Animation Trails
February 5, 2020 posted by Charles Gardner

Hearts and Flowers – Part 1

Valentine’s Day approaches. In past articles, we’ve already thoroughly covered the subjects of love and matrimony – even with a few visits by Dan Cupid himself. So, rather than concentrate on the hearts, it seems appropriate to celebrate the season with the start of a retrospective on the involvement of flowers as a central figure in the animated cartoon – mankind’s dependable standby when inspiration runs out as to what to present as a gift for the little woman.

This animation trail may be slightly less comprehensive than some others, as I’m not sure if I can recall every early instance where a flower came to life in early cartoons. As likelihood of overlap on past trails of romance will also unnecessarily heighten by trying to catalog every instance where a boy gives a girl a flower, I’ll try to keep this down to situations where flowers either become characters in and of themselves, or play central plot points in more detailed photoplays than mere standard lovey-dovey romances.

As far as I can tell from surviving silent cartoon lists, the concept of having flowers take on animate lives of their own didn’t instantly become an animation cliche. Early silents actually tended to “root” in more real-world scenarios, and while it was fair game, at least since Paul Terry’s Aesop’s Fables, for all manner of animal and insect life to cavort as if human, flowers seem to have usually been around just to be picked, or to serve up nectar to passing bees.

The break in such realistic trends seems to have come from the collaboration of Walt Disney, Ub Iwerks, and Carl Stalling. The newly inaugurated “Silly Symphony” series was a surprise hit, and the studio was looking for ideas to keep it going. But you surely couldn’t continue a series by making every episode a dramatic Gothic like The Skeleton Dance or Hell’s Bells. What then? Silly Symphony #2, El Terrible Toreador, believed to be conjured up out of some leftover Oswald bullfighting ideas left unproduced at Universal, seems today a bit out of place for the series – perhaps a bit too much plot, not enough music, and looking much like a refugee from the Celebrity Productions which Iwerks would soon create for a rival studio. The “formula”, however, which would carry the series through its first years, seems to have crystalized in a quartet of musicales which Iwerks and Stalling dreamed up to commemorate the four seasons of the calendar: Springtime, Summer, Autumn, and Winter (with something of an afterthought coda in the additional episode, Night).

Taking a cue from the popular trend of “All singing, all dancing” musicals which were flooding Hollywood (and saturating the public to a point nearly beyond tolerance), Stalling conceived that, even more than in the Skeleton startup, everything – yes, EVERYTHING – should take on a life to perform choreographed dance steps or musical squeaks and squawks. And as for plot? To Iwerks’ Hell with it! The result was six minutes each of non-stop salon music by an appropriately “toony” clinky-clunky combo, heavy on the wood blocks for percussive effect to render synchronization tasks simpler, with a well-animated visual array of animals, plants, and bugs becoming unexpected masters of lock-step terpsichore to various light-classical motifs. Though primitive to today’s eyes, the then-unexpected euphoria of such situations must have had something of a hypnotic spell upon moviegoers, as the series continued to be in demand. Fortunately, Disney was not one to merely settle into a routine, and gradually increased the complexity and subtleness of his presentations, so that the fascination didn’t fizzle out as quickly as two-strip Technicolor dancing girls.

Right from the start, Springtime (10/24/29) presents us with a bouquet of what may be the screen’s first dancing flowers – a sunflower chorus line kicking up their heels (or should I say roots), with the center flower bowing in extreme close-up to the camera, to reveal two beetles similarly cavorting among its petals. An introductory shot preceding this brief dance shows the flowers alongside a flowing stream, with two trees accompanying them with rhythmic sways.

This scene looks nearly like a black-and-white soothsayer of things to come – almost identical in pose and setting to the opening of the studio’s future triumph, Flowers and Trees, discussed below. The remainder of the film, however, focuses on other insect and animal life – including a hefty amount of footage devoted to what would seem to become Iwerks’ favorite species: frogs! Yes, Flip was already starting to sneak out of Iwerks’ pen.

The flower dance, and in fact the first half or the cartoon, is set to the air, “Whispering Flowers” by Franz Von Blon. Many will remember this piece, not because the cartoon was commonly shown (indeed, once television got going well, I only recall it receiving one airing on the old Mickey Mouse Club until the Disney Channel dredged it our for the “Ink and Paint Club” hours). Yet the music was heard – and even some of the visual seen – by countless theatre-goers on the many theatrical issues/reissues of the box-office smash, One Hundred and One Dalmatians (1/25/61), where nearly the entire first half of the cartoon was cleverly woven by superimposition upon the television screen in Hell Hall, in the sequence where Sergeant Tibbs attempts to count the puppies with collars amidst the 99 puppies in the room. I knew the tune by heart when the original screened on the “Mouse Club” rerun, and instantly recognized, “That was what that strange cartoon was.” For a treat, listen to a more complete version of the musical work, played by the Edison Concert Band from 1909 (Amberol cylinder #137).

