Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Three Little Pigs

There are classics in the Disney library, and then there are the iconic pieces. The pieces that are remembered by historians, animators and fans alike as something special. The Three Little Pigs is one of those, and the reasons stretch far beyond the excellent short itself. Instead, The Three Little Pigs is revered for the effect it had on the viewers of 1933, and rightfully so.

Remember your history books, and back in 1933, the United States was in the throes of the Great Depression. Franklin Delano Roosevelt was the new President, and his tone to the nation was that of hope for the future. Sound familiar? Roosevelt constantly communicated to the nation that the best days were coming, and that fear was the enemy, to be banished at all costs.

This was essential for Roosevelt, because people were panicked. They feared the worst, and some were even calling for socialism, and replacing the democracy to get out of this catastrophe. The Three Little Pigs provided an anthem for Roosevelt’s hope message, in “Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?”

This is the first or second iconic Disney song (depends on if you count “Minnie’s Yoo Hoo”), but its popularity can not be overstated. Viewers of this short took the song as their rallying cry, providing a counterpoint to the doom and gloom of the Depression. And why not?

The short itself no doubt was intended simply as another Silly Symphony. And in that respect, it performs very well. It has a well crafted story, and very believable characters that are well designed. The wolf is frightening from the second he appears on screen, and the pigs are introduced just as you’d expect, standing in front of their various houses.

The music runs throughout the short, as you’d expect in a Silly Symphony, but it turns this into a flowing musical, with the lead characters voicing the parts, and the songs moving the story forward. This approach is what Disney would use later in the features, but you can see the experimentation with it beginning in the last few shorts.

The standout piece of animation here is the characters. Their emotions, facial expressions and movements are very well done. You can see the fear on the faces of the first two pigs as they dive for cover in the third pig’s brick house. The anger and frustration on the wolf is palpable as well.

As a short in and of itself, The Three Little Pigs is straightforward, telling a simple fairy tale. But it is definitely a case of right time, right place and a superb song that made it the instant classic that it was. It endures, though, because of the music and the character work. It’s still entertaining today, just as it was in 1933.

All images copyright Disney. All rights reserved.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. This film is a giant. True classic Disney at its finest. Brilliant character designs, particularly the wolf, along with excellent pacing and a theme that is both relevant and timeless. Throw in one of the most memorable songs in all the Disney shorts and you've got yourself a legendary film. It gave me chills to watch this and I don't have any nostalgic draw to it. I'm not even sure I've ever seen it before in its entirety. It won the Academy Award and its not hard to see why. One of the best if not the very best of the shorts.

  3. Watching these things in order, you really see a culmination of a lot of the things Disney has been doing coming together in this short. Right from the opening shot, the catchy tune begins as does the familiar use of action synchronised to music. It's great fun (as ever), but here it's also used in telling the story and conveying the personalities of the characters. Disney has already been doing this, of course, but it falls into place even more here. In terms of the synchronisation, I especially like Fiddler Pig's moving ladder, the Wolf's menacing sneak and the Pigs' dancing legs.

    Of course the use of music goes even further, with the iconic song and lyrics throughout, but I don't want to just repeat everything Ryan said!

    The Big Bad Wolf (he'll later be named Zeke in the comics) is great and was the Disney studio's first popular villain in terms of merchandise. Although he has comical aspects (e.g the funny disguises and his hammy reaction on landing in the boiling pot), he really is a believable threat to the pigs. Check out the way bangs the door on the stick house with the full force of his body! As the short progresses he becomes more ferocious, returning to the state of an animalistic beast when he winds up naked and leaps on the roof. He's a real wolf in that scene!

  4. This is probably my most favourite Silly Symphony.

  5. Mac, that's a great point about the wolf "devolving" as things go along. It's such a subtle change I didn't realize it until you said it. When he jumps on the roof, you're right, he is a real wolf, not a human in a wolf suit. Very good catch.

  6. Everyone including Mac counts the wolf as a villain, but is he really? After all, wolves have to eat something to survive, don't they?

  7. As the short progresses he becomes more ferocious, returning to the state of an animalistic beast when he winds up naked and leaps on the roof. He's a real wolf in that scene!

    It's this part of the cartoon that got me the most from seeing it many times. I kinda harks back to the Beatrix Potter stories with animals that were really animals in human clothes and trying to act as human as they can, but often you get a story like Peter Rabbit where your characters devolve back into their animal form through the simple act of losing such articles of clothing.

    Of course the way it was done here, it would've been a simple pants dropping gag that I've noticed many cartoons in the early 30's often doing a lot, but it certainly doesn't go that directly by the fact that the wolf isn't even aware of his sudden nakedness itself and continues on.

    Everyone including Mac counts the wolf as a villain, but is he really? After all, wolves have to eat something to survive, don't they?

    We could say yes here otherwise, but given the say these stories had been told and written, very often wolves such as this had been labeled as a villain for such a long time prior to the more recent depictions and understanding of the species that wasn't available to our past ancestors.

  8. One interesting thing I noticed in some of the drawings of the wolf was seeing he had a four-toed foot, whereas in later cartoons he usually got three. Not sure what that interested me, but it's rather interesting pointing that out over the development and evolution of said character (whom I tend to favor more in his later comic book incarnations).


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