Most shows for preschoolers and kindergarteners seem obligated to sing a song in every episode directly to the viewer, a simple ditty to help reinforce whatever was the lesson of the day. Bluey is the opposite, never breaking the fourth wall and foregoing musical numbers for something more subtle. Parents love this Australian animated series for many reasons, but when it comes to singing, it rarely relies on earworms. The background melodies set the mood and tell the story without words, a good portion of that originating from classical music. Move over Bluey and Bingo, and make way for Beethoven!
Turns out one side-effect of Bluey is that it can get your kids into the joys of classical music. Here’s why.
Classic Music — A Cartoon Tradition
From the very first episode, Bluey was exposing kids to classical Western compositions, tuned differently for modern ears. In season 1’s “The Magic Xylophone,” Mozart’s “Rondo Alla Turca” plays throughout the episode, the final movement of the German composer’s Piano Sonato no. 11. While it may not have initially started as an intentional choice to include classical music in other episodes, it quickly turned into a trend that continues deep into the third season, and likely beyond into future seasons.
Bluey isn’t breaking new ground here, but it is keeping an animation tradition alive and well. Classical music has been a major part of kids’ animation for nearly a hundred years, beginning with early Disney and Warner Bros. cartoons. The difference then was the choice to use these pieces had less to do with increasing a child’s musical vocabulary, and more to do with budgets.
Disney’s Fantasia is considered a masterpiece, filled with a dynamic range of classical compositions from Bach, Beethoven, Schubert, and a host of other legendary names. When it was first conceived, the plan was to make an anthology featuring original music. As production costs began to soar, Disney veered into a new direction to trim the bloated budget, opting for what has now become an iconic soundtrack that brought classical music into the House of Mouse.
After seeing the possibilities, other animation studios jumped on board with the idea, giving us Tom and Jerry cartoons and Warner Bros. Looney Tunes brimming with classical music. “Concert Madness” featured Tom and Jerry competing onstage in a battle of epic scale(s), literally dueling through a piano. Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd tore down the house with their condensed version of Wagner’s “The Ring of the Niebelung” in “What’s Opera, Doc?,” now considered one of the greatest Bugs Bunny shorts of all time. Not to be outdone in modern times, The Animaniacs offered their own twist on the genre with The Great Wakkarotti, a very 90’s way to get kids on board with classical music.
The Bluey Danube Waltz
Bluey’s usage of this timeless music is one of the most effective implementations of the genre since cartoons first started playing with this idea. Not every episode calls for a rocking EDM soundtrack like “Dance Mode” because there are plenty of jams from a few hundred years ago that everyone loves hearing, whether they recognize it or not. Just like discovering a Long Dog in the background, a viewer's appreciation for classical music starts with a single note, and grows over every season.
Pachelbel’s Canon in D is a standout from the first season’s “The Claw,” a whimsical choice to Bandit’s mistake of becoming a claw machine to teach the kids a life lesson no one asked for. Bingo went on a magical rampage with her Featherwand accompanied by Grieg’s “In the Hall of the Mountain King,” and later learned to play by herself in “Bingo” to the tune of Mozart’s Piano Sonata No. 16. Even Muffin got in on the classical music fun during season three’s “Faceytalk,” turning Bizet’s famous opera “Carmen” into a mischievous dash through the house while escaping from her dad. One of my favorites is from “Ice Cream,” with Bluey and Bingo attempting futilely to lick each other's ice cream cones as they rapidly melt, played to Tchaikovsky’s “Waltz of the Flowers.”
Another first-season episode, “Bike” uses a familiar Beethoven piece from his ninth symphony, “Ode to Joy.” The song is a perfect mirror to the episode, as the different kids in the park overcome their struggles to succeed. Bluey composer Joff Bush selected this piece because it’s one of the first pieces he taught his piano students. “The episode’s score mimics a student slowly learning the piece before bursting out into a full ‘orchestral’ version for the climax when everything goes right. This follows the themes of learning and achievement that the episode focuses on.”
One of the most beloved episodes of Bluey is “Sleepytime,” the Emmy award-winning episode from season two. As much as the Bluey team would love to claim this was an exclusive creation, this piece was composed by Gustav Holst in 1918. Consisting of seven sections each named for planets in the solar system, this evocative suite has taken root in pop culture for decades, inspiring the score for Star Wars, rock songs by Black Sabbath, and now Bluey. For real life!
Classical music isn’t important merely as a piece of history, but can also reduce children’s stress, improve their memory, and boost their mood. Bluey is starting their audiences young, but even parents can attest to what a wonderful fit these pieces are to their kids’ daily viewing, as well as putting this genre on their radar.
As composer Joff Bush explained, “One of the things we see in Bluey is the number of kids who’re getting into classical music because they’re seeing it through, not in the light of we have to sit down and be really quiet in a concert, but in the light of, ‘Oh, this could mean this. This could be fun.”
In a show where music is always one of the most important elements, it’s reassuring to know kids can share a laugh with their family while also learning about the complex harmonies of a genre from yesteryear. Without these enduring pieces, the power of Bluey’s music just wouldn’t be the same.