There’s a classic sound in heist movies, especially the ’60s and ’70s – a little jazzy, a little stealthy, sometimes raucous and wild – and composer Daniel Pemberton cleverly channeled that throughout “The Bad Guys,” DreamWorks Animation’s action comedy that opened today.
“Film is in some ways a homage to the classic caper film,” said the British composer, “and it’s a world I love so much. You have to be really bold: big breaks, big brass parts, big notes, and big grooves.”
Pemberton’s high-energy music sets the mood and prompts action in Pierre Perifel’s animated adventure about a notorious criminal gang (wolves, snakes, piranhas, sharks and tarantulas) who consider going straight after passing guinea-pig philanthropists and their red fox governor.
“At its core, it’s a very encouraging score, despite the cunning, the suspense, all that sort of thing,” he noted. He cites Quincy Jones’ “The Italian Job,” Lalo Schifrin’s “Bullitt,” and David Shire’s “The Taking of Pelham 1-2-3” (all written between 1968 and 1974) as early inspiration.
“The Bad Guys” contains a Hammond organ, fuzz guitar, bongo drums, Moog synthesizer, alluding to that period. But it’s also a very contemporary sound, with big beats, full orchestra, and fast tempos. There is never a dull moment in the film or the music.
The choice of musician is key, Pemberton said. “It was like putting your own gang of robbers together,” he said. “You have a safe, runaway car driver, muscle man. I’d do it with a band: I know a guy who’s great at Hammond’s organ solos, a great guitarist, a great drummer. That’s the way to approach a score like this.”
Need time. In fact, the “Bad Guys” score required 4,000 individual takes, a record for an Oscar-nominated songwriter whose recent career has included hit titles like “The Trial of the Chicago 7” and “Being the Ricardos” and who’s also been a caper. live-action “Ocean’s Eight.”
“I like to get the best performance I can from people,” she said. “I probably spent half a day recording bass lines. The more detail I can give to each show, the better,” though he also admits that “by the time the film is over you’re like, can anyone hear this?”
Adding to the score are quirky and unexpected sounds, including the Indian bansuri flute, which is the voice of Crimson Paw, a fellow thief who comes to help an imprisoned gang; and the Japanese tashiogoto, an unusual stringed instrument heard in the main theme of “Bad Guys”.
Professor Marmalade, the good guinea pig, gets a Bach-style piano introduction (“he’s very pleased with himself, and there’s a wit about Bach’s introduction,” explains Pemberton), and there’s a classical guitar motif for bad guys going “good” (temporarily).
He also wrote two songs, one of which (“We’re Gonna Be Good Tonight”) was the focus of the early heist scene. “We had to have a song that could initially be a distraction for the audience, then turn into a message about how audiences need to adjust their opinion of how they perceive people, then become a song that was so fun, so contagious, that you couldn’t help but dance to it. ”
Pemberton and lyricist Gary Go found it all in one afternoon walk from Pemberton London studios to Big Ben and back home. “It was magical, like your fantasy of being a Hollywood songwriter, hanging out with your partner, walking along the Thames at night and singing on your iPhone,” he said.
He also collaborated with British band The Heavy on the final title track, “Brand New Day. “We needed to send The Bad Guys to the next chapter of their story,” he said.
“I’ve always been attracted to projects where I could have enough room to be original,” added Pemberton, whose only previous animation experience was “Spider Man: Into the Spider-Verse.” “I thought this could really be a fun way to spend a long time, and it turned out to be true. It was truly one of the most enjoyable filmmaking experiences I’ve ever had.”