the film is certainly his most colourful composition with different music styles such as ethnic African elements, new age elements and amazing themes merging to a unique and breathtaking experience. His work on the film was a critical success which earned the composer an ASCAP award as well as nominations for Saturn Award and Grammy. He would later contribute his talents for Disney's animated films again on Atlantis - The Lost Empire (2001) and Treasure Planet (2002) but his work for Dinosaurs is clearly unequalled as his best effort for the animation genre and one of his best scores to this date.

The score opens rather innocent with a flute solo, woodwinds and choir creating a warm and wondrous mood as we see shadows of creatures moving during the opening credits and "Inner Sanctum / The Nesting Grounds". Choir plays an important role in the cue as it creates one of James Newton Howard's most magical moments when we see a young Parasaurolophus is playing in the beautiful prehistoric world. "The Egg Travels" was nominated for a Grammy in the category 'best instrumental composition' for a very good reason: The cue is Howard's most impressive composition to date which rises from playful woodwinds to a climax of orchestral and choral beauty with the powerful main theme of the score and a choral explosion that hints Alan Silvestri's finale music from The Abyss (1989). The album makes a huge step to the middle of the film with "Aladar & Neera" and its romantic flute solos and strings that function like a love motif for these two Dinos.

"The Courtship" is a lively and joyful cue that features playful flute performances along with cheerful African chants by Lebo M. and exotic percussion for the artistic love ritual of little lemurs. A musical interpretation of an asteroid impact is featured in "The End Of Our Island". In the film, we see lights falling down from the sky which is accompanied by a magical glittering at the beginning of the cue before the music becomes slightly suspenseful and rises dramatically to a brute and pounding action passage when the big rock is falling from the sky into the sea and creates a firestorm. A Subtle lament for choir and orchestra is heard in "They're All Gone" as the destruction of the meteor is revealed. Suspenseful percussive tones take over at the beginning of "Raptors / Stand Together" which goes into another thrilling cue with wild horn and brass statements suddenly striking. The second half of the cue is introducing a dramatically heroic theme for horns and choir that is pure James Newton Howard action joy.

African percussion and Lebo M. chants return in "Across The Desert" this time accompanied by Howard's typical suspense sounds and a nice variation on the heroic theme near the end of the cue. "Finding Water" brings back the main theme as a calm variation for strings and choir and a pounding outburst of the theme for the entire ensemble at the end. More subtle and somewhat sad tones for strings, horns and woodwinds take over during "The Cave" which comes as a nice break from the orchestral firework that came before and continues again with dark, menacing tones and loud strikes of percussion and brass for "The Carnotaur Attack" that goes into a heavy action cue. Relaxing music creates another gap to breath in "Neera Rescues The Orphans" with an unusual instrumentation that carries a slight Indian sound. "Breakout" with its rising orchestral magic and powerful statement of the main theme offers another outstanding musical resolution in Howard's book of exciting musical resolutions before the material from "The Courtship" is reprised in "It Comes With A Pool". However, the score is not over yet and Howard unleashes the action fare again in "Kron & Aladar Fight" and closes his most powerful score with a breathtaking variation of "The Egg Travels" in "Epilogue".



Score as heard in the film: 92%

Score as heard on CD: 90%

TOTAL: 91%


The presentation:

How James Newton Howard manages to produce so many lengthy and well sequenced albums of his work is both a gift and a mystery. A wealth of 51 minutes covers the highlights and even more of the score. Only about 20 minutes of music from the film are missing on this CD that benefits from the total absence of songs. Well, at least the international version of the CD. Owners of the German edition (with the catalogue nr. 0122122DNY) will have to skip the annoying pop song "Can Somebody Tell Me Who I Am" by Orange Blue which breaks up the connection between "The Inner Sanctum / The Nesting Grounds" and "The Egg Travels" and was not even used in the film. The presentation is still decent.

Presentation by the Label: 65%



James Newton Howard did an outstanding work for Dinosaur which is rich of exciting ideas and his most diverse creation to this date. A crossover of various styles from African music, to electronic stuff, new age sounds and, most importantly, orchestral music makes the score a very rich listening experience. Howard created some amazing thematic material to connect the various parts of the score with the usual care and patience that is known from him. There are no wrong tones in Dinosaur and everything seems to be right on the spot which becomes even more obvious when you see the film. Even though this is one of the few occasions where the score works extraordinary well even if you never watched the movie which is probably Howard's biggest achievement since this is not common for most of his other work and makes Dinosaur a highly recommended experience of James Newton Howard's enormous talents.

 Review by Andreas Creutzburg



01. Inner Sanctum / The Nesting Grounds (02:57)
02. The Egg Travels (02:43)
03. Aladar & Neera (03:29)
04. The Courtship (04:13)
05. The End of Our Island (04:00)
06. They're All Gone (02:08)
07. Raptors / Stand Together (05:37)
08. Across the Desert (02:25)
09. Finding Water (04:14)
10. The Cave (03:40)
11. The Carnotaur Attack (03:52)
12. Neera Rescues the Orphans (01:13)
13. Breakout (02:43)
14. It Comes with a Pool (03:01)
15. Kron & Aladar Fight (02:58)
16. Epilogue (02:32)