July 31, 2020 posted by Jim Korkis

Classic 3-D Disney Animation

Suspended Animation #278

Professor Owl and modern design in “Melody” (1953)

From about 1985-2003, there was a flood of animated features released in a 3-D format but that seems to have subsided quite a bit during the last few years. That was not the first time that Hollywood had become enamored of idea of 3-D in an attempt to get people out of their homes and into theater seats.

There were fifty English language feature films produced for polarized 3-D exhibition between 1952-1955 as well as many shorts in what some consider the “golden era of 3-D” with the infamous cardboard glasses with red and blue lenses (please see Michael Schlesinger and Bob Furmanek’s comments in the “Comments Section” below).

Animator and director Chuck Jones stated that the reason that studio executive Jack Warner closed the classic Warner Bros animation studio in the mid-1950s was his belief that all future films would be made in 3-D and it was too expensive to do animated shorts in that process.

Several major animation studios did release a handful of 3-D animated shorts in the mid-1950s at the height of the craze, including Warners, which released a Bugs Bunny cartoon (Lumberjack Rabbit, 1953).

Famous Studios released a Popeye cartoon (The Ace of Space, 1953) as well as a Casper cartoon (Boo Moon, 1954). Walter Lantz produced a Woody Woodpecker cartoon (Hypnotic Hick, 1954).

However, 3-D died out almost as quickly as it flared up. Lantz commented: “It was just a fad. It wasn’t really worthwhile doing.”

Of course, just as the fad was taking off, Walt Disney also released two cartoons done for the new format.

In 1953, the Disney Studios decided to explore the new trend in entertainment by producing two 3-D cartoons: Adventures in Music: Melody and Working for Peanuts.

Melody was reportedly already finished in 2-D when Walt Disney asked Ward Kimball and Eustace Lycette, who was the head of the camera department, about converting the film to 3-D. This explains why there were not extreme and frequent “coming at you” effects throughout the short.

Released May 23, 1953, Professor Owl taught his classroom of distinctive bird students about the musical concept of melody. The teacher demonstrated that melody follows a human being from birth to death, as well as the many inspirations for melodies from love to the sea to cowboys. Remember this was the mid-1950s when Westerns were highly popular in movies and television.

In theaters, it accompanied the first live-action feature 3-D western, Columbia’s Fort Ti at its Los Angeles premiere.

Co-directed by Charles Nichols and Kimball, this Disney short had a story by Dick Huemer. It was the first in a series of Disney animated cartoons to be known as “Adventures in Music,” but the only one filmed in 3-D. Only one other short was made in the series, Toot, Whistle, Plunk and Boom, which employed widescreen Cinemascope rather than 3-D to attract attention.

Studio publicity claimed that Melody was “the screen’s first animated cartoon in 3-D,” but it was more accurately the first U.S. animated short to be released in the United States. It was beaten to the distinction of first by Halas and Batchelor who released the British Stereoscope cartoon The Owl and the Pussycat in 1952, as well as possibly another British animated 3-D cartoon short shown at the Festival of Britain in 1951.

The Disney process of 3-D did not use a dual unit like many of the live-action 3-D films of the era, but rather used one three-strip camera that photographed each cel frame three times through the necessary filters to create the matrix employed by the Technicolor process. It was a very time-consuming process.

For 3-D, each cel was shot six times with the camera moved after the first three frames to a slightly different position in order to simulate binocular viewing. The laboratory then created the separations for the dual prints.

Released on November 11th, 1953, Working for Peanuts featured Chip and Dale stealing peanuts from Dolores the Elephant, but zoo keeper Donald Duck steps into the battle to protect her treats. Donald uses Dolores’ trunk as a machine gun filled with peanuts to shoot at the chipmunks and the audience. Chip and Dale disguise themselves as rare albino chipmunks to find a home at the zoo and literally “work for peanuts” from the patrons.

The short was released with RKO’s Son of Sinbad in “Future Dimension, ScenicScope and color” but not Stereosound. Research shows that the Disney short received a great many more bookings as a single-offered short.

It was directed by “Duck Man” Jack Hannah who, at the time, was primarily responsible for the Donald Duck and Chip and Dale shorts. It was written by Roy “Big Mooseketeer” Williams and Nick George, with background art by Eyvind Earle who would later gain fame for his design work on Sleeping Beauty.

