EXCLUSIVE MUSIC INTERVIEW: Christopher Lennertz :
E-Notes: COMPOSER CHRISTOPHER LENNERTZ TEACHES PET TRICKS TO ‘MARMADUKE’
The new go-to composer for talking animals does some not-so stupid musical tricks for a big dog, CATS AND DOGS 2: THE REVEGE OF KITTY GALORE
By DANIEL SCHWEIGER, Soundtrack Editor
They’re cute. They’re furry. They’re a menagerie of rodents, cats, dogs and whatever other of God’s creatures. If they’re given to sassy quips, they’ve got a movie contract coming. And if you’ve got a wee one, you know you’re going to be dragged by your kid’s leash to see these movies. Given that you’re not the boss in this film kennel, it’s especially nice when the said “funny’ animal flick you’ve been chained to actually entertains your adult sensibility, let alone offers music that rises above the antic cartoon scoring you’ve been conditioned to expect. But then, Christopher Lennertz is far from average dog.
Perhaps only David Seville had to contend with more talking animals then Christopher Lennertz, whose summer scores for MARMADUKE and CATS AND DOGS 2: THE REVENGE OF KITTY GALORE are adding to a resume of wisecracking critters. No doubt spurred on by his winningly cute score to the first, mega-successful CHIPMUNKS movie, Lennertz can’t seem to open his composing cupboard without some mammal popping out that’s begging for music. Now the guy who’s composed for projects that definitely aren’t ok for the very small fry (TV’s SUPERNATURAL, the videogame MEDAL OF HONOR: RISING SUN and MEET THE SPARTANS among them) has his baton full of stuff his own child would definitely appreciate.
Wary music listeners will also find themselves immediately won over by the fun that Lennertz obviously has with his new musical sideline. Better yet, MARMADUKE and KITTY GALORE have turned out to be two very different animals. The huge, Owen Wilson-voiced mutt is a surprisingly pleasant and mellow listen, full of emotionally rich melodies for string and guitar, with the expected hijinks reserved for the album’s end. And Austin Powers would feel right at Shagadelic 007 home with KITTY GALORE, a witty and deliriously entertaining spy spoof score. Just about every satirical trick you’d expect is here in style to accompany Bette Middler’s Cruella de Cat, from crazed fuzz guitars to lush brass and even some bagpipes thrown in for two Scottish feline assassins.
Through both scores, Lennertz displays a thematic enthusiasm that plays with the material instead of condescending to it- an approach that differentiates his funny animal scoring from the kind of pet you can’t wait to bring home, and the other who spastically rips your place apart. Now riding high on a furry wave, Christopher Lennertz shows how he’s rapidly becoming the big dog of the film scoring pack.
iF: What kind of live-action “talking animal” films did you like when you were a kid? And did their music influence you to become a composer?
CHRISTOPHER LENNERTZ: Oddly enough, I didn’t really think about it until now, but I remember being a huge fan of GUS, which was about a football-kicking mule. I saw it in drive-ins many times over. Aside from that, I’d have to say THE MUPPET MOVIE. Pure genius! I even played a cover of “Moving Right Along” from that movie with my rock band in high school. As far as influencing me to be a composer, that responsibility probably rests more with sci-fi and adventure films.
LENNERTZ: When you have a successful film, you inevitably get associated with that genre, and ALVIN was huge. But I think first and foremost that I have a real soft spot for family films, especially now that I have a young daughter. And I’ve always been a huge animal lover since I grew up with pets. So I think I can quickly relate to the humor and emotion needed for these films. But I also don’t play down to a younger audience. I try to just help tell the story, regardless of whether the lead character has two legs or four.
iF: Would you say there’s a general approach when it comes to scoring movies like ALVIN AND THE CHIPMUNKS, MARMADUKE and CATS AND DOGS 2?
LENNERTZ: I think there are always some emotions in family films that music will need to support, but actually the scores for all three of these films are quite different. ALVIN was much more traditional, whereas MARMADUKE had a bit more of an updated John Hughes type of approach. CATS AND DOGS 2 on the other hand was primarily a spy film with felines and canines playing the agents. But musically, it was pretty classic.
iF: Had you read the Marmaduke comic strips before doing the movie?
