There was a fever of a sort going around Hollywood in the early 1990’s: dozens of old TV shows were unearthed and turned into major motion pictures in one of the industry’s more overt displays of bankrupt creativity, not unlike the “reboot” fever of the 2010s. Lassie, produced in 1994, came as the movement was at its height, yet surprisingly failed to find much of an audience. It’s since become a curiosity that’s chiefly of interest to score fans, since Basil Poledouris provided the film with one of his most obscure scores.
With Conan and Blue Lagoon on his resume the composer may not have been the knee-jerk choice for a children’s movie, but Poledouris no doubt landed the job as a result of his involvement with the massively popular Free Willy the year before. The two scores could not be more different, though: while Willy added electronics to an orchestra, Lassie is wholly orchestral, brimming with full-force Americana rather than contemporary electronics and a much closer cousin to Poledouris’s Quigley Down Under or Lonesome Dove.
The album begins strongly with “Main Title,” a full concert presentation of the main theme. Swirling strings, noble brass, and mournful woodwinds are deftly combined; the music sounds like it could serve as the powerful opening to a nature documentary. The Lassie theme is performed boldly several other times, most notably in the latter half of the album, with a powerful performance in “Lassie Saves Matt” and a slower reprise in “Reunion/Return.”
Lassie’s other cues are equally strong, often incorporating parts of the main theme in more subdued or playful arrangements, and always remaining true to the Americana sound established in the opening. The orchestrations are especially lush, with racing strings often serving as a counterpart to the brass blasts of the main theme. The entire score is painted in very broad strokes with full long-lined melodic development and none of the mickey-mousing or self-consciously cute music that infests so many modern children’s films, an approach used with great success by composers like James Horner and Jerry Goldsmith in their finest children’s scores.
The score album, which runs a little under forty minutes, was released by the short lived Sony Wonder boutique label at the time of the film’s debut and has since become rather hard to find. Fans of Poledouris and Americana are urged to seek it out, especially if they enjoy the late composer’s other scores for children’s movies, and would enjoy a broad Americana style in that context.