A few years passed. There would be imitators, but not so much yet on the subject of flowers. Bosko, at Warner Brothers, for example, would come up with The Tree’s Knees (7/25/31), looking much like an attempt to copycat a Silly Symphony, but focusing only on arborial stars rather than smaller flora. Betty Boop would add a surreal moment to Silly Scandals (Fleischer/Paramount, Talkartoons, 5/23/31), having a stage magician commanding a potted flower to “Grow. Grow!”, only to have the frustrated flower develop a face, and yell back, “WAIT A MINUTE!”, and a further such moment in Minnie the Moocher (Talkartoons, 3/11/32) where Betty, who refuses to eat her parents’ hasenpfeffer and sauerbraten, is coaxed to try a little taste by a potted flower. The flower tries a litte itself – and instantly withers and loses all its petals.

Disney himself wasn’t staying in a rut, and hadn’t used dancing posies in a while. Yet curiously, as if to bring a more modern spin upon the old theme that had served him well in solidifying a second series, Disney revisits the old forest in Flowers and Trees (UA, Silly Symphony, 7/23/32, Burt Gillett, dir.). This of course would be the landmark film that secured Disney his first Oscar – and a lock on instant boc-office success with a two-year exclusive upon the use of three-strip Technicolor in animated cartoons. Yet tales persist that the production may have existed, in whole or in part, as a black-and-white alternate. It is hard to say whether producing this film in black-and-white would have made any commercial or creative sense – as storywise, despite being embellished with a bit of melodramatic flair, the film is a definite throwback to a style more akin to those 1929-30 days. As a monochrome release, it can only be assumed the film would have appeared tame – perhaps, even a bit quaint – and certainly not of such caliber to spawn instant Academy notoriety. As a planned Technicolor project, however, the move makes sense – because flowers naturally afforded Disney the opportunity for a broad rainbow pallette – a proper proving ground for the new process. So use of an old theme would take a back seat to the dazzling of the eye by the color camera – easily excusing any “quaint” aspects of the story to be told. In retrospect. Disney might have done better.

Despite several levels of restoration, color saturation and hues on this first attempt have always to me seemed a bit watered-down and weak. Ted Eshbaugh, in the unreleased test film, The Wizard of Oz, proved that the process was capable of much more vibrant reds, blues, and greens (and even violet!) than any frame of Disney’s film exhibits. Was Disney “playing it safe” to not knock the eyes out of a public only used to gray-tones all at once? Or did Esghaugh not share with the Technicolor company his paint processes, so that Disney’s color labs had to work from scratch in figuring out how to intensify the pigments? The true answers and insights may be lost to time – but leave the compelling “alternate universe” scenario of what-if Eshbaugh’s short had been publicly released ahead of Disney’s? Would Eshbaugh have taken home the golden statue, and Disney been left to catch-up and make his reputation on other of his subsequent achievements?

How about if Three Little Pigs had been forced to be released in two-strip? (And for that matter, which two-strip process would Disney have chosen to use, if keeping competitive with Eshbaugh had required him ro move into color along with other studios by using an inferior system?) How far behind could Disney’s command of the industry have been put, by one simple alternate move of a chess piece?

In the traditional show-biz battling for star billing, this film might have properly been titled, “Trees and Flowers”. A trio of trees (boy, girl, and evil rival stump – gray, with a green lizard for a tongue, and a ticklish knothole belly-button) take up most of the footage and plot, along with cameo by a “symphonic conductor” tree who conducts musical birds in its branches like Stokowski. The flowers which appear are the identical dancing sunflowers first seen in Springtime, who haven’t changed a bit except for their colors, along with bluebells and some Easter lilies. Again, you’d have thought Disney could have chosen a more dazzling array of colorful blooms from the pages of nature to embellish this first effort – but of course, Disney would well make up for these limited choices in the subsequent production of Alice in Wonderland’s garden of live flowers sequence (to be discussed in depth in a subsequent chapter), with more highly-imaginative character design and a true rainbow of paint. The sunflowers basically go through a daily routine of brushing their teeth in a puddle, morning calisthenics, and a reprise of their ballet moves around the hero and heroine, ultimately linking themselves into a garland to be placed in the girl-tree’s leafy coiffure. The bluebells only become useful when needed to sound a fire alarm. The lilies probably get the best laugh, as the stump, outmaneuvered in a duel with the hero, falls backward and seems for a few moments to be lifeless – so one of the lilies solemnly marches onto the stump’s chest and seats itself in his hands as a funeral flower! Reviving, the stump takes revenge by starting a forest fire – but fails to keep out of range of the flames himself. Birds rescue our hero and heroine by drilling holes in a cloud so it pours out water like a sieve. The couple wed under a rainbow, while the sunflowers play the Wedding March on the bluebells.

