Toy Story 4 Soundtrack: The Art of the Expected

Jun 27 / New & News, Perspectives on Music

Toy Story 4 has opened to a $120 million weekend at the box office, in the top four opening weekends of all-time for Disney and ahead of Toy Story 3. Woody, Buzz and the gang are back together on-screen, and off-screen it is Randy Newman once again working his soundtrack magic for the movie.

We love Randy Newman not only for his soundtrack work but his long career writing great songs for award-winning artists such as Tom Jones' "You Can Leave Your Hat On" (made famous in 'The Full Monty' below) and Three Dog Night's "Mama Told Me Not To Come". He is just an incredible songwriter with a distinctive sound that often mixes jazz and blues together in an upbeat way that is perfect for a movie like Toy Story. Randy has cited Ray Charles as a primary influence and he lives up to a great name like that with his own songwriting.

Toy Story 4 uses a three-pronged mix of Randy's own music, songs from other famous bands such as "God Only Knows" by The Beach Boys, and some light orchestral non-vocal music such as "Operation Pull Toy". Some of his pieces we've heard before like the famous, "You've Got a Friend in Me". It's a great mid-tempo track that keeps things light and bouncy with instrument choices like a brush-snare drum and Newman's patented ragtime, bluesy style. It's a wonderful piece and the only question is whether the audience wants to hear this yet again, or would the movie have been better served by something new? With Newman it's a win-win situation but probably a bit less work to re-use this award winning piece. As he said to Variety, "in some ways it's easier, because I could use....music that I had from before."

Besides the repeat of that entire song, Newman also reprises themes within new music such as "Operation Pull-Toy" with it's upbeat strings and epic brass, and "A Spork in the Road", a mostly somber affair using low strings and piano that also hearkens back to themes from the original Toy Story. He returns to his typical upbeat fare with "I Can't Let You Throw Yourself Away" which includes light-hearted brass and Ray Charles'-style background choir.

We could go song-for-song through the soundtrack but I think we've spoken to the general idea that permeates throughout -- Newman brings in themes from previous Toy Story movies for a few seconds to provide familiarity with a slice of nostalgia, and then moves on into the new music which also sounds familiar to some degree just due to his patented blues-jazz-and-sometimes-country style of Americana Optimism. Here you can get the feel for how the light orchestral music of "Operation Pull Toy" accompanies the action and voice-overs of the movie itself:

Randy Newman is truly the master of the Art of the Expected. He gives us snippets of what we know combined with more of what we expect and we love every minute of it. It's all great music and hard to be critical of any of it, but one question that might be asked is how could it have gone in a completely different direction and what might that have sounded like?

At SoundSuite work with the familiar very eagerly if that is what clients are asking for, but we also like to work with the unexpected. As an example of that, we found an old Japanese 'Superman' animated clip that was using the typical light orchestral music of the time as the soundtrack. We stripped that out and created our own soundtrack using uniquely Asian and Japanese instruments such as the Koto, Zheng Harp and Joochin Dulcimer. We think this revised soundtrack reflects the dichotomy of the ultimate American superhero in a foreign land, as well as giving it a bit more serious and perhaps artistic feeling.

Another example of doing something unexpected is in this animated clip entitled, "Sintel" which again gets away from the typical orchestral music and uses what is called a steam band, or synthesized pads. We think it adds to the emotion of the story in a unique way and provides texture to the mood in a way that could help it stand out from other animations.

If you are an animated video producer, how would you use music to help your creation stand out in a unique way? We would love to hear your thoughts on that topic and whatever else you are working on, just give us a Buzz (Toy Story pun intended).

Thanks for reading and keep creating out there!

-Jamie & Eli


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