‘Good Dinosaur’ Score Breaks Pixar Mold

Jeff and Mychael Danna Tyrant Score
Christopher Barr

The Good Dinosaur,” due in theaters Nov. 25, moves in a radically different musical direction than any previous Pixar film. It also marks the first time Pixar has employed two composers on a single score.

For this what-if animated tale (that presumes an asteroid didn’t wipe out the dinosaurs 65 million years ago, allowing them to survive into the era of early man), composers Mychael and Jeff Danna dug into their Americana bag, adding fiddles, mandolin, recorders and upright piano — along with the usual 85-piece orchestra.

Director Peter Sohn and producer Denise Ream initially approached Mychael Danna on the strength of his Oscar-winning “Life of Pi” score. “We were going for a different feel for this movie, and we were pretty enthusiastic to explore other options,” Ream says. Mychael, anticipating “a crush of work,” enlisted his younger, guitar-playing sibling, Jeff, as co-writer.

The story imagines the dinosaurs as frontier settlers, and becomes a kind of coming-of-age story involving a youngster (the dino) and his companion (a caveboy). “There is this Americana, homesteading, settler vibe to the film,” Mychael Danna says. “We didn’t want to do country music with banjos, but it looks like Montana in a lot of ways. We have fiddles, and the themes have an early-American solidity and simplicity.”

The film, with its lack of dialogue (“there’s a lot of wind and water,” Jeff Danna says) and its spectacular vistas inspired by the American West, “reminded us of ‘Bambi’ in its attention and care given to natural beauty, and where music could sit in that time and space,” he says.

The pair, Emmy nominated for their theme and pilot score for FX’s “Tyrant,” has long specialized in scores that demand unusual instrumentation, often ethnic music from other cultures, so the addition of pre-Columbian wind instruments, Turkish guitars and toy pianos to this film comes as no surprise.

“The music pulls at your heartstrings in the best possible way,” Ream says, “without being insipid.”

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