Ub Iwerks wasn’t beyond noticing that his old characters were “springing” to life again without him – so he would incorporate them himself into a brief sequence in one of his own productions, using Pat Powers’ rival 2-strip color system, Cinecolor (red and blue strip) for Summertime (Comi-Color, 6/15/25). Iwerks was undisputedly the master in use of this film process, which offered a far more vibrant array of hues than Technicolor’s own alternate two- strip process (red and bluegreen) while Disney enjoyed his short three-strip monopoly, and the production values of this cartoon remain considerably striking. The title choice of the film is strange – as the plot obviously centers upon the battle of seasons between winter and springtime! (a plot device which, by the way, would be lifted with remarkable embellishment by Hugh Harman and Rudolf Ising for their later MGM three-strip extravaganza and budget-buster, To Spring (6/4/36).

But, Iwerks had already let Disney copyright the title “Springtime” in 1929 – so was compelled to choose a different title season to avoid confusion. The musical score is curious, in that, while Carl Stalling gets the standard musical credit on the titles, only one brief piano passage, including a few notes from the “Funeral March”, appears as original music – the rest originates from various symphonic and/or theatre discs from the Victor music library – so all Stalling was doing as his contribution was dropping a phonograph needle! (At least one music cue, providing a ballet for the brief scene where flowers appear, seems to have been used by Iwerks twice, also appearing as a drop-in in the Comi-Color version of The Three Bears.) Iwerks’ dancing flowers are at least modernized slightly, permitting them to lower their ring of petals down their stems to serve as ballerina tutus. Iwerks even takes a “leaf” from Disney’s dancing trees from the film above, by means of a silhouette performance where a trio of trees magically (if a bit unconvincingly) transforms into a trio of well-endowed dancing girls. I wonder where they kept the live-action reference footage for this seemingly rotoscoped – or at least well copied – sequence, as the dancer appears to perform au natural! (It seems Iwerks was well aware of his other competitors, as this scene closely mimics a strikingly similar transformation of pink clouds into dancers in Cy Young’s independent Brewstercolor production, Jingles: Mendelsohn’s Spring Song (1931).) For the remainder of the film, a panflute-playing satyr and a team of polo-playing centaurs battle Old Man Winter (a reused character design from Iwerks’ better-known film, Jack Frost (1934) as Winter scares Mr. Groundhog back into his den with some hand-generated shadow play. The satyr saves the situation by recruiting a tree full of fireflies to put the heat on Winter’s comeback. An entertaining and comparatively infrequently-seen Iwerks treat.

Garden Gaieties (Charles Mintz/Columbia, Krazy Kat, 8/1/35, Ben Harrison, story, Manny Gould, Allen Rose, Harry Love, anim.) – Columbia hadn’t yet done a lot of color work, although they had introduced a third series of cartoons for the purpose – “Color Rhapsodies” to mimic Disney’s “Silly Symphonies”. So they weren’t ready just yet to go head-to-head with Disney in Technicolor for a floral episode. However, the desire to do a funny-flowers-come-to- life episode necessarily got the better of them, and was approached in more economic fashion by producing same in black-and-white, as yet another slim plot idea to give Krazy Kat an excuse to meet his seven-minute quota and keep his series (increasing in animation sophistication but also becoming more sporadic in storytelling quality) afloat. Krazy plays a blue-jeaned farmer tending to his garden of various flowers and a few vegetables for good measure. Some good layered background work appears in introductory shots of Krazy watering his plants, with a broad degree of detail in modeling and shading of the plants making even a garden drawn in only gray tones look colorful. One lift appears at the outset from Flowers and Trees, as a flower brushes its teeth in the water from Krazy’s watering can, then catches ore water in its petal cup so it can gargle and spit. Various visual puns appear, predicting styles which would become basic fallbacks for Paramount writers years later. A trio of “budding buds” is seen in petal designs resembling baby bonnets, and resting in an actual “flower bed”, with Krazy feeding them plant food in baby bottles. A “pussy willow” of course blooms into blossoms in the shape of meowing kittens. Brief complications arise, however, as Krazy observes a small, newly blossomed sunflower being shaded out by its larger brothers who are hogging all the sunlight.

