Walt Disney left the world an amazing entertainment legacy. However today, the Theme Parks are what comes first in the minds of most. But it is his animated cartoon shorts and feature films that put Walt eons ahead of his peers in the industry. Everything from Mickey’s first synchronized sound short, Steamboat Willie, the first feature-length animated film, “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” or the Silly Symphony “Flowers and Trees” these and many others were first in the business to feature ground-breaking innovations and processes that set the bar for future productions. So why pick The Three Little Pigs? The Three Little Pigs, much like Mickey Mouse, gained immense popularity due to the greatest economic upheaval in this country and the World, the Great Depression. Now it is not to say Mickey needed this boost, but the countries mood and situation gravitated to this little spunky, “Everyman” and his struggle to do well and forge ahead, despite enormous obstacles.
The depression-weary public found in Mickey a hero they could relate to. Mickey debuted on November 18th, 1928, and a smidgen less than a year on October 29th, 1929 (Black Tuesday), the Great Depression began. People found in Mickey the pluck and strength they needed to overcome this catastrophe. However, the depth of the Depression occurred in 1933, and the “Pigs” premiered on May 25th, 1933. One of this Silly Symphonies biggest boosts was the song…”Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf”. This tune, one of Disney’s most well-known Disney songs, it was the stimulus for the title of Edward Albee’s 1963 play who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf. The song replaced the nation’s first working man’s anthem; “Brother, can you spare a Dime?” The song was written by film composer Frank Churchill, with help from lyricist, Ann Ronell. It was played continuously on all major radio stations. It was the first time a song from a cartoon became a hit with the whole nation.
The Three Little Pigs was a Silly Symphony production. Even as early as the release of Steamboat Willie, Walt wanted a series of cartoons without a central character, i.e. Mickey, where his animators could “let loose” so to speak, and improve their techniques; also he could use the series as a podium for different techniques, characters and processes, and as the name implies, this series, the animation would sync with the music, not the music with the animation. Eventually, the Symphonies became a crucial edge for Walt’s ideas for making full-length animated feature films.
The original story of the Three Little Pigs is a fable, and is very old. The storyline follows almost the same lines, with exceptions, all told and re-told throughout its long history. The most popular is… the Three pigs are sent out in the world to “Seek their Fortune” by their mother. Each pig builds a house from different materials. The first, built of straw is blown down by a big bad wolf, and the pig is consumed. The second house, built of sticks is again blown down by the wolf and that pig is eaten. Here is the classic exchange between the wolf and the first two pigs… “Little pig, little pig, let me come in.” “No, no, not by the hair on my chinny chin chin. “Then I’ll huff, and I’ll puff, and I’ll blow your house down,” Which he does. However, the third pig constructs his house of bricks. The wolf cannot blow the house down, so tries to trick the third pig out of the house by meeting him in different places, but always fails. He finally decides to come down the chimney, whereas the pig has a pot of boiling water waiting, slams the lid on the wolf, and then eats him.
But Walt didn’t like the story, so as he has done with many of his productions, changed the story to suit him and most likely make it more family and kid friendly. Walt’s version, which also has been recanted, has neither the pigs nor the wolf being eaten. He gives the pigs musical instruments to play and they sing and dance. In addition, he wanted the pigs to be cute and each has his own personality. He is a memo from Walt to his animators in 1932…”These little pigs’ characters look as if they would work up very cute and we should be able to develop quite a bit of personality in them. Might try to stress the angle of the little pig who worked the hardest, received the reward, or some little story that would teach a moral. These little pigs will be dressed in clothes. They will also have household implements, props, etc. to work with and not be kept in the natural state. They will be more like human characters”.
Walt’s version of the tale is as follows…The pigs, Fiddler, Fifer and Practical (Note-The first two names coincide with the instruments they play, Practical because of his practical way of looking at things-He plays the piano later in the short) build their houses of sticks, straw and brick. Their personalities were all different…Fifer plays his flute and plays all day, Fiddler pig, plays on his fiddle all day with a “Hey diddle diddle, and dances jigs. Their brother, Practical, works hard all day, never stopping to play. Fifer and Fiddler make fun of Practical because he is always working and never plays. An angry Practical warns them “You can play and laugh and fiddle. Don’t think you can make me sore. I’ll be safe and you’ll be sorry when the Wolf comes through your door!” Fifer and Fiddler ignore him and continue to play, singing the now famous song “Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?
