Classic cartoons: they don’t make ’em that way any more

Bugs Bunny at piano

Bugs Bunny, preparing to perform Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2

Since this is a music blog, “classic cartoons” means something more specific than just the old ones. Many cartoons used to feature classical music, which is the only reason why they belong in this blog.

I never had any kids, so haven’t paid much attention to the Saturday morning cartoons since I was a kid myself. Every once in a while I see one, though. I’m not qualified to say that they don’t use classical music, but I think I’d remember noticing if I’d heard any. I am principally struck by the lack of richness in the drawing.
Of course, modern cartoons are made for children.  The adults who make them apparently have no high regard for children’s ability to enjoy anything very sophisticated. I was a child in the 1950s, when hardly anyone was making new cartoons.

(I just remembered “Tom Terrific,” which was on Captain Kangaroo. I have no reason to compare that one favorably to what I occasionally see now. I thought the drawing was pretty miserable compared to other cartoons even in kindergarten!)

The most memorable cartoons from that time, though, were not new and not originally intended for children at all. They had all been introduced in movie theaters during the previous decade or earlier. Many contained sly references to Depression-era or wartime issues.

Elementary school children in the 1950s could hardly appreciate the topical humor, but those scenes were loads of fun anyway. Some of us, at least, could relate what we learned in high school history classes to the cartoons we remembered.

Rhapsody Rabbit

Rhapsody Rabbit is a Bugs Bunny cartoon that first hit the theaters in 1946. Unlike most cartoons of the time, there is no real story line and hardly any scene changes. Bugs Bunny simply wants to perform a piano recital and chooses Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2.

Of course, he can’t simply play it from beginning to end without interruptions and digressions. That’s what makes it fun!

Children today, at least those in 3rd grade or older, might not appreciate the cartoons of the 1940s—not because they’re too sophisticated, but because they’re too old-fashioned. After all, if I and my generation could laugh at topical references we couldn’t understand, anyone younger probably can, so long as they can avoid the snobbishness of preferring something somehow up to date.

With all the computer-assisted graphics available today, it should be possible to make cartoons with the same visual richness without nearly as much effort as it used to take. I know very well what the movie studios are achieving.

Somehow, I don’t expect to see anything comparable on the TV cartoon shows. The children who are watching them today have no idea how much they’re being ripped off.

And Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2? It has since been used in at least three movies: Delirious, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, and Shine. Perhaps not as many people can name the classical music they hear these days, but they still hear it in movies, TV commercials, etc.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

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