Animation Cel-ebration
May 26, 2023 posted by Michael Lyons

Big Bad Blockbuster: The 90th Anniversary of Disney’s “Three Little Pigs.”

Walt Disney’s Three Little Pigs arrived in theaters with the same force as the Big Bad Wolf blowing a house in. It was a blockbuster.

Released on May 27th, 1933, the short film was such a hit with audiences that some theaters held it over for weeks after it was scheduled to run (in fact, some theaters drew beards on the characters’ faces on the poster, to illustrate how long it was playing).

Additionally, Three Little Pigs gave the country a song that provided hope during the difficult Depression, and the short has become one of Walt Disney and animation’s most iconic films.

Ninety years later, the impact of this eight-minute film still resonates.

The famous fable dates back to the 1840s and was first suggested as the basis of a “Silly Symphony” by Walt’s wife, Lillian, and her sister, Hazel Sewell (head of the ink and paint department at the Studio).

The Disney story team removed the fable’s darker elements focusing on the titular characters, the Fifer Pig, who plays the flute; the Fiddler Pig, who fiddles the day away; and the Practical Pig, who is focused on building a sturdy house of brick to protect him when the Wolf comes to the door.

And, the Big Bad Wolf (one of Disney’s first indelible villains) does arrive, huffing and puffing at the houses of straw and stick built by the Fifer and Fiddler Pig. He does indeed blow them both down, and they seek refuge at the brick house of the Practical Pig.

The Wolf tries to huff and puff here but to no avail. He then attempts to come down the chimney but slides into a boiling pot, shooting back up the chimney and leaving the Pigs victorious and safe inside the sturdy house.

Directed by the legendary Burt Gillett, with animation by other legends Norm Ferguson, Dick Lundy, Fred Moore, and Art Babbit, Three Little Pigs crafted indelible personalities for its main characters that not only connected with audiences but also made others in the animation industry take notice.

In his book, Enchanted Drawings: The History of Animation, author Charles Solomon writes about the reaction from another legend of the medium, who was working at a competing Studio:

“’I’m not sure I saw Three Little Pigs right away,’ comments Warners cartoon director Chuck Jones. ‘But when I did see it, I realized something was happening there that hadn’t happened before. During the twenties, all you needed in animation was action, and a good character just had to look pretty. ‘Three Pigs’ changed that by proving it wasn’t how a character looked but how he moved that determined his personality. All we animators were dealing with after ‘Three Pigs’ was acting.’”

This concept of animated characters who were acting wasn’t all about Three Little Pigs that audiences enjoyed. The film’s song, “Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf,” written by composer Frank Churchill and story man Ted Sears was such a hit it became an anthem during the Depression, at a time when everyone felt “the Wolf,” in so many ways, was at their door.

In Three Little Pigs, the song is sung by Mary Moder and Dorothy Compton, who voiced Fiddler and Fifer Pig respectively. Also adding their voices to the short are two Disney stalwarts who would contribute to other famous Disney characters: Pinto Colving (the voice of Goofy, and later several of the Dwarfs in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs) and Billy Bletcher (also the voice of Pete) as The Big Bad Wolf

The short was not without its controversy. A scene featuring the Wolf as a caricature of a Jewish peddler attempting to get into the pigs’ houses was removed when the short was re-issued in 1948. The sequence was changed to feature the Wolf as a less ethnic Fuller Brush Salesman.

Despite this, Three Little Pigs was and remained popular through the years. Walt and his studio spent $22,000 to produce it, and it grossed $250,000 at the box office. It also won the Oscar for Best Animated Short Film.

So popular was Three Little Pigs that the Disney Studio produced three sequels: The Big Bad Wolf (1934), Three Little Wolves (1936), and The Practical Pig (1939). When none of them matched the original’s success, it led to one of Walt’s most famous remarks: “You can’t top pigs with pigs.”

The Pigs also appeared via clever reuse of animation in a war bond selling short, for The National Film Board of Canada, The Thirfty Pig (1941). To see that film, click here.

While pigs couldn’t top pigs, they did top so much else, and nine decades later, Three Little Pigs remains one of the most popular short films of all time, as well as a milestone in Disney and animation history.

The short’s ability to create a memorable story and personalities laid the groundwork for Walt Disney and other studios to craft animated shorts and features that would continue to connect with audiences as never before.

Three Little Pigs really blew the house in.

Devon Baxter did a masterful Animation Breakdown of this classic short here, in 2016. Click Here.


  • I first became acquainted with Disney’s Three Little Pigs through a vintage Silly Symphonies storybook of my mother’s. Unlike her Mickey Mouse book of Illustrated Movie Stories, which she had literally loved to pieces, the Three Little Pigs book was in quite good condition. (I was well aware even at an early age that old books and toys were more solidly built than the newer junk.) I remember my dad reading it to me and thinking that the picture of the link sausages with the caption “Father” on the Practical Pig’s wall was pretty morbid. I wonder what happened to that book. Mom probably donated it to a church rummage sale, where someone bought it for a dollar and later sold it for hundreds.