3D Jamboree was the name of a film shown at the Mickey Mouse Club Theater at Disneyland from 1956 to 1964. It featured both Melody and Working for Peanuts as well as new introductory material filmed in 3-D of the original television Mickey Mouse Club cast of Jimmie Dodd, Roy Williams and the Mouseketeers. It was the only official color appearance of the cast and sets.

Working for Peanuts also played at the Fantasyland Theater in the Magic Kingdom in Orlando as part of the pre-show for Kodak’s Magic Journeys, and the 3-D was reformatted so it could accompany the film Meet the Robinsons (2007) in selected theaters.

I talked with director Jack Hannah about Working for Peanuts and he told me: “That was the rage about then to have 3-D pictures on the screen, so we tried one. The main thing I remember about working in 3-D was to be sure there were plenty of effects. The effects had to be designed so that they would come out at you.

“Anything we could do to take advantage of the third dimension we used. I was ‘green’ at it and didn’t know much about it so we loaded it with animated effects like water and peanuts coming right at you. Later I think they turned around and re-shot it as a conventional short, but I don’t think I ever saw it in anything except 3-D.”

Both Melody and Peanuts were also photographed as regular flat 2-D animated cartoons, and that is how most Disney fans have seen them on television and video over the years. What killed 3-D in the 1950s was not just the uncomfortable glasses as some have stated but the synchronization issues of the picture among other things.

Donald and Chip (or Dale?) in “Working For Peanuts” (1953)


  • I saw “Working for Peanuts” at WDW when it played in advance of “Magic Journeys.” Both were amazing to behold in 3-D. The images are unbelievable, especially when Donald directs the elephant to shoot peanuts from its trunk.

    “Mickey’s Phil-har-magic” is another not-to-be-missed 3-D experience for the Disney fan. Not only the visuals, but sounds and smells are invoked in memorable ways.

  • I never liked those red-and-blue 3-D glasses. They wouldn’t fit properly over my own glasses, so I always had to hold them in place using both hands, which quickly got tiresome. (On the other hand, I never had any trouble focusing my eyes to see the 3-D images in those “Magic Eye” posters that were a short-lived fad of the ’90s.)

    One problem with 3-D cartoons is that, while the disparate elements in a shot might appear to be at varying distances from the viewer, the technology was unable to give shape and depth to any individual element. Thus, paradoxically, cartoon characters actually look flatter in 3-D than they do in 2-D. Of the two cartoons discussed above, “Melody” probably worked better in 3-D; the opening of the cartoon, with the credits suspended in space as though hanging from a mobile sculpture, would have been a striking and novel effect. In “Working for Peanuts”, however, the staging is rather flat, with most of the movement going right-to-left or left-to-right; it would have been cute to see the blue and pink heart outlines pop out of the screen when Chip (or is it Dale?) kisses the peanut, but otherwise there’s little to exploit the potential of the medium.

    Donald’s voice in “Working for Peanuts” sounds somewhat subdued, and lower-pitched than usual. Maybe Clarence Nash had a cold.

  • I always wonder why 3D keeps making occasional comebacks.

    It is DOA with each and every attempt.

    Then again, I never had an issue with the three obvious, clunky frames of Cinerama, so what do I know?

    • The problem is always the glasses. Once someone figures out how to project 3-D without needing glasses to see the effect, it will stop becoming just a gimmick.

  • It’s Dale. Dale has a red nose.

    • Thanks for clearing that up!

    • Yes, Chip has the chocolate chip nose. 😉

  • Interesting! I unfortunately haven’t seen MELODY and WORKING FOR PEANUTS in 3-D – just 2-D (if only “Disney Rarities” and “The Chronological Donald: Volume Four” had options to view those shorts in either format – and if only the transfer of MELODY on “Rarities” was restored).

    It would be interesting to see you do an article on the CinemaScope Disney shorts next – I’d especially like to know if any more shorts (outside of the nine that were completed) were planned to be shot that way (and if any of the other seven shorts were recorded/mixed in stereo – the only two I know for sure that were prepared that way are TOOT, WHISTLE, PLUNK AND BOOM and GRAND CANYONSCOPE).

  • Bob Givens told us a story about working on the Jack Hannah 3D short. He said that following an early screening they all walked outside. Walt looked around and declared “it sure is flat out here!”

