Suspended Animation #278
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.
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.