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The Soundtrack of Our (Cartoon) Lives

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A cartoon can be engaging and funny and tell a story without any audible sound at all; even newspaper cartoons of the 20th century featured characters such as Ferd’nand and The Little King, (external links) who went through their paces, frame-by-frame, with little or no dialogue to move the story along.

But sometimes, more is more, as Walt Disney found out after he created Mickey Mouse  in the late 1920s and had trouble finding a home for Mickey’s first two cartoons (“Plane Crazy” and “The Gallopin’ Gaucho”), which were silent, before scoring a solid hit with the musical talkie “Steamboat Willie.” 

“You can run any of these pictures and they’d be dragging and boring, but the minute you put music behind then, they have life and vitality they don’t get in any other way,” Disney once said.

The Library of Congress today opens “Molto Animato!” an exhibition celebrating the winning combo of animation and music, in its Music Division Performing Arts Reading Room in the James Madison Building (101 Independence Ave., S.E., Room LM113, Washington, D.C.) The exhibition will be on view through next March 28 and will be open from 8:30 a.m. – 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Featured items include a pen-and-ink brush drawing of conductor Leopold Stokowski by caricaturist Miguel Covarrubias; the score from “Bambi,” with music by Frank Churchill and Edward Plumb and lyrics by Larry Morey; John Alden Carpenter’s manuscript piano score for “Krazy Kat: A Jazz Pantomime”; and the movie poster for “Walt Disney Pictures Presents Aladdin.”

Also on view will be items from the Library’s Art Wood Collection of Cartoon and Caricature, the David Raksin Collection of film scores (You can view excerpts, including the cartoons, from his scores for “Giddyap” and “The Unicorn in the Garden”) and the Howard Ashman Collection, including the draft script of Disney’s animated film “The Little Mermaid” and audio of Howard Ashman singing Disney movie songs of his own composing.

Let’s face it: sometimes silence is golden, but “Fantasia” wouldn’t have been nearly as fantastic without the power of music.  Here’s Mickey, in “Fantasia,” dressed to enact “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice,” a symphonic poem by composer Paul Dukas.


  1. Pretty cool article – it’s funny how cartoons do actually come to life when you put music (or sound effects) behind them. Fantasia probably the best example, like you said.

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