Tunes for 'Toons: Music and the Hollywood Cartoon

Tunes for 'Toons: Music and the Hollywood Cartoon

Tunes for 'Toons: Music and the Hollywood Cartoon

Tunes for 'Toons: Music and the Hollywood Cartoon


In the first in-depth examination of music written for Hollywood animated cartoons of the 1930s through the 1950s, Daniel Goldmark provides a brilliant account of the enormous creative effort that went into setting cartoons to music and shows how this effort shaped the characters and stories that have become embedded in American culture. Focusing on classical music, opera, and jazz, Goldmark considers the genre and compositional style of cartoons produced by major Hollywood animation studios, including Warner Bros., MGM, Lantz, and the Fleischers. Tunes for 'Toons discusses several well-known cartoons in detail, including What's Opera, Doc?, the 1957 Warner Bros. parody of Wagner and opera that is one of the most popular cartoons ever created.

Goldmark pays particular attention to the work of Carl Stalling and Scott Bradley, arguably the two most influential composers of music for theatrical cartoons. Though their musical backgrounds and approaches to scoring differed greatly, Stalling and Bradley together established a unique sound for animated comedies that has not changed in more than seventy years. Using a rich range of sources including cue sheets, scores, informal interviews, and articles from hard-to-find journals, the author evaluates how music works in an animated universe. Reminding readers of the larger context in which films are produced and viewed, this book looks at how studios employed culturally charged music to inspire their stories and explores the degree to which composers integrated stylistic elements of jazz and the classics into their scores.


Why Cartoon Music?

Around age five, I had my first encounter with what Germans call an ohrwurm, or earworm: I had a tune stuck in my head. I had no idea where or when I had heard it. With the help of a piano teacher, my mother and I finally identified the piece as Mozart’s piano sonata in C major, K. 545. The tune I was stuck on was the opening melody (see music example 1). I took piano lessons for four years, and during that time I learned to play the piece. My interest in the piano faded and I moved on to other instruments, although the Mozart stayed with me as something of an idée fixe. In my early twenties, I got stuck on another tune during a class on Romantic music: Schubert’s “Die Erlkönig,” with which I felt a strange familiarity—particularly the opening melody in the piano’s lower register. Not long after that class, I realized that I had learned both the Schubert and the Mozart from a cartoon, or, more accurately, from many cartoons.

Mozart’s C major sonata, the so-called facile sonata (presumably because of its relative technical simplicity and simple melody), appears in more than a dozen Warner Bros. cartoons. The revelation that I had learned this melody from cartoons came as a shock. At the time of my epiphany, however, I did not recognize that most of the references to the tune were actually a jazz combo arrangement of the song written by the composer and bandleader Raymond Scott, titled “In an Eighteenth Century Drawing Room.” This later discovery confirmed my suspicions . . .

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