Thursday, October 11, 2012

How To Catch A Cold

From time to time, Disney made educational films or commercial shorts for companies that were willing to pay the money.  One such film produced in 1951 is How To Catch A Cold, where the Kleenex corporation asked Disney to demonstrate why using their products was such a good idea when fighting off a cold.  What they ended up with was a 10 minute film that uses some new characters to educate as only Disney can.

Watching this film, it felt like a flashback, but not to 1951, instead it seemed like a part of EPCOT Center or some of the great Wonderful World of Disney shorts from Walt’s time.  The story focuses on the Common Man, a character that catches a cold and does so by doing many of the things our parents always told us about: working too much, exhausting himself, leaving drafty windows open, staying out in the rain and oh yeah, being around someone who has a cold.

It’s interesting to contrast that with what we know now about colds, which is that they are primarily contracted because of viruses.  There is some good info in this short, however, as presented by the other new character, Common Sense.  This is a miniature version of Common Man, with a voice that seems more Jiminy Cricket than anything else.  In fact, this whole short seems very much like what I remember from my school days, which showed the “I’m No Fool” series with Jiminy explaining similar things.

In this case, the subject of the cold is shown and painstakingly detailed as to what the Common Man did to contract the deadly disease.  As I watched, I felt my own throat start closing up.  It’s that convincing.  I really feel like Common Man should have given political speeches explaining complex policy.  Using the patented Disney formula of taking real world concepts and animating them in simple drawings, either X’s and O’s  to show germs or diagrams of houses to show how a cold spreads, the short methodically takes you through how it all works. 

Surprisingly, this is among the most entertaining shorts of 1951 so far. While the Donald and Goofy and Pluto shorts have been mostly rehashed versions of familiar tropes, this is something different. Sure, the subject matter is not something I would normally want to spend time pondering, but it is something I can relate to.  I imagine the same was true for many audiences at the time.  It also shows an evolution of Disney using animation to educate. It began with Victory Through Air Power and would continue through the excellent Man In Space series on the Disneyland TV show.  If you’re looking to see how that evolution worked, definitely check out How To Catch A Cold.

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