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15 Pieces of Classical Music That Showed Up in Looney Tunes

Bugs Bunny: smart aleck, dynamite enthusiast … Chopin fan? Sit the kids down for a Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies marathon, and they’ll be humming classical refrains before you can say “Th-th-that’s all, folks!” The shorts incorporated everything from light opera to German symphonies. And this wasn’t all idle background noise. Warner Brothers, who produced both Looney Tunes and its equally influential (and far less famous) sibling Merrie Melodies, actively relied on music to help pull off some of the funniest gags in cartoon history. So, kick back, pass the carrots, & let’s enjoy a few comedy classics.

1. Tales from the Vienna Woods, Op. 325 by Johann Strauss II (1868)

As Heard In: A Corny Concerto (1943)

On occasion, director Bob Clampett had some fun at Disney’s expense. "A Corny Concerto" riffs Fantasia (1940) and doesn’t miss a joke. At “Corny-gie Hall,” Elmer Fudd introduces segment number one, emphasizing the "wythm of the woodwinds.” Cut to Porky Pig and his faithful pointer dog in hot pursuit of Bugs, accompanied all the way by the Waltz King’s playful hit. 

2. The Blue Danube by Johann Strauss II (1866)

As Heard In: A Corny Concerto (1943)

Act II sees a mother swan leading her cygnets in a birdsong-based cover of this concert hall staple. When young Daffy Duck paddles over with his off-key honking, she’s none too thrilled—until he saves the day, that is. It’s a hilarious take on Strauss’ best-known offering, though '90s kids will probably still prefer The Simpsonslow-gravity rendition.

3. Dance of the Comedians from The Bartered Bride by Bedrich Smetana (1866)

As Heard In: Zoom and Bored (1957)

As always, Wile E. Coyote matches wits with his hated Road Runner nemesis. This time around, the climax is set to what’s quite possibly the most beloved Czech opera ever written.

4. Minute Waltz in D-Flat by Frédéric Chopin (1847)

As Heard In: Hyde and Hare (1955)

Bugs spots a piano inside Dr. Jekyll’s house and, being the cultured lagomorph that he is, starts playing away like a pro. Too bad Mr. Hyde shows up to ruin everything.

5. Morning, Noon, and Night in Vienna by Franz von Suppé (1844)

As Heard In: Baton Bunny (1959)

Apparently taking a break from his typical antics, Bugs does an impressive job of conducting Morning, Noon, and Night in Vienna. Like most composers, von Suppé himself was also a conductor—however, unlike a certain buck-toothed character, he wasn’t noted for tearing after obnoxious flies mid-performance.

6. The Barber of Seville Overture by Gioachino Rossini (1816)

As Heard In: The Rabbit of Seville (1950)

Elmer chases Bugs across some local stage when, suddenly, the curtain rises on a production of Rossini’s operatic masterpiece. Without missing a beat (or breaking tempo), that wascaly wabbit assumes the title role and humiliates Fudd in one fell swoop.

7. Beethoven’s 7th by Ludwig van Beethoven (1811-12)

As Heard In: A Ham in a Role (1949)

A well-spoken dog yearns for Shakespearean theatre, but, alas, the two Goofy Gophers spoil his plans via mean pranks. At 1:26 in this clip, one of them dons a skeleton costume as our oblivious pooch—who’s been reciting non-stop—reaches an eerie ghost scene in Hamlet. Listen closely, and you’ll hear a snippet from the symphony that was strange enough to make 19th-century critics wonder if Beethoven had gotten drunk while writing it.

8. Träumerei (“Dreaming”) by Robert Schumann (1838)

As Heard In: Hare Ribbin’ (1944)

A quick, 38 seconds’-worth of Schumann’s gentle theme plays while Bugs’ latest tormentor—an oafish canine—mistakes him for dead. The ensuing punchline proved so dark that censors had it removed, forcing a severe edit which was shown during its theatrical release. But even that ending has been deemed too much for modern audiences, and hasn't been shown outside of a 2000 episode of The Bob Clampett Show on Cartoon Network. Now the original pre-multiple-censors release is available on the DVD set.

9. Largo al Factotum from The Barber of Seville by Gioachino Rossini (1816)

As Heard In: The Long-Haired Hare (1949)

In The Long-Haired Hare, big-shot opera star Giovanni Jones rehearses at home with this song (best remembered for its famous “Figaro! Figaro!” lines). Meanwhile, Bugs loudly strums his ole banjo off in the distance. An annoyed Jones proceeds to destroy the bunny’s banjo, then harp, and finally tuba and then strings him up by his long, pointy ears. Three seconds later, Bugs declares war, and we all know that Hell hath no fury like a rabbit scorned.

10. Johannes Brahms’ Hungarian Dances (1869)

As Heard In: Pigs in a Polka (1943)

Brahms wrote 21 separate dances based on Hungarian folk music, finishing the lot in 1869. This slapstick take on the “Three Little Pigs” fable is set to assorted highlights from them.

11. The William Tell Overture by Gioachino Rossini (1829)

As Heard In: Bugs Bunny Rides Again (1948)

Even though Rossini lived to be 76, he stopped writing operas at 37. His last was William Tell, which came with one of the most instantly recognizable overtures ever composed. 119 years later, Warner Brothers used the tune in a horseback chase sequence featuring the anger-prone Yosemite Sam (at 1:55 in this clip).  

12. Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 by Franz Liszt (1847)

As Heard In: Rhapsody Rabbit (1946)

Now here’s a ditty whose comedic potential sure didn’t go unnoticed. Rhapsody Rabbit finds Bugs playing it before an adoring crowd only to get rudely interrupted when a rodent decides to help by dancing on the keys. At various points in their careers, Mickey Mouse, Woody Woodpecker, and Tom & Jerry all did similar routines with this exact same piece of music. Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 even appears in 1988's Who Framed Roger Rabbit?—it’s the song Daffy and Donald Duck crank out during their piano face-off.

