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Director: Burt Gillett
Release Date:
 May 27, 1933
Rating:★★★★★ ♕
Review:

Three Little Pigs © Walt Disney‘Three Little Pigs’ is one of the most successful, most famous and most perfect cartoons ever made. It was hugely popular when it was released, with people associating its catchy theme song ‘Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf’ with an optimism with which one could fight the haunting effects of the Great Depression.

Norm Ferguson and Fred Moore were the principle animators on the film. Norm Ferguson animated the wolf in his typical broad vaudeville acting style, which comes to full bloom in this film. The wolf is a great character, with his glances at the public. He’s a real villain, but somehow too sympathetic as an actor to be really threatening. Unfortunately, his design is not very consistent. Especially his eyes are unsteady and a bit wobbly. One can clearly watch the wolf’s design improving during the film, as if it was animated chronologically. And this may very well possible.

However, it’s Fred Moore’s animation that made the deepest impression on the animation field. Because of his animation on the three pigs, ‘Three Little Pigs’ is regarded as the first animated cartoon to feature so-called character animation. The three pigs form the key to character animation: although the three are drawn the same, the sensible pig behaves differently from the other two: he’s clearly a different character, not by design, but by animation. This was a great step forward in the evolution in animation, and admired by the whole animation industry.

Apart from that the pigs’ designs, by the highly influential concept artist Albert Hurter, are highly appealing. Hurter had joined Disney in June 1931, first as an animator, but soon he switched to concept art, and he had a tremendous influence on the looks of Disney’s films in the 1930s. It must have been around this time that Disney started to think of an animated feature – a daring project which would dominate the studio during 1934-1937. For this ambitious project Moore would design no less than seven similar, yet different characters, while Hurter would indulge in elaborate sets, full of little details.

The film was a success not only within the animation industry, but with the American public, as well. The audiences took the film and its catchy song ‘Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf’ (sung by Mary Moder, Dorothy Compton and Pinto Colvig) as a sign of comfort and hope in the dark days of the Great Depression era. And even after more than eighty years, Frank Churchill’s song is still extremely catchy, even though it’s never heard in its entirety during the short. After a while the cartoon became no less than a sensation, lasting weeks in some theaters, and spawning a great deal of merchandise, like alarm clocks and jigsaw puzzles. In 1934 it won the Academy Award for best animated short film. In 1941 it was still famous enough to be changed into Disney’s first war propaganda film: ‘The Thrifty Pig‘.

The film undoubtedly was Walt Disney’s most famous and most successful short, and the first Silly Symphony to spawn sequels – due to the pressure by distributor United Artists. These sequels (‘The Big Bad Wolf‘ from 1934, ‘Three Little Wolves‘ from 1936, and ‘The Practical Pig‘ from 1939) were, of course, much less successful than the original, and are all but forgotten today. As Disney himself said “You can’t top pigs with pigs’.

The film also raised director Burt Gillett’s fame, and soon he was lured away by the ailing Van Beuren studios to repeat this immense success. However, at Van Beuren it soon became clear that ‘Three Little Pigs’ was not a success because of Burt Gillett’s genius, but because of the ambitious group effort of the Disney studio, and Gillett never managed to come near his most successful films at Disney again.

For ‘Three Little Pigs’ was a true collective effort, with Hurter, Churchill, Ferguson and Moore showing their best work thus far, but also through contributions by e.g. Art Babbitt, Dick Lundy and Jack King, who also animated some sequences, voice artist Pinto Colvig, the voice of the practical pig, and story man Ted Sears, who both contributed to the cartoon’s theme song, and Carl Stalling, who provided the practical pig’s piano-playing.

The film has easily stood the test of time: not only are the characters still appealing, its backgrounds are gorgeous, its music catchy, and its storytelling extraordinarily economical and effective, probably because may have been the first animated cartoon with a complete storyboard. The short’s joy is still infectious today. And although one will always remember the short’s cheerfulness, it contains some black humor, too: look for the portraits of dad and Uncle Tom in the wise pig’s house.

