The Journey of Natty Gann
- Composed by James Horner
- Intrada / 43m
A highly-regarded film, The Journey of Natty Gann is a live-action Disney adventure about a girl who travels across America in search of her father during the Depression. It did only modest business on its release in 1985, but has gone on to become a firm family favourite and is now enjoying a new lease of life on Disney+.
Elmer Bernstein was originally hired to write the score by director Jeremy Kagan and he rewrote much of it, but his music was somewhat mysteriously removed (except a couple of brief cues) and James Horner – still very young at the time, but nonetheless by then firmly established – provided the replacement, which is actually strangely similar in its approach.
Varèse Sarabande released Bernstein’s rejected score in 2008 – and a year later Intrada released Horner’s replacement. It’s a completely lovely work, featuring delightful themes, most especially the main theme, heard in full in the opening title piece. It’s one of those beautiful pieces of orchestral Americana which film music has delivered so well on occasion – somehow folksy and charming despite also being wonderfully evocative of those glorious wide open spaces, Coplandesque needless to say (and as a result, also Bernsteinesque). The film is set in the 1920s, but the music is timeless.
“Leaving” is much more small-scale; there’s a motif in there which is ironically taken from Bernstein’s classic To Kill a Mockingbird, which Horner weaves very effectively into his own melodies. “Freight Train” is probably the score’s highlight – an effervescent romp, full of Copland again, it could almost be from another Bernstein score, this time The Magnificent Seven. It’s an exciting orchestral romp, full of childlike innocence, the sort of warm adventure music that attracted many listeners to film music in the first place. It gets a very welcome reprise later in “Rustling” which then turns into a piece of classic Horner action music from this period.
“First Love” is (unsurprisingly) another lovely gem of a piece, with more low-key variations on the main theme leading into a heartmelting, lilting guitar take on the theme. In the Britten-inspired “The Forest”, Horner even uses some of the kind of vividly expressive music he would later use to stunning effect in various scores, including The New World (I wonder if this was the first time he employed that particularly attractive sound). Then there’s the expansive, thrilling “Getting There” which is sadly very short, but a complete delight. “Farewell” is a sweeping, string-led take on the theme before there’s one last blast of action music; then Horner wraps everything up in a glorious end title piece, reprising that great main theme one last time.
I could never tire of listening to this sort of thing – it’s unusually brief for a Horner score (the main album sequence only actually runs 33 minutes, followed by four bonus tracks which don’t have such pristine sound). I still don’t really understand why Bernstein’s score was replaced (perhaps it was the ondes, but it didn’t feature as heavily as it often did), but we got a truly delightful James Horner score out of it. It steers so close to Copland, but the result is magical.
Rating: **** 1/2