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New Looney Tunes Series Hits HBO Max, With New Music

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Bugs Bunny is back, wike (ph) BJ Weiderman (ph), who does our theme music. The wascaly (ph) wabbit (ph) and his pals star in a new "Looney Tunes" series on HBO Max.

(SOUNDBITE OF CARL JOHNSON'S "MERRY-GO-ROUND BROKE DOWN")

SIMON: And it wouldn't be "Looney Tunes" without loony tunes. The soundtrack album for the new series is out. Tim Greiving has the story.

(SOUNDBITE OF CARL JOHNSON'S "MERRY-GO-ROUND BROKE DOWN")

TIM GREIVING, BYLINE: The new "Looney Tunes" still opens with that theme. They wouldn't dare change that. But everything that follows needed a new composer.

JOSHUA MOSHIER: It was certainly intimidating.

GREIVING: Joshua Moshier is one of two composers for the new "Looney Tunes."

MOSHIER: I come at this from a jazz background. And when you learn to play that music, you just embody the language of these musicians that you look up to. And so I really approached Carl Stalling the same way.

GREIVING: Carl Stalling was the big kahuna of cartoon scoring. He started with silly symphonies at Disney, but he made his name at Warner Bros. starting in the 1930s, where he scored more than 700 cartoons. Stalling applied the same techniques he'd learned as an organist accompanying silent films, reacting and improvising to on-screen antics and using existing classical pieces and popular tunes.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "LOONEY TUNES CARTOONS")

UNIDENTIFIED VOICE ACTOR: (As Road Runner) Meep, meep (ph).

GREIVING: The orchestra runs upstairs, tiptoes and gets bonked on the head along with the characters.

(SOUNDBITE OF SHORT, "RABBIT SEASONING")

MEL BLANC: (As Daffy Duck) Say, what's the matter with you anyway? Don't you even know a rabbit when you see one?

GREIVING: John Powell is the Oscar-nominated composer of animated features like "How To Train Your Dragon" and "Kung Fu Panda." Even though he's not part of the new "Looney Tunes," he feels Carl Stalling's influence so strongly that he uses a sort of Richter scale with directors that he calls the Stalling number.

JOHN POWELL: You know, so if you say, OK, we only need a Stalling number of two here, that basically means, you know, tone it down. Don't hit things. Don't go for the musical jugular. Calm down. But if madness ensues in the cartoon (laughter) world, why not have fun with it?

GREIVING: So new "Looney Tunes" composer Joshua Moshier had some Acme-sized shoes to fill. And even though he's never scored a show like this before, he's actually been preparing for a while.

MOSHIER: I was always experimenting with, how could I do a Carl Stalling kind of sound on my own, even going back to college. And I had some experiments that I found on old hard drives that I threw together on a reel.

GREIVING: Moshier submitted that reel in an open casting call and got the job.

(SOUNDBITE OF JOSHUA MOSHIER SONG, "BUBBLE DUM (FEAT. DAFFY DUCK)")

GREIVING: He recorded a full orchestra on the Warner Bros. lot for the first two cartoons. And for the rest, he had a chamber ensemble of six players at Capitol Studios.

MOSHIER: There's cartoons like the Road Runner and the coyote where there's no dialogue except for a few meeps (ph).

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "LOONEY TUNES CARTOONS")

UNIDENTIFIED VOICE ACTOR: (As Road Runner) Meep, meep (ph).

MOSHIER: The first time I worked on one of those, it just looked like this big blank slate. But you realize, oh, the dialogue is the music. The coyote - his dialogue is the low, meandering bassoon.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MOSHIER: The Road Runner - you know, we reference the classical piece "Dance Of The Comedians."

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "LOONEY TUNES CARTOONS")

UNIDENTIFIED VOICE ACTOR: (As Road Runner) Meep, meep (ph).

GREIVING: Joshua Moshier has infused HBO Max's new "Looney Tunes" with Carl Stalling's spirit and added some twists of his own, like bebop.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GREIVING: But the main thing he carried over from Stalling - writing seriously funny music.

MOSHIER: What's so great about "Looney Tunes" is that they are caricatures. And it allows the music to be a caricature. It's just such a joy to me to participate in the comedy in an overt way and be part of what's making people laugh.

GREIVING: That's all folks. For NPR News, I'm Tim Greiving. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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