    My sister also had a Disney Three Little Pigs record that faithfully retold the story of the cartoon with its famous song. Because the record and the book were so familiar to me, I have absolutely no recollection of seeing the cartoon itself for the first time. It might have been on Disney’s Sunday night TV show, or “The Mouse Factory”; but whenever it was, I would have watched it with the feeling that I had seen it before. It’s an easy cartoon to take for granted, so it’s important to remember what a sensation it created when it was new. I especially love the stories of all the musicians who brought their pencils and books of manuscript paper to the movies with them so they could transcribe the song, because so many people requested it.

    I do remember seeing the sequels for the first time on VHS in the ’90s. Of the three, the first is rather slow-paced — there’s one scene of the wolf chasing Little Red Riding Hood so sluggishly that I just want to say “Oh, get on with it!” — but the others are good, showcasing the Practical Pig’s inventive side. In the final one he subjects the wolf to a “Lie Detector” test; the polygraph machine had just been developed and was in the news, but the Disney artists obviously had no idea what it looked like. So they let their imaginations run away with them.

    The most disturbing adaptation of the story I’ve ever seen was at a novelty taxidermy display in Canada. The climactic scene of the wolf coming down the chimney into the boiling pot was depicted in a diorama using an actual dead wolf and three little dead pigs, all in costume. At least the Goldilocks diorama used a mannequin for the little girl, though the three bears were real enough.

    • The Three Little Pigs cartoon aired on the Disneyland episode “Cavalade Of Songs (1955). and in an episode of “The New Mickey Mouse Club (1977).

      It was not featured on The Mouse Factory.

  • The Three Little Pigs also had a long life in the comic strips and comic books, mostly in the pages of Walt Disney’s Comics and Stories and particularly once Li’l Bad Wolf was introduced. Of the Three Little Wolves featured in the 1936 short, one of them was ret-conned into a good wolf and the other two disappeared. Li’l Bad Wolf, his pop Zeke Wolf, and the Three Little Pigs remained popular comics characters for decades. The premise being that Li’l Bad was friends with the pigs while his Pop remained their deadly enemy, always contriving ways to trap them, plans which usually got thwarted (often inadvertently so as not to appear a disobedient son) by Li’l Bad and/or Practical Pig. Created some interesting situations of divided loyalties.

    Later, when the movie stories were released as audio recordings for Disneyland Records, using new orchestrations and voices plus some soundtrack material from the sequels, Sterling Holloway’s narration included mention of one of the three being a good little wolf, since the character had by then been so well established in the comics. And the book illustrations to accompany the recordings depict the character as seen in the pages of WDC & S.

    And in 1963 Floyd Gottfredson drew “The Three Little Pigs’ Christmas Story” as a holiday treat for the newspapers, featuring the pigs, the wolf, and a version of Li’l Bad Wolf that bore more than a passing resemblance to his brothers from the 1936 cartoon.

    • Some of those stories were reprinted in the Gladstone and Gemstone Disney comics — and now THOSE are antiques. An interesting touch is that they often folded in Brer Fox and/or Brer Bear from “Song of the South”. Brer Bear seemed to appear more frequently, now a respectable family man but still possessed of a temper, especially when one of the Wolf’s schemes entangled him.

  • The Three Little Pigs actually made one more appearance in an animated sequence as part of an otherwise live-action non-Disney film called “Cri Cri el grillito cantor” (1963). Korkis goes into great detail about it here:

  • We should also include this in the Pigs’ filmography:

  • Ann Ronell, not Ted Sears, co-wrote “Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf”. Ann Ronell:

    • Apologies for that oversight. I did some research using Charles Solomon’s book, “Enchanted Drawings,” which credited Ted Sears (p.53), but I see that Ann Ronnell is credited in Wikipedia and your link. Sorry for leaving her name out and thank you for the note.

      • According to an afterword by Allan Eyles in “Three Little Pigs The Original Story” (1987):

        “…while Ted Sears aided in developing the lyrics (which were later augmented by Ann Ronell)”

        Ted Sears was a staff writer at the time, while Ann Ronell was work for hire –
        Her songs appeared at that time in Max Fleischer cartoons.

        I suspect (but cannot verify) the augmented lyrics were those not appearing in the cartoon:
        “Long ago there were three pigs
        Little handsome piggy-wigs
        For the big, bad very big very bad wolf
        They didn’t give three figs etc…..”

  • And leave us not forget their slightly creepy live-action appearance in Laurel and Hardy’s “Babes in Toyland” (1934). The costumed characters weren’t precisely modeled on Disney’s, and I think one of them was identified as Elmer, but “Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf” was on the soundtrack.

  • Marc Eliot’s Walt Disney:Hollywood’s Dark Prince claims that the Jewish peddler Wolf was a jab at Laemmle trying to “get at” his studio. Considering the slant of that book, that’s probably an exaggeration from Dave Hilbermann.

    I can’t believe it’s 90. The Golden Age’s 100 years is soon!

    • The “Jewish peddler” was a stock vaudeville character that turns up in other cartoons of this period, notably at Van Beuren and Fleischer. I suspect the joke here was, the Wolf thought he could trick into trusting him because a Jew wouldn’t eat pork.

  • Okay, Disney, be sports. It’s been 90 years. Can future productions of “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” use the tune? The joke doesn’t really work without it. It’ll become public domain in a couple of decades anyway.

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