Last night, I was at a dinner with friends and we discussed the question: “If you could thank a person one last time, who would it be, and why?” Today I’d like to answer that question with the following: I’d like to thank James Horner for providing the soundtrack to my childhood.
While his scores for live-action films are perhaps more famous (Star Trek II: Wrath of Khan, Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, Titanic, Avatar, and The Amazing Spiderman, to name a few), I’ve always loved what he did for animation and children’s films. I still go back and watch those movies not only for nostalgia’s sake, but for the beautiful artwork and musical numbers that made these films so memorable.
I remember watching Fievel: An American Tail and Fievel Goes West and learning about immigration and migration as the mouse family struggled to keep body and soul together and find a place they could call home. Horner’s plaintive strings give way to inspirational choir and brass, and songs like “Somewhere Out There” and “Dreams to Dream” are forever entwined in my memory.
Balto is another film that benefited from a soundtrack by James Horner, and it is still a film I watch today — I just watched it a week or two ago, in fact. The “Heritage Of The Wolf” in particular still gives me chills. Horner’s ability to layer light and dark, air and earth tones, and woodwinds and brass creates a magical sound, a combination of dreams and nightmares, producing a fantastical reality in each note.
We’re Back: A Dinosaur’s Story is particularly dark in parts, but the soaring strings and wind instruments return us from the nightmare into a happy daydream that concludes in a heartwarming finale as we contemplate the power of love.
Horner’s scores for The Pagemaster and Casper are no less brilliant. “Remember Me This Way” always manages to move me to tears, and the fantastical settings of the stories are a perfect match with Horner’s epic, majestic range. The Pagemaster’s Opening Title thrills with harp, percussion, horn, and strings, whisking us away into the land of a child’s imagination.
My favorite score by James Horner, however, is still his grand, yet gentle arrangements for Land Before Time. It is one of the first movies I remember seeing, and it has always stayed with me. Littlefoot was who I wanted to be, and his journey from grief and despair to hope and healing has helped me throughout my own life.
Without James Horner’s scores for these films, I would never have connected emotionally to these films. He treated these animated stories as valuable, refusing to pander to the idea that children’s stories must be simplistic or sing-songy. He treated each of these films with dignity, backing the animation with powerful, emotional, imaginative music that sweeps you off your feet and into the story.
James Horner has always been one of my favorite composers for his ability to layer, his instinct for emotional, and his whimsical tone. I wish I could have thanked him for providing the soundtrack to my childhood. My world was enriched because of his music.
RIP, James Horner. You are missed.