Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Animation Orchestration, Part 1

By Steve Herte

Those of us who grew up with Warner Brothers’ cartoons will proudly admit that our store of musical knowledge increased with our enjoyment and we didn’t even know it at the time. This prompted me to do some research and compile a spreadsheet of music used in various cartoons.

It became obvious that certain songs appeared in more than two features and this gave me the basis for a “top ten” of frequently used melodies.

10. At three iterations is “Jeepers Creepers” by Harry Warren and Johnny Mercer (1938). It was the title of a Bob Clampett cartoon in 1939 with the hapless Porky Pig as a cop who has to investigate “strange sounds” coming from a haunted house. The loony ghost inside sings the song with his own appropriate lyrics before driving Porky crazy. Then in 1941, Friz Freleng had an alley cat sing it to Porky as a part of his nightly repertoire in Notes to You. Most famously, though, in 1957 it provides Daffy Duck with a fast-paced tap dance in Show Biz Bugs, also directed by Freleng. Unfortunately poor Daffy only hears crickets from the audience for his efforts.

9. Also at three times is “On Moonlight Bay” by Percy Wenrich and Edward Madden (1912). Freleng’s Porky’s Duck Hunt used it first in 1937 as Porky and his dog unsuccessfully try to capture Daffy. Then in 1942, it arises again in Chuck Jones’ My Favorite Duck again with Porky and Daffy. And in 1948, it is a part of Sylvester the Cat’s repertoire in Back Alley Oproar, the remake of Notes to You, once again directed by Freleng. Porky is now kept awake by a different cat.

8. Again at three appearances is the “Sextet” from the opera Lucia di Lammermoor by Donizetti (1835). Freleng used it first in 1941 as six of the nine lives of the alley cat in Notes to You sing it as a finale. Then it comes up twice in 1948, in Friz’s remake, Back Alley Oproar, and in Jones’ Long Haired Hare. In the latter, Bugs Bunny is a major distraction to a practicing opera singer. It is also one of two cartoons where we hear, “Of course you know, this means war!”

7. “The Merry-Go-Round Broke Down,” by Cliff Friend and Dave Franklin (1937), with two cartoons and a full-length film to its credit. In 1938, we hear it sung by Daffy Duck in Daffy Duck and Egghead. Egghead would later evolve into Elmer Fudd. Then Robert McKimson used it in 1950 for Boobs in the Woods, where Porky and Daffy are once again paired. And in 1988, Rob Hoskins sings it in Who Framed Roger Rabbit to foil the weasels into laughing themselves to death.

6. “I’m Just Wild About Harry,” by Eubie Blake and Noble Sissle (1921), which also had three cartoons. Three different directors chose this song. Freleng was first in 1943 with Yankee Doodle Daffy, where Daffy puts on an entire show to promote his nephew Sleepy Lagoon to a more than reluctant Porky Pig. Then in 1948, Daffy Duck comes home drunk to Porky with an invisible kangaroo named Hymie and sings it substituting Hymie’s name in Robert McKimson’s Daffy Duck Slept Here. Most recently, Michigan J. Frog sings it in 1955 in One Froggy Evening, directed by Jones.

5. Franz Liszt’s “Hungarian Rhapsody # 2” (1847) takes the number five slot, having been featured four times. The first is in 1941 in Rhapsody in Rivets, where Freleng has a construction crew playing the piece while building a skyscraper. Then, Friz does it again in 1946 with Rhapsody Rabbit. Bugs Bunny is a concert pianist trying to play it while being interrupted by a mouse in the piano. Friz gives the song to Sylvester in 1948’s Back Alley Oproar and in 2012, we see Daffy Duck sing his own lyrics in 3D while Elmer tries to shoot him in his first one-duck show.

4. Raymond Scott’s “Powerhouse” (1937). The dual jazz melodies of this masterwork have become second nature to anyone familiar with the rat-race/assembly-line experience. It appears twice in 1943. Frank Tashlin uses it in Porky Pig’s Feat while Porky and Daffy desperately try to escape a hotel without paying. Then Clampett featured it in Falling Hare while Bugs Bunny grapples with a Gremlin who is gradually destroying the plane he’s flying. Next, Clampett used it for the assembly line aspect where the babies are physically riding on one in his 1946 Baby Bottleneck. Jones is last to play “Powerhouse” in Duck Dodgers in the 24 ½ Century (1953) as Daffy passes under a huge eye on his way to his director.

3. With four playings, the third spot belongs to “You Must Have Been a Beautiful Baby” by Warren and Mercer (1938). Jones makes it a backdrop to his 1939 Daffy Duck and the Dinosaur while a Jack Benny-like cave man hunts Daffy with his goofy Brontosaur (Apatosaurus now) “dog.” Then in 1940, Freleng has Elmer Fudd play John Alden delivering a singing telegram to an Edna Mae Oliver as Priscilla in The Hardship of Miles Standish. Then Robert McKimson gets on the bandwagon in 1952’s Muscle Tussle where Daffy Duck must win back his girlfriend from a muscular Southern duck. One Froggy Evening has Michigan J. Frog sing the song in 1955 under the direction of Jones.

2. “Largo al Factorum” by Rossini and Cesare Sterbini (1782), the familiar “Figaro” aria at five iterations. The same alley cat in Notes to You counts it as a part of his performance as does Sylvester in Back Alley Oproar (1948). Then again in 1948, Jones includes it in Long Haired Hare. It also appears in Jones’ 1950 cartoon Rabbit of Seville, with new lyrics supplied by Bugs and Elmer Fudd, and then Michigan J. Frog sings it in One Froggy Evening, also for Jones.

1. The undeniable number one is “Those Endearing Young Charms,” a 19th century Irish folksong with words by Thomas Moore, again with five airings. Every time this piece is played, someone is blown up. In 1944, Clampett blows up Private Snafu in the U.S. Army’s training cartoon, Booby Traps. Then when Yosemite Sam vows if elected to eliminate rabbits, Bugs Bunny runs against him in Ballot Box Bunny (1951), directed by Freleng. Sam gets blown up. Then Friz has Daffy Duck blown up in Show Biz Bugs (1957) at a xylophone he rigged for Bugs. McKimson was not to be outdone when Wile E. Coyote is blown up at a piano rigged for the Roadrunner in Rushing Roulette (1965). And lastly, in 1993 as a part of the Animaniacs TV show, Slappy Squirrel blows up Doug the Dog as she plays the xylophone intended for her in Slappy Goes Walnuts (1993). Jon McClenahan and Chris Brandt were co-directors of this cartoon.

Of course, this is still a work in progress and these 10 pieces of music are only ones I have counted so far. I probably missed some. But there is one song that beats them all because it was sung in every cartoon my favorite Warner Brothers character starred in. That character is none other than Foghorn Leghorn, and the song is Stephen Foster’s “Camptown Races” (1850) – Do Dah, Do Dah.

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