Behind the music of Hey Arnold! with Composer Jim Lang, plus unheard tracks from Hey Arnold! The Jungle Movie

Jim Lang Hey Arnold composer

Hey Arnold! continues to entertain both kids and adults with a whole new generation now discovering the show with the recent release of full-length feature Hey Arnold! The Jungle Movie. An aspect not always explored on these projects is the score, so we spoke with the show’s composer Jim Lang. In the below interview he discusses his work on the latest installment, Hey Arnold! The Jungle Movie, as well as sharing some never-before-heard versions of tracks that didn’t make it in the film.

Can you explain why these tracks didn’t make it into the film?

Actually, versions of San Lorenzo, Awakening and Amulet did make it into the film! These are sketches I wrote before I saw the picture and began writing the actual score.

“San Lorenzo” is the one that made an appearance in basically the same form- when Arnold and his class fly to South America. That version is a little shorter and leaves out some of the ideas in the sketch- but it’s very much the same. And the finished version features Justo Almario, a famous Columbian jazz woodwind player on flute.

“Awakening” is a first crack at the score for when all the sleeping Green Eyes and Arnold’s parents come back to life. The cue from the film, “Butterflies,” which you can hear on my Soundcloud, contains the same elements- the two major chords that repeat in the background, and the two-note “AR-nold” motif that is all over the score from the series (and the movie.) The cue in the movie has a lot more energy in it to play the excitement of the moment, but for me, it was all about the sweetness of the awakening that was going to be revealed, so that’s where I started.

The two short cues “Helga Tears it Up” and “Abner Overboard” were the first draft of the moments after Arnold and Helga’s abortive conversation in the crow’s nest. Helga tears up Arnold’s picture from her locket and throws it overboard. Abner abandons ship soon after that. Animation director Raymie Musquiz asked for a more epic feel for the moment and the resulting cue that went in the movie is “Overboard.” The big almost Wagnerian music captures both Helga’s anguish and Abner’s dramatic plunge over the rail and replaces the more cartoony treatment of the Abner beat from “Abner Overboard”

Did you do anything different musically for The Jungle Movie that was not done in the series?

Not really. The main difference is that so much of the movie is an adventure, and an international one at that, so we don’t spend as much time with the more urban, jazzier vibe that was a hallmark of the series.

There is a sequence in the movie when Helga puts an Arnold light over the city and the music is very reminiscent of the Batman theme. Did you have to go back and watch Batman to recreate this? Did you have to get permission to do this?

Ha! The theme there is actually a minor key version of Helga’s love theme. Take another listen. Maybe Danny Elfman owes me some royalties?

The Jungle Movie is actually quite sad at parts with Arnold desperately trying to find his parents. Was it hard musically to balance this sad storyline with the comedic moments?

One of the wildest things about writing music for animation is the crazy “costume changes.” From bar to bar, never mind scene to scene, we get called upon to switch gears and play different emotions. It can be tricky, yes, but the story dictates where the music goes and that’s pretty much that. Hey Arnold! never shied away from sad moments; moments where the characters were struggling with rough times and personal problems with their friends or family or school, and I think the way we dealt with those in the score is one of the reasons kids found the show so relatable. And in truth, those are some of my favorite moments in the score.

Interestingly, the network was pretty sure that the bluesy downbeat tone that we used for some of those darkly comic moments wouldn’t play in the 21st century. We had some chats about that added a few comic elements, and fortunately, we were able to find a place where we were all happy with the result.

How important is the setting to the score? When the kids get to San Lorenzo the musical vibe changes. Did you enjoy exploring this new setting musically?

I’m a very visual person, so the setting is a huge inspiration for me. The animators who made the movie were a mix of veterans from the original show and talented newcomers, and their love for the material shows in every frame.

Another plus for me- The Jungle Movie was made in the traditional 2D animation style, so I was able to write to the real picture as opposed to the really ugly “work-in-progress” versions that often come with the digital workflow. Love me some cel animation!

You can learn more about composer Jim Lang at https://jimlangmusic.com/.

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