Animated Disney Parodiesby Jim Korkis, contributing writer
Disney characters and films are so iconic and represent all that is good and clean in the world that they are a tempting target for parody. Even Disney itself has tried to make fun of its own films and attractions.
For the release of Lilo and Stitch (2002), Disney produced film parody trailers of classic Disney films The Little Mermaid (1989), Beauty and the Beast (1991) Aladdin (1992), and The Lion King (1994), with Stitch wreaking havoc in familiar scenes.
While Jasmine and Aladdin are flying on the magic carpet, and Jasmine sings "A Whole New World," Stitch, in his spaceship, follows the couple and he honks his horn, stopping them. He flirts with Jasmine and takes her away in his ship resulting in Aladdin yelling, "Hey! Get your own movie!"
Stitch takes the place of baby Simba as Rafiki lifts him up high on Pride Rock causing panic among the animals. His surfing interrupts Ariel singing; while his hanging on to the gold chandelier in the ballroom causes it to crash to the floor while the Beast and Belle dance, resulting in Belle leaving in a huff.
These were called "Inter-Stitch-als." The original voice actors were brought back to reprise their roles. Even the official movie poster has classic Disney feature animation characters pulling away from Stitch.
The Simpsons (whether it is Mr. Burns singing "See My Vest"), Family Guy (singing about "A Wonderful Day for Pie"), Animaniacs (singing "Just the Same Old Heroine") and South Park (Satan singing "Up There") are constantly making fun of Disney animation.
Saturday Night Live got attention for its Robert Smigel short "Journey to the Disney Vault," which was one of the TV Funhouse segments and included a biting look at why the Disney feature film Song of the South will never escape the vault.
I am particularly fond of animation legend Eric Goldberg's Disney-inspired opening couch gag for The Simpsons that spoofed Disney animated features with Marge as Snow White, Homer as Baloo the Bear, Bart as the Sorcerer's Apprentice from Fantasia, Lisa as Cinderella, and little Maggie as an homage to the wild animation of early black-and-white cartoons.
In a way, it might be considered a compliment that Disney films and their interpretations of characters are so internationally recognized that they can be appropriated for parody and everyone immediately recognizes the reference.
Parody has been around at least since the time of the ancient Greeks with Aristophanes' play The Frogs that makes fun of Heracles and Greek gods. MAD magazine introduced the concept of parodying movies and television shows to an entire generation of young readers.
The United States Supreme Court has declared that parody "is the use of some elements of a prior author's composition to create a new one that, at least in part, comments on that author's works" and so is protected under the term "fair use."
The Three Little Pigs
Parodying Disney films is nothing new. The Three Little Pigs (1933) was so popular that it was often the subject of parody. It ran for weeks and weeks during a time when most cartoons were replaced each week.
"Three Little Pigs is proving the most unique picture property in history. It's particularly unique because it's a cartoon running less than 10 minutes, yet providing box office draft comparable to a feature, as demonstrated by the numerous repeats."
United Artists that was distributing Disney cartoons could not supply enough prints to meet the demand and some exhibitors had to share a print, running it back and forth between two or more theaters by bicycle messenger.
One New York movie theater played it for so long that the manager added beards on the pigs in the lobby poster, and as the cartoon kept playing week after week, the beards grew longer and longer.
There was a flood of merchandising for the characters, from stationery to playing cards, toothbrush holders, tea sets, radios, books, and even Christmas tree lights. References and images of the Disney pigs and the wolf appeared in editorial cartoons, essays and more. It was still iconic a decade after its first release.
MGM's Blitz Wolf (1942) was the first MGM cartoon directed by animation legend Tex Avery after he left Warner Brothers. Not only were the pig and wolf character designs reminiscent of Disney's version, but Pinto Colvig who had done the voice for Practical Pig, was hired to provide the same voice for the Sergeant Pork (a parody of the name of the war hero Sergeant York) in the cartoon.
The wolf is "Der Fewer" (parodying Hilter as Der Fuerher) who invades Pigmania, huffing and puffing down straw and wood houses. However, the smart pig has a house that is a bunker outfitted with hundreds of cannons. The wolf is finally blown out of the sky by artillery shells filled with defense bonds.
An even more obvious parody was Warner Brothers Pigs in a Polka (1943), meant not only to parody Disney's pig film, but also the pretensions of Fantasia (1940). Directed by Friz Freleng, who still harbored some ill feelings about being fired from the Disney Studios, more than a decade earlier, the cartoon was nominated for an Academy Award.
It is the traditional story with background music of several of Johannes Brahms' Hungarian Dances. However, the wolf uses a match to destroy both the houses of straw and wood.
Freleng took another poke at Disney's pigs with the Warner Brothers Three Little Bops (1957), which was done in rhyme and told the story of a trumpet playing wolf wanting to join the jazz trio featuring the pigs.
Fantasia was also the target of the Warner Brothers cartoon A Corny Concerto (1943) "from Corny-gie Hall".
