Film without music is like a frog without water - surviving, but not really thriving. Just imagine The Incredibles (2004) without its iconic noir score or Ratatouille (2007) without its sweet Paris-infused accordion track or The Lion King (1994) without ‘Hakuna Matata’. Imagine Monsters Inc. (2001) without its bustling jazz and heart-tugging strings or Toy Story (1995) without its magical ‘You’ve Got a Friend in Me’ or Up (2009) without its lyrical violins that tell a thousand stories, The Little Mermaid (1989) without the powerful and instantly iconic ‘Part of Your World’ or Spiderman: Into the Spider-verse (2018) without its Brooklyn-tinged pulsating trap beats that underpin its bombastic style.
Whilst direction, acting and screenplay can be viewed as the horse that drives the film forward, the music is sort of the horseshoe that ensures the movie doesn’t suffer fatigue and collapse. Animal metaphors aside, we should ask ourselves first, “What exactly does music do?” We can all agree that music makes us feel. It goes hand-in-hand with the visuals, creating a beautiful alchemy of art that (hopefully) resonates with the audience on both the conscious and subconscious levels.
We can all agree that music makes us feel. It goes hand-in-hand with the visuals, creating a beautiful alchemy of art that (hopefully) resonates with the audience on both the conscious and subconscious levels.
Of course, some scores for animation - superb though they are – may feel overly ‘loud’ - bombastic, epic; even gaudy. But let’s not forget that animation itself, despite all its subtleties, is generally considered to be the loudest of the mediums; understandably so. Animation is traditionally dynamic, expressive, exaggerated, colourful, high-octane, vivid, punchy, full of zeal and everything in between. And when it isn’t any of these things, it is injected with an almost metaphysical artistic flair that, at its best, can be more unique than many live-action films. This “loudness” though, creates spectacle and draws the viewer into each texture, shadow and every 3D-drawn realistic hair follicle.
The question, then, is this: Is music all that powerful or potent when paired with animation – the “loudest” type of film? Surely all music pales in comparison to the spectacle and extravagance of animation, right?
Unfortunately, making that assumption is to miss the whole point of scores as an art form.
Certainly a score can stand alone; in fact, many of the Oscar winners, for instance, are scores of this nature. However, it would be foolish to presume that – in the context of the film – we require said “loud” music to compete with the visuals. In animation especially, the most poignant moments come from the moments where the CGI artists’ fingerprints dissolve and we are consumed by the story, script, acting and… music.
With animation, the importance of music is amped up to eleven. We have so few human elements to latch onto, that music might be one of the few things grounding us to a very familiar human language – transferring the waves from the speakers into magic vibrations that trigger whatever emotion. Conversely, it can sound alien; disorienting, even. Or whacky. Or majestic. Or heroic. Or harrowing. Clearly, the possibilities of music in animation are as endless as the styles of animation itself.