When the wolf comes and blows down both Fifer and Fiddler’ houses, they escape to Practical’s pigs house. Practical plays his brick piano when the wolf arrives at the door as a Jewish peddler, or later re-animated as a Fuller Brush man, although still with a Yiddish accent. Later, on television, he was further edited by re dubbing the voice without the Yiddish accent, saying…”I’m the Fuller Brush Man – I’m working my way through college”. He tries to blow down the brick house without success. The wolf attempts to enter through the chimney, but Practical pig has a cauldron of boiling water with turpentine, the wolf falls in it, crying in pain, he runs away in pain while the pigs sing “Who’s afraid of the big bad wolf”
The historical significance of this short is groundbreaking. Although Walt was really the first to give his characters a distinct personality, this is the first that three characters, all which look alike except for their clothes, can be defined by their individualities. Fifer and Fiddler Pig are frivolous and care-free; Practical Pig is cautious and earnest. Animator Chuck Jones remarked… “That was the first time that anybody ever brought characters to life. They were three characters who looked alike and acted differently”. The pigs premiered at Radio City Music Hall on May 27, 1933 by United Artists, produced by Walt Disney and directed by Burt Gillett. The short cost around $22,000 and eventually grossed $250,000. The pigs are in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” In 1994, it was voted #11 of the 50 Greatest Cartoons of all time by members of the animation field. It was awarded the 1933 Academy Award for “Best Animated Film”. The cartoon is still considered to be the most successful animated short ever made.
Animator Freddy Moore (Who gave Mickey his pupils and softer, more modern look) was chief animator. He gave the pigs their “cutesy” cuddly look. The wolf was voiced by American actor, voice actor and comedian Billy Bletcher, and was animated by Norm Ferguson. Voice actress Dorothy Compton voiced Fifer pig and Mary Moder spoke for Fiddler. Just a quick note…The pig’s names were not official until the release of the final pig sequel, Practical Pig in 1939. The Three Little Pigs were also significant because they were always referenced by Walt as why he detested sequels; he hated resting on his laurels. The pigs were phenomenally successful with audiences of the day; so much the short ran for weeks. United Artists’ could not keep up with the demand; theaters had to share the prints between themselves. Some theaters ran the film for so long, they put beards on the pigs in the posters!
The public keep crying out for “More Pigs!” and theater owners echoed the sentiment. Even Roy Disney thought it would be good for their business. Walt capitulated, regrettably, and three more “Pig” cartoons followed. The first sequel was The Big Bad Wolf, directed by Burt Gillett and first released on April 14, 1934. The second, entitled “Three Little Wolves” released in 1936, presented the Wolf’s three sons who also wanted to eat the three pigs. The last short, “The Practical Pig” was released in 1939, the year the Silly Symphonies run came to a close. The three sequels were in some ways, technically advanced then the original “Pigs”, but never garnered the original’s charm and not as memorable. This is why Walt always meant when he stated in later years, “You can’t top pigs with pigs”
Walt was nominated for Showman of the year in 1966, and reiterated his feelings on sequels and repeats…”By nature, I’m an experimenter. To this day, I don’t believe in sequels. I can’t follow popular cycles. I have to move on to new things. So with the success of Mickey I was determined to diversify. We kept fooling around with the Silly Symphonies until we came up with the Three Little Pigs. I could not possibly see how we could top pigs with pigs. But we tired, and I doubt whether one member of this audience can name the other cartoons in which the pigs appeared”
However, despite Walt’s misgivings about sequels, the pig were so famous that they spawned a four minute piece for a movie produced in Mexico. In 1962, Walt introduced Bill Justice and X Atencio to Carlos Amador, a director of television and cinema in Mexico. Amador was producing a movie is about the biography of the Mexican children’s music composer Francisco Gabilondo Soler. One of the stories concerned the Three Little Pigs, and Amador wanted to use Disney’s version in a four minute segment. Half of the films profits would provide poor Mexican children a free lunch each school day. Walt was happy to donate the animation. Carlos along with Atencio and Justice wrote the adaptation, and it was released in 1963. The sequence illustrated the song of the composer, “Los Cochinitos Dormilones” The Three Little Pigs, and gives a short history in why the pigs must participate in the “la Fiesta de las Flores”, the festival of the flowers.
The film was a huge success, so much that Amador invited Justice, Gene Armstrong of the Disney Foreign Department and Atencio and their wives to visit Mexico for ten days. Needless to say, the Disney staff was treated like Royalty. The pig’s success continues on today. It was released on VHS, Betamax and Laserdisc in ’84. On December 4th, 2001 it appeared on DVD, and the PAL cartoon preserved the original Wolf’s Jewish peddler animation. It again was included in Walt Disney’s Timeless tales on August 16, 2005.
Throughout the years, there have been many other Disney cartoon shorts and feature films, and many have eclipsed the pigs in popularity and affection. Today, many do not even remember the pigs or their significance in animation history, or how this simple tale of Three Little Pigs has molded modern animation into what it is today. The pigs helped Walt sculpt Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, and even the future Disneyland. Their distinct personalities gave early cartoons a new life, where viewers could emote with the characters on a single plane, not just view them as simple pictures that move. The pigs are indeed, a Disney classic.