August 22, 2018 posted by Devon Baxter

Disney’s Silly Symphony “King Neptune” (1932)

Here is another underwater-themed Silly Symphony—this time in early three-strip Technicolor!

King Neptune, the Disney studio’s second color film after Flowers and Trees, laid the groundwork for central characters that resembled human beings without much caricature—aside from the rotund design of the titular ruler of the sea. In the opening scenes of the film, animated by Norm Ferguson, King Neptune introduces himself to the audience in song, operetta-style, only materializing as bookends to the film. Characters addressing themselves through introductory tunes continued in a number of Silly Symphonies, such as Father Noah’s Ark and Three Little Pigs, both released a year after Neptune.

The story meeting for King Neptune occurred on May 10th, 1932, with animators assigned to their scenes on June 17th. As with many of the Disney films produced between 1931 through 1934, higher-ranking artists were responsible for key sequences, while junior animators—under the supervision of Ben Sharpsteen and Dave Hand—were tasked with blocks of scenes, often with a large amount of characters. These younger animators were promoted from in-betweening, and gradually transitioned into full-fledged positions.

Shortly after he was hired in July 1932, Art Babbitt—previously a full animator at Paul Terry’s studio in New York— served as an in-betweener for Chuck Couch (a junior animator) on a trial basis, before becoming one of the studio’s eminent animators. The exposure sheets credit “Frenchy” de Tremaudan as a junior animator for Neptune, but he advanced to full animator for the studio’s next color film, Babes in the Woods.

Norm Ferguson, Johnny Cannon, Les Clark, Dick Lundy and Jack King are credited for specific characters in their scenes during the early portions of the film, prior to the battle sequences. Ferguson animates Neptune’s song in the opening and closing of the film. Cannon handles the procession of Neptune’s subjects—various underwater creatures that bring a large clamshell up to their ruler’s feet, which contains a group of mermaids, whose scenes are mostly animated by Clark. Up on the surface of the ocean, Dick Lundy animates the drunken pirate crew—with at least one blatantly effeminate buccaneer—singing “Blow the Man Down” and capturing the mermaid queen onto their vessel. Later, in the film’s finale, Neptune creates a mighty storm, stirring whirlpools with his trident and using the ocean waves to strike the pirates before leaping and submerging their ship down into the seabed.

In the case of the production draft for King Neptune, the junior animators are not credited aside from Dave Hand and Ben Sharpsteen. Some of the artists’ scenes are indicated from surviving exposure sheets, but unfortunately, a few shots are left uncredited and thus left blank in the breakdown video. As a means to improve their drawing ability and craft, much of the scenes where underwater creatures rush to the rescue and attack the pirates through means of their own functions (namely, the appropriately utilized proboscis of the sawfish destroying the ship mast and a group of electric eels striking pirates with their tails), cannon fire and using their bodily abilities as aircraft, were delegated to the junior animators. Among them were Ham Luske, Bill Roberts, Ed Love, Fred Spencer, Paul Fennell, Chuck Couch, Joe D’Igalo, Harry Reeves, Charles Hutchinson, Dick Williams and Charles Byrne. Other probable junior animators that could have worked on the film, based on other films in production coinciding with Neptune, might have consisted of Frank Tipper, Louie Schmitt or Bill Mason.

However, one scene can be confirmed without the aid of production papers. The scene of the mermaid queen emerging from the treasure chest, bedecked with pearls, is credited to another “Fred” in a background painting of the same shot. The credit indicates that the artist worked under Dave Hand’s supervision; since Fred Spencer worked under Sharpsteen in this film, it seems that a young Fred Moore handled this animation, along with the previous scene of Neptune sinking the ship to the ocean floor. The animation for King Neptune took a month in its production schedule, ending by July 18th, shortly before the release of Flowers and Trees.

King Neptune’s release occurred on September 10, 1932. A year later, Disney negotiated with Blue Ribbon Books to publish an illustrated pop-up storybook based on Neptune and Babes in the Woods, set to a retail price of $2.00 ($38.77 in 2018 US currency). Director Burt Gillett used Neptune again, with a similar character design, for Neptune Nonsense (1936), a Van Beuren Rainbow Parade with Felix the Cat. Disney’s version of King Neptune appeared in two cameos in other productions—Thru the Mirror (1936) with Mickey Mouse, and “The Cold-Blooded Penguin,” a segment from The Three Caballeros (1945).

Enjoy the breakdown video!

(Thanks to Mark Kausler, J.B. Kaufman, Michael Barrier and Jake Friedman for their help.)


