#246) The Three Little Pigs (1933)

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#246) The Three Little Pigs (1933)

OR “The Original Property Brothers”

Directed by Burt Gillett

Written by Pinto Colvig, Albert Hunter, Boris V. Morkovin, Ted Sears, and Webb Smith. Based on the fable. “Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?” by Frank Churchill and Ann Ronnell.

Class of 2007

The Plot: Two carefree pigs and their more reasonable brother are building their own homes. Fifer (voiced by Dorothy Compton) builds his house of straw, Fiddler (voiced by Mary Moder) builds a stick house, and Practical (voiced by Pinto Colvig), true to his name, builds a brick house. But the Big Bad Wolf (voiced by Billy Bletcher) is nearby, ready to huff and puff and blow their houses down. A cautionary tale on the importance of solid housing structures.

Why It Matters: Citing it as “among the best cartoons of all time”, the NFR write-up notes the popularity of the film (as well as the song), and contextualizes “Pigs” as an artistic stepping stone for Walt Disney on his way to making “Snow White”.

But Does It Really?: Oh sure. The film is an iconic piece of early Disney, and has stayed in the rotation long enough that multiple generations have grown up with it. “Three Little Pigs” is an important part of the Disney legacy, and it’s the kind of simple storytelling that Walt and company excelled at in the beginning. Why the pigs had to wait almost 20 years to make the NFR cut is anyone’s guess.

Everybody Gets One: Burt Gillett started off as an animator on the East Coast before moving to Hollywood in 1929 to join the up-and-coming Disney Studios. He quickly rose from animator to director, helming “Pigs” and “Flowers and Trees”. Burt may have been the director, but Walt still had the final say, occasionally arguing with Burt in front of the other animators. Shortly after the success of “Pigs”, Gillett left to run rival animation studio Van Beuren, although his constant bullying of staff (to the point of preventing them from unionizing) led to very low morale and a high turnover rate. Van Beuren Studios folded in 1937.

Wow, That’s Dated: Oh boy, here we go. If you stumble upon the original version of the short, you’ll find a brief scene of the Big Bad Wolf disguised as a Jewish peddler, complete with stereotypical Yiddish accent and a mask with a large nose. Disney would eventually rerelease the short with those shots reanimated and redubbed to remove anything offensive, though the derogatory music cue still remains.

Seriously, Oscars?: Easily the most successful short of the Depression era, “Three Little Pigs” became the second film to win the Oscar for “Short Subjects, Cartoons”. The only reason the equally popular “Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf” didn’t win Best Song is because the category wouldn’t be introduced until the following year.

Other notes

  • The full title card is “Mickey Mouse Presents Walt Disney’s Silly Symphony in Technicolor ‘Three Little Pigs’. The title gets fifth billing! Also, I didn’t realize Mickey was a producer on these shorts as well. Maybe he was the muscle this whole time.
  • Dorothy Compton and Mary Moder were radio actors and studio day players without a lot of confirmed credits to their names. Pinto Colvig was a storyboard artist for Disney who also lent his voice to such characters as Goofy and Grumpy. All three (along with cartoon legend Billy Bletcher) reprised their roles in the “Pigs” follow-up shorts.
  • So Fifer and Fiddler wear no pants but Practical wears overalls? Is that why he’s called Practical Pig?
  • The Big Bad Wolf must have borrowed his carpetbag from Mary Poppins, that thing is filled with an unlimited supply of props and costumes.
  • How good is the sound quality on a brick piano?
  • And now for some surprisingly morbid humor from this beloved Disney short: Practical has a framed photo on his wall of sausage links labeled “Father”. Who’s afraid of the big bad therapy session?

Legacy

  • “Pigs” was a huge success for Disney, and he followed up with three little sequels: 1934’s “The Big Bad Wolf”, 1936’s “Three Little Wolves” and 1938’s “The Practical Pig”. Walt learned the laws of diminishing returns with each sequel, and often dismissed any sequels to his other films with, “You can’t top pigs with pigs”.
  • “Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?” was a hit song on its own, becoming a song of optimism for the Depression. It was later used to criticize America’s complacency during the Nazis’ rise to power in Europe.
  • This film’s main takeaway for animation was the advent of the storyboard. With more detailed stories and characters, Disney realized they needed a Story Department before going straight to animation, thus the storyboard was invented to help plan out their shorts and eventual features. To this day, storyboarding is an integral part of the animation process.
  • Some random drunkard wrote “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” on the bathroom mirror in a New York bar, Edward Albee saw that, and it was all fun and games from there.
  • The home of each of the pigs (as well as the Wolf) can be seen in Storybookland at Disneyland. There’s also the Fiddler, Fifer & Practical Café in California Adventure that serves drinks, desserts and…a sausage breakfast sandwich!? You monsters!
  • If it were not for the success of “Three Little Pigs”, we probably wouldn’t have the jazzy Warner Bros. version, nor Tex Avery’s sexually aggressive cartoon wolf.
  • There have been many versions of “The Three Little Pigs” in the past 85 years, but nothing will top Jeff Goldblum’s interpretation of the wolf on “Faerie Tale Theatre”.
  • I’m gonna assume this was the Commodores’ inspiration for “Brick House”.

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