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Wednesday with Wade: More "Making Fun of the Mouse"

Wednesday with Wade: More "Making Fun of the Mouse"

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Last week, Jim Hill did a three part article on animated cartoons that made fun of Disney.And thorough as Mr. Hill tried to be with his “Making Fun of the Mouse” series, Jim still managed to miss a few great stories, which I’d like to share with you now.

Let’s start where Jim started. With Warner Brothers’ 1943 short, "Pigs in a Polka." Yes, this Academy-Award nominated cartoon was indeed a parody of Disney"s "The Three Little Pigs." This short was directed by Friz Freleng, who had worked as an animator at the Disney Studios on the early black & white silent shorts and was fired by Walt for an incident that Friz still grumbled about decades later.

So obviously there was no love loss between Freleng & Disney when Friz directed this parody.In fact, during his tenure at Termite Terrace, Freleng managed to get in yet another poke at Disney’s Three Little Pigs with Warner Brothers’ 1957 cartoon, "Three Little Bops." This clever short is done in a Fifties'jazz and rock'n'rock style where all the dialogue is done in rhyme (all sung by the versatile Stan Freberg).In this version of the classic , the trumpet-playing wolf wants to join the Three Little Pigs trio but has to learn you have to get real hot to play real cool.

Getting back to "Pigs in a Polka" now … What many animation fans don’t realize is that Freleng’s “Three Little Pigs” parody was actually preceded by another cartoon that spoofed this Academy-Award winning short. Only this cartoon – 1942’s "Blitz Wolf" – was directed by the legendary Tex Avery. In fact, “Blitz Wolf” has the distinction of being the very cartoon that Tex directed after he left Warner Brothers to set up shop over at MGM.




Anyway … Avery went out of his way to make sure that “Blitz Wolf” was also an effective parody of Disney’s “Three Little Pigs.” Tex even went so far as to hire Pinto Colvig to do the voice of the Practical Pig character (called "Sergeant Pork" in this version as a parody of war hero "Sergeant York") just as Pinto had done in the Disney version of this classic fairy tale.

A very strong anti-Nazi cartoon, the title character in “Blitz Wolf” is "Der Fewer.” A blatant Hitler parody, Der Fewer betrays an non-aggression pact in order to invade Pigmania.He huffs and puffs away the straw & wood houses but then finds himself confronted with the Practical Pig's house which is a bunker with hundreds of cannons.There are some fairly strong sexual gags in this animated short. In particular one with some phallic missiles & a copy of "Esquire" magazine & a cheesecake picture.

Moving on to some of the other films that Mr. Hill touched on as part of last week’s “Making Fun of the Mouse” series … In the talkbacks for those articles, a few JHM readers unfairly criticized "Coal Black and De Sebben Dwarfs." To understand the true significance of this seldom-seen cartoon, I’d first suggest that you read Martin "Dr. Toon" Goodman's excellent article about “Coal Black.”



Better yet, if you live in the Los Angeles area, track down animator Milt Gray. Milt will not hesitate to educate you on the merits of this cartoon.More to the point, given that Mr. Gray knew Bob Clampett for many years, Milt will be glad to tell you that Bob was not a racist.And neither was “Coal Black” ‘s storyman Warren Foster.

Truth be told, the real origins of this classic cartoon parody came from Clampett's studying the caricatures in the book, "Harlem As Seen by Hirschfeld.”Hirschfeld's exaggerated artistic caricatures, of course, later inspired Disney animator Eric Goldberg's work on "Aladdin" and "Fantasia 2000.”

In addition, Clampett attended Duke Ellington's 1941 live musical revue, "Jump for Joy." After the show, Ellington & the cast suggested Clampett make a musical cartoon that focused on "black" music. To prep for this project, Clampett had his animation unit take a couple of field trips to "Club Alabam,” a Los Angeles area club that catered to African Americans. So that they could then get a feel for the music & the dancing that one often heard & saw when visiting a "black" nightclub.

To given “Coal Black” some additional authenticity, Clampett originally wanted an all-Black band to provide music for the short. But producer Leon Schlesinger nixed that idea refused for monetary reasons. Which is why the film was eventually scored by Carl Stalling.

