15 Pieces of Classical Music That Showed Up in Looney Tunes

Bugs Bunny: smart aleck, dynamite enthusiast … Chopin fan? Sit the kids down for a Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies marathon, and they’ll be humming classical refrains before you can say “Th-th-that’s all, folks!” The shorts incorporated everything from light opera to German symphonies. And this wasn’t all idle background noise. Warner Brothers, who produced both Looney Tunes and its equally influential (and far less famous) sibling Merrie Melodies, actively relied on music to help pull off some of the funniest gags in cartoon history. So, kick back, pass the carrots, & let’s enjoy a few comedy classics.

1. Tales from the Vienna Woods, Op. 325 by Johann Strauss II (1868)

As Heard In: A Corny Concerto (1943)

On occasion, director Bob Clampett had some fun at Disney’s expense. "A Corny Concerto" riffs Fantasia (1940) and doesn’t miss a joke. At “Corny-gie Hall,” Elmer Fudd introduces segment number one, emphasizing the "wythm of the woodwinds.” Cut to Porky Pig and his faithful pointer dog in hot pursuit of Bugs, accompanied all the way by the Waltz King’s playful hit. 

2. The Blue Danube by Johann Strauss II (1866)

As Heard In: A Corny Concerto (1943)

Act II sees a mother swan leading her cygnets in a birdsong-based cover of this concert hall staple. When young Daffy Duck paddles over with his off-key honking, she’s none too thrilled—until he saves the day, that is. It’s a hilarious take on Strauss’ best-known offering, though '90s kids will probably still prefer The Simpsonslow-gravity rendition.

3. Dance of the Comedians from The Bartered Bride by Bedrich Smetana (1866)

As Heard In: Zoom and Bored (1957)

As always, Wile E. Coyote matches wits with his hated Road Runner nemesis. This time around, the climax is set to what’s quite possibly the most beloved Czech opera ever written.

4. Minute Waltz in D-Flat by Frédéric Chopin (1847)

As Heard In: Hyde and Hare (1955)

Bugs spots a piano inside Dr. Jekyll’s house and, being the cultured lagomorph that he is, starts playing away like a pro. Too bad Mr. Hyde shows up to ruin everything.

5. Morning, Noon, and Night in Vienna by Franz von Suppé (1844)

As Heard In: Baton Bunny (1959)

Apparently taking a break from his typical antics, Bugs does an impressive job of conducting Morning, Noon, and Night in Vienna. Like most composers, von Suppé himself was also a conductor—however, unlike a certain buck-toothed character, he wasn’t noted for tearing after obnoxious flies mid-performance.

6. The Barber of Seville Overture by Gioachino Rossini (1816)

As Heard In: The Rabbit of Seville (1950)

Elmer chases Bugs across some local stage when, suddenly, the curtain rises on a production of Rossini’s operatic masterpiece. Without missing a beat (or breaking tempo), that wascaly wabbit assumes the title role and humiliates Fudd in one fell swoop.

7. Beethoven’s 7th by Ludwig van Beethoven (1811-12)

As Heard In: A Ham in a Role (1949)

A well-spoken dog yearns for Shakespearean theatre, but, alas, the two Goofy Gophers spoil his plans via mean pranks. One of them dons a skeleton costume as our oblivious pooch—who’s been reciting non-stop—reaches an eerie ghost scene in Hamlet. Listen closely, and you’ll hear a snippet from the symphony that was strange enough to make 19th-century critics wonder if Beethoven had gotten drunk while writing it.

8. Träumerei (“Dreaming”) by Robert Schumann (1838)

As Heard In: Hare Ribbin’ (1944)

A quick, 38 seconds’-worth of Schumann’s gentle theme plays while Bugs’ latest tormentor—an oafish canine—mistakes him for dead. The ensuing punchline proved so dark that censors had it removed, forcing a severe edit which was shown during its theatrical release. But even that ending has been deemed too much for modern audiences, and hasn't been shown outside of a 2000 episode of The Bob Clampett Show on Cartoon Network. Now the original pre-multiple-censors release is available on the DVD set.

