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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: Jack King
Release Date: December 1943
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

Defense Against Invasion © Walt Disney‘Defense Against Invasion’ is an educational short for the Office of the Coordinator of Inter-American Affairs, the governmental institution, which tried to secure Latin America from the influence of the Axis powers.

The office commissioned quite a few films from Disney, apart from ‘Defense Against Invasion’ e.g. ‘The Grain that built a Hemisphere’ and’The Winged Scourge‘ (both 1943).

Despite its title, ‘Defense Against Invasion’ is not about war, but about vaccination. It uses a voice over to narrate the silent live action sequences of three boys entering a doctor’s office to get vaccinated. This live action part is a little boring, but the principle of vaccination is told with animated sequences in which the human body is depicted as a large city. Here we watch blood cells, ‘little workers’, fight disease (depicted as black creepy crawlers) with modern warfare. Oddly enough, it is the red blood cells, not the white blood cells (who are strangely absent), who are fighting disease.

Despite its peaceful message, the short contains many war metaphors in its fighting sequences, which all have a very science fiction-like look. This makes the short a typical World War II cartoon, after all. The animated sequences are very beautiful. Especially the backgrounds are at times no less than gorgeous.

With its depiction of the body as inhabited by little creatures ‘Defense Against Invasion’ predates Albert Barillé’s successful television series ‘Il était une fois… la vie’ (Once upon a Time… Life, 1987) by over forty years.

Watch ‘Defense Against Invasion’ yourself and tell me what you think:

Director: Jack King
Release Date: May 29, 1937
Stars: Donald Duck
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

Modern_Inventions © Walt DisneyAfter a short stint at Warner Brothers, veteran animator Jack King makes his debut as a director at the Disney studio.

King would remain a director of Donald Duck films until his retirement in 1948, directing only three cartoons without the duck (‘Farmyard Symphony‘ from 1938, and the propaganda shorts ‘Out of the Frying Pan into the Firing Line‘ and ‘Defense against Invasion‘, from 1942 and 1943, respectively).

‘Modern Inventions’ is Donald’s first real solo outing, sharing screen time only with mechanical objects. He visits a ‘museum of modern marvels’ , where he has to deal with a mechanical robot butler (the running gag of the film), a package wrapper, a ‘robot nurse maid’ and an automatic barber chair. Like in ‘The Band Concert‘ Donald shows an ability to produce numerous objects out of nothing, this time hats. He even manages to change his army cap into a baby cap.

‘Modern Inventions’ was the last of three Donald Duck shorts under the Mickey Mouse flag. With his next cartoon, ‘Donald’s Ostrich’ he would have a series of his own…

Watch ‘Modern Inventions’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Mickey Mouse cartoon No. 95
To the previous Mickey Mouse cartoon: Mickey’s Amateurs
To the next Mickey Mouse cartoon: Hawaiian Holiday

Director: Jack King
Release Date: January 7, 1943
Stars: Donald Duck
Rating: ★★★★★ ♕
Review:

The Spirit of '43 © Walt Disney‘The Spirit of ’43’ is the follow-up to ‘The New Spirit’ from the previous year. The second half is exactly the same, but the first half is even better than the first half of its predecessor, making a clever use of strong symbolic imaginary.

Donald just got paid and he’s divided between his two selves: the thrifty (a Scottish forerunner of Uncle Scrooge) and the spendthrift. These two characters struggle for Donald, in which they both fall down: the spendthrift into a tavern with a swastika-shaped swing-door and the thrifty into a wall, which, together with the stars his fall produces, resembles the American flag. This makes the decision for Donald easier, will he “spend for the axis or save for taxes”? He knocks his spendthrift side into the tavern, crushing the swastika door changing it into a V for victory. At this point the second half starts (see ‘The New Spirit‘ for a description of this part).

‘The Spirit of ’43’ is propaganda, and quite obviously so. But the film is both inventive and effective in its delivery of its message, and therefore surprisingly enjoyable.

