Where the Wild Things Are: The Power of the Perfect Music Cue

The 2:06 theatrical trailer for Where the Wild Things Are (2009), demonstrates the centrality of the music cue (and the music librarian) to trailer making.  I love this trailer for the stirring, evocative, and narrative Arcade Fire anthem (Wake Up) that provides a de-facto Voice Over to the visual presentation.

This is a traditional trailer in many ways.  It’s a common length; it uses graphic copy (words on screen) to sell the atmosphere, attitude, tone and general content of the movie heralded, and to emphasize the provenance of this collaboration between children’s lit icon Maurice Sendak and Indie/Arthouse sensation cum-studio stalwart, director Spike Jonze.   There is no cast run, per se, although the credit block is presented in the closing seconds after the title appears for a second time.

The font used (for copy and title) is either an homage to Pablo Ferro, the pioneering editor and graphic designer responsible for such trailers as Dr. Strangelove, A Clockwork Orange, Stop Making Sense, etc. etc., or his actual work. (He was alive and active when I interviewed him in 2005.) Ferro’s signature typeface is an uneven, child-like, elongated hand lettering, an apt choice for an adolescent epic adventure of the imagination.

Like all truly inspired music selections, “Wake Up” not only conveys the emotion, the energy and the drama of the trailer’s story, its lyrics caption what we are seeing (e.g. “Children wake up /hold your mistake up/ before they turn the summer into dust….
If the children, don’t grow up/ Our bodies get bigger but our hearts get torn up/ We’re just a million little gods causin’ rain storms turnin’ every good thing to rust.”) and conclude with a “call to action” that would be equally at home on the DVD Packaging, i.e. “Look out below.”

Indeed, the lyric “Children Wake up” speaks both to film’s protagonist, who leaves his bed to spy on his single mother, and as an exhortation to the audience—children of all ages–to be alert, on guard and conscious of the passage of time.

In the second stanza, the “if” of the lyric is swallowed, so that what comes across on the trailer (or in concert) is the observation that “Children don’t grow up/ their bodies get bigger but out hearts get torn up,” suggesting that inside all of us is a bruised child.  Coincidentally (or not) that’s the literal subject of the movie as well as the nostalgic anchor this adaptation of an acclaimed work of children’s literature is counting on to attract audiences.

As I said, it’s an inspired choice, and full credit belongs to the editor or music librarian who suggested its applicability. Prescient too, given the breakout popularity Arcade Fire has since achieved.

About Frederick Greene

Entertainment Copywriter & Visiting Assistant Professor, UCLA Dept. of Theater, Film & Television. I teach a graduate seminar in new movie marketing, which focuses on the history, contemporary practice and likely future of a/v advertising for motion picture entertainment.
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