Music for animation has long suffered from critical neglect despite being the form of film music that many viewers first encounter. It diverges significantly from other film music practices. In the United States, for instance, although it developed concurrently with classical scoring principles (sometimes, as in the case of Warner Bros., at the same studio) and even shared composers and techniques, music for animation operates in a fundamentally different way. From the beginning, music for animated films was characterized by stylistic diversity (jazz, swing, pop, modern, and even serial music), an eclectic approach to musical genres (mixing opera, jazz, pop songs, and classical music), and an indifference to the leitmotif and other unifying strategies (in Warner Bros. cartoons, for instance, music emphasizes the cuts). Animated films were often created in "reverse," with the music composed in advance of the images, and decades before the classical score exploited popular songs, the
cartoon soundtrack was filled with them. The golden age of film animation in the United States spans the years from the conversion of sound to the breakup of the studio system, and during that period Disney Studios pioneered a number of important technical advances: mickey-mousing, a crucial model for the integration of music and action for classical Hollywood composers; the tick system, which facilitated precise synchronization and which developed into the click track, a standard operating procedure in Hollywood; and the forerunner of today's surround sound, Fantasound, a stereophonic multitrack recording and playback system that surrounded the audience in sound by positioning speakers around the theater.
But, ultimately, it was the composers who defined the form. Carl Stalling (1891–1972), who composed over six hundred cartoon scores in his career. Stalling began in the late 1920s with Disney scoring many of the early Mickey Mouse shorts and helped to inaugurate the Silly Symphony series, where classical music was accompanied by animated images. (The trajectory of the Silly Symphonies led to Fantasia , a box office failure at the time but much be loved today.) Later at Warner Bros., Stalling transformed the house style by creating a pastiche of quotes, some only a few measures long, from a number of sources and in a variety of styles. Scott Bradley (1891–1977) at MGM experimented with twelve-tone composition for Tom and Jerry cartoons, once stating, "I hope that Dr. Schoenberg will for give me for using his system to produce funny music, but even the boys in the orchestra laughed when we were recording it" (quoted in Goldmark, p. 70). At UPA in the 1950s, Gail Kubik (1914–1984) adroitly exploited percussion in his scores for the Gerald McBoing Boing series. The rise of television and the cost-saving measures attending the breakup of the studios signaled the end of the golden age, when the US animation industry, with some exceptions, transferred largely to television. The renaissance of Disney feature animation in the 1980s continued the practice of modeling Disney films and their scores after musicals, although as South Park: Bigger, Longer, & Uncut (1999) reminds us, animated musicals do not have to be conventional. Internationally, music for animation has achieved high visibility in Japan, where soundtracks for Japanese animation, anime, have become an important part of the Japanese recording industry. Some of these soundtracks mix traditional Japanese and Western musics in interesting ways. Shoji Yamashira's Akira (1988), for instance, combines Buddhist chant, taiko drumming, and synthesizers. Film scholars and musicologists have begun to turn their attention to "cartoon music," and books on animation now often include attention to the score.