In the middle of episode five of Kipo and the Age of Wonderbeasts, something truly remarkable and delightful occurs. Kipo and her friends meet the Newton Wolves, a group of highly evolved wolves that are incredibly proud of their high level of knowledge. To show this off they, helped by a performance by none other than rapper GZA as the wolf Bad Billions, start to rap “a brief presentation on absolutely everything we’ve learned about the known universe.” The lyrics include such knowledge drops as,
folding together like a futon
Colliding in poem like a perfect storm,
creating galaxies and planets
Like the one that we’re on!
We’re talking ’bout Earth, ya’ll.
It’s truly the kind of music you wouldn’t hear on any other show and Kipo does not limit itself by any one genre. It’s also carefully woven into the story, with Kipo’s love of music being one of the biggest points of connection with her father and the world around her.
With music being such a key part of the show it might surprise you to know that it wasn’t actually part of the original pitch when creator Rad Sechrist brought the idea to DreamWorks. Executives there pushed the idea of music being a big part of the series, which Sechrist was delighted by since many shows don’t have the budget for a dedicated music supervisor.
Sechrist admits it gave a whole new flavor to the show but at first the team struggled to figure out how musical the series would be. Co-showrunner Bill Wolkoff remembers that the studio encouraged it to be different from a typical musical. With the above ground world of Kipo basically being frozen in time for 200 years and evolved animals co-opting human society, that meant the score had to reflect the world of today.
“Then the challenge became,” Wolkoff explains, “how can we make a musical that’s not a musical?”
The team settled on the idea that, because families often share music with one another, that Kipo would share playing the guitar with her dad. Even still, this didn’t totally solve the problem that they didn’t want the show to just delve into full on musical numbers. One of the early challenges of the show was finding the right way to dramatize a song without, as Wolkoff says, “it just being suddenly they stop and start singing like in a musical.”
The solution to this came early in the storyboarding of the first episode when Kipo starts to strum a guitar in a music shop. Sechrist boarded the scene and worried it was turning into a, as he puts it, “this cheesy Disney musical.” To get around that Rad had a bird fly into the store and attack her.
“It was almost a way of saying, no, it’s not going that kind of musical.”
Sechrist intentionally pushes the music in the series more than other series where songs are often used only in the background. Instead the show will blare the songs or even have the sound not perfectly match the scenes they’re in. He attributes this to his love of Quentin Tarantino and how he uses music in his films
“If I’m putting a song top of a scene, I am pushing it (and) I feel like it might rub some people the wrong way. They might be like, they’re noticing the song too much or this song isn’t fitting exactly beat for beat everything that’s happening in the story. But in my mind, I’m like, this song is so cool. This is just going to make the scene cool.”
It’s truly mind boggling to imagine Kipo without any of the music that’s made it so beloved but we’re glad it was added into the series. When you watch the show it gives you the same feeling as when fans edit rock or hip hop songs into scenes and put them on YouTube. The music is loud but it gets your heart racing as a viewer and contributes to Kipo not feeling like anything else out there for kids.