Monday, January 25, 2010

Toby Tortoise Returns

The Silly Symphonies have only seen a few breakout characters that return for more than one short. The Big Bad Wolf and Three Little Pigs were the first, but the next two are Toby Tortoise and Max Hare, from The Tortoise and the Hare. In this latest short, Toby Tortoise Returns, Toby gets a chance to torment Max Hare again.

Instead of a race, this is a boxing match, again something that favors Max Hare. His speed and quickness allow Max to duck and dodge, strike then move and generally outfight Toby Tortoise. At least you would think so.

As the crowd files into the arena and the fighters are introduced, we’re treated to more cameos from earlier Silly Symphonies. Some bunnies from Funny Little Bunnies, one of the Three Little Pigs, and eventually Jenny Wren, from Who Killed Cock Robin? all show up in the crowd. In fact, it’s very similar to Mickey’s Polo Team. It extends that notion that this is a shared universe being created by Disney, that all the characters know each other and live in the same place.

Jenny Wren even becomes an important part of the short. Toby Tortoise fights valiantly for the first part of the fight, but Max Hare is too quick and too sneaky for him. Toby ends up knocked out of the ring into the first row of seats, where Jenny comforts him. That sparks Toby back into action, only to get clobbered into his corner again.

While he’s recovering in his corner, Toby enters a fever dream, sitting in a harem full of Jenny Wren lookalikes, while smoking something from a hookah pipe. It’s a fun little sidebar to the short, and shows you what Toby would rather be doing, instead of boxing.

When he comes back from the dream, Toby’s new strategy emerges, and that’s the rope-a-dope strategy. If you’re not a boxing fan, it’s basically to get pummeled for a while, allowing your opponent to keep swinging and tire himself out before landing a solid blow. Rather than take the full beating himself, though, Toby retreats into his shell and allows Max to pound that for a while.

It’s a solid strategy, as Max embarrasses himself trying to attack Toby. After all, he had lined up an ambulance staffed by some hare friends to cart Toby off. He has to embarrass Toby, not the other way around! The viewer gets all of this information without Max having to articulate it. That’s good animation.

Ultimately, Max ends up stuffing fireworks into Toby’s shell, and then lighting them on fire. The result is a Toby Tortoise that’s more jet fighter than tortoise, as he streaks around the arena slamming fireworks into Max and winning the fight. It’s Max who ends up in the ambulance, not Toby.

There seems to be a good formula here – Max and Toby engage in a sporting contest, with Max the obvious favorite, but Toby winning through a combination of perseverance and luck. However, from looking ahead, it doesn’t appear as though that is how Disney planned to use these characters going forward. It’s a shame, as this rivalry has the makings of a Tom and Jerry type series. Regardless, Toby Tortoise Returns is a welcome return to these characters.

All images copyright Disney. All rights reserved.


  1. You made some very good points in your post. I think the little pig who reappears in this short and rings the bell is Practical. I'd forgotten about Wren from Cock Robbin and didn't even notice that the Funny Little Bunnies were there. I've read that Belle makes a very brief, hard to spot cameo in Beauty and the Beast, but I'm not sure if that Disney does anything else like that or not, though I suppose to some extent one could count House of Mouse and the Disney Princess and Disney Villain lines, though I've read the Princess videos have separate stories for each Princess represented. Kingdom Hearts likewise creats what could be thought of as the opposite of what you described; the feeling of a Disney multiverse where groups of characters live in seperate universes but can meet if able to travel from one universe to another. Personally, I think at least part of what makes the Disney films so enjoyable and their characters so popular in merchendise and at theme parks is that the characters are very colorful and distinctive. Not all Silly Symphonies characters are colorful and distinctive (for instance, the animals in the season quadrilogy really aren't) but many of them, including Toby Tortise and Max Hare. I think colorful and distinctive characters is what allowed certain Silly Symphonies to get sequels, which is why we have "Toby Tortise Returns", "More Kittens" (a Silly Symphony you haven't gotten to that's a sequel to "Three Little Kittens") 'Twas The Night Before Christmas and the Three Little Pigs quadrilogy. It'd be cool to see Toby Tortise and Max Hare at Disney World. By the way, did Max have that ambulance because he planned on badly injuring Toby, or he wanted to kidnap him, or what? If it's either of the reasons I just mentioned, Max Hare seems somewhat more villainous in this one then he does in "The Tortise and the Hare", although putting rockets in Toby seems rather nasty as well. If he were still a character Disney made use of today, do you think Max Hare would belong in the "Disney Villains" lineup?

  2. I think Max Hare is too simple to be a villain. I think Max would fit well with Donald. He has good intentions, but is a little odd in how he goes about things.

    I love the "Disney multiverse" concept. Disney Interactive needs to release a game outside of Kingdom Hearts with that idea. And not a MMOG, either.

  3. I don't think Max Hare would be considered a true villain even if he'd continued to be used by Disney. If you stop and think about it, he is a bit too mean in this one – he expects to beat Toby so badly he'll be taken away in an ambulance – but I think the team behind this cartoon just lost sight of this in the midst of creating such an action-packed and fast-paced cartoon. Also Toby has apparently agreed to take part in a boxing match so he should know the risk.

    There's some absolutely beautiful work on display here the colours, drawings and animation are absolutely beautiful. Check out some of Max Hare's poses in this, there's some really fine cartooning!

    Merritt and Kaufmann,in their Silly Symphony book, credit famed Disney artist Ward Kimball with the story for this cartoon and note that it was his first Silly S as full-fledged animator. The scene of the monkeys ducking as Toby rockets towards them was animated by Jack Hannah and I wonder if he was having a little fun with Kimball as the primates seem to share Kimball's bushy eyebrows (or maybe I'm looking into these things too much).

    It's fun to play spot the character with this short, but a couple are hard to identify. There's a 'chicken', wearing a hat and bow tie, in the "Hi Jenny!" scene that had me stumped. David has suggested he's actually a mis-coloured Peter Penguin which makes sense as he did wear similar clothes in comic. Another character in this cartoon is grey animal, wearing green, and seated with Fiddler and Fifer pig. It's heard to get a good look and he may just be an anonymous extra, but maybe he's mis-coloured character from Elmer Elephants jungle (I noticed his gloves are same colour as his fur).

    One final thing about this cartoon I've got to mention is the referee. He's an awful lot like Tex Avery's Droopy don't you think? I wonder if this cartoon provided some inspiration for him.


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