Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Monkey Melodies

After Midnight in a Toy Shop, I wondered aloud whether there was going to be a movement in the Disney shorts, especially the Silly Symphonies, away from the song driven actions to more story based shorts. Monkey Melodies definitely is in the latter camp, offering a hero whose movements we follow through the majority of the cartoon, although not as completely as Midnight in a Toy Shop.

Before I go into that, however, I would be remiss if I did not send major kudos out to David Gerstein, who provides the DVD commentary for this short on the More Silly Symphonies Walt Disney Treasures DVD. The fact that David takes the time to frequently comment on this site is a source of pride for me, and his commentary is very illuminating. For example, did you know that there was an abundance of popular songs about monkeys around the turn of the century? That’s just one of the things I learned from David’s commentary.

Most of this short focuses on a monkey who is simply enjoying his day in the jungle with his sweetheart. The monkey moves through the jungle sharing a dance with his female companion, then splitting bananas and taking a stroll through the river. It’s the kind of aimless lovesick rambling that many of us would love to do from time to time, and is very effective as escapism.

One thing I noticed and David points out in the commentary, is that the design of the monkey leads changes frequently. Several different animators took the lead in various sequences throughout this short, so the monkeys were done by different hands. They vary from very cartoony goggle-eyed characters to loose limbed, extra furry monkeys within moments of each other. It’s somewhat jarring, even though each interpretation is well done.

The other thing I noticed was a great sense of depth in the animation. For example, the monkeys dance through the treetops, with background behind them and vines and foliage in front of them, providing a real depth to the shot that has not been seen in other shorts.

There’s also some great work with water effects here, such as an alligator pursuing the monkeys or the end scene that has the monkeys dangling over a pool of water, and the final kiss taking place in reflection. To me, this shows again the willingness of the animators to take more chances and push the boundaries in the Silly Symphonies.

Of course, the fine commentary also points out the use of several of these monkey-based pop songs. I’m sorry, just the thought alone makes me laugh, but it is one of the first times Disney used pop songs in the shorts. Songs like “Down in Jungle Town” or “At a Georgia Camp Meeting” are used to great effect in dancing sequences like the alligators before they start pursuing the monkeys.

Monkey Melodies, to be honest, is not a fantastic short, but it’s not too bad. The move towards a more story-based production is on full display, but is still a work in progress here. As things go along, we’ll see how the Silly Symphonies evolve into something new.

All images copyright Disney. All rights reserved.


  1. If you think monkey-based pop tunes sound silly in concept, wait till you enjoy the recordings themselves. It's the least I can do after the compliments you gave me. Just follow these (Lancelot) links:

    The Aba-Daba Honeymoon (Collins and Harlan, 1914)
    Baboon Bungalow (Collins and Harlan, 1909)
    Down in Jungle Town (Collins and Harlan, 1908)
    Down in Monkeyville (Collins and Harlan, 1913)
    Down in the Jungle Land (Collins and Harlan, 1918)
    Gee, I'd Like to Be a Monkey In the Zoo (Frances White, 1918)
    In Monkey Land (Collins and Harlan, 1907)
    Mr. Monkey (Billy Murray, 1906)
    Monkey Doodle (The Merry Sparklers, 1924)
    • Underneath the Monkey Moon (Collins and Harlan, 1910)

    The real kings (king kongs?) of the genre are obviously Arthur Collins and Byron Harlan, with more simian singles than you can shake a banana at.

    Hmm, shouldn't this have been an entry at my blog? Oop-oop... too late!

  2. Omigosh! Too much fun with monkey songs! It's not too hard I 'spose – sprinkle some simian similes, mingle in many monkey metaphors, add a little ape alliteration and you're half way there!

    This does seem to be something of a transitional Silly Symphony. In some ways it's pretty typical – lots of silly dances and moving to music (and in this respect it's a very good one, more fun than frolicking fish and arctic antics), but then there's that simple story with characters that are easily identifiable (despite their constantly changing appearance).

    And yes, the backgrounds and effects are getting more detailed and three-dimensional. This jungle is much more lush than previous ones we've seen in Disney cartoons like "Jungle Rhythm".

  3. Okay, David, those songs are some of the funniest things I've heard in a while. Thanks so much for sharing. Monkeys are always funny!


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