Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The Jump Starting of Modern Animation -- 75 Years Ago TODAY

On May 27, 1933, a bright Technicolor line was drawn across the long history of animation.

Walt Disney released Three Little Pigs, and nothing in animation was ever the same again. Animator-director Ward Kimball related three decades ago:

[Three Little Pigs] was wonderful for the time. It made everything that came before look very crude, and it gave the studio the shot in the arm that Walt thought was wonderful.

And as Adrian Danks, president of the Melbourne cinemateque writes:

Three Little Pigs is generally regarded as the most successful short animation of all time. Many analyses of the film concentrate upon anecdotal accounts of wildly positive audience responses to the film, its extensive run in the cinemas, its promotion often above the feature film of the day, its widespread cross-promotional success (sheet music sales, dolls of the pigs and wolf, etc), and its extensive international distribution ...

By most accounts, it was the right film in the right place in the right year -- the dank, dark bottom of the Depression -- and it catapulted Disney far ahead of the competition.

Back behind Pigs' release lay the black-and-white, rubber-hose animation that had flourished from the 1920s onward. Ahead of it lay the rapidly evolving sophistication of Disney features (along with the work of Warners/Schlesinger and Fleischer studios).

"Personality animation," as we now understand it, was really jump-started with Three Little Pigs, driving the final nail into the coffin of the 'rubber hose' school of cartoons. Fred Moore, then in his early twenties, gave the piggies dimension, roundness and personality. Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston write that "no other animator could portray chubby little pigs with [Moore's] solidity ..."

Other elements -- story, music, color -- came together to connect with audiences like cartoons had seldom connected before.

Three-quarters of a century on, it's a little tough to see what all the hoopla was about, for it's difficult to transport popular art out of the context of its time and have it retain anywhere near the original force and impact.

But if you squint your eyes and know a few of the cartoon shorts that preceded it, you can detect and understand at least some of the magic. (And happily, the Wolf as a Jewish peddler -- one of the ethnic slurs that was par for comedy in that long ago age -- has long since been expunged from the release print.)


Anonymous said...

Actually, the Wolf as the Jewish Peddler has been restored to every dvd print available. Not a "film print," but isn't that how a vast majority of people will see it? Thank goodness it IS restored.

Steve Hulett said...


Maybe I should look at the material instead of relying on fading, faulty memory.

But if they have the Jewish original on DVD, shouldn't they have the redo on there too? As a BONUS?

Anonymous said...

Frankly, I don't think they knew they'd released it. And since very few people bought it there's not been a stink. Now if only they'd do the same to "Song of the South."

And "Pecos Bill."

Andy Norton said...

Thank you for this retrospective on this renowned version of The Three Little Pigs.
'Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Wolk' is still is one of most memorable tunes to ever come from a Disney cartoon.

Anonymous said...

Only have a Fuller Brush wolf on this version.

No peddler in sight.

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