Editor's Notebook: A Word on Music and Animation

A Word on Music and Animation

Harvey DeneroffA Word on Music and Animation Manny Davis, the former Terrytoons director, told me that the introduction of color to cartoons in the 1930s seemed very natural to him, something that wasn't necessarily the case with live-action films. The same might also be said about sound and animated films. With few exceptions, early sound films paled in comparison to the silent movies that went before them and whose glory days these talkies seemed to so cruelly eclipse. Animated movies, however, were not hampered by the cumbersome restrictions the new technology imposed on their live-action brethren. (Limitations that were delightfully spoofed in the Stanley Donen-Gene Kelly musical, Singin' in the Rain.) Instead of being hampered by soundtracks, animated cartoons were suddenly liberated, kicking off a period of experimentation and innovation the likes of which had never been seen before. Ub Iwerks, at an awards dinner in his honor in the 1960s, spoke fondly of the magic moment when he and colleagues on Steamboat Willie first married sound with picture. Several crew members gathered behind the translucent screen (probably a sheet) to play music, while the rest of the crew watched. Then the "band" switched places with some of those out front and the scene was run once again so everyone could experience it. This sort of infectious energy was unleashed in animation studios almost across the boards during the early sound period. Thus, when the people at Disney saw the way Fleischer Studios had married Rossini's William Tell Overture to a tornado in Tree Saps, they turned the music around and one upped Fleischer with a musical tornado of their own in The Band Concert. In all, animated cartoons seemed to gain an rhythmic coherence and energy from sound that previously seemed lacking. It was also during this period, as Daniel Goldmark and J.B. Kaufman point out elsewhere, that the Hollywood majors often used their captive cartoon studios as vehicles to promote songs featured in their live-action films and published by their music divisions. With the success of Disney's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, the musical became the de facto animated feature film genre in the minds of industry executives and public alike. This bias was reinforced in recent years with Disney's The Little Mermaid, had many stage and music critics hailing it for resuscitating the moribund Broadway musical. The association of animated features with musicals, however, has also been an albatross around the neck of filmmakers, who have hardly dare to make an animated feature without the requisite song and dance numbers. Happily, there have been some signs of change of late, given the success of Toy Story, Space Jam and Beavis and Butt-head Do America, which are basically straight comedies. If this trends holds, then perhaps we can start looking at music in animation in the same sense as Norman Roger, who has said that he does not so much consider himself a composer, but as someone who designs soundtracks. In this sense, we can look at music in its proper context, rather than a series of set pieces, where everybody bursts into song. If so, we can delight in the driving rhythms of Roger's marvelous score for Frédéric Back's Crac!, the voice artistry of Mel Blanc in a Warner Bros. cartoon, and the minimalist soundtrack of a Paul Driessen film, and perhaps not be afraid to call it all music. Harry Love "Harry Love was the last of the pioneers, in at the very start of the industry. He was knowledgeable in all areas--productions, animation, storyboard and story. When a project was assigned to Harry Love you knew it was going to be done. Those that really knew him will miss him." --Joe Barbera Harry Love, despite his longevity (having started in animation some 70 years ago at Charles Mintz in New York), was not an animator who was known for the films and TV shows he worked on. Rather, he seemed to be someone who was known for the friendships and support he gave to his fellow artists. His friend and fellow producer-director George Singer noted that, "Harry was always behind the scenes; he was never really recognized as one of the big talents, but he was responsible for bringing up a lot of artists, animators, and writers." In this regard, he taught the writing segment of the evening classes Hanna-Barbera conducted for four or five years, from which, as Singer noted "came quite a few writers." Part of his support he gave others were a series of short "Animation Profiles" he started to write in 1984 for Graffiti, ASIFA-Hollywood's magazine which I was then editing. It was not something assigned to him, rather it was something he wanted to do. He told me that his pieces, while not exactly great, were about people who should be better known. Admittedly, I was not at first very excited about his writing, but looking back today, these pieces remain remarkably fresh and informative. In fact, he very much reflected what his friend and sometime boss, Joe Barbera said about his professionalism. Voice actor June Foray's recalls that she used to get Christmas cards from Harry long before she ever met him, or even knew who he was. She recalls that she "asked my husband, who was a screenwriter, `Do you know who Harry Love is?' He said, "No, I never heard of him." When I finally did meet him at DePatie Freleng, where he was a producer, I said, "How come you wrote to me all the time? And in his New York accent, he said, `Because I thought you were beautiful.' And after my husband died, he called me and we became first friends after that."

All of us in or near animation should only be so joyful.

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