In Praise Of Cartoon Music!
THERE are a lot of people who will go on and on and on about the amazing theme songs of ’80s and ’90s cartoons. While they have a point (who can resist the Willie Fogg theme or indeed, M.A.S.K. and Thundercats?), they pale in comparison to those cartoons brave enough to get a full orchestra on the go.
From the birth of music and animations, right up to the ’60s, studios – notably those brilliant people at Warner Brothers and Disney – created some of the most brain-popping and often side-splitting moments of music ever committed to a TV or cinema screen.
While Disney were the kings of the big, soaraway song or killer ditty, Looney Tunes were the undisputed champs of chaotic, inventive and playful classical and jazz.
Between them, both camps created so much iconic music that it defies belief. However, much of it is sorely, sorely undervalued. So here, let us praise the dazzling and daft songs that will forever light up your life.
Let us begin with the beginning. From the opening bottlenecked guitar to the galloping brass, the opening credits of any Merry Melody or Looney Tunes cartoon, this piece of music is immediate sunshine. Vitamins for your soul. Let’s not forget Mel Blanc’s contribution with his machine gun, rat-a-tat Porky Pig stutter of “that’s all folks!” for the outro music too.
The Wonderful Fotoplayer
As chaotic as the music itself is the instruments invented to keep up with old animations. Watch one of these brilliantly bizarre contraptions being played and imagine the scene it dictates.
For the nerds among you, here’s a breakdown of the Fotoplayer. Yes. We all want one now.
It is easy to ignore the complexity and deftness of the music behind a cartoon, because you’re too busy laughing at someone’s teeth shattering in the mouth after they’ve been hit full in the face with a frying pan, or you’re rolling around laughing an anvil turning someone’s body into a concertina. However, at the 2013 Proms, everyone got to see how furiously busy the musicians had to be to keep up with the score. Better yet, as this video shows, the much forgotten percussion section really gets to shine. Observe as they throw plated into a bin and chase each other off-stage. Absolutely incredible.
We all know that classic music is an absolute drag for the most part. However, Looney Tunes can make anything funny. Often, they would take a tedious opera and turn it inside out. Here, Bugs Bunny conducts and, wonderfully, all hell breaks loose.
Raymond Scott was a composer and experimental electronic music pioneer and his work ‘Powerhouse’ was a favourite of the animated short. You can read up on Scott’s genius here. Or, if you prefer, you can watch the video below, which shows off the use of the iconic ‘Powerhouse’, which you inevitably didn’t know the name of until now. You can here the music on its own, here.
No-one can write about music in cartoons without including the outstanding Cat Concerto featuring Tom & Jerry. Watch Tom play the right notes below.
The Sherman Brothers aren’t household names, but their tunes are. They wrote a fantastic amount of songs that we could all sing. Working for Disney, they wrote ‘A Spoonful Of Sugar’, the music from Bedknobs and Broomsticks’, ‘Lets Go Fly A Kite’, the Winnie The Pooh song and, the incredibly memorable ‘I Wanna Be Like You’. And more.
More recently, Danny Elfman’s theme for The Simpsons recalls those glorious golden days of animation. He got a full orchestra and created something grand, silly and complex and filled it with witty asides (the car horn and such), giving us perhaps the most memorable theme tune of a generation. Just perfect.
There are few shows that are as entwined with music, more than the Pink Panther. One look at the title character and your entire brain is flooded with Henry Mancini’s hip jazz. As the Pink Panther didn’t talk (well, he did, but the less said about that the better), the music became his language. The way he put a skip in his walk. The way he tried to style out calamitous accidents. The way he came out of that spin dryer looking like candyfloss. Everything is ticked with the beat of some of the most perfect music any TV show could hope for.
Feel free to add your own favourites in the comments. Everyone loves cartoon music!