If you have watched cartoons growing up, you might have been introduced to classical music like almost all young children with access to televisions and English cartoons. You will agree that cartoons and classical music do go hand-in-hand; the sounds of orchestral instruments effortlessly pairing and blending in with the whimsical nature of animation. But why and how did classical music become a staple in cartoons?
In the beginning
Just like silent movies, cartoons did not have any dialogue in their beginnings. The music has to do everything that dialogue in today’s cartoon can do to help us interpret what the characters are doing.
Cartoon scores are usually a mix of compilations of well-known tunes to help our ears pick out the storyline. If we heard a tune we know that reflects love, or war, we will know what is actually happening on screen.
Classical music inevitably became a part of the cartoon world. It would add seriousness or light emotions to the capers in the story. Soon, cartoons became built around music and many times, it parodied the peculiarities of the classical music world.
Adding Classical to Cartoon
One of the first examples of how classical music is used in cartoons is the 1929 Mickey Mouse in The Opry House short. The parody element took hold and was championed by some of the greatest musical minds of Hollywood.
Scott Bradley began incorporating classical music into the animation world as the musical director of some of the greatest Tom and Jerry cartoons. Over at Warner Brothers, Carl Stalling presided over the music direction of Looney Tunes for nearly 30 years collaborating with orchestrator Milt Franklin on titles such as “Rhapsody Rabbit”, “The Rabbit of Seville”, and “What’s Opera, Doc?”
Classical fantasy at Walt Disney
While working at Walt Disney, Carl Stalling created a series called “Silly Symphonies” that gave rise to the marriage between animation and classical music. In 1937, Walt Disney felt that Mickey Mouse needed a bit of a boost. That gave birth to elaborate planning of “Silly Symphonies” that used Paul Dukas’s tone poem “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice”. Disney brought conductor Leopold Stokowski into the mix and he agreed to conduct the music with a full symphony orchestra.
Knowing that the budget would be a problem, Disney decided to expand the “Silly Symphonies” into a full-length feature animation instead of just a short cartoon. That experiment saw the inclusion of Bach, Beethoven, and Stravinsky into the world of animation.