Next week’s animator breakdown is another Warners cartoon directed by Bob McKimson, but this time, it’s all up to the readers which to choose! As I have recently come across a few more drafts from eBay auctions, I have narrowed it down to about six prime choices. Whichever McKimson cartoon gets the highest vote will be chosen. Final votes will be tallied by this Friday (8/24) and the winner will be revealed in next week’s post! Here are the six choices:

DAFFY DUCK SLEPT HERE (1948, a Daffy/Porky with “Hymie” the [invisible] kangaroo)
HILLBILLY HARE (1950, cult classic with ‘promenade’ square dance finale)
POP ‘IM POP! (1950, first appearance of Sylvester Junior)
EARLY TO BET (1951, with the Gambling Bug)
FRENCH RAREBIT (1951, “Louisiana Back-Bay Bayou Bunny Bordelaise…a la Antoine”)
KIDDIN’ THE KITTEN (1952, the first of two appearances with Dodsworth the cat)


  • My choice would be Hillbilly Hare.

  • Hillbilly Hare or French Rarebit.

  • Topless mermaids! Gay pirate! Pre-Code cartoon madness.

    • I’m a bit surprised that the same animator handled all of 2:47 – 3:00. The mermaid looks more, um… detailed, in a Pre-Code sort of way, in the shot of her getting picked up by the rope than in the shot of her n the deck of the pirate ship.

  • On the “Walt Disney Treasures” series, the “King Neptune” Silly Symphony was placed among those cartoons warranting a “warning” before viewing. I’m not sure what the specific reason was for this, but the gang rape of a mermaid by pirates is certainly a bit disturbing for a Disney production.

    My vote for next week is “Daffy Duck Slept Here,” but I hope eventually all of these will get some air time.

  • Nice breakdown video. Also, I choose “Daffy Duck Slept Here”.

  • I vote for “Daffy Duck Slept Here”

    Another insightful Disney post, Devon – thanks!!

  • It’s not on your list, but I would LOVE to see a breakdown of Tashlin’s “Porky Pig’s Feat”.

    • I don’t believe any Tashlin drafts survive. 🙁 There have been some educated guesses made over time, but I don’t think there are any records.

  • HIllbilly Hare, as you quite fairly say, is a cult classic; nothing against the other cartoons, but it’s the most deserving of B.B. treatment.

  • Either Pop ‘Im Pop or Early to Bet.

  • Anyone else not being able to see the video on Microsoft Edge or IE?

    Also, throwing my vote for French Rarebit.

    • I always have trouble getting these Breakdown videos to play on the iPhone, for what it’s worth.

      And my vote goes to “Early to Bet”.


  • I vote for “Early to Bet”. One of my favorite McKimsons.

  • H-Y-M-I-E

    HYMIE ! ! !

  • “Daffy Duck Slept Here” gets my vote. Probably a lot of uncredited animators on that one.

  • I vote for Daffy Duck Slept Here. Second choice would be Hillbilly Hare.

  • Hillbilly Hare, loved the square dance as a kid…….

  • Which volume of the WALT DISNEY TREASURES “SILLY SYMPHONIES” series features “KING NEPTUNE”? My guess would be volume two since there are a lot of early 1930’s titles thereon, while the first volume (which only allows you to pick one cartoon at a time, no “PLAY ALL” function) focuses more on the most popular titles.

    Oh, it is really hard to choose which of the McKimson titles I’d want to see a detailed breakdown of. I like “DAFFY DUCK SLEPT HERE” specifically because of the scenes with Daffy talking to Hymie. The body language in that scene is flawless, with Daffy giving Hymie a sorriful but friendly pat on the back, concerned that his feelings were hurt when Porky denies his existence. However, I always liked “EARLY TO BET” since checking it out again on the LOONEY TUNES GOLDEN COLLECTION volume. So it is a toss-up in my case, for those two…then again, “KIDDIN’ THE KITTEN” is also a favorite since I automatically am drawn to cartoons about cats. Since otehrs have chosen the first two, I guess I’ll pick “KIDDIN’ THE KTITTEN” just to get a vote or two in on that one. Besides, I like Sheldon Leonard’s performance as Dodsworth, and the gullible little kitten has the last great line in the film!!


    Thank you.

  • As much as I love the square dance sequence to “Hillbilly Hare”, I’ve gotta vote for “Daffy Duck Slept Here”.

  • After seeing the jolly Santa Claus in the Christmas Silly Symphonies and Old King Cole, I was suprised to see that the similar Neptune character displayed a dark and sadistic side (granted he was rescuing the mermaids from a gang of drunken pirates, but it’s still jarring). No doubt the studio referenced this film decades later when The Little Mermaid; the climax is strikingly similar.
    Nice to see that they made an appropriate use of color palettes for this early Technicolor short as opposed to going overboard with it like many other early color shorts.

