There are a few things you can expect from a Cameron Crowe film – beautiful people, emotional speeches, memorable quotes and moving music. Crowe’s latest film, We Bought a Zoo, has all these elements plus a score by Sigur Rós front man, Jónsi Birgisson. This choice was a bit of a departure for Crowe who usually fills his films with music from various bands, singers and songwriters and while Crowe still has songs from different artists in We Bought a Zoo (Tom Petty, Cat Stevens and Bob Dylan, to name a few), the musical focus and backbone is mainly provided by Jónsi whose music is more about the impression of sounds rather than impact of lyrics.
With a background in music, Crowe has never been one to place whichever song happens to be in the Top 40 throughout his films, instead making conscious choices in his musical selections to create films that are as memorable for their soundtracks as they are for their characters and stories. This attention to musical detail has created iconic moments such as Lloyd Dobler (John Cusack) holding a boom box over his head blasting Peter Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes” in Say Anything to a road trip set to a very specific play list in Elizabethtown to a film all about the world of music in Almost Famous.
Rather than only utilize a soundtrack of bands and artists Crowe turned to Jónsi to create a score that is both ethereal and transcendent, but also rooted in the feelings and emotions classic of a Crowe soundtrack. Other than a few tracks from his solo album Go (“Boy Lilikoi,” “Sinking Friendships” and “Go Do”) and a Sigur Rós track (“Hoppípolla”), Jónsi created all new music for the film, with Crowe even jumping in to help write one of the more lyrically driven tracks, “Gathering Stories.” While this is Jónsi’s first time scoring for film, his ambient musical style is a natural fit to play behind scenes on the big screen.
The songs range from upbeat (“Go Do”) to slightly more melancholic (“Ævin Enda” and “Whole Made Of Pieces”) to hopeful (“First Day”), working to cover the range of emotions felt and dealt with throughout the film making the soundtrack not only a wonderful compilation (if you are a fan of this style of music), but also a true companion to the film. “We Bought a Zoo” even incorporates near animal-like sounds within the track, working as a nice call-back to the quieter moments in the film when you can hear the zoo and begin to understand what it means to live surrounded by all those animals.
We Bought a Zoo is a bit different from Crowe’s past endeavors and this shines through in the music as well. Still heartfelt and filled with real characters (Matt Damon’s Benjamin finally having it out with his son and Scarlett Johansson’s Kelly not suddenly forgetting about her passion for the animals in the face of new relationships), it is a story that is a bit out of the ordinary rather than one dealing with slightly more relatable subjects such as relationships (Singles) or life crises (Jerry Maguire) so these different musical choices not only fit, but also help string the narrative together.
Certainly a film’s impact is different for each person watching it and I am not proposing that everyone who goes and sees We Bought A Zoo needs to do so with Kleenex in hand, but the combination of real human moments (and some pretty adorable animals) that are hard not to care about then set to Jónsi’s transcendent tracks make it difficult to not feel at least some emotional impact. Of course Crowe and Jónsi are not the first to use music to help an audience feel certain emotions within a film (that is pretty much what music in film is there to do), but Jónsi’s unique brand of music helped to make this particular story feel almost magical. And for a story about a suddenly single father who decides to buy a zoo (I mean, a zoo) to raise his two kids on, you need to feel a little bit of magic.
This soundtrack is available through Columbia Records.
- “Why Not?” – Jónsi
- “Ævin Enda” – Jónsi
- “Boy Lilikoi” – Jónsi
- “Sun” – Jónsi
- “Brambles” – Jónsi
- “Sinking Friendships” – Jónsi
- “We Bought a Zoo” – Jónsi
- “Hoppípolla” – Sigur Rós
- “Snærisendar” – Jónsi
- “Sink Ships” – Jónsi
- “Go Do” – Jónsi
- “Whole Made Of Pieces” – Jónsi
- “Humming” – Jónsi
- “First Day” – Jónsi
- “Gathering Stories” – Jónsi
What did you think of the music in We Bought a Zoo? Were you a fan of Jónsi or Sigur Rós before hearing them in this film?