Most Disney fans are familiar with the Disney Silly Symphony, “The Three Little Pigs.”
It won the 1933 Academy Award for best animated film and was the most successful cartoon that had ever been released up to that time.
Walt had created his popular Mickey Mouse cartoon series and it provided stability. His audiences had expectations when a Mickey Mouse cartoon was released. Being smart, Walt wanted to meet and surpass those expectations. But he also needed to push the envelope a bit and develop new ideas and methods. The Silly Symphonies were the laboratory for the experimentation he couldn’t try in the Mickey Mouse cartoons.
This also was the testing ground for technology that would eventually lead to the creation of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.
The three pigs could be easily identified by the audience because of their different personalities. This type of animated acting was new in the history of animation, where previous characters were often defined by what they looked like, these characters had a unique personality. It was if they were actually an animated actor. Today this kind of development is common, in this era it was not. The same approach would be used in creating the dwarfs in Snow White. That is why each dwarf became so memorable in the classic film.
“The Three Little Pigs” premiered at Radio City Music Hall on May 25, 1933. Variety declared: “Three Little Pigs is proving the most unique picture property in history. It’s particularly unique because it’s a cartoon running less than 10 minutes, yet providing box office comparable to a feature, as demonstrated by numerous repeats.”
The song “Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf” became the popular theme song of the Depression. It was the first time that a cartoon had generated a hit song. If you are looking for Disney trivia, watch the cartoon and see how many times the song is heard complete and uninterrupted in the cartoon. (The answer is none)
Walt Disney would comment about the popularity of the pigs as he said, “It was just another story to us and we were in there gagging it just like any other picture. After we heard all the shouting, we sat back and tried to analyze what made it good.”
There were requests from theaters for more cartoons featuring the pigs, and three more cartoons featuring the characters: “The Big Bad Wolf,” “Three Little Wolves,” and “The Practical Pig.” were produced and released. Although good, they were not as good as the original.
This led to one of Walt Disney’s memorable quotes “You can’t top pigs with pigs.”
Later when theaters wanted Disney shorts featuring Dopey from Snow White, Walt did not listen, he remembered the lesson of the pigs.
As fascinating as the history of the Three Little Pigs is, I recently was sent a story that contained research attributed to Jim Korkis, famed Disney historian, where he shared the following information.
In the Fall of 1962, Walt Disney called Bill Justice and X. Atencio to his office to introduce them to Carlos Amador and his movie star wife, Marga. Disney fans may know Justice as the primary animator of Chip’n’Dale in their classic cartoons, and Atencio as the lyricist for both the Pirates of the Caribbean and Haunted Mansion theme park attractions.
Amador was preparing a live action movie about the life of a famous south-of-the-border writer. Since one of the stories was about the three little pigs, Amador wanted to use Disney’s three little pigs in a four-minute animated segment.
Ah, but Walt Disney had retired the three little pigs and had gotten out of the pig business. But he had a change of heart and said…yes.
What got Walt Disney on board was that the project had designated that half of the profits would go to provide Mexican children a free lunch each school day. Walt made the decision to donate the animation, and the cause was worthy, it was the only way many children could be persuaded to attend school.
The following is how Korkis summarized the movie- In the film, a young boy and girl on their bed look at a framed picture of three sleeping pigs. As they gaze at the picture, it comes to cartoon life. The three little pigs are tucked into bed and given a kiss by their mother.
One dreams of being a king and having lots of tasty treats brought for him to gorge on, Another pig dreams of having his own rowboat but with disastrous results when he ends up in the water and back in bed, a tear trickles down his face.
The Practical Pig dreams of the Big Bad Wolf threatening his mother that she must pay the rent by tomorrow. La Fiesta Las Flores (that features re-used animation from The Three Caballeros) offers the pigs an opportunity to win some money to pay the rent as the three pigs perform a musical number.
Of course, they win and return home late at night whistling “Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf.” However, they are attacked by the wolf, but escape as the wolf shakes his fist. The wolf is standing by a palm tree and a coconut drops from its palms to bonk him on the head. The pigs give the money to their mother, who hugs all three of them at one time. The film then shifts back to the live action children.
A Disney press release from Fall of 1963 announced:
“The Three Sleepy Pigs, a new four minute segment of animation in Spanish, has been produced by Walt for incorporation in a live action Mexican feature called Cri-Cri, El Grillito Cantor or in English, Cri-Cri, the Little Singing Cricket.”The feature itself is based on the life of Gabilondo Solar, a famous south of the border song writer, while Walt’s contribution to it is based on Solar’s popular ballad, Los Cochinitos Dormilones. “Proceeds of the feature, which is set for widespread theatrical release throughout Mexico beginning in October, will go to the Institute for the Protection of Mexican Children, an organization that maintains thirty-two plants engaged in the packaging and shipping of food to million school-age youngsters all over the country.”
Even though Walt had not had a good experience in his creating of sequels to the pigs, he was willing to allow his animated characters to come to life once again…this time because there was a good reason. He liked the cause and that is why he donated the animation and the characters. I think that is very revealing and should remind us all that we all have something to offer and all have something to share with others.
As a film maker, Walt had moved on to other things and decided to get out of the “little pig” business. Yet when it became a way to help feed poor children means and provide them with an education, then it was time to let the “little pigs” come back to life again.
I wonder sometimes if we don’t have just the thing that might help meet the needs of others around us…but we don’t…because we don’t take the time to notice, have decided not to do something, or are just too busy doing what is important to us that we don’t slow down long enough to think about how we might help. To me the story of this film takes on more meaning when at the end of the day, it was done for the best of reasons, to help make
the world of someone else brighter.
History holds a place for the work of Walt Disney. He was an innovator, a creative force, and dreamer, and a man who made dreams come true. But he is also a man who was more than willing to make a difference as well
History holds a place for you as well. It does, really…because you can make the difference in the life of someone else. Perhaps today is that day for you…make history…change the world…make the life of someone you meet today better.