SUSPENDED ANIMATION #226
Walt Disney was always looking for opportunities to help keep his studio solvent and find additional work for his artists. One solution was supplying short animated segments for other movie studios like 20th Century Fox’s musical comedy Servant’s Entrance (1934) or MGM’s Hollywood Party (1934).
As early as 1936, producer Samuel Goldwyn wanted to do a film about storyteller Hans Christian Andersen. By 1941, he had discussions with Walt Disney about his studio producing brief animated segments from Andersen’s famous stories (including The Little Mermaid) to include with the live action.
In the September 17, 1943 issue of the trade newspaper The Hollywood Reporter it announced that project had been put on temporary hiatus and Disney would instead supply a short animated segment for Goldwyn’s new live action film.
Up in Arms (1944) produced by Samuel Goldwyn and released through RKO marked the motion picture feature debut of Broadway and nightclub comedian Danny Kaye. The film was both a critical and a box-office hit, earning $3.3 million, and sparked Kaye’s movie career.
Kaye played the part of Danny Weems, a hopeless hypochondriac who finds himself drafted into the army during World War II and shipped to a remote South Pacific island. The comic and romantic misadventures during the movie are just a loose framework to showcase Kaye’s famous rapid-patter songs and natural comedic charm.
Unexpectedly, at the end of the film he becomes a hero by capturing a patrol of Japanese soldiers who are hiding on the island by dressing up and pretending to be their commander. The reason for the abrupt ending may have been because up until its release, that ending would have included that animation/live-action sequence produced by Disney and animated by the legendary Ub Iwerks. An agreement had been made on August 24, 1943 for Disney to do the work.
The completed animation was finished but at the last minute Goldwyn decided not to use it as he continued to make changes to the film. For instance, humorist Pete Smith had recorded the narration for the film but Goldwyn then had it re-recorded by Knox Manning.In the case of the finale, Goldwyn felt the audience would feel cheated if they didn’t see Kaye fighting the enemy on a cliff cave because the action in the original ending was obscured by strange, comical, animated insects called Weavie-Weavies literally eating the film away as it was being projected.
In an excited voice, the narrator would have described the great battle but the audience could only see only bits and pieces as the creatures kept eating away the images.
Goldwyn filmed a brief new ending where Kaye’s character disguising himself as a Japanese general who leads the enemy soldiers into a pit. When Kaye trips the third soldier into his trap and he disappears, he lets out the famous Disney echoing “Goofy Holler” of “Wahoooey!”
The script describes the Weavie-Weavies as “animated caterpillar worms with almost human faces who appear from everywhere and start chewing holes in the film. As they eat chunks out of the film, we hear a sound like rabbits noisily chewing carrots.”
They were meant to be a parody of the voracious appetite of Japanese silk worms who as larvae continuously eat mulberry leaves.
A memo from Disney producer Harry Tytle to Avalon Productions dated September 14, 1943 for the production numbered 2679 had the following description for the ninety-seconds of animation that Disney would produce:
Scene 1: A medium long shot of Danny Kaye on a ledge. (Japanese soldier) is lowered by rope from left field. Weavie-Weavies crawl into film from off stage. Narrator explains their presence and yells “scram”. Weavie-Weavies make a take towards camera and exit. (This setup is roughly shown by drawing No. 1)
Scene 2: Would be close up of rope described above paragraph. (Japanese soldier) suspended from rope. Weavie-Weavie eats through film from reverse side and in large bites eats towards rope. We cut the scene when the Weavie-Weavie has eaten practically through the rope. Shown by sketches 2 and 3.
Scene 3: Same setup as Scene 1. Approximately one foot after the start of scene, (Japanese soldier) who was suspended by rope falls from scene. Shown by sketch No. 4. This Weavie-Weavie disappears back of film. Another Weavie-Weavie eats cliff out from bottom of field as per sketch No. 5. Weavie-Weavie eats toward center as bottom Weavie-Weavie eats head and sword of (Japanese soldier). Weavie-Weavies continue eating around and part of action towards upper right hand corner.
Weavie-Weavies tug of war over last remaining bit of film. Film snaps. One Weavie-Weavie bounces off bottom portion of film and through hole that was previously eaten in film, screaming as he falls off stage.
Remaining Weavie-Weavie looks down and offstage as he hears long scream or yell. Shown by sketches No. 6 through No. 12.
Scene 4: Close up of Weavie-Weavie as he turns towards audience and goes through dialogue: “Now you’ll never know what happened! I’m the only one who knows and I’ll never tell! Never, never, never!” Cut. Shown by drawings No. 14 and 15.
Both Ub Iwerks and animator George Nicholas who was working on the Pluto shorts at the time were copied on this information. Iwerks later directed the sequence and did most if not all of the animation. The following year Iwerks would develop a process for combining live action and animation for The Three Caballeros.
On Friday September 10, 1943, Avalon Productions delivered to the Disney Studio prints of the live action from Up In Arms and viewed the animation test that was met with approval. The Disney Studio then moved the scene through to a final production with some minor changes of its own.
Scott McQueen, former senior manager of film restoration for the Disney Company, used to travel around the country with a program of Disney film rarities that he had unearthed entitled “Disney’s Unseen Treasures”.
He did the presentation at the Disney Institute on January 25, 1997 which is where I saw it and talked with McQueen after the show. In the presentation, he included the complete animated segment he had found from the Up In Arms film.There was live action color footage of Kaye doing hand-to-hand combat with the Japanese soldiers outside a cave on the side of the mountain with black-and-white animation layered over the top where the little creatures (who had several hands/legs, two antenna and a point on the end of their bodies like a stinger) poke into the picture and literally eat up the screen including a rope hanging down on the left side of the mountain causing a soldier who was hanging on to fall to his doom.
The final image has of one of these little caterpillars finishing off a final bite and then looking at and talking extensively to the audience in a close-up. He ends with a huge laugh and then belches loudly and wiggles off the screen. The face of the Weavie-weavies is very reminiscent of 1930s Disney characters like Bucky Bug.
At first the narrator blames the disintegrating film perhaps on a type of mildew indigenous to tropical climates but then offers the explanation that it is perhaps an unusual South Seas pest known as “Weavie-Weavies”.
During the battle, the script has the narrator panicking: “Ooooooh! I’m sorry folks. It’s those Weavie-Weavies again! Can’t seem to keep them off the film! Get off of there, you worms! Folks, if you look carefully you can still see some of the fight going on!”