Culture mavens don’t like to admit it, but most people under the age of 50 learned everything they know about classical music from TV cartoons. The introduction to orchestras goes from Tom and Jerry’s piano battleground over Liszt in “The Cat Concerto” to Chuck Jones’ wholesale demolition of Rossini in “The Rabbit of Seville” and Wagner in “What’s Opera, Doc?”
And not just classical music, either. Carl Stalling’s clever scores for the Warner Bros. shorts of the 1940s and ’50s, often quoting from the Warner songbook (“We’re in the Money,” “The Lady in Red”) or Raymond Scott’s novelty tunes (“Powerhouse,” “Dinner Music for a Pack of Hungry Cannibals”), were 7-minute mini-masterpieces combining pop, jazz and classical influences.
“Cartoon Music” marks the first time that music for animation has been the spotlight of an entire book. Goldmark and Taylor have assembled 28 articles, essays and interviews (dating as far back as 1920) on the subject, although more than half the book consists of new material.
Their choices are mostly impeccable. Contents include essays by Leonard Maltin, Chuck Jones and pop-music expert Will Friedwald; a 1969 interview with Stalling (the only one he ever gave) and new interviews with Alf Clausen (“The Simpsons”) and Mark Mothersbaugh (“Rugrats”); detailed discussions of music for early Disney shorts and features, including a chronicle of the making of “Fantasia”; and pieces by MGM cartoon composer Scott Bradley.
The interview with “Flintstones” and “Jetsons” composer Hoyt Curtin is disappointingly brief, and there is only a fleeting mention of Fred Steiner’s lasting contributions to “Rocky & Bullwinkle.” But on the whole, “The Cartoon Music Book” is a welcome addition to the canon of film-music tomes and a long-overdue acknowledgement of the contribution that this music made to millions of childhoods.