Cartoon coda: classic, classical â€˜toons
My multipart look at classical music and the movies wraps up with a list of comic cartoons inspired by and synchronized to classical compositions.
Of course, the pioneer in this kind of work was Walt Disney, whose 75 Silly Symphonies short-film series from 1929-1939 served as a laboratory for animation techniques that allowed his company to move to features. It also produced award-winning entries such as "The Skeleton Dance," "The Band Concert" and "The Three Little Pigs."
Warner Brothers, Disney's closest animation rival, patterned its cartoon efforts after Walt's, even to the extent of titling its series Looney Tunes and Merry Melodies. To this watcher, their rowdy and subversive attitude makes them much more fun to watch. Here's a six-pack of their best:
Rhapsody in Rivets (1941) Dir: Fritz Freleng. Lizst's Hungarian Rhapsody #2 is the blueprint for this perfectly animated, dialogue-free romp starring the construction crew of the "Umpire State Building." Led by a conductor-foreman, the slap-happy bunch frantically runs a skyscraper up, Babel-like, into the stratosphere.
Notes to You (1941, Dir: Fritz Freleng)/Back Alley Oproar (1948, Dir: Freleng) The one about the yowling cat that keeps the homeowner awake was so good that it was remade seven years later. Porky is the victim the first time around -- when he kills the kitty, its nine lives gather together and croon the famous Sextet from Donizetti's "Lucia di Lammermoor." The second time around, the trespasser is Sylvester and Elmer Fudd is the butt of the jokes.
Pigs in a Polka (1943, Dir: Fritz Freleng) Warner Brothers' revenge for the pretensions of Disney's "Fantasia," as well as an infinitely more satisfying and sarcastic version of "The Three Little Pigs." It uses a clutch of Brahms' Hungarian Dances to drive the hilarious narrative.
The Rabbit of Seville (1950, Dir: Chuck Jones) Using Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd's classic hunt-and-trick template, Jones and musical director Carl W. Stalling sync up Rossini's overture to "The Barber of Seville" to create a sweeping, dizzy fantasy that still cracks the audience up.
What's Opera, Doc? (1957, Dir: Chuck Jones) It was voted the number-one cartoon of all time, and it's still the only Bugs Bunny cartoon to land on the National Film Registry. Wagner is the target, but the perfect little piece mocks all artistic pretension while standing up as a beautiful work in and of itself.
High Note (1960, Dir: Chuck Jones) A musical score comes to life as one drunken musical symbol runs rampant, ruining "The Blue Danube."