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.
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