Watch ‘The Spirit of ’43’ yourself and tell me what you think:

Director: Jack King
Release Date: 
April 10, 1942
Stars: Donald Duck, Huey, Dewey and Louie
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

Donald's Snow Fight © Walt DisneyThe world is covered in snow, and Donald goes for a sled ride, wearing a ridiculously broad fur overcoat.

He purposely ruins Huey, Dewey and Louie’s snowman by sledding right through it. They seek revenge and build a snowman resembling Donald around a rock. This feud leads to a snow-fight between admiral Donald on a battle ship made out of ice and his three nephews on an ice fort.

‘Donald’s Snow Fight’ is a classic Donald vs. his nephews cartoon, but the complete film is quite slow, due to Jack King’s tame directing. Despite some excellent gags, it doesn’t live up to ‘Hockey Champ’ (1939), the other classic winter cartoon featuring Donald and his nephews, or ‘Truant Officer Donald’ (1941), which also features a battle between Donald and his nephews.

The short’s excellent story is by Carl Barks, who reused its theme two years later in his Donald Duck comic WDC 44-442.

Watch ‘Donald’s Snow Fight’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Donald Duck cartoon No. 31
To the previous Donald Duck cartoon: The Village Smithy
To the next Donald Duck cartoon: Donald Gets Drafted

Director: Jack King
Release Date: July 30, 1942
Stars: Minnie Mouse, Pluto
Rating:
 ★★★
Review:

Out of the Frying Pan into the Firing Line © Walt Disney‘Out of the Frying Pan into the Firing Line’ is a short propaganda film aimed at American housewives.

In this propaganda short, Minnie is just about to give Pluto some hot bacon grease, when the narrator interrupts, telling housewives of America to save their kitchen fats in order to deliver them at a “neighborhood meat dealer, who is patriotically cooperating”. The fats are apparently used to make glycerine, which is used in ammunition.

This short contains a rare picture of Mickey as a soldier at the front. Otherwise, Mickey was left out of the propaganda, leaving that role to Donald Duck.

‘Out of the Frying Pan into the Firing Line’ is an interesting example of how the American government tried to make every citizen help in the war effort. It shows how World War II entered the life of the average citizen: even kitchen grease could be useful… It offers no one-liner, however, at the likes of the contemporary slogans  ‘Save Your Scraps to Bomb the Japs’ or ‘Is Your Trip Really Necessary?”

Watch ‘Out of the Frying Pan into the Firing Line’ yourself and tell me what you think:

Director: Jack King
Release Date: November 6, 1942
Stars: Donald Duck, Pete
Rating:
 ★★★½
Review:

Sky Trooper © Walt DisneySky Trooper’ is the third of six shorts dealing with Donald in the army.

The cartoon starts where ‘Donald Gets Drafted‘ ended: with Donald peeling potatoes. And like in the former cartoon Donald Duck wants to fly.

Sergeant Pete gives him a chance, letting him do some ridiculous test and sending him up to be a paratrooper. Unfortunately, Donald doesn’t want to jump and clings to Sergeant Pete. They both end up falling without a parachute but with a huge bomb in their hands. Surprisingly, they survive the fall, because in the end-shot we can see them both peeling potatoes.

‘Sky Trooper’ is surprisingly similar to the Woody Woodpecker cartoon ‘Ace in the Hole’ from five months earlier. However, the cartoon is an improvement on the former two Donald Duck army cartoons. The next ones would even be better…

Watch ‘Sky Trooper’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Donald Duck cartoon No. 36
To the previous Donald Duck cartoon: The Vanishing Private
To the next Donald Duck cartoon: Bellboy Donald

Director: Jack King
Release Date: September 25, 1942
Stars: Donald Duck, Pete
Rating:
 ★★½
Review:

The Vanishing Private © Walt Disney‘The Vanishing Private’ is the second of the Donald in the army cartoons. Like the first, ‘Donald Gets Drafted‘ from four months earlier, it features Pete as Donald’s adversary.

In the opening shot we watch Donald singing the theme song from ‘Donald Gets Drafted’ and painting a huge canon in ridiculously bright colors. Sergeant Pete tells him to make the canon hard to see. Donald does so by using invisible paint from an experimental laboratory. He accidentally falls into the bucket of paint himself, making himself invisible and driving Sergeant Pete mad.

