The 1936 Silly Symphony, Walt Disney’s Story of
THE COUNTRY COUSIN
(After Aesop… Way After!)
Told by Sterling Holloway
Disneyland Records – Storyteller Series ST-1903 (12” 33 1/3 RPM LP / Mono)
Released September 3, 1959. Executive Producer: Producer/Composer/Conductor: Camarata. Additional Voices: Jimmy Macdonald. Running Time: 16 minutes.
Song: “Mouse Square Dance” by Tutti Camarata.
One of Aesop’s most well-known fables, The Country Cousin was also one of Walt Disney’s best-received Silly Symphony shorts, winning a 1936 Oscar and enjoying years of theatrical, TV and video play.
Sterling Holloway gives one of his first performances especially for the label and naturally adds a level of humor that words alone could never convey. (The script even allows him to make references to the Cheshire Cat!) Contrary to the Wikipedia entry, this album is very short—just slightly over 16 minutes, so the adaptation makes little attempt to pad the basic story.
What is new to the album version of the tale is an added sidekick for the country mouse. Don’t let the snarling face on the album cover fool you—that may look like Lucifer from Cinderella, but it’s actually a cat named Boots, a feline friend to the country mouse. More accurately, he’s a frenemy, as the mouse and the cat bicker as much as they chatter —sort of an animal Odd Couple six years before Neil Simon’s play.
For no apparent reason, the names of the country and city mice are different on the album (Syrus and Archie) than they are in the cartoon (Abner and Monty). But it’s generally the same story: Syrus invites Monty to the country and the city slicker isn’t terribly impressed with the rustic accommodations. The cousins visit the city for only a few minutes before another, more sinister cat attacks and is thwarted by Boots, who brings Syrus home.
The back cover tells the story through wonderful storyboard-like sketches that sure look as if they were drawn by Disney story artist Bill Peet, who was working on the Goliath II featurette at the time this album was being made—and which also resulted in a Sterling Holloway album.
At one point in the story, Syrus hold a square dance (the scene depicted on the album cover) to the tune of “Mouse Square Dance.” This Camarata original, featuring Jimmy Macdonald doing the mouse voices (as he did in Cinderella on the Ludwig Mousensky Christmas Concert records), took on a residual life far beyond the Country Cousin album.
In the ’60s, it was reused on two different Disneyland albums. Goofy replaced Sterling Holloway’s square dance calls when the song popped up as one of the “variety show” features on the very odd 1964 album, Goofy’s TV Spectacular. The following year, most of Holloway’s words were heard again in their original form on a Disneyland album we explored last month called Further Adventures of Cinderella’s Mice — even though it was placed into a different story context entirely.
In the ’70s, Goofy’s version of “Mouse Square Dance” was reissued when The Mouse Factory TV series premiered in syndication. Disneyland released a series of tie-in records, including a 7-inch little LP starring Goofy. In the 1980’s, Holloway’s version could be found on various Disney Christmas compilations, including a two-CD set from Time-Life called Disney’s Christmas Collection. Somehow, being part of the Cinderella’s Mice story put it into a holiday context.