IN CARTOONS, MUSIC MAKES THE LAUGHS GROW LOUDER by Bill Hanna Years ago, I got my start working for

a cartoon production company run by Hugh Harman and Rudolph Ising. They were the creators and producers of the early Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies. It was no coincidence that those early cartoons (along with Disney’s Silly Symphonies ) were named after forms of music. Why, the very name of the company--Harman-Ising--had a harmonious musical ring to it. Music was our inspiration, our jumping off point, you might say. I used to time out cartoon gags using musical bars and staves, because the timing in cartoons is so crucial to getting the laugh. “Timing” is a musical concept, really. A seven minute cartoon can be seen as a short piece of music, with pacing and dynamics that can almost be charted, like a musical score. My love and understanding of music has served me well throughout my cartoon career, because it helped me nudge the laughter out of an audience.

Probably the most enjoyable part of producing cartoons at Hanna-Barbera has been writing the lyrics (and some of the melodies) for many of the main titles of our shows. I did this while working with our main musical director for many years, Hoyt Curtin. I believe that Hoyt Curtin is one of the two truly distinctive musical voices to have emerged in cartoons over the last 50 years. (The other one is Carl Stalling over at Warner Bros.) Like Stalling, who used primarily symphonic orchestral arrangements, Hoyt called upon the dominant musical form of his day. In Hoyt’s case, that meant the big band sounds of the '40s and '50s, which he translated into a series of themes and scores that are maddeningly catchy, effortlessly funny, and utterly unmistakable. Thanks to him you can tell a Hanna-Barbera cartoon from across the street, just by hearing a few strains of music. When it came time to write a theme song for one of our new shows, Hoyt and I would get to work. The lyrics almost always came first. I would compose the lyrics in my head, jot them down on a sheet of note paper, give Hoyt a call at his home, and recite them over the telephone. Invariably, Hoyt would call me back within a day or so with a musical composition and sing the thing to me, complete with my lyrics. Hoyt’s ability to create a bright, lilting melody to match my lyrics time after time was to me nothing short of astonishing. Over the past 40 years I have attended hundreds of recording sessions, and have gotten to know and respect many talented musicians. But Hoyt Curtin was the one I spent the most time with. We worked together. We sang together. And we became good friends. Even today, music plays an integral part in the creation of cartoons for me. I recently wrote one more title for a short I created for the Cartoon Network. It’s about a little duck called Hard Luck Duck who is always getting into trouble, and his best friend Harley, an alligator who rescues him. If you get a chance to see it, listen for the music. And see if it doesn’t play a part in nudging a laugh out of you.