Saturday, 7 March 2009

The Top Five:

Cartoons and Music:

I love cartoons. I love music. This list is a compilation of those times when the two come together to form something so perfect it sticks in your head. I can still remember what I was doing, where I was, and exactly how I felt when I heard/saw all of these. There's no higher compliment I can pay them than that.

You might expect this list to be filled solely with Disney movie clips, but this list isn't just about awesome animation and skin-tingling music, it's about how well the two stick together. Whether the music suits the animation and vice-versa, and whether the two together can become more than the sum of their parts. Something that is more than just ink and vibrations.

So, here's my list, my top five, and feel free to add your own favourites to the comments box... (I've included links if you fancy viewing them. I didn't embed the vids as it was taking too long)

- Hellfire from Disney's The Hunchback of Notre Dame: Not a well-known song but by God it raises the hairs on the back of your neck. Nasty bad-guy Frollo sings to a fireplace about fancying gypsy Esmerelda (and who could blame him, the animators made her hot), but crushes on ladyfolk aren't allowed by the Church, oh no.
Both the animation and music are incredibly gothic, dramatic and (it'll make sense when you hear it) churchy. 1:31-1:41 are, quite frankly, spine-tingling: as ghostly flames wrap around him and choral voices hit a roof-rattling crescendo. It's like the voices of Heaven and Hell are signing with him, howling with him, and dragging him down into the Inferno. Plus there's some fantastic brooding animation, particularly when the guard opens the door. And lets face it, who hasn't sung to a roaring fire at one time or another?

- Transfomers Opening Titles (Season 2): Alien robots kicking the shit out of one another? What music do you put to that? Ass-kicking 80s electro-synth, thats what! Electronic-style lyrics play over some cracking and immesnely dynamic (but now slightly dated) animation of Transformers transforming, and in 30 seconds you immediately know what the next 30 minutes is going to be about. That's why it's on the list - for the sheer economy of it all - managing to set up the scene and get you excited about it AND have you bobbing your head to that electro-synth beat. I still feel like an excited five year old when I hear it.

- Tom and Jerry: The Cat Concerto: This is, frankly, (and pardon my French) fucking brilliant. This is the synergy between animation and music at its best. You can't beat it. You can't. Combining animation and music to make the jokes (the only music you hear is that played by Tom on the piano), you have to marvel at how the writers and animators and musicians planned this one out. The music doesn't just fit with the animation, it's integral to it. This harks back to a time when animation was a spectacle and consequently so was the music that went with it, not just shit sound effects and guitar strumming like you get on a lot of today's kid's shows. This is art people. And if you don't enjoy this then you have no soul. No soul at all.

- The Circle of Life, 'The Lion King': Show me a more uplifting, emotional, gradiose start to a piece of animation and I'll eat my hat. You cannot top The Lion King. Not only is there a piece of music that evokes the Serenghetti dawn and the majesty of a coronation, but it interlocks perfectly with the action on screen: see the baby giraffe 'blinking, step into the Sun' as the exact words can be heard. And the start is fantastic: a lone African voice singing with the rising Sun as instruments gradually join in, just as the animals gradually congregate at Pride Rock. And then there's a grand crescendo as the music lifts up with little Simba, and then it abruptly stops, drowns in black and reveals the title. Oh, and I forgot to say, the animation is magnificent: Table Mountain, marching ants silhouetted against running zebras, cute lion cubs being lifted over a sea of animals - neither the animation nor the music let each other down, and even before minute five of the film has begun you're buzzing. You're watching one of the last great Disney animations ladies and gentlemen, drink it up.

- Batman: The Animated Series. Opening Titles: This is how to introduce your protagonist, your show, and make the audience's pulse race even before the title has rolled. The start of the animated Batman cartoon is a little story in itself: robbers bust open a bank, escape with the loot, are met with the shadowy figure of the Batman on the roof, have the shit kicked out of them, and are left to a bewildered police force. No words, no sound effects, just Danny Elfman's score jazzed up. Cymbal crashes represent punches and a malevolent string and brass score represent the seediness of Gotham City and the darkness and hope that Batman brings to it. Much of the elegance and drama comes from the animation, which is of the old Superman cartoon series style: art deco but steeped in the shadows and night of Gotham. Combined with the music it makes for an incredibly evocative piece. The dedication put into the titles makes it like a little cartoon within itself, and yet its just an appetiser before the rest. Never before or since has Batman been so economically or dramatically summed up. He's a shadowy figure who stops crime. That's all he'll ever be. That's all you need to know. Now on with the rest of the show... Perfect. Absolutely perfect. If you watch only one of the videos on the list, watch this one.

(PS: Raymond Briggs' The Snowman isn't featured here, because it doesn't need to be. It is THE PERFECT blend of animation and music. It lasts for only half an hour. And for exactly half an hour you will be amazed and filled with child-like wonder. That's the reason it isn't on this list - it's so eye-wateringly perfect that nothing else compares to it. Not Batman or The Lion King or Tom and Jerry. Nothing. Absolutely nothing.)