  • I notice no one has brought up the Disney 3-D short that never was – “Pigs Is Pigs” (1953). Take a close look at the animation, folks. First, it is designed in the same deliberately-flat graphics style as “Melody” to take advantage of the ease of moving objects in dimensional layers rather than worrying about emphasizing roundness or character features. Then, it is literally loaded with “comin’ at ‘ya” effects.

    Carrier dollies are wheeled on the railroad platform at the camera. McMorehouse does an extreme close up in your face, emphasizing the jutting out of his pointed nose. Transmissions on the telegraph move along the wires in dimensional perspective. A dance of the guinea pigs moves foreward and backward around and behind background objects. The messenger boy in the railway headquarters runs straight at the camera until all we see is his black button, then disappears the other way down another corridor in a tail-away shot. Flannery shovels guinea pigs, with two nearly flying out of the frame and into the audience. And Flannery not only approaches the camera head on for an extreme close up, but sticks his finger in our face, for the film’s closing moral.

    No one could mistake that this entire film was staged with the intention of releasing it in 3-D, in which format I’m sure it would have been striking. Yet, with the demise of the fad, the release prints never surfaced (much like UPA’s abandoned plans to release “The Tell Tale Heart” in 3-D). Was a sequential negative ever filmed, or any 3-D pencil tests or work prints struck for the studio’s internal use? If so, does any of this material lie hidden in the vaults? Knowing the extent of the Disney “morgue”, would it be possible to find enough material to reshoot the film so as to create the missing other-eye vantage point, and release a golden classic today in the format in which it was intended to be?.

    • By gosh, Charles, you may be onto something. I’d never heard of, or thought of, PIGS IS PIGS being conceived in 3D, but I just rewatched it from that point of view – and you certainly have a case. Certain shots – like a six second hold on the Supervisor’s shoes in the foreground, the layers of Board of Directors debating, Flannery’s cigar smoke coming toward the camera… and numerous other shots you didn’t mention… would play better in 3D. The film’s copyright date is 1953 which also goes along with your theory. I shall dig into this a little deeper.

      Here’s another question about PIGS IS PIGS: I also always noticed that the elephants in that one scene look like Chuck Jones designs – and in theory, he was at the studio during the second half of 1953. Could they be his only mark in a Disney film?

    • Fascinating! Pigs is Pigs would’ve made an awesome 3-D cartoon. I would love to know if your theory can be corroborated in some way.

      Has anything been written about the 1950s process for filming a cartoon in 3-D? I imagine a second eye view was created by rephotographing the cels shifted slightly to the left or right as required, sometimes in front of subtly different background art. I used to think they would have used a multiplane camera, but from the cartoons I’ve seen this doesn’t seem to have been the case.

      Jerry, do you know if WB has a digital 3D master for Lumber Jack-rabbit, and if it will be included on their upcoming bluray collection in 3-D? That would be a very exciting extra feature. As some may be aware, Kino Lorber is releasing Hypnotic Hick, the Woody Woodpecker cartoon in 3-D sometime later this year paired with Wings of the Hawk, the 3-D feature it debuted with.

    • Warner Bros. has all the master film elements for LUMBER JACK-RABBIT and could make a 3D digital master – but they haven’t done so yet – and it won’t be in 3-D on the upcoming blu ray.

    • Here’s another interesting thought on “Pigs is Pigs” for alternative universe speculation. The film, which I’ve always ranked as one of the most brilliant laugh-getters in the Disney archives, was notable enough even in its flat version to receive a nomination for the Academy Award. It surprisingly lost to the comparatively routine “When Magoo Flew” – a film which, coincidentally, has Magoo thinking he’s attending a 3-D movie. If Disney had added the 3-D effects – so many of which look like they would have been eye poppers compared to his earlier efforts, might it have been enough to spur the film on to the gold, and leave Magoo grounded?

    • Thanks Jerry, disappointing, but good to know. It would’ve been the perfect opportunity to release the only Looney Tunes 3-D short from the Golden Age. Very disappointing.

      Charles, I rewatched Pigs is Pigs earlier today. I can see what you mean. That shot with the guinea pigs shoveled towards the audience, there’s one pig that sort of hovers momentarily as if to allow the audience to appreciate an out of screen effect. Interesting 3-D connection with the Magoo short.

