Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck cartoons get original, re-recorded music

Mickey, Donald, Goofy and Pluto are back on TV screens for the first time in years, accompanied by the music originally written for them 50 to 60 years ago — but played anew by a Hollywood ensemble at the insistence of Disney diehards.

Disney TV channels have been playing “Have a Laugh” shorts as interstitials, after movies and between other programming. They are 2 1/2-minute condensed versions of classic Disney cartoons originally produced between 1935 and 1953.

But, according to Dave Bossert, creative director for special projects at Walt Disney Animation Studios, the re-editing for today’s short-attention-span tots required revoicing, new sound effects and a re-recorded score.

“The music is a character itself in these cartoons that helps support a lot of the action that’s going on,” Bossert said at a scoring session last week at Warner Bros. in Burbank. “And a lot of the sound effects that they did were musical sound effects. The music has a full, robust feeling, and oftentimes it’s really funny.”

On the podium nearby, composer Mark Watters led a 28-member orchestra in sometimes surprisingly complex music that he had arranged from the original scores (and, occasionally, a little “wah-wah” laughter from the trombones).

During a six-hour recording session, they re-recorded the Oliver Wallace music for the Donald Duck cartoons “Good Scouts” (1938), “All in a Nutshell” (1949) and “Corn Chips” (1951), the Charles Wolcott score for “Mickey’s Birthday Party” (1942) and the Paul Smith score for the Goofy short “How to Play Golf” (1944).

Although Disney staff composers never achieved the fame of their counterparts at other studios, Watters said, “This music is just brilliant. These composers were Walt’s personal choices, and they wrote in a style that was unique to Disney.

“Oliver Wallace, who scored ‘Bambi’ with the best of symphonic storytelling, could also write a great swing tune that was perfect for a Donald Duck cartoon. These guys could cross both sides of the fence with great dexterity, and very convincingly,” Watters added.

Sixty of these shorts have so far been rescored. Bossert says there was never any talk of composing all-new music.

Luckily, the Disney archives contained all of the original composer sketches and scores, although many existed only on microfilm that was deteriorating and required high-tech restoration, according to Booker White, who supervises music preparation for Disney.

For Bossert, part of the appeal of this project was the fact that Disney execs agreed to fully restore the original seven-to-eight-minute cartoons as well as create new short versions to reintroduce the classic characters to a new younger generation of viewers. (Their parents saw many of them on “The Mickey Mouse Club” or Disney’s “Wonderful World of Color” but, in recent years, they had pretty much disappeared from the airwaves.)

“We’re able to restore the originals and serve up an appetizer of them to a whole new audience,” says Bossert. “It’s really done wonders for Mickey, Donald, Goofy and Pluto. They’re back on television again. And we’re using modern recording techniques, mixing for 5.1 surround and delivering the picture in high def.”

Watters, a six-time Emmy winner and Disney veteran whose credits include TV versions of “Aladdin” and “The Little Mermaid” as well as the straight-to-video “Return of Jafar,” is now working on his next big Disney project, “Pixar in Concert,” taking the scores for all 13 Disney-Pixar films and arranging them for symphonic performance this summer (including an Aug. 3-5 stop at the Hollywood Bowl).

Music bits

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