9. Largo al Factotum from The Barber of Seville by Gioachino Rossini (1816)

As Heard In: The Long-Haired Hare (1949)

In The Long-Haired Hare, big-shot opera star Giovanni Jones rehearses at home with this song (best remembered for its famous “Figaro! Figaro!” lines). Meanwhile, Bugs loudly strums his ole banjo off in the distance. An annoyed Jones proceeds to destroy the bunny’s banjo, then harp, and finally tuba and then strings him up by his long, pointy ears. Three seconds later, Bugs declares war, and we all know that Hell hath no fury like a rabbit scorned.

10. Johannes Brahms’ Hungarian Dances (1869)

As Heard In: Pigs in a Polka (1943)

Brahms wrote 21 separate dances based on Hungarian folk music, finishing the lot in 1869. This slapstick take on the “Three Little Pigs” fable is set to assorted highlights from them.

11. The William Tell Overture by Gioachino Rossini (1829)

As Heard In: Bugs Bunny Rides Again (1948)

Even though Rossini lived to be 76, he stopped writing operas at 37. His last was William Tell, which came with one of the most instantly recognizable overtures ever composed. 119 years later, Warner Brothers used the tune in a horseback chase sequence featuring the anger-prone Yosemite Sam (at 1:55 in this clip).  

12. Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 by Franz Liszt (1847)

As Heard In: Rhapsody Rabbit (1946)

Now here’s a ditty whose comedic potential sure didn’t go unnoticed. Rhapsody Rabbit finds Bugs playing it before an adoring crowd only to get rudely interrupted when a rodent decides to help by dancing on the keys. At various points in their careers, Mickey Mouse, Woody Woodpecker, and Tom & Jerry all did similar routines with this exact same piece of music. Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 even appears in 1988's Who Framed Roger Rabbit?—it’s the song Daffy and Donald Duck crank out during their piano face-off.

13. The Overture from The Flying Dutchman by Richard Wagner (1843)

As Heard In: What’s Opera, Doc? (1957)

What’s Opera, Doc? is an undisputed classic. The Library of Congress says as much: in 1992, it became the very first animated short film to be selected for preservation by the National Film Registry. Our story begins with the opening of The Flying Dutchman, which—more than any other work—put Wagner on the map. As his music swells, a diminutive Viking warrior who looks suspiciously like Elmer Fudd conjures up a mighty tempest, evoking Fantasia’s Night on Bald Mountain sequence.    

14. “Pilgrim’s Chorus” from Tannhäuser by Richard Wagner (1845)

As Heard In: What’s Opera, Doc? (1957)

Later on, Elmer shares a duet with the fair maiden Brünnhilde (or rather, Bugs in drag). “Oh, Bwünnhilde,” he swoons, “you’re so wovely!” “Yes, I know it,” quips the Bunny, “I can’t help it!” Their whole exchange takes its music from a highlight from Tannhäuser in which travelers headed for Rome reflect on heavenly forgiveness.

15. Ride of the Valkyries from Die Walküre by Richard Wagner (1870)

As Heard In: What’s Opera, Doc? (1957)

Die Walküre is the second installment in Wagner’s Ring cycle: a set of four operas which combine to tell an epic, 15-hour fantasy about gods, men, and power. For a prelude, Act III gets “Ride of the Valkyries,” wherein divine immortals let loose their mighty battle cry. In What’s Opera, Doc?, Elmer Fudd adds some brand new lyrics, namely, “Kill da wabbit, Kill Da Wabbit, KILL DA WABBIT!

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6 Amazing Facts About Sally Ride

U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons
U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

You know Sally Ride as the first American woman to travel into space. But here are six things you might not know about the groundbreaking astronaut, who was born on May 26, 1951.

