Published in the Mar-Apr 2012 issue of MyLIFE magazine
First there was Mickey Mouse. Then the Flintstones had their day. So did the Jetsons, Ren and Stimpy and even the modern life of Rocko.
Now is the day of “Phineas and Ferb,” when you can learn to dance by keeping your duckbill forward and your beaver tail back. Did you know that Platypus Day is March 3?
If you had no idea that Platypus Day even existed, it’s time to get familiar with the Disney cartoon series, which is now going into its fourth season. In “Phineas and Ferb,” two young boys—stepbrothers—get to have unique adventures despite an older sister named Candace. The family pet is a platypus named Perry, who doubles as a secret agent, and the villainous scientist is Dr. Heinz Doofenshmirtz.
It’s clever, funny and filled with music to underscore the kind of childhood energy that is fun even for adult tastes. Search for any of those characters on YouTube, and you’ll get instant access to the joy of these cartoons—and some great music.
Animation was invented in 1877, but cartoons as entertainment got their entrée via movie theaters in the first part of the 20th century. When television first pushed the entertainment envelope into homes in the 1950s, cartoon shows for kids consisted of movie cartoon reruns. The first successful primetime cartoon series was “The Flintstones,” which premiered in 1960. If you grew up with Fred, Wilma, Bam Bam and Pebbles, you can probably still sing the theme song.
But who pays really careful attention to music and song in cartoons?
The answer is long-time musician, California native and guitar player Danny Jacob.
The dance steps about the duckbill and beaver tail relate to the song “Platypus Walk,” which Jacob co-wrote with Jeff “Swampy” Marsh. Marsh and Dan Povenmire are the creators of “Phineas and Ferb.” Jacob also arranged and produced the song, which is one of more than 300 he has arranged, produced, and sometimes co-written for the show. His music-for-cartoon songs cover the gamut of topics from love (“Gitchy Gitchy Goo”) to its opposite—people who do not get along with one another, (“When We Didn’t Get Along”) and time (“Longest Day of Summer”).
Jacob said his own childhood was unremarkable. He loved Bugs Bunny in “Looney Tunes” and “Merrie Melodies,” both Warner Bros. favorites, and admired Carl W. Stalling as a composer. It wasn’t like he dreamed of composing music for cartoons; Jacob stepped into his gift when he picked up a guitar between the ages of 12 and 13 and started playing, finding it natural. “My dad was musical,” he said. “He was a teacher, a screenwriter and he played piano. I assume I inherited his talents.”
Picking up that guitar the first time led Jacob to find his strengths, feel a passion and develop skills in both acoustic and electric play. Then, he picked up guitars over and over for years, playing in bands, making a living by playing Top 40 hits in Los Angeles nightclubs such as the Red Onion. “I spent 10 years playing the hits of the day and learning about what made them hits. My ears were being fine-tuned. Now I realize that all those years set me up to do what I do now as a composer and writer because I know how to tear apart orchestral arrangements, study them and then find my own voice.”
Jacob told MyLIFE that it was “an honor” to be hired as the touring guitarist for Bette Midler, Tower of Power, George Michael, Cher, Chaka Kahn and Sheena Easton. He was the guitarist for Ray Charles on his Grammy Award-winning CD “Genius Loves Company.” And, it was a “special honor” to be able to collaborate with composers Harry Gregson-Williams and John Powell on two songs in the movie “Shrek.”
Jacobs calls it magic to work with “Phineas and Ferb” writers Povenmire and Marsh, who are songwriters as well. Both Jacob’s guitar and his voice are features of many of the numbers in the show. “I always sang a little, but ‘Phineas and Ferb’ turned me into a singer. It’s a fluke.”
Just as chords belong to family groups, Jacob, his wife, Marylata, and their son, Aaron, resonate well with one another—all are “musical.” Marylata enjoyed a successful career as an executive in the recording industry before becoming a soundtrack producer at DreamWorks Animation. She was nominated for a Grammy as the soundtrack producer for “Shrek.” Their 17-year-old son, Aaron, recently starred in a school production of “The Music Man,” and he has also worked professionally as a singer for the television shows “Sofia the First” and “Jake and the Never Land Pirates.” He can be heard singing “Arial Area Rug “on “Phineas and Ferb.”
Being “in the arts” is one thing for this family of three. They are active in supporting the arts in their community. Jacob said, “We donated to the Tutor Performing Arts Center being built at Chaminade College Prep, where Aaron attends school. It is a first-class theater—to put on professional productions. Aaron will be in ‘Fiddler on the Roof’ when the Tutor opens its doors this March.”
The Teenage Drama Workshop at California State University at Northridge is the other venue they support. “My wife was part of this summer program when she was a teen, and my son attended it as well. It was losing money. Marylata did all the legwork to create the endowment to keep it in place. It is a great program for kids to study improvisation and think on their feet.”
Speaking of feet, let’s get back to that platypus dance. Even Michelle Obama was doing it recently to promote her kids-need-more-exercise “Let’s Move” program. As long as Danny Jacob keeps his fingers and his vocal chords moving, all will be sound in the land of cartoons.