Thursday, August 6, 2009

Busy Beavers

I’m not really sure what to say about Busy Beavers. It’s a Silly Symphony, to be sure, but it’s just not that appealing to me. It really opens up a larger discussion about the way things are going in 1931 for the Disney company.

1930 was a transition year, no doubt, for the Disney Studios. Losing Ub Iwerks and Carl Stalling was a big blow, and required a change to the production schedule. In rushing to fulfill their contract, the Disney animators put out some subpar work, although they managed to squeeze in some gems in the first few months of 1930. Eventually, though, they got their sea legs, and were cranking out very solid films towards the end of the year. Shorts like The Picnic, Midnite in a Toy Shop and more gave us some memorable moments.

But so far in 1931, the shorts have had a rather disjointed feel. Busy Beavers continues that. While Mother Goose Melodies and Traffic Troubles are standouts in early 1931, the rest of the 1931 shorts are nowhere near as good. This inconsistency is strange, and it continues in Busy Beavers.

This is a classic Silly Symphony, in that it features a lot of silly gags of the beavers building their dams, set to a lively tune, without much of a plot. To the extent that there is a plot, it centers on a small beaver that manages to save the valley from a large flood. His heroics are the real fun part of the short.

However, the overall feel of Busy Beavers is a loose collection of characters that all look the same. For me, the design of the beavers was not good. That’s just my opinion, but they are not appealing, and they don’t have any idiosyncrasies that make them stand out. If you’re going to have a short with such a lack of recognizable or individual characters, you need the gags to really stand out, and they do not do so here.

The best animation in the short is really the flooding scene, where a cloud opens up and dumps rain into the valley where the beavers have built their dam. The animation of the water rushing through, coming straight at the camera, is quite good.

Mostly, though, we just get scene after scene of the beavers doing work, building their dam. Sure, there are some inventive ways that they do so, like loading up their tails with lumber, skiing downhill on a tree, or sharpening logs into spikes that they pound into the riverbed. But there’s no character here for the audience to take up with or follow, so it makes the short less than it could be.

All images copyright Disney. All rights reserved.


  1. It's interesting reading your comments to see how different people can get different levels of enjoyment from the same piece of entertainment. For me this stands out not just as a another good, fun Disney cartoon, but as an absolutely excellent one that I just love to watch.

    I just find it massively the entertaining – the almost relentless musical action and constantly clever, fast-paced syncrhonsiation as the beavers tirelessly work, dance and bark. For me, it just fits together perfectly. Of the 1931 shorts we've watched so far, I agree that "Traffic Troubles" and "Mother Goose Melodies" are excellent, but I hold "The China Plate" and "The Busy Beavers" in the same high regard.

  2. I guess it follows that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, eh? The China Plate I would agree is quite good, and I neglected to mention it.

    However, Busy Beavers to me is just not as clever or well done. I was called out on this in the Mickey Steps Out thread, but not being a "animation historian," I don't recognize the genius in how things are drawn, etc. I judge a lot of it on simply the entertainment I get from it upon viewing.

    I do wonder, though, if these shorts bear repeated viewings. I usually watch them two times before posting. If I watch them on a day when I'm having a bad day, does that affect the review? I'm not really sure, but I may go back to some of these and try to see if there's a difference.

  3. Although things like tiredness and mood can affect the enjoyment of entertainment, I think that here it's just case of different people liking different things. There's a few Disney cartoons which are very popular with fans that I just don't care for. This one, however, I like and have watched it lots of times without getting tired of it.

    I do think it is quite an impressive short. There's a lot of detail with sometimes dozens of characters on screen at one time. Also it's beautifully worked out with ingenious synchronisation. The tunes are fast and yet every beat perfectly fits a bark, a dance or industrial action as the beavers build their dam. For me it's enormously catchy and I just can't help bouncing along!

    One other note about this cartoon is the scene where the little beaver is hit by the falling tree. The cartoon doesn't treat it seriously, but for a brief moment the music goes a bit sad, as the fate of the animal is unclear. Although not treated seriously here, a sad moment, where a character may be dead, is a device that will be used again (over-used in fact) in Disney films.


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