Director Bob Clampett replaced noted musicologist Deems Taylor from the original film with an unshaven Elmer Fudd wearing an ill fitting tuxedo, who introduced two segments.
The first one featured Bugs Bunny and Porky Pig in a woodland setting set to the music of "Tales of the Vienna Woods." It was the classic story of hunter Porky and his dog tracking down the rabbit and the hi-jinks that ensue including a squirrel supposedly shooting all three of them.
The second segment, set to the music of "Blue Danube," features a very young Daffy Duck playing an ugly black duckling joining a flock of white swans. He is rejected by the mother swan until Daffy rescues her babies from a vulture.
Snow White: Coal Black and De Sebben Dwarfs
Clampett was also responsible for the very much still-controversial cartoon short, Coal Black and De Sebben Dwarfs (1943). It is a modern parody re-telling of the Disney version of the timeless classic of Snow White, but with black caricatures.
So White and the Prince Chawming see their reflection together in the water the same as the Prince and Snow White in the original. The wicked queen observes them through pulled curtains just like in the original. The heroine wanders through a dark bluish forest where even the trees appear to have eyes.
The wicked queen who is hoarding vital war rations sends the seven dwarfs who are a Murder Inc. gang to murder So White (aka "Coal Black"), but the dwarfs are charmed by the young girl and join the U.S. Army instead. When Prince Chawmin's kiss can't awake her after she eats a poisonous caramel apple on a stick, it is Dopey's all-American pucker that makes her pigtails stand up, unfurling into small American flags.
The real origins of this classic cartoon parody came from Clampett's studying the caricatures in the book, Harlem As Seen by Hirschfeld by artist Al Hirschfeld. In addition, Clampett attended Duke Ellington's 1941 live musical revue, "Jump for Joy."
After the show, Ellington and the cast suggested Clampett make a musical cartoon that focused on "black" music. To prepare for this project, Clampett had his animation unit take a couple of field trips to Club Alabam, a Los Angeles area nightclub that catered to black Americans.
To give Coal Black some additional authenticity, Clampett originally wanted an all-Black band to provide music for the short. But producer Leon Schlesinger refused for monetary reasons since he had a band he was paying at the studio. The film was eventually scored by Carl Stalling who tried to create an authentic sounding Blues/Jazz score and had black musicians give their input.
But that didn't stop Clampett from trying to give this short an authentic "black" sound. He eventually hired an all-black band -- Eddie Beals and His Orchestra -- to record the music for the "Waking up So White" final kiss sequence in the cartoon. Herb Jeffries, one of the prominent black musicians, always spoke proudly of the cartoon and his work on it.
With the hope that having just the right voices for his characters might give Coal Black some additional authenticity, he even hired black actors to perform the lead roles in his film.
Clampett hired Vivian Dandridge (the sister of black American singer Dorothy Dandridge) to voice So White, and then hired Ruby Dandridge, Dorothy and Vivian's mother, to voice the Wicked Queen.
Bob recruited Lou "Zoot" Watson to do the voice of Prince Chawmin while the very white Mel Blanc provided all of the other voices in the picture. Louis Armstrong wanted to do the voice of Prince Chawmin' but was booked on tour.
Many animation fans have wondered why this Clampett cartoon is called Coal Black and De Sebben Dwarfs if the main character in the picture is referred to as "So White"? Well, producer Schlesinger feared that calling the cartoon "So White" would be just too close to the title of the Disney original and could cause problems which is why a change was eventually made in the cartoon's title but not in the cartoon itself.
Most animation scholars and historians consider Coal Black an undisputed masterpiece, but it has been the target of controversy because of the exaggerated caricatures. Animation is an exaggerated reality, especially in the world of Bob Clampett. And so the characters in the film were just as exaggerated and stereotyped as any other Clampett cartoon character.
There is an intelligence to the characters in the cartoon that some say helps offset the the racial images that were a common cartoon "shorthand" at the time. The cartoon even includes blacks in uniform serving their country, something you rarely if ever saw in other films of that time.
Audiences, especially black audiences, loved the cartoon. If Walt Disney ever saw it, he never commented on it.
Back in the 1960s, this cartoon was consigned to the Warnes "Censored 11," which meant that it was prohibited from being seen on television or in theaters because of offensive material.
In 1962, Clampett produced an animated television series for ABC using the characters of the young boy Beany, who wore a beany cap with a propeller, and his friend, a seasick sea serpent named Cecil.
In an interview with animation historians Milt Gray and Michael Barrier, Bob Clampett revealed a very special encounter with Walt Disney himself when the puppet show was at its peak:
"I was good friends with Walt's niece, Margie Davis. She invited Uncle Walt and me to one of his grandnephews' birthday parties. I brought a basketful of Beany and Cecil toys and merchandise. And Walt walked in with an armful of Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck toys.
"It so happened that Walt's own grandnephews were such great fans of my Beany and Cecil TV show that they ran around all day wearing Beany caps, playing with Beany balloons and games, with Cecil and Dishonest John puppets on their arms, giving the D.J. laugh, 'Nya ha ha!'
