If you were born before the 2000s, chances are you’ve got a ton of classical music stuck inside your head without even knowing it. However, if someone were to ask you abut Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 by Franz Liszt, you probably wouldn’t recognize it- but if they played it to you, you may be able to hum along to it, since it’s actually the melody that Bugs Bunny plays in Rhapsody Rabbit. Or, you may remember it from Tom and Jerry’s Academy Award-winning episode The Cat Concerto (which a few music teachers used to introduce kids in school to the inner workings of a piano).
While modern cartoons usually come with their own unique soundtracks, many of the old cartoons somewhat relied on classical music in their shows. It was an excellent way to introduce kids to opera and ballet, and it worked so well that a generation of opera stars were quoted saying that their first encounter with opera came from Bugs Bunny himself.
It’s fair to say that Looney Tunes used a lot of classical compositions in their episodes, however the best example of this came from a 6 minute skit titled What’s Opera, Doc? which fully revolved around Richard Wagner’s works, mainly Der Ring des Nibelungen (The Ring of the Nibelung), Der Fliegende Holländer (The Flying Dutchman), and Tannhäuser und der Sängerkrieg auf Wartburg, (Tannhäuser and the Minnesingers’ Contest at Wartburg).
“Before Bugs Bunny, I had never heard of opera music,”
mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton for the Wall Street Journal.
Michael Heaston, a pervious pianist for the Dallas Opera, and current professor of Opera, said: “Growing up in Iowa there’s not a lot of opera—I know that may come as a shock. At a very base level, that’s what I got from Looney Tunes at a very early age: I learned how to tell stories through music.”
“Those of us who didn’t freak at the sight of a rabbit in a winged helmet sliding off of the back of a fat horse—we went into opera,” Elizabeth Bishop jokes about the What’s Opera, Doc? episode. Elizabeth, a mezzo-soprano, famously claimed that she realized that Wagner’s famous Brünnhilde wasn’t actually named Bwünnhilde as she had thought for most of her childhood (because Elmer Fudd can’t pronounce the letter R).
Bugs Bunny, Mickey Mouse, Tom and Jerry, Barbie, The Smurfs, and even Woody The Woodpecker taught many kids about the works by Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, Mozart, Bach, Strauss, Vivaldi, and many more.
Apart from Looney Tunes, fans of Barbie may remember the older films which were almost completely based on a Tchaikovsky ballet- The Nutcracker and Swan Lake, and more movies that featured compositions by Ludwig van Beethoven, Felix Mendelssohn, Franz Joseph Haydn,…
However, the strive for originality in all aspects of the modern film industry has caused the downfall of the use of classical music in cartoons. Modern catchy theme songs and jingles have instead taken its place. While you may still find the Ride Of The Valkyries composition during a scene where characters are riding a horse to battle, it’s far less likely to encounter these classic melodies while watching new cartoons with your younger family members.
It’s understandable that originality does play a crucial part in this industry, however, we do believe that there should still be a place in modern cartoons to reintroduce classical compositions to the industry, and thereby to raise the kids of the 21st century with a basic knowledge of these melodies, and perhaps to inspire a love for opera and ballet in the new generations.
And in case you’d like to refresh your memory on the classical music you’ve heard in your childhood: