How does an Irish-American born in Sacramento, California, raised in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War, and returning to the U.S., become a leading name in children’s animation music? This diverse multi-cultural background makes Denis M. Hannigan a unique talent.
A prolific film and TV music composer and one of the most sought-after names in animation music, Hannigan has contributed to more than 500 episodes for television and numerous film projects, many of which have been honored with Emmy, Cable Ace, and International Monitor awards. His music is heard on many of today’s most popular children’s programs, including Disney’s Recess, CatDog, Rugrats and Beakman’s World, as well as Disney’s Adventures in Wonderland.
Hannigan’s recent projects include: The Disney animated feature films, Recess: School’s Out, Recess: Miracle on Third Street, Recess: All Growed Down, and Recess: Taking the Fifth Grade. Previous feature films include the animated CatDog and the Great Parent Mystery; Fetch, a CatDog short; and live-action films, The Girl Next Door, It’s Pat, and The New Shaggy Dog.
This gifted composer’s resume reflects a wide range of musical influences. The son of a state department operative stationed in Vietnam, Hannigan spent his teenage years traveling throughout Southeast Asia. While living in China, he finished high school and attended college, becoming fluent in Chinese. Studying with Asian music masters, he also became proficient in Asian music and woodwind instruments. Hannigan was the only Caucasian member of the musical group, Mother Goose. The band enjoyed national fame performing original rock and jazz music, selling out clubs and concert venues, and appearing on national television throughout Asia.
After the Vietnam War, Hannigan returned to the U.S. and spent several years in the San Francisco area. Continuing his studies at the College of Marin, Hannigan further expanded his knowledge of international music. The ethnomusicologist added saxophone and other ethnic instruments to his repertoire, while performing with local jazz and Latin bands. After graduation, Hannigan moved to Los Angeles to study at UCLA’s Film Scoring Program under the direction of Don B. Ray (Gilligan’s Island, Hawaii Five-O).
In Los Angeles, Hannigan met Mark Mothersbaugh, best known as lead singer of the band, Devo. Technologically ahead of his time, Hannigan was one of the first composers to score for television using computers and synthesizers. He helped Mothersbaugh build a sophisticated computer-based music studio designed for film and television composing. Mothersbaugh was building a reputation as a television composer and hired Hannigan to write music for Adventures in Wonderland. Hannigan went on to write original scores under Mothersbaugh for Adventures in Wonderland, Rugrats, and Beakman’s World before departing to do the series Beakman’s World on his own.
Having worked closely with Rugrats co-creator Paul Germain on that series, Hannigan was a natural choice to compose the music for Disney’s Recess, the animated television series created by Germain and Joe Ansolabehare as part of Disney’s One Saturday Morning line-up. Says Germain, “Denis’ music has contributed enormously to the success of Recess.”
Soon afterward, Hannigan met CatDog creator Peter Hannan. “Because the show is so off-the-wall, I wanted CatDog to have a unique musical palette with mostly live instruments and original synthesizer sounds,” explains Hannan. “Denis gave CatDog just what it needed, musically.”
For Recess: School’s Out, Hannigan has created an original score that covers the musical gamut from a kazoo rendition of “Bridge Over the River Kwai” to dramatic sequences played by a 77-piece orchestra. Hannigan also arranged the re-recorded songs, including those sung by stage legend Robert Goulet, who belts out a new interpretation of the Lemon Pipers’ hit “Green Tambourine” featured on the movie’s psychedelic end title sequence and the Walt Disney Records soundtrack.
Along with TV and film credits, Hannigan has contributed to many commercial campaigns, including Nickelodeon, Nickelodeon International, Girls Inc., Kraft Foods and Michelin Tires. He also serves on the Board of Directors for the Society of Composers and Lyricists.