Figaro and Cleo were minor characters in Pinocchio, Disney’s second feature film. They served as comic relief to the serious and dark moments and a counter to Geppetto and Pinocchio’s struggles. Neither character was particularly developed, nor were they very memorable overall.
Therefore it was very odd to me to see them return in their own short, during the wartime era. 1943 had seen all sorts of strange productions, so I shouldn’t be surprised, but I was. In the midst of Victory Through Air Power, Reason and Emotion or some of the war shorts, to see what basically amounts to a cute animal short is somewhat odd.
To shake that feeling is not easy, so watching this short after seeing the others I mentioned just felt very dissonant. That’s not the only thing that was odd about this short, though. As I mentioned, these characters were first seen in Pinocchio, but here, rather than appearing in a less developed part of Germany several hundred years ago, they appear in a modern household with a “Mammy” character.
You can see where this might be a bit off. The story of the short does not help. A song helps to set up the plot, which is that Figaro wants to eat Cleo, but refuses to do so because it would be wrong. Simple enough, but then Figaro proceeds to try and eat Cleo throughout the rest of the short.
Figaro’s actions are completely counter to the song, even if he does seem somewhat reluctant about the role he’s adopted. Even then, after originally declining to eat Cleo, Figaro spends the next few minutes attacking the maid’s broom and then batting around a ball of yarn. While it’s definitely cute animal stuff, and the animation portrays a cat’s movements very well, it doesn’t add anything to the short.
After Figaro’s yarn debacle, he gets into repeated attacks on Cleo, none of which are successful or well planned. The climax of the short comes when Figaro dives head first into the fishbowl, nearly drowns and subsequently decides to change his ways. It just doesn’t really track with his behavior throughout the short.
It seems Disney wanted to create new cartoon stars with this short, but didn’t really have a plan for how to do so. There is no consistent story in Figaro and Cleo, and not even a consistent character for Figaro. Cleo is barely in the short, not offering a worthy foil to Figaro. Since I don’t see a lot of these two around today, I’ll go out on a limb and say that Figaro and Cleo were not very successful characters for Disney.
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