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Carl Stalling

Author Kevin Shortsleeve
Air Date 10/09/2001
The Carl Stalling Project

Carl Stalling Transcript

One of the great unsung heroes of Warner Brothers cartoons was composer, Carl Stalling. In the early 1920s, Stalling met Walt Disney at a theatre in Kansas City where Stalling was employed as a piano accompanist for silent films. At the dawn of the sound era, in 1928, Disney offered Stalling a position making music for the first Mickey Mouse cartoons. A friendly disagreement between the two men illustrated Stalling’s philosophy of animation. Disney felt that the image and story should come first, and the music should be scored to accompany it. Stalling, however, believed the MUSIC should come first, and animators should use the mood and beat of the melody to create their story. The result of the disagreement was the creation of two production units at Disney studios, one, centered on story-line, produced Mickey Mouse cartoons, the other, called Silly Symphonies, put the music first and worked more like comic operas. The success of Silly Symphonies led directly to Disney’s landmark production, Fantasia, set entirely to classical music.

Stalling also worked at Warner Brothers where he spent twenty-two years inventing and arranging music for cartoon characters like Porky Pig, Bugs Bunny, and The Road Runner. Recently his wild and violent scores have been compared to the genius innovators of the time. Like the dissonance explored by Stavinsky, Coplands pan tonality, and Partch’s radical 46 tone tuning theory, Stalling pushed the envelope of what music could accomplish.

Stalling also had a remarkable sense of humor and many of his recordings could evoke laughter on their own.

Stalling’s music also added character and narrative development to the cartoons. Animation historian, Daniel Goldmark has commented that Stalling’s themes have become so ingrained in us that, more often than not, even if you look away from the screen, you will be able to tell what is happening in a Warner Brother’s cartoon, – and to whom. This intense level of audio recognition is a tribute to Carl Stalling and the riotous cartoons that bear his mark.

Works consulted:

CD. The Carl Stalling Project, Warner Brothers Records, 1990.

Encyclopedia of Disney Animation, The Walt Disney Company, 1993

VHS The Disney Dream Factory: 1933 – 1938, Walt Disney Productions, 1985


Posted in Film, Music