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Director: Dick Rickard
Release Date: November 25, 1938
Rating: ★★★½

Ferdinand the Bull © Walt DisneyThis gentle film is based on the children’s book ‘The Story of Ferdinand’ (1936) by Munro Leaf and Robert Lawson, and tells about Ferdinand, a gentle Spanish bull, who loves to sit quietly and smell the flowers.

One day “five men with funny hats” come along, in search of suitable bull for a bullfight, and because the unfortunate Ferdinand has sat on a bee, his ferocious antics make him the one. However, once inside the arena, Ferdinand refuses to fight, much to the dismay of the matador.

Ferdinand is a really peaceful, pacifistic character, and a remarkable persona in 1938, when war already was around the corner. This character must have been an inspirational one at the time, and the film won an Academy Award. The short has a friendly atmosphere, and the only really funny part is the matador trying to persuade Ferdinand to fight by making faces, a scene animated with gusto by Ward Kimball.

Yet, there’s room for some more fun, as the banderilleros and picadors are caricatures of Disney personnel, drawn by Ward Kimball. We watch Ham Luske, Jack Campbell, Fred Moore, Art Babbitt as banderilleros,  Bill Tytla as the second of the picadores (the other two are probably caricatures, too, but I don’t know of whom), and Ward Kimball himself as the moza de espada, carrying the matador’s sword.  All humans are animated very well, proof that after ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs’, the animators were more confident with the human body than ever.

Nevertheless, the human designs range from from very cartoony, like the Matador, to quite realistic, like the Spanish ladies, who all look like copies of Snow White. No wonder, as they were animated by Jack Campbell, who had been a key assistant to both the two units that animated the title heroine.

‘Ferdinand the Bull’ was the first Disney cartoon not to be part of any series. It could have been a Silly Symphony, as in 1938 that series had not ended, yet, but apparently, the studio chose the film to be no part of that. Perhaps, because in ‘Ferdinand the Bull’, music doesn’t play an important part, belying the series’ origin. Instead, the film uses a voice over to tell the tale, being the first Disney short to do so. The voice over technique is a rather lazy narrative device, but the Disney studio adopted it whole-heartedly. And so, unfortunately, voice overs would be deployed in many non-star Disney shorts and parts of package features of the 1940s and 1950s.

‘Ferdinand the Bull’ is the first of only two Disney shorts directed by Dick Rickard, the other one being ‘The Practical Pig‘ (1939). Rickard had been a story artist, working on a few Silly Symphonies and ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs’ between 1936 and 1939. Otherwise he remains an enigmatic figure, as I cannot find any other information about him…

In December 2017 Blue Sky released their feature length adaptation of ‘Ferdinand the Bull’. I haven’t seen this film, yet, and therefore cannot compare the two films. Can you?

Watch ‘Ferdinand the Bull’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Ferdinand the Bull’ is available on the DVD set ‘Disney Rarities – Celebrated Shorts 1920s-1960s’


Director: Dick Rickard
Release Date: February 24, 1939
Stars: The Three Little Pigs
Rating: ★★

The Practical Pig © Walt Disney ‘The Practical Pig’ was the fourth and last of the ‘Three Little Pigs’ cartoons*. It’s also arguably the least inspired one of the four.

Again, the two pigs flout the practical pig’s warnings. Again, the wolf dresses up (this time as a mermaid, and, surprisingly, it works), and again, his three little brats try to bake the two pigs alive. The complete cartoon feels routine, it’s as even the animators had lost the interest in the trio, and the result is a rather tiresome watch. The only new idea comes in the very end of the cartoon, when the rather goody-goody practical pig is punished by his own lie detector.

It’s no wonder that the three little pigs were dropped after this cartoon. Of course, the Silly Symphony series were about to stop, but the pigs had had their time, anyway.

Nevertheless, in 1963, they were revived for a special animated sequence for the Mexican live action feature ‘Cri Cri el grillo cantor’, which can be seen on Youtube:

Watch ‘The Practical Pig’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Silly Symphony No. 74
To the previous Silly Symphony: Mother Goose Goes Hollywood
To the next Silly Symphony: The Ugly Duckling

* Not counting ‘The Thrifty Pig’, which was a propaganda film made for the Canadian government and which used the opening music of this cartoon.

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