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If, like us, you grew up watching cartoons, we’re sure you’ll agree that classical music and cartoons are a match made in heaven; the captivating sounds of orchestral instruments pair perfectly with the whimsical nature of animations.
Here, we jump into the world of toons (à la Michael Jordan) and take a look at the use of classical music in animated motion pictures and television shows. Look out for recognisable characters such as Bugs Bunny, Pink Panther and Spongebob and links to some of our most popular classical music playlists.
Classical Music in Warner Bros Cartoons
Classical Music in Tom & Jerry
There are so many Tom & Jerry episodes that we treasure, but our all-time favourite has got to be ‘Cat Concerto’: the 29th Tom and Jerry short first released on 26th April 1947. The cartoon sees Tom play the piano in an orchestral hall, while Jerry swiftly appears and the two animals battle it out on-stage.
The song that Tom plays on the piano is Romantic-era musician Franz Liszt's ‘Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2’. As the musical piece ebbs and flows, the drama unfolds between the two iconic characters.
Classical Music in Looney Tunes
Tom the cat isn’t the only Warner Bros-owned character to boast piano skills; one year before ‘Cat Concerto’ was released, Bugs Bunny took to a piano in the comedy short ‘Rhapsody Rabbit’. In his own humorous way, the lovable rabbit manages to complete his performance, even though comical hurdles attempt to distract his focus.
In ‘Rhapsody Rabbit’, Bugs the Pianist also plays the Liszt classic, ‘Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2’. Evidently, the orchestral piece is the perfect classical track for soundtracking chaos.
Classical Music in Nickelodeon Cartoons
Spongebob Classical Music
Still to this day, Nickelodeon’s Spongebob Squarepants provides children and adults alike with a form of escapism – each episode combines contemporary themes, conventions and ideologies, surrealist characters and settings and good old-fashioned cartoon humour. And, in the third episode ever released – officially titled ‘Jellyfishing Plankton’ – Patrick takes a damaged Squidward out “jellyfishing” for the day.
Whilst catching jellyfish, Spongebob sings along to the tune of Johann Strauss II’s ‘Blue Danube Waltz’. The romantic classical piece is whimsical and amusing, especially when sung by the titular sea sponge; the music invites the viewers to join the eccentric characters in Bikini Bottom.
Ren and Stimpy Classical Music
One of the first TV series produced by Nickelodeon was Ren and Stimpy – a show that follows the lovable duo of an erratic Chihuahua and a dim-witted cat. Throughout the five seasons of the show, a plethora of classical tracks were incorporated into episodes as an effective way to convey a range of moods and emotions.
One of the most famous classical tracks to feature in a Ren and Stimpy episode is ‘Polovtsian Dances’ by Alexander Borodin. The exciting composition perfectly encapsulates the zany, adventurous nature of the offbeat animation.
Classical Music in Disney Cartoons
Fantasia Classical Music
In 1940, Walt Disney Productions released one of the most unique films ever created: Fantasia. The conceptual piece is nothing short of a spectacle, and it's brought to life with an orchestral soundtrack. Our favourite Fantasia moment? We think it’s got to be ‘The Rite of the Spring’ sequence.
Set in the prehistoric era, ‘The Rite of the Spring’ pivots around a group of innocent herbivores attempting to escape from an unruly T-Rex. And the music that soundtracks the dinosaur cartoon comes from Stravinsky’s modernist ballet also called ‘The Rite of the Spring’. FYI, it’s no coincidence that the ballet is also based on the theme of sacrifice.
Sleeping Beauty Classical Music
Sleeping Beauty is proof no one does fairytales quite like Disney. The 1959 classic is one of the most beautifully made animations of all time, and it features an elite-tier soundtrack.
Needless to say, the most memorable song from the soundtrack is ‘Once Upon A Dream’; but did you know the song is an adaptation of ‘Garland Waltz’ from Tchaikovsky’s 1890 ballet The Sleeping Beauty? Amazing, right?
Classical Music in Universal Cartoons
Musical Miniatures Classical Music
In the late 1940s, Universal Studios released their answer to Disney’s 1930’s Silly Symphony series, Musical Moments. As suggested by the name of the series, the fun-loving shorts revolve around musical performances that involve a slew of super-cute animated characters.
In this particular short, titled ‘The Overture to William Tell’, the story centres around Wally Walrus who tries his best to conduct a performance of – yes, you guessed it – Rossini’s ‘William Tell Overture'. Unsurprisingly, things don’t go according to plan (this is a cartoon, after all), and by the end of the performance, the whole orchestra is in ruins.
Woody Woodpecker Classical Music
All together, six Musical Miniatures were shown on the silver screen between 1946-1948. Arguably, the most famous short is the one starring Andy Panda and cartoon icon Woody Woodpecker. As the two characters duet, the crowd accidentally sets fire to the barn setting – fortunately, Andy and Woody ensure the music performance is uninterrupted.
The composition Woody Woodpecker and Andy Panda play to the anthropomorphic audience is Polish composer Frédéric Chopin’s ‘Polonaise in A-Flat Major, Op. 53’. The composition drives the narrative and keeps viewers invested whilst the comical drama unfolds.
Beethoven in Cartoons
The Pink Panther Classical Music
The Pink Panther is a world-famous cartoon that ran from 1969 to 1978. In episode 45 of season one – titled ‘Pink, Plunk, Plink’ – the titular character is learning to play the violin. Just a few moments later, Pink wriggles his way into the staff quarters of a concert hall and decides he is talented enough to perform Beethoven’s ‘5th Symphony’ on stage alongside a professional orchestra. Before you know it, mayhem occurs.
Within the cartoon, Beethoven’s ‘5th Symphony’ emphasises the skill and professionalism of the orchestra – and, in turn highlights Pink’s amateur skill levels – plus, it helps accentuate the pandemonium in the orchestra hall. Additionally, the musical piece grabs the attention of half-hearted viewers with its infectious rhythm.
The Simpsons Classical Music
Not so long ago, The Simpsons used Beethoven’s ‘5th Symphony’ in a 2005 episode titled ‘The Seven–Beer Snitch’. Naturally, The Simpsons finds humour in the famous music piece. Once the conductor has finished performing the renowned introduction of Beethoven’s most famous track, audience members rise from their chairs and make their way out of the orchestral hall. Why? Because, according to Chief Wiggum, ‘The rest is just filler.’
The primary reason why the Beethoven song was picked for this particular scene is to emphasise the foolishness of the Springfield residents. Not only do they have no etiquette, but they also seemingly have no taste for high culture.
Musical Instruments in Cartoons
Most of the cartoons that have made it to our list date back to the mid-to-late 20th century, but it’s also clear that newer animations take inspiration from the original animations when they incorporate classic music into their films and television shows.
Simply put, the instruments that can be heard in the orchestras used in old cartoons can be classified into four key groups: strings, woodwinds, brass and percussion. To learn more about the different types of orchestral music, please feel free to head on over to our complete guide to different types of orchestral music.
Classical Music For Your Project
If you happen to be working on your own cartoon or another type of media project, you may want to consider adding some classical music to your production. And if so, you’ve come to the right place. Within our ever-expanding catalogue, we’ve got classical tracks of every style imaginable. And whether you opt for a minimalist classical track, pastoral classical track, a choral classical track, or something else entirely, you can guarantee that your composition will be of the highest quality.
Want to browse and sample some of our classical tracks? Well, we suggest you start by visiting our Classical page.
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