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.)
PICK MY NEXT BREAKDOWN!
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)