  • When I went to see a 3-D showing of ‘Meet The Robinsons’ I was shocked to see ‘Working For Peanuts’ as the opening short. Not just because I’d never seen a classic 3-D short on the big screen before, that was thrilling enough. Rather it was because the short still had its original title sequence, complete with the ‘Distributed by R-K-O Radio Pictures’ notice!

    I wonder if anyone in the audience caught that and were confused by it?

  • Please, please, PLEASE stop relating that unkillable myth about the red-and-blue glasses. 3-D movies in the ’50s ALWAYS used polarized glasses. The R&B glasses were for comic books, plus a few cheap B&W 3-D pictures later on (such as THE MASK), as well as the Universal reissues of CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON and IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE in the 1970s.

  • While I appreciate Disney experimenting and taking creative risks in my personal opinion the Golden Age of animation at the Walt Disney Studios was from the 30’s-40’s. The animation after this time period never quite had the same charm, appeal, inventiveness, and variety of styles and techniques. Also the personalities of the Fab Five: Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Goofy, and Plutos’ from then on felt watered down and simplified, not capturing the spirit of their original incarnations. I’ve been watching the classic shorts and films on Disney + and there is a HUGE difference in the characters during this time period and after. I encourage everyone to watch classic Disney shorts from the 30s-40s and then from 50s-60s and see if you notice a difference in them. Technological advancements don’t always mean a better quality, its still comes down to the artistic ability and of course the heart in story.

    • I really disagree there. Just because that part of the staff was working on feature film by this point doesn’t mean the ’50’s shorts were bad. Granted, Mickey was near the end of his career and didn’t do anything noteworthy by this point, I didn’t think the rest of the gang didn’t suffer much (Yes, I know about Donald and the little animals stuff but that wasn’t bad at all). Besides, I thought “Melody” was one of their most humorous films at the time.

    • Hi Nic Kramer funny enough I actually agree with you! I didn’t mean to make such a broad statement, though in retrospect that is exactly what I did. I only meant that some of the production values and storytelling seemed to leave much to be desired. This has nothing to do with the artists but rather the economics of the 50’s when budgets were even tighter and there was less room to experiment. Again this is not every short and I did like the shorts with Donald and Chip and Dale they were funny and cute.

      Melody Time? Or was there a short called “Melody”?

    • Gosh Justin, if you simply read this Jim Korkis’ post you would know that “Melody” is a special 3D short from 1953, discussed in-depth above.

      (Melody Time is indeed a separate compilation feature from 1948)

  • Working for Peanuts did get a 3D Blu-ray release on a Disney 3D promotional disc back when 3D TV’s were coming out. Sadly, whoever did the transfer futzed with the images so as to cause the entire image to kind of “float” slightly in front of the screen. Better than nothing, I suppose. I do wish I could see Melody in 3D. I really like it as well as Toot, Whistle…

  • Son of Sinbad was never released in 3-D. That information comes from a book written in the 1980s that is absolutely riddled with errors and that data has now been spread across the Internet on IMDb and other sites.

    Regarding the red and cyan anaglyphic myth, please see this page on our website:

  • WORKING FOR PEANUTS is fun in 3D. I wish Disney would release MELODY in 3D and, since they now own the Fox library, GORILLA AT LARGE. Neat to hear PIGS IS PIGS may have been designed for 3D. Too bad LUMBERJACK RABBIT isn’t getting a 3D restoration. Warners has an awesome 3D library. They seem to be sitting on it. Universal and Paramount have had wonderful restorations done by The 3D Film Archive. HYPNOTIC HICK is coming up soon with WINGS OF THE HAWK. This is a 3D Film Archive restoration. We will be seeing them better than they looked in the theaters originally. These releases have been profitable. Historically, they are invaluable. The films are preserved for the future as they were designed. Here’s hoping Warner Archives gets on the 3D bandwagon. I would love to see THE TELL TALE HEART in 3D. In 2D it is something! In 3D that something would go through the moon! THE #d FILM ARCHIVE charges so little and gives so much! Warner Archive really should contact them as should everyone else with as yet unreleased on 3D Blu-ray titles. BWANA DEVIL may not be the best bit it is historically important. Please, whoever has the rights, get on board. Norman McLaren’s 3D films (on the Archives’ 3D RARITIES Collection) are stunners!

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