By the way, present-day viewers see an altered version of the film. The original featured a sequence in which the wolf dressed as a stereotyped Jewish door-to-door salesman. For its video release in the early 1980s this sequence was completely redrawn, to remove all Jewish references.

Watch ‘Three Little Pigs’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Silly Symphony No. 36
To the previous Silly Symphony: Father Noah’s Ark
To the next Silly Symphony: Old King Cole

Director: John Hubley
Release Date: March 27, 1952
Rating: ★★★★★ ♕
Review:

Rooty Toot Toot © UPAIn a time when most Hollywood animation studios produced chase cartoons featuring anthropomorphized animals, UPA and director John Hubley come with a court drama about a murder…

That we have something different in our hands is underlined when during the opening titles we watch a choreographer being billed. Indeed, ‘Rooty Toot Toot’ is something different, and widely praized as one of the most beautiful cartoons ever produced.

Based on the traditional murder ballad ‘Frankie and Johnny’, it’s set in a court room. We come to know how the jealous girl Frankie shot her lover Johnny down, when she caught him with singer Nellie Bly. Then Frankie’s lawyer, Honest John, comes in with a rather different story…

‘Rooty Toot Toot’ is not a flawless cartoon. Phil Moore’s music is a rather unsuccessful marriage between musical and jump blues, lacking strong melodies. It even threatens to wear the action down. One can only guess what the cartoon would have sound like in the hands of a more capable composer.

Morevover, Honest John’s account of the murder is a missed opportunity. It’s too silly and too cartoonish (the following bullets come right out of the chase cartoon) to be believed. Indeed, the lawyer himself declares it to be fiction, making all claims of ‘Rooty Toot Toot’ being a sort of cartoon ‘Rashomon’ out of place and unfounded. In substance ‘Rooty Toot Toot’ is much more akin to that other great musical court cartoon, ‘Who Killed Cock Robin?‘ from 1935, which is also based on a traditional text.

No, the real attraction of ‘Rooty Toot Toot’ lies in it looks: practically every frame is a beautiful illustration in itself. The colors and designs, by Paul Julian, are elegant and stylish; simple, yet sophisticated. There’s a perfect harmony between characters and backgrounds, and the stark colors enhance both character and mood.

The animation, too, is superb. John Hubley didn’t think much of his colleague’s Bobe Cannon’s ideal of “drawings that moved”. Instead we watch moving characters, and it’s clear where the choreography comes in, for many characters move with a ballet-like elegance, especially Frankie and Honest John. The movement of the characters is often unreal (as in Nellie’s curling arms), but always delicate. It’s no surprise that the animation was done by the able hands of veteran animators like Art Babbitt and Grim Natwick. When the Jury declares Frankie not guilty, the cartoon bursts in a frenzy of bold design that has to be seen to be believed.

Even if ‘Rooty Toot Toot’ is not perfect, it’s a masterpiece nonetheless, and one of the best cartoons UPA ever produced.

Watch ‘Rooty Toot Toot’ yourself and tell me what you think:

Director: Wilfred Jackson
Release Date: October 31, 1936
Rating: ★★★★★ ♕
Review:

The Country Cousin © Walt DisneyA very beautifully executed rendering of the classic tale, ‘The Country Cousin’ is a gem among the Silly Symphonies.

Its story is lean and economical, its characterization highly effective and its silent acting superb. Particularly noteworthy is the drunken performance of the Country Cousin, animated by Art Babbitt, which belongs to the highlights of animation.

Everyone who wants to know what ‘character animation’ is all about, should go and watch this cartoon. One cannot find a better example of it: the two mice look similar, but are very different in their behavior, attitude, and personality. Moreover, their personalities are played completely in mime, without any help from characteristic voices.

Besides this, ‘The Country Cousin’ contains some very realistic animation of people’s feet walking on the sidewalk. Indeed, the human realism of ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs’ (1937) was not far away anymore.

Thirteen years later, Tex Avery would explore the theme of ‘The Country Cousin’ once again, albeit quite differently and way more ridiculously, in his hilarious short ‘Little Rural Riding Hood’ (1949).

