When did I know how seriously I'd started to take this whole "kids and family music" thing? When I spent $25 for an out-of-print kids' music CD -- to be specific, the Hoodwinked Original Motion Picture Soundtrack. Now normally I'd just chalk it up to the semi-obsessional nature of being a niche expert, but I'm used to hearing -- and reviewing -- albums with print runs of just 1,000 copies. What in the name of the Pulp Fiction soundtrack is going on, then, when a soundtrack of a movie produced by the Weinstein Company goes out of print six months after its release?
Especially when it's as good as this one.
There are three songs on here which are in my top ten kids' songs of the year, two of them in my top ten songs of the year, period. And they're all completely different. "Great Big World," which I've raved about before, has a fantastic '60s-esque sound with a Phil Spector "Wall of Sound" production and crystal clear vocals from Anne Hathaway. "Bounce" is an old school rap whose lyrics sound pretty nonsensical (if albeit pleasing to the ear) until you see the movie, after which they make sense (the song rolls over the closing credits). And "Red is Blue" is a stunning ballad which works both within the movie, representing character Red's interior monologue, and outside of it. Listening to the song in the movie, I thought, they have Ben Folds down cold. And then in the closing credits, I noticed that Ben Folds sang the freakin' song! Though he didn't write it, he did add the piano hook -- it's definitely the best Ben Folds soundtrack song of 2006.
The rest of the songs cover most of the past 30 years sonically -- "Critters Have Feeling" could've been on the Cars' Heartbeat City, "The Real G" has a Limp Bizkit rock-rap sound (in a good way), "Glow" has a bit of an Elton John feel, and "Eva Deanna" is a very fine Pixies rip-off. Most of the credit for the awesomeness of the soundtrack has to go to co-director and songwriter Todd Edwards, who wrote 9 songs here. The rock tracks here have a very Pretty Woman soundtrack feel, where you know that some of the songs' interest will fade over time, but it's still a fine collection of songs.
Now the question remains, is this a good album to recommend for listening with kids? Well, yes and no. Yes, because there are so many good songs here. No, because I'm not sure the kids will necessarily connect to the songs (aside from the "hey, I remember that song in the movie!" effect, which may be enough). In addition, while there's nothing wrong with the score, its placement scattered throughout the disk may be more distracting than enlightening. [Ed.: Way-after-the-fact reconsideration: I was wrong. They're little palate cleansers.]
I'd peg the age-appropriateness of the album at ages 5 through 10. You can see music videos for three of the songs (including the catchy "Critters Have Feelings") at the movie's website. I'd also note that the album also includes song notes from Edwards and complete lyrics. So all you people searching the website for the lyrics, just buy the album! (And if you need to know where to get the CD at a reasonable (i.e., not $50) price, drop me a line.)
You don't need to have enjoyed the movie -- or even to have seen the movie -- to enjoy the Hoowinked soundtrack (though it'll add a little bit to your enjoyment). I definitely recommend this album, but it's not so much for your kids as it is for yourself. Your kids are likely to get tired of it long before you do.
[2014 update: Thankfully, the rights issues have apparently been resolved -- you can very much purchase it everywhere once more at a normal -- i.e., sub-$15 -- price.]