Krazy uproots the flower and takes it to the treehouse home of Mother Nature, ringing the bluebells as doorbells outside. Mother goes to cabinet labeled “Mothet Nature’s Remedies” – a play on the brand name of a popular laxative, “Nature’s Remedy” – and applies a lily cup full of water and an ultraviolet sun-lamp, restoring the flower to health. The restored flower leads the other flora in a musical production number honoring Mother Nature and her cures. (The animators can’t make up their minds on a model for this character, as in some scenes, his face appears in traditional politically-incorrect blackface, while in others it is purely white.) Musical score by Joe De Nat, including this Mother Nature song, is overall pleasing, and at least not as cloying as might be expected from 30’s product of this type (examples in point including rival Disney’s Lullaby Land (1933).) A ring of posies mirroring the dancing sunflowers of Flowers and Trees cavort in rhythm around Krazy and Mother. An ear of corn produces a violin bow and plays a string accompaniment on corn silk from its hair. Pea pods shake like maracas to provide a Latin rhythm. Creative camera zooming and panning livens up some repeated uses of cycling animation by swooping the camera in circular fashion in and out of the dancing characters. One bit of Fleischer-style surrealism appears in a shot of the sun, which yawns after a long day, sees how late it is getting on a tower clock, then produces a time card from nowhere which it inserts in the clock to “punch out” with its fist, and pulls down a dark window shade to let night fall.

Mother Nature sends everyone into bed – including Krazy, who has fallen asleep at the foot of a tree, and who she tucks in with a blanket of flowers for the iris out. No classic, but not an entire waste of time.

Flowers For Madame (Warner, Merrie Melodies, 12/14/35 – I. (Friz) Freleng, dir.) For unknown reasons, this film seems to have suffered from some chronological nightmares in several treatises and filmographies. I’ve seen dates attributed to it that were a year apart. Some sources assumed that I Wanna Play House was Warner’s first three-strip Technicolor film – just because it happened to be the earliest such film from which original titles were not removed. But Flowers was one of the many unfortunates to go through the “Blue Ribbon Merrie Melodies” reissue process – so all evidence of its original titling, including opening and closing music cues, vanished in a cutting room trash can. No doubt emboldened by the numerous notoriously-poor color prints distributed to TV, many remain convinced that this film was one of the last of Warner’s two-strip Technicolor projects. However, the most recent copies of the film from Ted Turner’s vaults, while not yet having undergone a full color restoration, at least reveal enough of a pallette of hues to exceed anything that’s been seen from the best restorations of Warner’s two- strip titles – including some definite distinctions between blues and greens, and legitimate yellows and purples – so as to convincingly dispel the belief that blue and green strips weren’t both present, and convince that this indeed was Warner’s first three-strip Technicolor cartoon. (We should have believed this in spite of previous poor prints, as the abrupt break-off of the ending music before the closing title sounds nothing like the closing orchestral crescendo we would normally expect from the period before the unaccompanied appearance of the Merrie Melodies jester to proclaim “That’s All Folks”.) One final point which may have contributed to the lively debate over which process was used was the appearance of a central character figure – a cactus – in a shade of green that appears to match exactly the shades of Warner’s previous two- strip productions. I believe the explanation is simple. The studio was probably overloaded with this paint, which was a necessity for previous supply but would fall out of vogue with the new film’s ability to produce brighter shades – so Warner wisely chose to burn out the supply on a few principal characters in both this film and a subsequent release, The Cat Came Back, which also presents visual evidence of distinction between blues and greens and a surviving audio cue not using the jester, indicating it also was made in three-strip (though it is likely from some cel and background work that portions of this film had already been painted with two-strip photography in mind).

That Warner would also choose “Flowers” for its full-Technicolor premiere in the wake of the Disney classic showed a bit of daring bordering on plagiarism, and perhaps a trace of sour grapes at the studio having been saddled with its traditionally bland color scheme for nearly two years. Of all the major studios, I believe Warner accomplished the least from its forced resort to the two-strip format – with films that made you really believe that there were only two colors available in the universe, and no shades inbetween. Using the identical film stock, Harman and Ising had produced some masterpieces at MGM, while even more budget-minded producers such as Walter Lantz and Charles Mintz had accomplished at least a few productions that far outclassed the comparative Warner product. Having never mastered how to get something resembling realistic from the old process, the Warner animators were probably overjoyed to get a chance to make some actual choices in the look of their productions, and may have decided to copycat and lampoon Disney as a way of saying, “In your face.”

