In May of 1999, Smash Mouth released a single that would go on to change the world. That single was “All Star.”
The song ended up being one of the biggest releases of the late 90s, its success spilling over into the new millennium as a result of its inclusion in a number of significant films. The first film to use the track was 1999’s Mystery Men, but the most infamous usage of “All Star” was, without a doubt, Dreamwork’s 2001 animated blockbuster hit, Shrek.
However, before that movie launched it into the history books, there was another film that featured the Billboard chart-topping song. A film that — along with its soundtrack — is one of the weirdest examples of American localization of Japanese media of all time. I am, of course, talking about Digimon: The Movie.
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Digimon are the Champions
Digimon first manifested in Japanese pop culture in 1997 as a virtual pet toy that kids could raise, train and battle against each other. When the concept proved a success, Bandai and Toei adapted Digimon into an anime series by the name of Digimon Adventure, which aired in March of 1999 in Japan. Six months later, Saban Entertainment and Fox would translate, localize and air the TV series in America.
Digimon Adventure, which had been renamed to Digimon: Digital Monsters in America, was a big hit for Fox and Saban, a powerful competitor to Kids WB’s licensing of the Pokémon anime. In fact, the competition between these two franchises is what spurred Fox and Saban to put together a Digimon theatrical release in October 2000, as Pokémon: The First Movie had recently managed to make over $50 Million in the American box office.
The only problem was, where Pokémon already had a feature-length film ready and waiting for translation, Fox and Saban only had three scraps of Digimon animation to work with — namely, the “pilot” for Digimon Adventure, a short film by the name Digimon Adventure: Our War Game! and the ridiculously long-titled Digimon Adventure 02: Digimon Hurricane Landing!!/Transcendent Evolution!! The Golden Digimentals. However, this lack of a proper film didn’t deter Fox and Saban from Frankensteining the short films together, adding a beyond bizarre Angela Anaconda tie-in short as an intro, slapping “The Movie” on to the whole thing and sending it out to theatres nationwide.
Though this ploy was moderately successful — grossing over $16 Million in the box office — it failed to reach the same heights as Pokémon’s American theatrical endeavor. Perhaps one of the biggest contributing factors to this was it’s slapped-together approach. Combining the short films into one feature-length film required heavy rewrites to Americanize the story, edits to keep it under two hours, promotional toys in Taco Bell kids’ meals and, of course, a radass soundtrack to tie the whole thing together with a nice “hip with the kids” bow.
And Digimon: The Movie’s soundtrack is easily the weirdest result of this process, Just take a look at the track listing.
There is, as they say, a lot to unpack here.
First and foremost, there are the surprising bangers by Saban Entertainment songwriters Jeremy Sweet, Shuki Levy, Kussa Mahchi, Jasan Radford, Paul Gordon and, uh, MC Pea Pod. Some of these are originals to Digimon: The Movie, a handful of them are part of the first season of Digimon: Digital Monsters and the rest are key parts of the second season — like ”Here We Go,” which was used for every transition from the real world to the Digital world. While these are interesting, the story of Saban Entertainment and their love of writing original music for existing Japanese properties is best left for another time, so instead I’ll focus on the turn-of-century hits that made up the rest of the album.
Going back to “All Star,” it’s worth noting that its inclusion in the film was, in retrospect, a smart choice — a basic, very cringe-worthy choice nowadays, but a safe and smart one nonetheless. Again, it was one of the biggest songs in America, a truly American song that would make a series of stringed-together Japanese films feel more American for American audiences. This seemed to be the overall mentality for the soundtrack, but “All Star” is the most noteworthy instance of this. Strangely enough, the song doesn’t have a very significant part in the film, only being featured in a bonus scene after the main plot wherein the monstrous Wendigomon dances and grunts along with the tune and, after his Digidestined partner, Willis, says he’s tone-deaf, fades away via an awkward edit.
Can’t Understand What I Mean? Well You Soon Will
In order of track listing, the first non-film-original song after “All Star” is “The Rockafeller Skank” by Fatboy Slim, which was blasted over Koromon playing with Tai and Kari and then fighting with their cat — because when I think of mutant animals fighting cats, popular late ‘90s Big Beat music is definitely the first thing that comes to mind.
Next up is Len’s cover of “Kids in America,” a version made for the movie that was only used in the credits, but received a very bizarre flash-animated tie-in music video that included footage from the film in a scene where the band members are watching the movie alongside a very poorly drawn Tai and an incorrectly scaled Greymon.
The film also used The Barenaked Ladies’ most well-known song excepting The Big Bang Theory‘s theme, “One Week.” The song — which may or may not be about a man murdering his ex for breaking up with him — was used to communicate the strained nature of Tai and Sora’s relationship, which is weird even if the song isn’t about murder, since it’s overall a rather sexually-charged song that references another Toei series, Sailor Moon, when the singer admits he’s attracted to the teenaged character. This part of the song isn’t actually in the film, but it is on the album, and playing it over a different teenage anime girl was a very strange choice.
All My Best Friends Are Digidestined
Last, and certainly not least, are two tracks that are genuinely (unfortunately?) some of my favorite songs, The Mighty Mighty Bosstones’ “The Impression That I Get” and Less Than Jake’s “All My Best Friends Are Metalheads.” In fact, if I remember correctly, Digimon: The Movie and its soundtrack actually got me into these songs, which in turn got me into the bands (Spotify made me aware that last year I listened to 47 hours of Less Than Jake) and eventually Ska and Ska-Punk in general.
“The Impression That I Get” plays after a disarmed nuclear missile lands harmlessly in a Japanese body of water at the end of the film’s middle segment. At first, I wasn’t sure why anyone would think Japan narrowly escaping a third nuclear bomb disaster would pair well with a late ‘90s Ska hit, but then I remembered “knock on wood” is a recurring lyric in the song.
As for “All My Best Friends Are Metalheads,” it’s played as Infermon, the virus-infected Digimon that served as the antagonist of the middle segment, is devouring his way through the world’s internet and all of its information. I’m not even going to attempt to draw a parallel between the two and just assume it contractually needed to be somewhere in the movie.
Strangely enough, the final non-original songs on the album, “Nowhere Near” by Summercamp and “Spill” by Showoff, were not actually featured in the film, likely being included in order to up the “rad factor” and entice kids to buy the soundtrack after watching the film. That’s just my theory, of course, but it wouldn’t be any weirder than the other crap that went down with the album and film if it were true, because everything about Digimon: The Movie is weird as hell.
Despite its stitched-together, heavily Americanized inception, I remember loving Digimon: The Movie when I was a kid. My aunt took my brother and I to see it and she, as one might expect from an adult at the time, had no idea what was going on. But we didn’t care. We loved Digimon and the movie provided a big-screen version of the series paired wash of weird turn-of-the-century hits that somehow ended up shaping a significant part of my future music taste. So thanks, Digimon: The Movie. Thanks for being so freaking weird.