The Morning Call
When Easton’s Christopher Lennertz signed up to score both ”Marmaduke” and ”Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore,” he knew he’d be hounded by bad puns all summer long.
By Amy Longsdorf
SPECIAL TO THE MORNING CALL
June 3, 2010
”I’ve been told my music’s going to the dogs a bazillion times,” he says with a laugh. ”One of my friends called me up and said, ‘Are you feline good about these movies?’ Another one said, ‘Your career is a cat-astrophe.’ ”
Truth be told, Lennertz’ career is purr-ing nicely these days. The 1990 Easton High School grad is one of Hollywood’s most in-demand composers.
He scores video games (the Steven Spielberg-created ”Medal of Honor”), TV shows (”Brimstone,” ”Supernatural”) and movies (”Free Willy 2,” ”Alvin and the Chipmunks,” ”Adam”) and picked up a Grammy award for an album-long collaboration with Ozomatli.
”The lucky thing about my career is that I’m able to do so many different kinds of projects,” he says from the Redondo Beach, Calif., home he shares with his wife Shannon Madden and their 2-year-old daughter, Neave.
”I’ve had people ask me if I’m going to stop writing for video games and TV now that I’ve scored a couple of hit movies but that’s the last thing I’d want to do. The video games and the TV shows allow me to write a different kind of music than I do for movies. I feel like I have the perfect situation.”
Even though ”Marmaduke” and ”Kitty Galore” both revolve around talking critters, the films provided Lennertz with different challenges. For the former, he went hip and edgy, and for the latter, he went big and thundering.
Based on the popular comic strip that appears in 600 newspapers in more than 20 countries, ”Marmaduke” stars Owen Wilson as the voice of the titular Great Dane. The coming-of-age comedy, which opens Friday, has been likened by its director Tom Dey to ”a John Hughes movie with dogs.”
”Without giving the plot away, the idea is that Marmaduke is moving with his family to California and instead of having to adjust to a new school, he’s trying to figure out how he’s going to fit in at the new dog park,” says Lennertz.
With a cast that includes Kiefer Sutherland, Emma Stone, Judy Greer, Christopher Mintz-Plasse (”Superbad”) and George Lopez, ”Marmaduke” is being targeted as much at teens as their younger siblings. For Lennertz, that meant giving his score a bit of edge.
”There’s a tendency in family films to make the scores’ sound younger than they need to be,” says Lennertz. ”But with this one, we didn’t want to be too cartoony. We wanted to be a little cooler. So, we didn’t just use an orchestra; we used a lot of drums and guitars and rock ‘n’ roll elements.”
The 3-D ”Cats & Dogs,” which opens July 30, is a sequel to the 2001 film about the never-ending battle between pooches and kitties. This time around, the world’s dogs and cats must band together to take down Kitty Galore (Bette Midler), a hairless feline hellbent on destroying canines and humans alike.
”They hired me because they’d heard the score I’d written for the ‘From Russia With Love‘ video game, which was very much in the tradition of the classic James Bond-style of scoring,” says Lennertz of the game, which featured Sean Connery reprising his role as 007 for the first time in two decades.
”When I first met the director of ‘Cats & Dogs,’ he had pictures of Connery from the Bond movies all over his office. I saw those, and I knew exactly what he was going for. I treated the music pretty seriously. We have snarling guitars, wailing brass and big drums.”
As if that wasn’t enough activity for one summer, Lennertz also scored ”Coyote Falls,” a 3-D short that will screen before ”Cats & Dogs.” The cartoon is part of Warner Bros.’
relaunch of its Looney Tunes brand. Lennertz has signed on for two more shorts in the series, which will hit theaters in 2011.
His next movie is ”Hop,” a Russell Brand comedy about the Easter Bunny.
It’s no accident that Lennertz has spent so much of his career involved with talking bunnies, coyotes, chipmunks, dogs and cats. A longtime animal lover, the composer says his Dalmatian Miles Davis was a constant companion while he was writing his latest scores.
”He’d honestly sit on the couch and listen to what I was doing,” says Lennertz. ”When he groaned, I knew I needed to try again.”
A native of Massachusetts, Lennertz was 4 years old when he moved to Easton with his parents Jim, a political science professor at Lafayette College, and Josephine, an instructor at St. Andrew’s Nursery School in Palmer.
Lennertz usually makes it back to Easton at least once a year. When the composer gets back home, he checks out his two favorite haunts: Northampton Street’s Porters’ Pub where he samples the bar’s ”90,000 different kinds of beer” and College Hill’s Pizza D’Oro, home of ”the best Sicilian pizza I’ve ever tasted.”
Says Lennertz, ”I’ve actually had my mom put a couple slices in a cooler and bring them out to me. And I love the hoagies in Easton too. They don’t even call them hoagies out here; they’re subs.”
Lennertz doesn’t have to be coaxed into discussing the old days. A movie fanatic who paid to see ”Empire Strikes Back” 34 times, he raves about Easton High’s music program, where he was encouraged to study composition and music theory.
Particularly helpful to him was instructor Carole Lutte, who nudged him in the direction of jazz and arranging. ”She was definitely my Mrs. Holland,” he says, referencing ”Mr. Holland’s Opus.”
After Lennertz and his rock outfit Tantrum won a Battle of the Bands contest at Easton High, he was convinced that music was his calling. A few years later, while a student at the University of Southern California‘s Thornton School of Music, he had another epiphany watching famed composer Henry Mancini score ”Tom and Jerry: The Movie.”
”One of the things that always frustrated me about music was that I couldn’t do everything that I liked doing,” he says. ”But that day I realized that if you composed for the movies, you could be a chameleon.
”In ‘Marmaduke,’ for example, there’s three chase scenes, a couple of comedy scenes and a few heartfelt moments.” Factoring in his work in TV and on video games, he adds, ”I can do 70 styles of music every week. And I really love that.”
Amy Longsdorf is a freelance writer.
Jodi Ducket, editor