1. Sally Ride proved there is such thing as a stupid question.

When Sally Ride made her first space flight in 1983, she was both the first American woman and the youngest American to make the journey to the final frontier. Both of those distinctions show just how qualified and devoted Ride was to her career, but they also opened her up to a slew of absurd questions from the media.

Journalist Michael Ryan recounted some of the sillier questions that had been posed to Ride in a June 1983 profile for People. Among the highlights:

Q: “Will the flight affect your reproductive organs?”
A: “There’s no evidence of that.”

Q: “Do you weep when things go wrong on the job?”
A: “How come nobody ever asks (a male fellow astronaut) those questions?"

Forget going into space; Ride’s most impressive achievement might have been maintaining her composure in the face of such offensive questions.

2. Had she taken Billie Jean King's advice, Sally Ride might have been a professional tennis player.

When Ride was growing up near Los Angeles, she played more than a little tennis, and she was seriously good at it. She was a nationally ranked juniors player, and by the time she turned 18 in 1969, she was ranked 18th in the whole country. Tennis legend Billie Jean King personally encouraged Ride to turn pro, but she went to Swarthmore instead before eventually transferring to Stanford to finish her undergrad work, a master’s, and a PhD in physics.

King didn’t forget about the young tennis prodigy she had encouraged, though. In 1984 an interviewer playfully asked the tennis star who she’d take to the moon with her, to which King replied, “Tom Selleck, my family, and Sally Ride to get us all back.”

3. Home economics was not Sally Ride's best subject.

After retiring from space flight, Ride became a vocal advocate for math and science education, particularly for girls. In 2001 she founded Sally Ride Science, a San Diego-based company that creates fun and interesting opportunities for elementary and middle school students to learn about math and science.

Though Ride was an iconic female scientist who earned her doctorate in physics, just like so many other youngsters, she did hit some academic road bumps when she was growing up. In a 2006 interview with USA Today, Ride revealed her weakest subject in school: a seventh-grade home economics class that all girls had to take. As Ride put it, "Can you imagine having to cook and eat tuna casserole at 8 a.m.?"

4. Sally Ride had a strong tie to the Challenger.

Ride’s two space flights were aboard the doomed shuttle Challenger, and she was eight months deep into her training program for a third flight aboard the shuttle when it tragically exploded in 1986. Ride learned of that disaster at the worst possible time: she was on a plane when the pilot announced the news.

Ride later told AARP the Magazine that when she heard the midflight announcement, she got out her NASA badge and went to the cockpit so she could listen to radio reports about the fallen shuttle. The disaster meant that Ride wouldn’t make it back into space, but the personal toll was tough to swallow, too. Four of the lost members of Challenger’s crew had been in Ride’s astronaut training class.

5. Sally Ride had no interest in cashing in on her worldwide fame.

A 2003 profile in The New York Times called Ride one of the most famous women on Earth after her two space flights, and it was hard to argue with that statement. Ride could easily have cashed in on the slew of endorsements, movie deals, and ghostwritten book offers that came her way, but she passed on most opportunities to turn a quick buck.

Ride later made a few forays into publishing and endorsements, though. She wrote or co-wrote more than a half-dozen children’s books on scientific themes, including To Space and Back, and in 2009 she appeared in a print ad for Louis Vuitton. Even appearing in an ad wasn’t an effort to pad her bank account, though; the ad featured an Annie Leibovitz photo of Ride with fellow astronauts Buzz Aldrin and Jim Lovell gazing at the moon and stars. According to a spokesperson, all three astronauts donated a “significant portion” of their modeling fees to Al Gore’s Climate Project.

6. Sally Ride was the first openly LGBTQ astronaut.

Ride passed away on July 23, 2012, at the age of 61, following a long (and very private) battle with pancreatic cancer. While Ride's brief marriage to fellow astronaut Steve Hawley was widely known to the public (they were married from 1982 to 1987), it wasn't until her death that Ride's longtime relationship with Tam O'Shaughnessy—a childhood friend and science writer—was made public. Which meant that even in death, Ride was still changing the world, as she is the world's first openly LGBTQ astronaut.