Watch ‘The Country Cousin’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Silly Symphony No. 63
To the previous Silly Symphony: Three Blind Mouseketeers
To the next Silly Symphony: Mother Pluto

Director: Ben Sharpsteen
Release Date: September 28, 1935
Stars: Donald Duck, Goofy, Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Pluto
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

On Ice © Walt DisneyOn Ice is the first of Disney’s ‘ensemble cartoons’.

Everyone is in it: Mickey, Minnie (in her color debut), Donald, Goofy, Pluto and even, albeit very briefly, Horace Horsecollar and Clarabelle Cow. ‘On Ice’ introduces two story ideas that would be used again much later: Pluto’s problems on ice in ‘Bambi’ (1942) and the idea of skating near a waterfall in the ‘Once upon a Wintertime’ sequence of ‘Melody Time’ (1948), although this latter idea first appears in the Popeye cartoon ‘Season’s Greetinks!’ from 1933.

Apart from this, ‘On Ice’ has been very important in the development of Goofy. He’s been completely restyled, has more body to his looks and a much more distinct personality. All these important improvements on the character are attributed to Art Babbitt, one of the greatest animators of all time. Goofy sings ‘The world owes me a living’ from ‘The grasshopper and the ants’ (1934). The song naturally becomes his theme song. No wonder, for the grasshopper and Goofy share the same voice: that of Pinto Colvig. Also of note is Goofy’s original fishing style, using chew to catch fish.

Watch ‘On Ice’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Mickey Mouse cartoon No. 79
To the previous Mickey Mouse cartoon: Pluto’s Judgement Day
To the next Mickey Mouse cartoon: Mickey’s Polo Team

Director: Wilfred Jackson
Release Date: September 17, 1932
Stars: Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Goofy, Clarabelle Cow, Horace Horsecollar
Rating: ★★★
Review:

The Whoopee Party © Walt DisneyAfter three  years of musical cartoons, consistent story lines where reintroduced to the Mickey cartoons with a remarkable success in 1932 (good examples are ‘Barnyard Olympics‘ and ‘Touchdown Mickey’). In this era the musical cartoon ‘The Whoopee Party’ with its total lack of story seems to be quite old-fashioned.

The short contains numerous elements that were used many times earlier: a public dancing, Minnie singing behind the piano and alive inanimate objects (although the latter feature was much more common practice in the Fleischer and Iwerks cartoons of that time – yet no other Disney cartoon celebrates the secret dancing life of inanimate objects as much as ‘The Whoopee Party’ does). The short also contains some nice effect animation of confetti and flying feathers. Despite being anything but new, the sheer fun with which everything is executed, makes this cartoon a delight to watch.

‘The Whoopee Party’ marks Goofy’s second appearance after his debut in ‘Mickey’s Revue‘ earlier that year. It’s in this cartoon he gets the looks he would maintain until Art Babbitt redesigned him for ‘On Ice’ (1935). He’s more than just a silly laugh now; he now has a rudimentary character of being some kind of silly person, and we hear him speak for the first time. Clearly, he now is one of the gang, making sandwiches with Horace and Mickey, and showing to be a character here to stay. Yet, he’s still more weird than likable – and when he made his debut as ‘Dippy Dawg’ in Floyd Gottfredson’s comic strip in January, 1933, he’s introduced as a pest. In fact, Goofy’s character would remain rather vague until 1935. Only with ‘Mickey’s Service Station’ from that year he would become the likable Goof we know today.

It may be interesting to note that Goofy arguably is the first cartoon character built on a funny voice. His success is proof that, although a unique voice is not necessary (Tom and Jerry for instance could do perfectly without one), it certainly helps to build a character. This must have been an inspiration to later voice-based characters like Donald Duck, Porky Pig and Daffy Duck.

Ironically, Goofy himself would eventually lose his voice in the early forties when voice artist Pinto Colvig left Disney for Fleischer.

Watch ‘The Whoopee Party’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Mickey Mouse cartoon No. 46
To the previous Mickey Mouse cartoon: Trader Mickey
To the next Mickey Mouse cartoon: Touchdown Mickey

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