Whether purposely sending a helicopter into the eye of a tornado or believing you are a real life fairy tale character, it seems that no matter what films oriented towards the younger generation may be about (or who my star in them), the music featured in these films is not only well done, it is also (maybe more surprisingly) impressive. This fact is proven most handily in animated films like How To Train Your Dragon (with a score composed by John Powell) and Rango (composed by Hans Zimmer) which had the kind of full-bodied, moving sound you would expect to hear in an Academy Award winning film rather than a movie aimed at kids. That’s probably why Powell got his first Oscar nomination for Dragon.
Granted Powell and Zimmer are accomplished composers in their own right and regardless of the genre they work in, their music is sure to be impressive, but lesser known composers working on these types of films also seem to create music that stands out.
This question has come up several times, as each kid-oriented film would be entertaining enough, but the music would always stand out the most. This question came to the forefront of again while I was watching Journey 2: The Mysterious Island this past week and could not deny that even though The Rock was riding a giant bee with Luis Guzmán holding on for dear life behind him, the music driving the action was decidedly impressive. Composer Andrew Lockington was the man behind the baton for this film (having also composed the score for Journey to the Center of the Earth) and even in these more outlandish and ridiculous scenes, Lockington’s music was anything but.
Actors can sometimes get accused of “phoning it in” or simply collecting a paycheck when they sign on to movies like these (poor Brendan Fraser seems to be making a career of it), but the music in these films seems to consistently rise to the occasion and end up as one of the film’s standout features.
And there may be something to this.
Each year the Academy nominates at least one song from a family oriented film for their Best Song category (granted it is looking more than a little thin this year) and it is hard to claim that the songs that make it to the big show do not deserve to be there (although the track from Rio may be pushing it a bit). Looking at the nominations from the past five years alone, the kid genre has gotten a nomination almost every year for songs from films like Cars, Enchanted, WALL-E, The Princess and the Frog, Toy Story 3 and Tangled with Toy Story 3 taking home the prize last year. Perhaps when it comes to music, letting go and not taking things so seriously works to a musician’s advantage and results in memorable work (rather than cringe worthy pec-popping scenes).
While the majority of these movies are animated or films that incorporate music into the story already (Enchanted and most recently, The Muppets), live action movies like Soul Surfer (Marco Beltrami), Spy Kids 4D: All the Time in the World (Carl Thiel and Robert Rodriguez) and Dolphin Tale (Mark Isham) also turned in scores that were not only impressive, but also helped to elevate each film’s plot. It seems the more genuine a score sounds, the better it plays within the context of a fun or madcap story that may not be taking itself too seriously. Granted the stories tackled in Soul Surfer and Dolphin Tale are nothing to scoff at (with each being a true story to boot), since these films are aimed at kids the overall tone is a bit more light-hearted, but the music never took that as an opportunity to play down to its audience.
It is hard to claim that watching kids take down evil spy villains or two teenagers navigate a mystical island while fighting off giant birds is not goofy, but it is just as hard to deny that the music playing along with these scenes is anything but sincere. Kids are probably not interested in watching films that tackle racism during the Civil Rights era or the seemingly incomprehensible meaning of life, but it is refreshing to see and hear that the music created for these more “serious” films is just as striking as the music created for the slightly less serious, more kid appropriate fare.