Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Father Noah's Ark

As someone who grew up in and around church, the Sunday School story of Noah’s Ark is near and dear to my heart. So when I saw that today’s short would be Father Noah’s Ark, I was excited. I couldn’t wait to see the work that Disney would do with one of my favorite Bible stories.

My sum conclusion? Disney relied greatly on people being familiar with the religious aspects of the story, and worried only about the mechanics, leaving the short a little flat in the end. While it’s still entertaining, it’s not up to the standard that Disney has been hitting in the 1933 shorts.

The story of the short is obvious – the Noah’s Ark story. But for those of you who didn’t grow up in Sunday School class: Noah is a devout Christian, and he is warned that a catastrophic flood is coming. So, he and his family build an ark, and gather two of every animals on board. When the flood comes, Noah, his family and the animals sail away, suffering on board for days, until finally the sun comes out, dries up the rain and they disembark to repopulate the Earth.

In the Disney version, more attention is paid to the construction of the ark, and the inventive ways that the animals can help. For example, a pair of monkeys help to make boards by unleashing a rhino on a tree, that shaves off a board. They capture the rhino, turn him around and do it all over again. Then, we have one of Noah’s sons pick up the lumber and drive it to the ark in a “car” where the wheels are made up of snakes biting their own tails.

These are good gags, but overall they serve to downplay the seriousness of the story. Don’t forget, these characters are preparing for the flood that will end life on Earth. It seems particularly strange for them to be going about things with such a song in their heart, literally. Noah, his sons and daughters and his wife all break out into song at the beginning of the short.

Then, as the rains start, all the animals load onto the boat, but Noah and family pull the plank up so they can leave a pair of skunks stranded. Again, it seems just remarkably out of place to have a gag that could be construed as callous and mean.

Ultimately, of course, things turn out okay. But not before we see Noah and his family in the ark, during the rainstorm, praying and pleading to survive. It’s such a tonal shift from the lighthearted fare of earlier that it seems very disjointed.

Finally, we reach dry land, and a dove brings an olive branch, letting Noah know that it’s okay to disembark. There’s a brief song of gratitude, and all the animals disembark.

Father Noah’s Ark is just sort of an odd short. It gets the point of the story across, but does so in a sort of paint by numbers way. You go from point A to point B in a straightforward manner, and while there are gags along the way, they’re not as funny as in previous shorts. I’d have to say for me, this one was a disappointment.

All images copyright Disney. All rights reserved.


  1. I do agree that I was somewhat disappointed with it (and not just because they got Hem's name wrong [it's Ham, not Hem], although the reason I was a little disturbed by the improper name is because I read the Bible so often that I am used to them calling him Ham). I understand that they obviously should not nor cannot have every detail the Bible goes through in this short, but I certainly prefer the Bible's version to this short. It was definitely a little odd to me how they were all singing when they were going to meet a terrible fate if they didn't finish the ark soon, but I guess Disney figured this story would be good for a Silly Symphony, and it might have been had they approached it a little differently. I am not sure what would make it better, I just know that it could be better in some way. The skunk throwing was also jarring, even if it was a harmless gag. I guess one of the reasons why I am criticizing it so critically (not that the whole thing was bad, just it could have been better), is because I am just so used to the story being told in one way, which is in the Torah. I criticized it even more in a movie I watched with the same title because they had changed so many things in it. I like having stories like these straightforward, without many different versions to it to make it more complex than it has to be. Wait till we come to Fantasia with the whole Greek Mythology section of it.

  2. Er, I know I'm Jewish and may not know the Christian interpretation, but was Noah really a "devout Christian" centuries before Christ?

    His ethics or actions may represent a positive model for Christians, but I thought Noah predated the formal origins of both Judaism (with Abraham) and Christianity (with Jesus). Or is there something going on I don't know?

  3. I was just about to nitpick that idea myself. Yes, the story of Noah was a Jewish story and predated Jesus by a few thousand years. It was only after the fact that Christians co-opted Jewish mythology and stole it for their own. But Noah himself wasn't a Christian in any sense of the word.

    However, given that, it's odd that we have the sequence of gospel singing towards the end. It's as if Disney was interpreting the whole story in terms of American gospel culture. But it's entertaining none the less.

  4. This short uses the story of Noah's Ark as a spring board for nothing more than an opportunity to tell a simple tale which offers lots of inventive animal and boat building gags plus the spectacle of a big storm and dozens of animals. And all in technicolor! In this, it is what we've come to expect from the early colour Sillies and I think it succeeds very well.

    This one has the most attractive titles we've seen for a colour Symphony so far. A subtle blend of a huge amount of colours without being garish. It's also interesting to note how the designs of animals are changing. There are exceptions (e.g the skunks and some of the dogs), but most of the animals don't look like the ones we've become familiar with in the black and white cartoons. That said, however, keep an eye out for the "Mickey bears" from the "The Bears and Bees" who have a cameo riding the giraffes!

  5. Noah isn't a Christian, but neither is he a Jew. He predates the establishment of Judaism and the nation/peoples of Israel. That being said, he is of course accepted as a righteous man and a historical figure by both religions and both religions have just as much right to do so. Christians didn't "steal" Noah from Judaism. Both religions claim him as an historical figure. You can't steal history. That's like saying that Americans should be offended by other nations believing in the historical existence of George Washington. /end rant

    Ryan I think you and the Deadly One might be taking this short too seriously. It's not meant to be the definitive interpretation of the Biblical story, just a watered down nursery rhyme version set to silly music (hence the silly symphony). It would be quite out of place to be focusing on the apparent deaths of every living human and land-dwelling animal on the planet save the ones in this story. That's not really very silly. Disney made all kinds of alterations to classic and historical stories for the sake of its audience and there's really no reason this one should be different. I really didn't find the jovial tone out of place for the context of a silly symphony. On the other hand I can agree with you on this shorts disjointed quality. Its still a solid short but its tone does seem a bit chaotic.

    Cheers btw. I've been catching up with you on these shorts for the last few weeks and I've really enjoyed the commentary you and your readers have provided. Nice work!

  6. Ryan and deadly one, I agree that the skunk throwing was mean, though not nearly as mean as God. Frankly, God as portrayed in this story (both the Bible version and the at least two Disney versions) is downright evil as he commits near genocide by drowning the vast majority of sentient beings on Earth. RJ, you're right about how Disney often changes stories and has a lot to do so. Everyone, I just thought it was interesting that a lot of the original fairy tales are much more gruesome then their Disney counterparts. For example, did you know that in the Grimm Brothers' Cinderella story, one of the ugly stepsisters cuts off her toes to try to fit her foot in the slipper? (Also, the slippers were fur in the original story, not glass). In the Grimm Snow White story, Snow White and the Prince make the evil queeen dance in hot iron shoes at their wedding. As for the Hunchback of Notre Dame...well, let's just say Victor Hugo's version is probably the last thing most people would think of as a "Disney" story. Finally, I thought interesting to note that Disney would revisit the Noah's Ark story decades later as a segment of Fantasia 2000 with Donald Duck in the role of Noah.


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