But that didn’t stop Bob from trying to give this short an authentic “black” sound. Which is why Clampett eventually hired an all-black band -- Eddie Beals and His Orchestra -- to record the music for the “Waking up So White” sequence in the cartoon.

With the hope that having just the right voices for his characters might give “Coal Black” some additional authenticity, Bob even hired African American actors to perform the lead roles in his film. Clampett hired Vivian Dandridge (I.E. The sister of African American actress Dorothy Dandridge) to voice "So White" and then hired Ruby Dandridge (I.E. Dorothy & Vivian’s mother) to voice the wicked Queen. Bob even recruited Zoot Watson to do the voice of "Prince Chawmin" while Mel Blanc provided all of the other voices in the picture.

Now – over the years – many animation fans have wondered why this Bob Clampett cartoon is called "Coal Black and the Sebben Dwarfs" if the main character in the picture is referred to as "So White"?Well, producer Schlesinger feared that calling the cartoon "So White" would be just too close to the title of the Disney original. Which is why a change was eventually made in the cartoon’s title but not in the cartoon itself.

Most animation scholars and historians consider "Coal Black" an undisputed masterpiece for good reason.Animation is an exaggerated reality, especially in the world of Bob Clampett. And so the characters in the film were just as exaggerated and stereotyped as any other Clampett cartoon character. But there is a dignity and intelligence to the characters in "Coal Black" that somewhat offsets the racial images that were a common cartoon "shorthand" at the time.(Let’s not forget that several Mickey Mouse black and white cartoons that were made back in the 1930s also feature large lipped, savage, stupid cannibals, for instance.)

More importantly, “Coal Black” captures some of the high energy spirit of Black Culture of the time.Let me add that the Black performers who participated in the production of this cartoon found it hilariously entertaining. Just as Nick Stewart (AKA the voice of B’rer Bear in Disney’s “Song of the South”) was not embarrassed nor ashamed by his work in later years.

Unfortunately, back in the 1960s, this cartoon was consigned to the "Censored 11." Which meant that it wasn’t to be seen on television or in theaters. In spite of “Coal Black” ‘s many virtues, which included showing African Americans in uniform defending their country. Which is something that you usually didn’t see in motion pictures made during this time.

Moving on now to one of the other Disney parodies that Mr. Hill discussed as part of last week’s “Making Fun of the Mouse” series, “Beanyland” … Disney historian Jim Korkis was a friend of Clampett's and interviewed him extensively over the years. One of those interviews focusing on the "Beany and Cecil" animated show will be appearing in a forthcoming issue of "Hogan's Alley" (Issue #14, which is due out next month).

In exchange for giving “Hogan’s Alley” a rather gratuitous plug in today’s article ("Hogan's Alley" is an outstanding magazine, one that’s devoted to covering the history of animation & cartooning. Past issues have featured detailed interviews with Disney legends Bill Peet, Marc Davis and Ward Kimball. If you’d like to see why animation fans have been raving about “Hogan’s Alley,” for a limited time, you can pick up a sample back issue for half price! For further information, click on this link), I get to share an excerpt from Korkis’ upcoming interview with Clampett.

Looking back on this particular episode of “The Beany & Cecil Show,” Clampett recalled:

ABC got very upset about ‘Beanyland’ because -- of course -- they had been running the Disneyland’ television program and other Disney programs. And they didn’t want to make Walt mad because there were some legal things going on where Disney was leaving ABC.

“Oh, you can’t have a caricature of Walt Disney in there saying, ‘I’ll make this my DismalLand’!’I’d answer, “Where’s Walt Disney in there?The character with the hook nose and mustache is my longtime villain Dishonest John.Everybody knows who he is.”

My original version of “Beanyland” was very, very funny because it was such a tongue-in-cheek satire on Disneyland even as to the way they worded their advertising.Beany would say stuff like “Look, what he’s doing to my creamy, dreamy Beanyland!” And that made fun of those peanut butter commercials.

