August 27, 2017 posted by

Sing Me A Cartoon #7 – Disney Finds A Gold Mine

One would have to be hiding under Iraq not to know of Walt Disney’s “Silly Symphony” cartoon, Three Little Pigs.

And one of the short’s attractions was a little jingle. . . all right, you know which one it is!

Right from the start, trade publications were taking notice of the film-and the song in the October 7th, 1933 issue of Motion Picture Herald, a “showman’s review” had this to say:

“Walt Disney, in his new Silly Symphony in color, has done more than present an amusing, entertaining, delightfully colored and executed nursery rhyme in cartoon. He has contributed a musical jingle that bids fair to take this town–and country by storm. . . The jingle, with a rollicking lilt. . . is sheer nonsense, but completely delightful, It is merely ‘Who’s Afraid Of The Big Bad Wolf?’, but it will be hummed and murmured for many a day. . . “

Within two weeks, a theater-owner in Vancouver, British Columbia was reporting , “This is the best colored short. Have had patrons come back to see it the second time and numerous phone calls. You can’t go wrong with this one.”

One suspects that, if one were to see subsequent issues of this publication, one would ear similar statements from theater owners all over the country.

Musically speaking, I think that Walter Elias Disney knew what he had from the word “go”!

I don’t know the timeline of production–but I suspect that, having gotten the eight-bar jingle, he wanted a fully-fledged song built around it.

So, Disney went to somebody on staff–and somebody who had never worked for him before. Frank Churchill was the staff musician. He may have written the two love songs that appear in the Mickey Mouse short Puppy Love (1933). He would continue to write for Disney until he committed suicide in the spring of 1942.

Even then, he seems to have left behind a well-stuffed trunk. Songs with his shingle appeared as late as ten years after his death.

Ann Ronnell in 1933

For the lyrics, which would serve to encapsulate a seven-minute-plus cartoon into two verses and the money-spinning chorus, Disney–or perhaps Churchill–chose Ann Ronell, one of a group of female composers and lyricists who were demonstrating that anything a man could do in this sphere could also be done by a woman–and just as well!

Miss Ronell had had three successful songs in as many years. Her first had been “Baby’s Birthday Party”, a twinkly little number of the sort that Naco Herb Brown, Zez Confrey and others had been taking to the bank for several years. It is not an easy son to sing, as it has a lot of notes, and words to go with them. Cartoon fans might recognize this one from its use in Betty Boop’s Birthday Party (1933).

“Willow Weep For Me” was an entirely different kettle of fish. It was a torch song, pure and simple. Singers have always wanted to wrap their tonsils around this one, and jazz instrumentalists have reveled in the chance to improvise upon the song’s unexpected chord changes.

“Who’s Afraid Of The Big Bad Wolf?” is back to the kid-stuff–but she follows Frank Churchill’s melody like a fitted glove, and she gets the story down properly.

(I should note here that much background on the physical production and distribution of Disney’s Three Little Pigs can be gleaned from Merritt and Kaufman’s must-have Silly Symphonies book – as well as an excellent post by Devon Baxter here on Cartoon Research)

Next week: “Wolf Tracks”

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