When I was a kid I remember being told that cartoons were horrible, brain-rotting bits of entertainment, but there are some things that I would probably never know if I hadn't been sitting on the floor watching Looney Tunes all morning:
If you hear someone yell "timber!" your first instinct is to look up for something that's tall and probably falling on you. At least it is for me, and I have cartoons to thank for keeping me safe when I'm wandering around forests (which I do ALL THE TIME). I've probably heard the word "timber" used to mean "something is falling" far more often than I've heard it used as just another word for "lumber."
Picture this: we're in a tranquil forest, in a clearing by a pond. The sun is rising, gently warming dew-dappled leaves. A few unseen birds twitter and sing. What music should you play to accompany this scene? Many of you are probably already thinking of Rossini's "Morning Song."
Before I ever saw M or The Maltese Falcon or any number of other films where Peter Lorre plays a vaguely unsettling creep, I saw him being a vaguely unsettling creep on Looney Tunes. Not only did cartoons prime my brain to be immediately put off by one of the finest actors of the '30s and '40s, it defined the very archetype of "creepy guy" someone with baggy eyes, breathy voice, and a potential to explode into madness at any moment.
There's absolutely no reason I should be at all familiar with "Hello! Ma Baby," and "I'm Just Wild About Harry." These songs were released in 1899 and 1920, and haven't been popular since
well, probably around the same time. But thanks to the musical stylings of One Froggy Evening's Michigan J. Frog, I can sing these AND "The Michigan Rag" at the drop of a fancy top hat.
I am so familiar with the way steam whistles and anvils look that I could probably draw them both from memory with my eyes closed. I've also only seen each of these in real life once. I also know that steam whistles kinda look like little faces, and anvils are great if you ever need something heavy to drop on someone.
To this day almost everything I know about about Wagner's Ring cycle I learned from the six-minute short "What's Opera, Doc?" I know that it features vikings in horned helmets singing about love, and that it is the source of "Ride of the Valkyries." Singing vikings are also the first things I think of when I hear the word "opera," and I'm certain I have this piece to blame (thank?) for that.
I've never actually seen someone in real life wearing a monocle, and yet I immediately associate it with wealth and a sense of a classiness so classy that most everyday actions could offend the wearer's delicate sensibilities. Monocles were, in fact, most frequently worn by the wealthy, who could afford custom-fitted monocles that were less likely to fall off one's face. Today they are probably most frequently worn by some douchebag in a vest riding a penny-farthing bike through Brooklyn.