The slender plot (not even as deep as Disney’s cliche boy-girl melodrama) involves a pageant/parade among the inhabitants of a plant and insect world. Celebrity impersonations, a staple of Warners’ humor, creeps in as usual. Paraphrasing off of Disney’s tree-hero’s use of spider webbing to create a harp, Warner has a floral equivalent use a similar web – but transform himself into Harpo Marx. A trio of floral dancers transform into buxom Mae Wests with parasols (similar in costume to West’s Belle of the Nineties (1934)). The parade begins, with several elaborate floral floats. Music cutting seems abrupt and choppy between several shots in this sequence, making one wonder if some scenes were excised by the newly-empowered censorship board before final release. A cactus decides to join the parade by taking an old toy wind-up tractor, then planting in the ground next to it the seed of a floral vine which grows to entwine around the cab and then bloom. The parade judges hold their noses at such an entry, and the cactus becomes a further laughing stock when the mainspring of the toy busts, leaving him in the dirt. Returning to lifts from Disney, the writers set up a forest fire finale with a carelessly placed magnifying glass and a nearby box of matches. (Who let those unseen pesky humans into this world, anyway?) A posie is pursued by a personified flame, but a water lily fills its cup from a nearby waterfall and douses the rascal. A second flame singes the tail of a snail, causing him to break a new land speed record in retreat. The cactus meets a wall of flame. He runs for a rotating lawn sprinkler and turns on its hose connection, putting a protective spray of water between himself and the fire. But one flame sneaks inbetween the oscillating sprays, and gives the cactus a “hot seat”, then turns off the water so his buddies can follow. The cactus finally becomes the hero in a watermelon patch, punching holes in four melons that spray like high- pressure fire hoses to quench the flames. Only a single spark remains, and hides behind a soap box. A grasshopper on the other side of the box calculates distance, takes aim, and spits in a broad curve, circling around and hitting the flame dead-on. He gives us a high-sign for the iris out.

Honorable mention goes to Oswald Rabbit in Gopher Trouble (Lantz/Universal, 11/30/36) as perhaps being the first cartoon to star nature’s underground nemesis to plant life. While no flowers take on animate lives of their own, at least one gives the appearance of doing so. Ar the palatial estate of temperamental spinster “Miss Henrietta Hen – The House That Eggs Built”, Henrietta and her faithful but long-suffering dog butler tend to the watering of the hen’s elaborate flower gardens. Unfortunately, a passing gopher pops out from the ground on the main road, and covets what he sees within her walled preserve. Tunneling in, he conceals himself beneath the root system of a patch of lilies Henrietta s watering. As Henrietta finishes ans stops to smell the blooms, the gopher, just for kicks, blows through the stem of one of the lilies, spraying a jet of water into Henrietta’s face. She calls her butler over to see what’s wrong, The butler sniffs, and nothing happens. But when henrietta tries it again, another jet of water from the playful gopher. As Henrietta doles out kicks and a bop on the head for her non-helpful butler, daisies start disappearing from the next flower bed. Henrietta in vain tries to grab the blooms to save them, but they disappear into the ground just ahead of her reach. Finally a tall sunflower begins to descent. She catches hold of the top petals, and engages in a tug of war with the submerged gopher who clenches the stem between his teeth. The upper stem snaps, causing Henrietta to fall backwards and land on her on watering can. While she is dazed, the gopher finally reveals himself long enough to snatch the upper half of the plant out of her hand.

