Returning this weekend in earnest is Disney XD’s DuckTales, a new spin on a cartoon classic that sees Scrooge McDuck taking globe-trotting adventures with his grandnephews and other allies. As recognizable as those characters are, one could argue that the show’s catchy theme song is even more so. (I’d wager it’s playing in your head right now.) So when I had the opportunity to talk to the composer of the new series, who had a hand in crafting the delightful new theme song, I jumped at the chance.
Meet Dominic Lewis, the man hard at work on making sure the music matches the epic scope of each episodic adventure in DuckTales. Born into a musical family where “there was a lot of love of film, theater, and English literature in the house,” Lewis remarks that his upbringing’s “combination of story and music just seemed like a very natural one,” leading him into a career in music. That career has seen Lewis compose music for feature films like Money Monster, Fist Fight, Rough Night and the upcoming live-action/animation hybrid Peter Rabbit, as well as small-screen hits like Amazon’s The Man in the High Castle. We talked about the challenges posed by composing for DuckTales, balancing nostalgia against originality, crafting individual character themes, and more.
After schooling me a bit about English cartoon shows Sharky & George, SuperTed, and BananaMan, the British-born Lewis talked about how the opportunity to compose for the new take on the international sensation that is DuckTales:
Lewis: I met Jay Stutler, who’s the head of music over at Disney TV, a while back and we were trying to work together, but my schedule was preventing it at that point. Then, he called my agent [asking], “Would he be interested in DuckTales?” And that was just a “Yes” right off the bat. I loved DuckTales as a kid. My schedule is nuts, but they were really cool about doing whatever it would take. My mind was already made up, I had to do it.
With a theme song as well known as that of DuckTales, I wondered if Lewis was feeling more pressure or excitement in getting it right:
Lewis: It was more excitement. From seeing the first shorts and animatics, it was clear that they were trying to steer clear of too much nostalgia, to create its own thing. Getting involved with the theme tune was pretty scary … exciting, too, but pretty scary because obviously it’s loved by everyone across the world.
In terms of doing the score, I was just asked to bring what I bring to animation, a sort of floral, orchestral stuff with hybrid instruments wherever they are going to be in the world. I didn’t really feel too much pressure about it because it was going to be different from what Ron Jones did. But at the same time, I’m trying to have some callbacks to what he was doing in the feel and the atmosphere. It was really exciting.
Obviously when it comes out, you feel nervous. Are people going to like it? What are people going to say about my score? What are people going to say about the show? So far, after the release of one and two, it’s been very positive. I’ve had a lot of people tweeting me asking if I can release the soundtrack.
Because I wasn’t familiar with the term, here’s what Lewis means by “hybrid instruments”:
Lewis: Basically, the traditional orchestra doesn’t have band instruments or synths in it, obviously. The triplets’ theme is on a Wurlitzer with drums. If I had orchestral stuff to that, I call it a hybrid because it’s two different styles.