13. The Overture from The Flying Dutchman by Richard Wagner (1843)

As Heard In: What’s Opera, Doc? (1957)

What’s Opera, Doc? is an undisputed classic. The Library of Congress says as much: in 1992, it became the very first animated short film to be selected for preservation by the National Film Registry. Our story begins with the opening of The Flying Dutchman, which—more than any other work—put Wagner on the map. As his music swells, a diminutive Viking warrior who looks suspiciously like Elmer Fudd conjures up a mighty tempest, evoking Fantasia’s Night on Bald Mountain sequence.    

14. “Pilgrim’s Chorus” from Tannhäuser by Richard Wagner (1845)

As Heard In: What’s Opera, Doc? (1957)

Later on, Elmer shares a duet with the fair maiden Brünnhilde (or rather, Bugs in drag). “Oh, Bwünnhilde,” he swoons, “you’re so wovely!” “Yes, I know it,” quips the Bunny, “I can’t help it!” Their whole exchange takes its music from a highlight from Tannhäuser in which travelers headed for Rome reflect on heavenly forgiveness.

15. Ride of the Valkyries from Die Walküre by Richard Wagner (1870)

As Heard In: What’s Opera, Doc? (1957)

Die Walküre is the second installment in Wagner’s Ring cycle: a set of four operas which combine to tell an epic, 15-hour fantasy about gods, men, and power. For a prelude, Act III gets “Ride of the Valkyries,” wherein divine immortals let loose their mighty battle cry. In What’s Opera, Doc?, Elmer Fudd adds some brand new lyrics, namely, “Kill da wabbit, Kill Da Wabbit, KILL DA WABBIT!

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Where to Watch Over 300 British Animated Films for Free Online
British Film Institute
British Film Institute

The history of animation doesn’t begin and end with studios in Japan and the U.S. Artists in the UK have been drawing and sculpting cartoons for over a century, and now some of the best examples of the medium to come out of the country are available to view for free online.

As It’s Nice That reports, the British Film Institute has uploaded over 300 films to the new archive on BFI player. Dubbed "Animated Britain," the expansive collection includes hand-drawn and stop motion animation and many distinct styles in between. Viewers will find ads, documentaries, films for children, and films for adults dating from 1904 to the 21st century. Episodes of classic cartoons like SuperTed and Clangers as well as obscure clips that are hard to find elsewhere are represented.

The archive description reads:

“Through its own weird alchemy, animation can bring our wildest imaginings to life, and yet it can also be a powerful tool for exploring our everyday reality. Silly, surreal, sweet or caustic, this dizzyingly diverse selection showcases British animation's unique contribution to the art form, and offers a history ripe for rediscovery.”

This institution’s project marks their start of a whole year dedicated to animation. UK residents can stream the selected films for free at BFI player, or check out their rental offerings for more British animated classics.

[h/t It’s Nice That]

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Why Mickey Mouse Could Soon Be in the Public Domain
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iStock

Mickey Mouse debuted to the world in the 1928 animated short Steamboat Willie, and has since transformed into an icon recognized around the world. But the mouse’s status as Disney's exclusive property is under threat. As Ars Technica reports, Steamboat Willie is set to enter the public domain in 2024, and unlike in previous years, there have been no moves from Congress to stop that from happening. Once it does, in theory, anyone could use Mickey's image for free.

This is the third time the cartoon has been on the verge of losing its copyright protection. The first came in the 1970s, back when copyright terms only lasted 56 years. That meant every book, song, and movie made in 1923 was scheduled to lose its protected status in 1979, and Steamboat Willie would follow on its 56th anniversary in 1984. But in 1976, under pressure from companies like Disney, Congress extended the statute to 75 years, keeping all works made after 1923 from becoming public domain until 1998 or later. Mickey remained safely out of the public domain for another two decades. Then, when copyright terms were again scheduled to expire in 1998, Congress extended them a second time, this time to 95 years.

Now, the clock is ticking down for these older works once again as the 2018 expiration date of that copyright extension nears. Only this time, it looks like Congress may let them become public property without a fight.

Today’s constituents tend to care more about copyright law now than they did in 1976 or even in 1998. The rise of online streaming and easily accessible pirated content has made the issue more relevant to the life of the average person than ever before. The defeat of the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) in 2012 made this clear to legislators. That bill, which would have empowered law enforcement to punish or block sites sharing pirated content, was so controversial that it sparked protests across the web. Because of the sheer scale of that public response, lawmakers are now hesitant to change any existing copyright protections, including those set to expire on January 1, 2019.

But even if those protections expire, Disney could still find a way to prevent rival studios from using Mickey’s image when 2024 rolls around. While copyrights are designed to be temporary, trademarks have the potential for serious lasting power. That’s because copyrights only protect a single work of artistic expression (in this case, the film Steamboat Willie), while trademarks are attached to images and logos that represent a brand (so Mickey Mouse, the character). As long as Disney can prove that Mickey has evolved beyond his first screen appearance into a symbol that’s synonymous with its corporation, he’ll remain a protected property. And if you take a look at their theme parks, cruise ships, media, and the dozens of Hidden Mickeys they've hidden in their movies, you’ll see that they can easily make that case.

But few works of art made in the 1920s have taken the same path to corporate dominance as Mickey Mouse, even other works made famous by Disney (like Winnie the Pooh, first introduced in A.A. Milne's stories in 1926). Even if Disney manages to protect Mickey, the public should have a big new batch of copyright-free content to access in the next few years.

[h/t Ars Technica]

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