Reviving, the frantic Henrietta runs for the house, spaying water everywhere from the half- crushed watering can stuck to her tail, and places an emergency call for Oswald the exterminator. Oswald and his pet Elmer the Great Dane try various methods of capture. Elmer tries the direct approach by diving into a gopher hole – but loses his bearings and comes up out of another one, where, seeing his rear end sticking out of the first hole, he doesn’t recognize it – and gives himself a painful bite before reality sinks in. Oswald fishes for the gopher with a fishing pole, using a flower as bait. The gopher robs the bait, then comes up out of a second hole and hooks the fishhook to Henrietta’s dress. Oswald reels in, dragging Henrietta underground and into another tantrum. Oswald slams a box trap down on the gopher, but he merely tunnels into the grond, then comes up behind Oswald and pulls Ozzie’s cotton tail. Oswald inserts a skyrocket facing into a gopher hole and lights the fuse. While they await the ignition with closed eyes and covered ears, the gopher ties Elmer’s tail to the end of the skyrocket. Elmer is dragged in cutaway subterranean view through the whole tunnel system and out again, upsets Henrietta, and gets pulled through a tree knothole, leaving him ultra-thin in the midriff. Henrietta takes charge, and feeds Ozzie’s whole crate of skyrockets into the ground and lights a fuse. Instead of any effect on the tunnels, Henrietta’s mansion in the background is undermined and blown to pieces! As Henrietta sits dazed amidst the bricks and rubble, with an inverted flower pot on her head, she hears the gopher giving her the horse laugh off to one side. Taking the potted flower off her head, she carefully takes aim, and launches it at the gopher. She makes a direct hit, knocking the gopher unconscious (and perhaps deceased, as the flower pot cracks, depositing the flower onto the gopher’s chest as a funeral flower and reprising the Flowers and Trees gag for the iris out.

Two years after Garden Gaieties, Columbia felt ready to tackle a flower pageant in full Technicolor style. Spring Festival (Color Rhapsody, 8/6/37, Ben Harrison, Manny Gould, writer and anim.) opens with a trace of animated titling remaining on its current reissue prints, the title appearing on a cloth banner hanging from a tree, but being blown away by a fierce Winter wind. Mr. Groundhog emerges, and is almost fooled into thinking he’s seen his shadow, until he realizes the light is coming from the fireplace inside his cozy den. He reports the good news to Mother Nature, who lives in a nearby tree where she has taken in numerous animals and plants to rest through the Winter by her own toasty fireplace. As the groundhog sings of Spring in the air. Mother Nature peers outside, and with a wave of her hand raises the sunrise and melts away the snow. She then lets the various animals and flowers out of her home to discover the wonders of the season. Another circle of dancing posies parades around her feet. In closer view, they link leaves and become a singing chorus line to an original ditty “Flowers of Spring”.

The “pussy willow” gag from “Garden Gaieties” is revisited, with two blooms engaging in a catfight that briefly disconnects them from their stem, to their embarrassment. An interesting character design of tall rose-like flowers whose blooms resemble military plumed hats parade in precision form as marching soldiers. A quartet of lovelies parade in blooms looking like tall Broadway- style theatrical headdresses out of a Ziegfield or Earl Carroll’s Vanities show. Three blushing roses sing about themselves after donning powder and rouge at individual make-up mirrors, yet step out of demure character to end their number with a bit of “hot-cha”. Two inverted bluebells dance a Scottish dance. The Scottish theme continues with a vocal number by an old clump of heather, with a surprise vocal appearance by Mel Blanc providing his best vocal impression of Sir Harry Lauder. And an acrobatic clown dance is performed by a pair of “daffy dillies”, with Mel again getting in some of the vocal work, including one shout that resembles Ed Wynn. The film has no real ending, just closing with some swans forming a bit of a kaleidoscopic water fountain as Mother Nature approvingly looks on. Definitely a seven minute “filler”, but at least reasonable enough in design and animation quality to let patrons comfortably take their seats without much disapproval.

A brief scene of heather dancing a Scottish dance appears off the labels of jugs of “Good Ol’ Scotch” in Friz Freleng’s September in the Rain (Warner, Merrie Melodies, 12/18/37), and may possibly have been lifted from an earlier cartoon. It was reused at least once again by Frank Tashlin on a travel folder cover in You’re an Education (11/5/38).

Next Time: Animation techniques markedly advance over a few short years, and the floral world receives the benefit of more sophisticated character design and stunning musical scoring. Be sure to “plant” yourself back here next week!


  • This gives me spring fever!🌻🌼🌱🌷

  • One of the centaurs on “Summertime” is a caricature of humorist Will Rogers, who played polo along with a lot of Hollywood celebrities of the time. He was going to be included in “Mickey’s Polo Game”, but was cut after his untimely death.

    About the color scheme on “Flowers and Trees”, Walt always erred on the side of caution when using new technology. When word got out that he was making a feature length film, critics warned that the bright colors typical of a cartoon would tire the audience’s eyes if extended to ninety minutes. Likely to avoid that, “Snow White” used mostly dark earth tones. Having tested the grounds, his next features have much brighter coloring, with some segments of “Fantasia” pushing them to the extreme.

    • I always wondered why that clean-shaven centaur was so ugly!