LENNERTZ: Yes, of course, but mostly when I was younger.
iF:: Your MARMADUKE score takes a route that’s far more MARLEY AND ME than Bugs Bunny. Were you surprised they wanted have a more sophisticated emotional approach, given that its focus is on the pets, as opposed to the humans?
LENNERTZ: Not really. I had had quite a few meetings with Tom Dey, our director, and he really wanted it to be a high school style film, just with animals as our leads, with the dog park representing the high school world. I think in most cases, with these films, I was asked to musically treat these characters as if they were human.
iF: Having scored the QUANTUM OF SOLACE videogame, what’s it like to take that sound in a comedic direction for KITTY GALORE?
LENNERTZ: It was a total blast. Doing the last two Bond games, I really dove headfirst into the sound of early John Barry. What a genius! For KITTY, we added a touch of Lalo Schifrin and a touch of Henry Mancini too. It really became a process of trying to take all the best elements of the genre and create a score that is our own, all while serving the needs of a family adventure as well.
iF: Beyond taking off John Barry’s Bond sound, what spy scores did you want to satirize with KITTING GALORE?
LENNERTZ: Well, the first C&D was heavy into MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE, so with the addition of Bette Midler as Kitty Galore, Brad Peyton, the director, and I felt that we should take it in a more Bond direction. That said, the cat agents have their own theme with lounge groove and five alto flutes that is a pretty awesome tip of the hat to Mancini.
iF: How do you find the line between playing the suspense of KITTY GALORE’s action, and not having it become too dark for a kid’s movie?
LENNERTZ: We did do a few versions of Kitty’s theme and ended up playing things a little more playful and crazy than all-out evil. We focused on woodwinds and plucky strings in many places as opposed to low brass terror. And when it was evil, it was so over the top megalomaniacal that the music ends up highlighting the humor of it more than anything else.
iF: What instruments do you think are best for embodying cats and dogs?
LENNERTZ: Accordion and Bagpipes! Oh, wait…no. I mean. I think just as in a “human” movie, it’s the personalities of the individual characters that designate the instrumentation.
iF: In a way, do you think the goal of scores for these films is to help make the audience see these talking animal characters as human?
LENNERTZ: Exactly. I think it’s always been effective for people to tell stories about emotion or adventure to children by using animals as “stand-ins” for humans. Muppets, cartoons, nursery rhymes all tell great human stories through animals.
iF: Do you think scoring talking animal pictures afford you opportunities that comedies with humans in it don’t?
LENNERTZ: I think I can probably take things a bit further in terms of both quirkiness and overall scale with animals. When the audience sees humans on screen, they immediately expect more realism from the music.
iF: Does doing these usually sweet scores make you yearn to do something really dark and nasty along the lines of your work on SAINT SINNER and SUPERNATURAL?
LENNERTZ: Luckily, I have a career where I get to do horror for SUPERNATURAL, action for games, and drama and comedy for films. I get bored easily, so, I try to go from one project to the next, using the energy and newness of the style to keep things interested. I love the fact that a day after finishing a scene for MARMADUKE, I get to score Sam and Dean averting the apocalypse. Awesome!
iF: You’ll be taking on the Easter Bunny next with HOP. What can you tell us about the film, and what the score might be like for it?
LENNERTZ: It’s early on, but I can tell you it will have a lot of percussion, as our main character is a drummer. And it will be a lot of fun.
iF: How does having your own child influence your approach to these types of scores?
LENNERTZ: I think I look at scenes as if I was watching with her, and that helps me focus on the true unadulterated emotion on screen. Children don’t have a lifetime of experiences to act as a filter when they see characters interacting on screen. They feel what is true to them quite naturally. Having my own child really reminds me of that daily.
iF: Are you a cat, dog or rabbit person?
LENNERTZ: Definitely a dog person, but I truly do love animals…all of them!
Listen to Chris Lennertz’s Big Dog HERE, and then take revenge with KITTY GALORE on Varese Sarabande Records this July