"Well, Walt's eyebrow went sky high. But, of course, it was no time at all until he went on the air with his Mickey Mouse Club and wonderful Disneyland TV program. And I'm sure that his grandnephews thereafter wore nothing but Mousekeeteer caps."
On the animated version of Beany and Cecil, Clampett decided to parody the popular Disneyland television program in an episode titled Beanyland.
Clampett's original pun-filled story was later adapted for the April-June 1963 DELL Beany & Cecil comic book, which was illustrated by Willie Ito, an artist who worked for Disney Feature Animation back in the 1950s.
In the comic book version of this episode, there is a much more detailed map of "Beanyland." And it features a "Rock and Roller Coaster" and a "Go-Man Chinese Theater," decades before Disney actually built those similar attractions in Florida.
The story premise for the animated cartoon was that Beany and Cecil were going to the moon to create a perfect theme park with a "20,000 Leaks Under the Sea" ride, a Matterhorn, a train ride, and much more.
Their constant nemesis, Dishonest John, was already on the moon in hopes of making a fortune shipping the moon's cheese back to Earth. Of course, wherever there is cheese, there will be mice, who are the residents of the moon.
When I interviewed him in September 1978, Bob remembered:
"ABC got very upset about 'Beanyland' because, of course, they had been running the Disneyland' television program and other Disney programs and they didn't want to make Walt mad because there were some legal things going on where Disney was leaving ABC. 'Oh, you can't have a caricature of Walt Disney in there saying, 'I'll make this my Dismal Land'!' I'd answer, 'Where's Walt Disney in there? The character with the hook nose and mustache is my long time villain Dishonest John. Everybody knows who he is.'
"My original version of 'Beanyland' was very, very funny because it was such a tongue-in-cheek satire on Disneyland even as to the way they worded their advertising.
"Beany would say stuff like 'Look, what he's doing to my creamy, dreamy Beanyland!' and that made fun of those peanut butter commercials that sponsored Walt's show.
"I had Dishonest John packaging the moon as cheese and bringing it back to Earth to sell it. On the package, I had the word 'Krafty' and ABC was afraid the Kraft Cheese Company would sue them.
"It was those kinds of things they censored and so much more for seemingly no reason. As Captain Huffenpuff said about Beanyland: 'This place wasn't built by a mouse; it was built for mice!'"
Jay Ward, best known as the animation producer for Bullwinkle, Dudley Do-Right, George of the Jungle and so many more, did a "Fractured Fairy Tales" version of "Sleeping BeautyLand," a parody of Disneyland, on The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show in Season One, Episode 18 (1961). It was written by George Atkins.
It appeared on NBC Sunday night, right before Disney's weekly television show Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color. Bill Scott voiced a Bullwinkle Moose hand puppet in the first season who one time announced that they had run out of time and have to end the show... "…and besides, Mr. Disney just walked into the studio with a baseball bat."
"Sleeping Beautyland" was directed by Bill Hurtz, who had joined the Disney Studios in 1938 and worked on Pinocchio, Fantasia (the mushroom dance sequence) and Dumbo. When he went on strike with other Disney animators, he was fired and eventually wound up at UPA. In 1959, he became a senior director for Jay Ward's animation studio.
"['Sleeping Beautyland'] was a take-off on Disneyland and I purposely caricatured the prince as Walt Disney and we had (voice artist) Daws Butler do his (comedian) Phil Silvers type voice which was the standard sneaky but friendly con man," Hurtz told me when I was interviewing him for a never-published book about the Jay Ward cartoons.
Mind you, Ward didn't only make fun of Walt Disney. As animation legend June Foray, who did the voice of the princess and the evil fairy in this particular "Fractured Fairy Tale" once told me: "Jay's cartoons offended nations, school teachers, weather bureaus, everyone."
The prince realizes "Awake she's just another princess. Asleep she's a gold mine!"
He envisions Sleeping Beauty comics, Sleeping Beauty Hats, Sleeping Beauty bubblegum and, of course, Sleeping Beauty Land where people will pay to see her.
There was the belief at the studio that the Disney parody where an "X coupon" would get you across the bridge of "Moat Land" in front of the castle, a "Y Coupon" would get you into "Entrance Hall Land" and a "Z Coupon" would get you up "Staircase Land" to see the Sleeping Beauty might raise the ire of the Disney Company and generate some publicity.
There was never any public reaction. Jay Ward's daughter once claimed that Disney loved it.
Bambi Meets Godzilla
Bambi Meets Godzilla (1969) is a two-minute cartoon animated by Marv Newland about what happens when a pastoral Disney Bambi in a field encounters the famous Japanese monster's massive foot. The bulk of the film is the credits which are solely Newland (as well as a credit to his parents for creating him), so there are several layers of commentary at work in just a few seconds. However, like all good Disney parodies, it serves the primary purpose of making us smile.
With the continued success of Disney animated films and with the fact that every generation has now grown up immersed in the classic animated features, it can be expected that more Disney parodies will be concocted to surprise and amuse audiences in the future.
Walt apparently had a sense of humor about it all.