  • Ohhhhhhhhhh, my dear GOD! I had not seen “Flowers for Madam” in decades (& decades!) I remember it SO well. Those early 30s WBs always infiltrated the local stations in late 50s-60s syndication!! A great memory!! TY!!

    • That windup toy tractor the cactus rides in “Flowers for Madame” closely resembles Marx Toys windup toy steamroller, sold in the 1920’s and 1930’s. Perhaps one of the staff brought in one of his kid’s toys for a model.

  • Nice compilation.
    1. See Felix the Cat “April Maze” 1930 esp. the first minute and a half and also at 6:20.
    2. The term “two strip” Technicolor is incorrect. Two-color Technicolor used a single strip of film. See

  • You really “rose” to the occasion this time! I don’t mean to be a “thorn” in your side, but there’s a typo in the release date of “Summertime”: it should be 1935, not 1925. Also, there are no musical cues in common between “Summertime” and “The Three Bears” (whose score I know very well, having written arrangements of the opening Allegretto and final Galop). You must be thinking of another cartoon. The music in “Summertime” is taken entirely from familiar light classical standards like “Light Cavalry” and “Orpheus in the Underworld”, while that in “The Three Bears” seems to be silent film stock cues. A variant of the Galop was used by Leigh Harline in “Two-Gun Mickey” (1934), which proves that it’s not an original Stalling composition.

    The “pussy willow” gag from “Garden Gaieties” and “Spring Festival” had been previously used by Ub Iwerks in “Puss in Boots” (17/5/34).

    Looking forward to being led down the “primrose path” in your next Animation trail!

    • An even earlier example of the pussy willow gag occurs in “The Tree’s Knees” (Harman-Ising/Warner Bros., Bosko, 25/7/31 — Hugh Harman and Rudolf Ising, dir.).

  • Fine post. A question, though: is SPRING FESTIVAL the Columbia cartoon featuring the unforgettably inane ditty, “Spring, Spring, Spring is In The Air…”?

    • Yes, it is! You remember your Joe De Nat.

  • Betty’s rooftop garden in “Betty Boop’s Penthouse” (1933) is also heavily populated with anthropomorphized flowers (including a few “pansies”).

  • Just as both Disney and Schlesinger turned to a floral setting for their first Technicolor cartoons, so too did Harman-Ising for their second, “Honeyland” (MGM/Harman-Ising, Happy Harmonies, 19/10/35 — Rudolf Ising, dir.). After an establishing shot of busy bees buzzing merrily among the morning glories, the resident MGM female vocal trio, here represented as a threesome of worker bees, takes centre stage on a chrysanthemum blossom to sing the title song. When they get to the quatrain:

    “Here among the flowers,
    We spend happy hours
    Gath’ring honey all day through
    From roses red and violets blue!”

    …. we do indeed see a red rose, but those “blue violets” are actually lilac lilacs!

    Next comes a scene of industry on parade, presaging the elves’ manufacture of spring colours in “To Spring” (1936). Overalled and straw-hatted farmer bees use scythes, rakes and pitchforks to harvest the pollen from sunflowers. Another bee taps the milk from a dandelion stem like sap from a maple tree. More bees milk nectar from the stamens of Easter lilies as though they were cow’s udders. The raw materials are then transported to the beehive factory to be transformed into sweet honey.

    The second half of the cartoon consists of a boy-meets-girl romance, a hungry spider that threatens the pair, and the bees coming to the rescue. Scott Bradley’s typically gorgeous musical score predictably makes ample use of the “Flight of the Bumblebee” from Rimsky-Korsakov’s opera Tsar Saltan.

  • “The Hot Spell” (Terrytoons/Educational Pictures, Farmer Al Falfa, 10/7/36 — Mannie Davis and George Gordon, dir.) is another early sound cartoon with a floral musical revue. Farmer Al Falfa and Puddy the Pup are distressed to see their farm withering away in the drought: the crops shrink into burnt matchsticks, the well collapses into a hole in the cracked earth, and even his watering can produces nothing but a cloud of dust. Fortunately, the rubbery Terrytoons traveling salesman comes along with a solution: the Dynamo Rain Maker, guaranteed to make it rain for only five dollars! (That was a pretty good day’s pay for most workers during the Depression.) Desperate, Farmer Al forks over the fin, places the box in the ground and, no doubt following the instructions on the label, detonates it. The explosion brings on a rain of boulders and rocks, one of which conks the famer on his head and knocks him out. But immediately thereafter, a refreshing rainfall ensues.