I had Dishonest John packaging the moon as cheese and bringing it back to Earth to sell it.On the package, I had the word “Krafty” and ABC was afraid the Kraft Cheese Company would sue them.It was those kinds of things they censored and so much more for seemingly no reason.This place wasn’t built by a mouse; it was built for mice!”

This story was later adapted for the April-June 1963 DELL "Beany & Cecil" comic book, which illustrated by Willie Ito, an artist who worked for Disney Feature Animation back in the 1950s. Where Ito helped animate the spaghetti-eating sequence in "Lady and the Tramp.” In the comic book version of this episode, they show a much more detailed map of "Beanyland." And it features a "Rock and Roller Coaster" & a "Go-Man Chinese Theater" decades before Disney actually built those attractions in Florida.

Getting now to another classic cartoon that Jim covered in his “Making Fun of the Mouse” series ... Jay Ward's "Fractured Fairy Tales" version of "Sleeping BeautyLand" also has some Disney history behind it.It was directed by Bill Hurtz who joined Don Graham's life drawing class at Chouinard Art Institute when he was thirteen years old and got flustered by seeing a nude model for the first time.He joined the Disney Studios in 1938 and worked on "Pinocchio," "Fantasia" (the mushroom dance sequence) and "Dumbo.”When he went on strike with other Disney animators, he was fired and eventually wound up at UPA. In 1959, he became a senior director for Jay Ward's animation studio.

"(“Sleeping Beautyland”) was a take-off on Disneyland and I purposely caricatured the prince as Walt Disney and we had Daws Butler do his Phil Silvers type voice which was the standard sneaky but friendly con man," Hurtz told me when I was interviewing him for a never-published book about the Jay Ward cartoons.

Mind you, Ward didn’t only make fun of Walt Disney. As animation legend June Foray (Who did the voice of the princess & the evil fairy in this particular “Fractured Fairy Tale”) once told me: "Jay's cartoons offended nations, school teachers, weather bureaus, everyone."

In fact, Ward loved controversy and parodied historical figures, media celebrities, literary artists and any other visible targets. When actor Durwood Kirby threatened to sue over a "Rocky & Bullwinkle" item called the "Kurwood Derby,” Ward welcomed the attention to his struggling series.

There was the belief at the studio that the Disney parody where an "X coupon" would get you across the bridge of "Moat Land" in front of the castle, a "Y Coupon" would get you into "Entrance Hall Land" and a "Z Coupon" would get you up "Staircase Land" to see the Sleeping Beauty might raise the ire of the Disney Company and generate some publicity. But Disney chose to ignore the cartoon.

There are other classic cartoons out there that make fun of Disney films (I mean, how could Jim forget Marv Newland’s classic "Bambi Meets Godzilla?). But – given that Mr. Hill is supposedly already hard at work on yet another installment of his “Making Fun of the Mouse” series – I suppose we can overlook the few films that seem to have eluded his grasp so far.

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  • Regarding Jay  Ward and the Kurwood Derby:  I had the benefit of growing up in Los Angeles, and was in the audience for a Bullwinkle "retrospective" at UCLA in 1982, where according to Bill Scott, Jay Ward was so tickled with Mr. Kirby's lawsuit threat that he offered to pay Kirby's legal fees (regardless of outcome).

    Mr. Scott also told of the legal threat from Red Skelton, who thought Bullwinkle was a ripoff of his Clem Kadiddlehopper character (Which Scott admitted it was).  Their response was to use the Bullwinkle Puppet bumpers to make fun of the issue.  Bullwinkle came on and said (approximately):  "We have received a letter from a Mister Reed Skiltown who claims that I sound too much like his character, Clem Kadiddlehopper.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Allow me to demonstrate: 'Hi, this is Clem Kadiddlehopper!' 'Hi, this is Bullwinkle!" See?  Nothing alike"  (he said, without changing a tone or inflection).

    I also had the benefit to talk to Mr. Clampett regarding the "Coal Black" situation, and it was done with love and respect (despite what current perceptions may seem), and had offered to remove any drawing or dialogue the African American performers found offensive.  
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