‘The Vanishing Private’ suffers because of two reasons:

1) the invisibility makes Donald all too powerful. It’s therefore hard to sympathize with him, and not with poor Pete. This is a problem shared by other invisibility cartoons, like the Tom & Jerry cartoon ‘The Invisible Mouse‘ (1947).

2) The other Donald army cartoons are all about the pains and annoyances of normal army life, which is absolutely part of their fun. But the subject of ‘The Vanishing Pirate’ is so unlikely, one can hardly relate to it.

The result is not a funny cartoon, making ‘The Vanishing Private’ arguably the weakest of Donald’s army cartoons.

Watch ‘The Vanishing Private’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Donald Duck cartoon No. 35
To the previous Donald Duck cartoon: Donald’s Goldmine
To the next Donald Duck cartoon: Sky Trooper

Director: Jack King
Release Date: May 1, 1942
Stars: Donald Duck, Pete
Rating: ★★½
Review:

Donald Gets Drafted © Walt DisneyThe attack on Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941, suddenly smacked The United States into war. The war changed the life of many American citizens, including cartoon stars.

Donald Duck was the fourth of these to support the war effort on the big screen, following Porky Pig, Barney Bear and Popeye, who had joined the army and navy, respectively, in July (‘Meet John Doughboy’) and November 1941 (‘The Rookie Bear, ‘The Mighty Navy’). Moreover, Popeye had already engaged the enemy in February in ‘Blunder Below‘. Donald was soon followed by Pluto (May 22), and Woody Woodpecker (June).

In ‘Donald Gets Drafted’, Donald enthusiastically signs up for the army, because he wants to fly, especially after seeing posters of very attractive air hostesses in uniform. His rather naive enthusiasm soon is lowered, when he first has to go through a rather rude medical examination only to end up in the infantry, where he’s bullied by sergeant Pete. Donald doesn’t make a very good soldier, much to Pete’s frustration, and ends up peeling potatoes.

‘Donald Gets Drafted’ is the first of six Donald Duck cartoons devoted to Donald’s career in the army. It introduces Pete as Donald’s sergeant, a role he would fulfill in three other of these war cartoons. The Donald Duck army cartoons are noteworthy for their ambiguous propaganda. Donald is far from a model soldier, and the cartoons makes quite some fun of the army superiors, in the form of Pete. It’s difficult to see them as army advertisements. Moreover, five of the six cartoons are devoted to Donald’s timid life at the training camp. Only in his last war cartoon, ‘Commando Duck’ (1944) would Donald leave American soil to kill some enemies.

With its humor being still quite mild, ‘Donald Gets Drafted’ is not the funniest of Donald’s army cartoons. It is noteworthy, however, for revealing that Donald Duck’s second name is Fauntleroy.

Watch ‘Donald Gets Drafted’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Donald Duck cartoon No. 32
To the previous Donald Duck cartoon: Donald’s Snow Fight
To the next Donald Duck cartoon: Donald’s Garden

Director: Jack King
Release Date: October 14, 1938
Rating: ★★½
Review:

Farmyard Symphony © Walt Disney‘Farmyard Symphony’ is the only Silly Symphony directed by Donald Duck director Jack King.

Unfortunately, the cartoon just doesn’t deliver what it seems to offer. Literally stuffed with classical music themes (from Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony to Wagner’s Tannhäuser), it’s mainly filled with animals just doing things.

One can detect two weak story lines: one about a piglet looking for food and the other about a rooster falling in love with a slender white chick. The latter story leads to the most symphony-like part of the cartoon in which all animals join the rooster and the chicken in their duet from Verdi’s La Traviata.

This remains one of the less interesting entries in the Silly Symphonies series, despite its sometimes stunning and convincingly realistic animal designs. It is very likely that these have influenced the animal designs of ‘Animal Farm‘ from 1954, which also features scenes of singing animals. Especially the pigs look very similar.

Watch ‘Farmyard Symphony’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Silly Symphony No. 71
To the previous Silly Symphony: Wynken, Blynken and Nod
To the next Silly Symphony: Merbabies

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