    Farmer Al revives to see his crops growing in abundance. The well emerges from the ground and overflows. Trumpetvines blossom and blow a fanfare, and lilies of the valley tintinnabulate like bells. A jack-in-the-pulpit, backed up by a trio of sunflowers, croons a lovely tune from its spadix:

    “Oh, isn’t this a lovely rain!
    Makes you feel like living again,
    Yes, living all over again!”

    A pair of dandelions, gone to seed, dance a schottische, and then a trio of pansies dance a waltz. A beanstalk sprouts beneath Farmer Al and carries him high into the air, and for a moment it looks as though he’s about to encounter a giant and a hen that lays golden eggs. However….

    Up in the clouds Farmer Al finds the castle of “Joe Pluvius, Rain Maker”. (Jupiter Pluvius was the Roman god of rain. I guess “Joe” is short for “Jove”.) “No one else can make it rain but Joe Pluvius!” sings the god, implying that Al’s purchase of the Dynamo Rain Maker was a form of blasphemy. He punishes the farmer by chasing him in a chariot and blasting him with a hose, until he plummets from the cloud and falls to earth….

    …Where the only moisture present is the saliva of Puddy the Pup, licking his face to wake him. The landscape is just as desiccated as before, the rain and dancing flowers were only a dream, and the salesman was a fraud. Audiences of the Dust Bowl days would have sympathised all too well.

  • It’s interesting to compare Paul Terry’s “Spring Is Here” (Terrytoons/Educational, Farmer Al Falfa, 24/7/32 — Frank Moser, dir.), which was released within days of Disney’s “Flowers and Trees”. It begins with a raging storm that tears Farmer Al Falfa’s house apart to the tune of Wagner’s Flying Dutchman Overture. When the storm ends, the farmer emerges from his outhouse in a skimpy dress, then prances about, strewing flowers like the goddess Persephone, as he sings in a falsetto voice:

    “I love to see the sun shining bright!
    Hi ho, ha ha ha, spring is here again!
    I love to hear the birds sing merrily!
    Tweet tweet, tweet tweet tweet, spring is here again!”

    An apparently homophobic tree scowls at Farmer Al, then produces a gun and shoots him. This vicious hate crime is quickly forgotten as trees flower, birds sing, and nimble little flowers dance “ring around the rosie” in a circle exactly like the ones in “Flowers and Trees”, all to the tune of Mendelssohn’s “Spring Song”. Honeybees gather nectar using techniques identical to those seen in the later Harman-Ising cartoon “Honeyland” (see comment above). Then the frog-and-stork motif from Disney’s “Springtime” is introduced: a frog plays the saxophone, other frogs play leapfrog, and a stork (wearing shoes for some reason) delivers a bundle of eggs to a family of ducks, dropping them one at a time down the chimney of the ducks’ little house.

    Finally, Cupid himself springs into action. He shoots arrows at a bull and a cow sitting languidly on a tree branch (since when can cattle climb trees?), and they immediately fall in love; the bull croons a lovely little song called “I Give in to You”. Cupid then shoots another arrow at a mouse who is plowing a field. (I guess someone has to do Farmer Al’s chores after his murder.) The mouse abandons his work, runs to a florist’s shop to buy a bouquet, then hurries to the home of his mouse sweetheart to croon to her. “In the spring,” intones the narrator, paraphrasing Tennyson, “a young man’s fancy turn to love.” The girl mouse kisses her swain, he sings the last line of the song — and then she slaps him! The End!

    I actually like this cartoon much better than “Flowers and Trees”. It has sex and violence, dancing flowers, a cross-dressing farmer, a sax-playing frog, cows that climb trees, excerpts from Mendelssohn and Wagner (who hated each other), and a great song — everything you could possibly want in a pre-Code cartoon.

  • In “Fire Bugs” (Fleischer/Paramount, Talkartoons, 4/5/30 — animated by Ted Sears and Grim Natwick; Dave Fleischer, dir.), firefighter Bimbo and his team are hurrying to the scene of a conflagration. But when the fire engine passes a barrel organ playing Mendelssohn’s “Spring Song”, the horse Sparky stops to prance and mince to the music in the middle of the street (just as the monster does to the same tune in “Betty Boop’s Penthouse”, after Betty has sprayed him with perfume and turned him into a ‘pansy’). “Ah, spring has came!” Sparky declares; then he pulls four flowers out of his hat, and they join him in the dance.

  • What is the title of a cartoon from this era where underground gnomes awake from their winter sleep, then mine & refine “color” in order to pump it up into the awakening plants? This cartoon touched me. It was on the MeTV network Toon In With Me program recently.

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