The Intensely Early Aughts Allure of the Digimon: The Movie Soundtrack
2000's Digimon: The Movie was accompanied by a ska-heavy soundtrack that still delights and beguiles fans to this day.
Digimon, as a franchise, has always had the perception of being Pokémon‘s less successful younger brother. That’s bound to happen when two Japanese media franchises choose to name themselves after the pneumonic of “Adjective + Monster,” with Pokémon meaning “Pocket Monsters” and Digimon meaning “Digital Monsters.” That perception, however, isn’t entirely fair. Digimon never reached the cultural heights that Pokémon did because truthfully: very few franchises do. But that doesn’t mean that Digimon didn’t have plenty going for it back during the dawn of the 21st century.
First starting as a series of virtual pet toys before moving on to video games, card games, other merchandizing, manga, and ultimately a moderately successful anime, the Digimon franchise was genuinely successful in the late ’90s and early ’00s. So much so that the digital powers-that-be must have felt they had everything they needed to compete with Pokémon. There was just one thing missing: a feature film.
Pokémon had released its first movie, fittingly titled Pokémon: The First Movie, in 1998 to middling critical reviews but tremendous financial success. Digimon parent company Saban Entertainment (now defunct) wanted a piece of that ‘mon movie action.
Thankfully, come the year 2000, Saban and North American theatrical distributor 20th Century Fox had their choice of three Japanese Digimon films to present to American audiences: Digimon Adventure (1999), Digimon Adventure: Our War Game (2000), and Digimon Adventure 02 (2000). Which movie did they pick to localize into English? Why, all three of course: Frankensteined together into one barely coherent plot spread across eight years.
To be fair to Digimon: The Movie, the Japanese films it was drawing from were all shorts and not fit to release to theatrical audiences expecting a full 90 minutes. Additionally, combining two or more shorts into one feature film is far from unheard of in the context of anime adaptations, hell, the aforementioned Pokémon: The First Movie is broken down into three segments itself, though the main one “Mewtwo Strikes Back” runs a respectable 75 minutes.
Still, for mainstream American audiences not yet fully accustomed to the rhythms of anime, Digimon: The Movie was mostly a dud. Though the film has its Digi-fan defenders today *meekly raises hand* it was far from the successful Pokémon competitor Saban and Fox hoped it would be, taking in a paltry $16 million and enduring much critical deriding. For most people, Digimon: The Movie‘s ultimate legacy is that of a curious, largely forgettable fad flopping. “Remember when that other ‘mon franchise thought it could come at the king? Hilarious.” For others, however, Digimon: The Movie is remembered fondly for one unexpected reason. Its soundtrack.
On the off chance you’re not familiar with the Digimon: The Movie soundtrack yet, I want you to take a second and think of what types of songs might make it onto the soundtrack of an animated film about children raising, training, and fighting digital monsters.
Got it? Great. Whatever you were thinking of, you’re wrong. Because THIS is what’s on the Digimon: The Movie soundtrack.
The first track is pretty much what you’d expect. You can’t have an early aughts animated property without a good-old fashioned rap. And since it’s not on Spotify, here is the YouTube link to fully appreciate it.
But after the perfunctory rap track, things truly go off the digital rails. Yes, that is Smash Mouth’s seminal 1999 hit “All Star” there as track two. In addition to becoming just generally inescapable for the better part of a decade, “All Star” also became inextricably linked with its use in Dreamwork’s 2001 animated film Shrek. It’s so disarming to see it there one year earlier as though Smash Mouth label Interscope knew it needed an animated film to make the song a hit and just happened to whiff SO hard on the first attempt.
From there, the soundtrack takes an incredible turn for the ska. Ska, the genre characterized energetic horns womping over punk riffs, had largely left the mainstream by the mid ’90s. The folks at Digimon never got that memo though, bless them. This album features two giants of the genre with The Mighty Mighty Bosstones’ “The Impression That I Get” and Less Than Jake’s “All My Best Friends Are Metalheads.” Since that latter one’s not on Spotify either, go ahead and enjoy this forever classic.
Why is the Digimon: The Movie soundtrack so ska heavy? That’s unclear. But late ’90s techno is also in there for some reason with Fatboy Slim’s “The Rockafeller Skank” coming in at track three. That was actually a reasonably large radio hit at the time of the soundtrack’s release. Similarly big was band that pens track 4 “Kids in America,” Len (of “Steal My Sunshine”) fame. That song even plays over a notable moment of the film where the kids … arrive in America.
Oh right, have I not mentioned that part yet? This is not one of those “music inspired by” soundtracks. All of the songs here are actually included in Digimon: The Movie! And truth be told, sometimes they actually weirdly work! The song “Here We Go” is an original composition for the film written by composer Jason Gochin, but it fits into the movie and soundtracks larger ’00s ska and punk aesthetic. Watch as it captures the urgency of WarGreymon and MetalGarurumon’s battle against Diaboromon.
But for every “Here We Go” Digimon battle, there’s are at least two more inexplicable musical moments. Like when the movie opts to include’s Barenaked Ladies’ “One Week” for seemingly no reason.
All in all, the Digimon: The Movie soundtrack is one of the stranger pop cultural artifacts you’re ever likely to find. Are there any lessons we can draw from it more than two decades later?
Nope! This isn’t that kind of article. The soundtrack is weird and it’s ok to either appreciate or condemn it as the weird little early aughts time capsule that it is. If you unironically love its blending of Fatboy Slim, Less Than Jake, and Smash Mouth though, just know that you’re not alone on this here internet.