  • Since I live in the deep south (and I love the cartoon)—–give me some “Hillbilly Hare” ! Your posts are always great. Thanks,Devon


  • This may be a long list, but I was wondering if you can do the following Baxter’s Breakdowns on these cartoons:
    1. “Mickey’s Birthday Party” (1942) (
    2. “The Little Whirlwind” (1941)
    3. “Ferdinand the Bull” (1938)
    4. “Lonesome Ghosts” (1937)
    5. “Brave Little Tailor” (1938)
    6. “The Pointer” (1939)
    7. “Mr. Duck Steps Out” (1940)
    8. “Pluto’s Christmas Tree” (1952) (
    9. “Plutopia” (1951)
    10. “Mickey’s Delayed Date” (1947)
    11. “Symphony Hour” (1942)
    12. “Tugboat Mickey” (1940)
    13. “Donald’s Dog Laundry” (1940)
    14. “Mickey Steps Out” (1931) (
    15. “The Delivery Boy” (1932)
    16. “The Moose Hunt” (1931)
    17. “The Castaway” (1931)
    18. “The Simple Things” (1952) (originally called “Gull Crazy”)
    19. “The Picnic” (1930)
    20. “Ye Olden Days” (1933)
    21. “Mickey’s Nightmare” (1932)
    22. “The Birthday Party” (1931)
    23. “Traffic Troubles” (1931)
    24. “The Gorilla Mystery” (1930) (
    25. “The Chain Gang” (1930)
    26. “Pioneer Days” (1930)
    27. “The Duck Hunt” (1932)
    28. “The Beach Party” (1931)
    29. “Blue Rhythm” (1931)
    30. “The Fire Fighters” (1930)
    31. “Mickey’s Orphans” (1931)
    32. “Mickey in Arabia” (1932)
    33. “Lend a Paw” (1941) (
    34. “A Gentleman’s Gentleman” (1941)
    35. “Billposters” (1940)
    36. “Clock Cleaners” (1937)
    37. “R’Coon Dawg” (1951)
    38. “Hawaiian Holiday” (1937)
    39. “Mother Goose Goes Hollywood” (1938)
    40. “Officer Duck” (1939) (
    41. “Society Dog Show” (1939)
    42. “Donald’s Nephews” (1938)
    43. “Donald’s Lucky Day” (1939)
    44. “Orphan’s Picnic” (1936) (
    45. “Giantland” (1933)
    46. “The Whoopee Party” (1932)
    47. “Mickey’s Amateurs” (1937)
    48. “Mickey’s Service Station” (1935)
    49. “Mickey’s Mellerdrama” (1933)
    50. “Shanghaied” (1934)
    51. “Alpine Climbers” (1936)
    52. “Mickey Plays Papa” (1934)
    53. “Puppy Love” (1933)
    54. “The Mad Doctor” (1933)
    55. “Mickey’s Kangaroo” (1935)
    56. “Mother Pluto” (1936)
    57. “The Dognapper” (1934)
    58. “Moving Day” (1936)
    59. “The Klondike Kid” (1932)
    60. “The Flying Mouse” (1934)
    61. “Donald and Pluto” (1936) (
    62. “Mickey’s Polo Team” (1936)
    63. “Mickey’s Gala Premiere” (1933)
    64. “The Mail Pilot” (1933)
    65. “Three Little Wolves” (1936)
    66. “Mickey’s Good Deed” (1932)
    67. “Gulliver Mickey” (1934)
    68. “The Worm Turns” (1937) (
    69. “Two Gun Mickey” (1934)
    70. “Mickey’s Elephant” (1936)
    71. “The Band Concert” (1935)
    72. “Building a Building” (1933)
    73. “Mickey’s Mechanical Man” (1933)
    74. “Trader Mickey” (1932)
    75. “Mickey’s Grand Opera” (1936)
    76. “Thru the Mirror” (1936) (
    77. “The Plowboy” (1929) (

    I found the drafts for these shorts from A. Film L.A. (, so you can have a number of Disney animated shorts coming in handy for some of your future Baxter’s Breakdown articles.

    • Not a bad suggestion, but since people can easily access those drafts on his site, it would be pointless to create an article/make a video around them. I would rather write about a short that has not previously been shared to the public online.

    • Well, it was just a suggestion. But I completely agree it can be pointless since it is too easy to find them on his site. Somewhere out there, there has to be an animator’s draft that’s very challenging to be accessible.

  • One of my personal favorite Silly Symphonies. Disney has a reputation as the “clean” cartoon studio, but cartoons like “King Neptune” or the later (and surprisingly Code-approved) “Who Killed Cock Robin” demonstrate that the studio could be every bit as daring as Fleischer, Iwerks or Van Beuren when it wanted to be.

    As for the McKimson short, my vote goes to “Daffy Duck Slept Here”. While “Hillbilly Hare” is a classic, for a long time it was just about the only McKimson cartoon that received any attention, and so it probably already the most heavily analyzed and written-about of his works. I’d like some of his more obscure work to get some time in the spotlight, particularly these early ones. I found “Birth of a Notion” and “One Meat Brawl” to be among the most interesting of these breakdowns.

  • “Daffy Duck Slept Here”.

  • Hillbilly Hare or Daffy Duck Slept Here! Or if only one of the two can be voted for, Daffy.

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