Jiminy Cricket Is No Foolby Jim Korkis, contributing writer
“I'm no fool! No sir-ee!
I wanna live to be 93.
I play safe for you and me
'Cause I'm no fool!
Anyone can be a fool
And do thing which are wrong
But fools find out when it’s too late
That they don’t live so long.”
— I’m No Fool (1955) words and music by Jimmie Dodd
In the cartoon shorts, the age changed for each chorus, going from 23 to 33, then skipping to 53, 93 and finally 103.
For several generations of Disney fans, those lyrics may immediately bring a big smile to their faces. That lively tune sung by Jiminy Cricket (voiced by his original voice artist, the amazing Cliff Edwards) was part of many fans’ early childhood.
Walt Disney was no fool when it came to the production of the original Mickey Mouse Club in 1955. He realized that doing the hour-long show would guarantee at least another $1.5 million from the ABC television network to help with completing of building the Disneyland theme park.
However, it was important that costs be contained on the children’s show. Besides the opening credits that could be constantly recycled every day, additional animation could only be created if there were other ways to help recoup those production costs. Since The Mickey Mouse Club was to include an educational approach as part of the entertainment, Walt realized that he could create animated educational shorts that could then be rented to schools and other civic institutions, like police and fire departments, through the Disney Studio new 16mm Film Rental Division. That division evolved into the subsidiary Disney Educational Media Company in 1969.
In the third issue of Walt Disney’s Mickey Mouse Club Magazine (Summer 1956), there was a two-page color adaptation illustrated by Paul Hartley of the I’m No Fool With Fire short with the last paragraph stating: “These illustrations are from the Walt Disney film I’m No Fool With Fire. This eight-minute Technicolor film may be rented if your school, Scout troop or any other organization you belong to wants to show it. Write 16mm Division, Disney Studio, Burbank, California.”
Many schools took advantage of that offer, as well as renting other 16mm offerings (including complete Disney animated features for fundraising purposes).
On the evening of September 23, 1955, just 10 days before the debut of the original Mickey Mouse Club on television, Walt Disney in a coast-to-coast 82 station closed circuit broadcast from the ABC studios in New York City, described the Mickey Mouse Club show and the philosophy behind it.
At one point, he said, “Our old friend, Jiminy Cricket, will also be part of the show. Jiminy’s going to help us with what we call our ‘factual entertainment.’ He’ll show the youngsters things about the living world, about health, hygiene, safety, and many other things that concern their well-being.”
The Disney on Television Classroom Guide was distributed by Disney and ABC to teachers throughout the country with program notes, guide sheets suggesting classroom activities, and other things: “A supplementary materials guide for classroom use in connection with two television programs produced by Walt Disney: Disneyland and Mickey Mouse Club presented exclusively over the ABC Television Network.”
In the 1955 edition, Walt wrote, “We have the greatest respect for the basic intelligence of our future adults and their desire to learn. We, likewise, are aware of a sometimes prevalent habit of ‘talking down’ to audiences of this type. To the best of our ability we aim to ‘talk up’ as much as possible as we program our material, remembering that we will accomplish more if we ‘entertain’ as we go along…Jiminy Cricket, who was rather proud of his work as Pinocchio’s conscience, plays an active part in several portions of the Mickey Mouse Club.”
A series of four different series hosted by Jiminy Cricket would deal with biology (You, “The Human Animal”), safety (I’m No Fool), wildlife (Nature of Things) and general knowledge (Encyclopedia).
Another Jimmie Dodd written song sung by Jiminy is also part of many Disney childhoods: “Get the Encyclopedia! E-n-c-y-c-l-o-p-e-d-i-a. Encyclopedia! If you want to know the answers, here is the way. Just look inside this book and you will see, everything from ‘A’ clear down through ‘Z’. In the Encyclopedia! E-n-c-y-c-l-o-p-e-d-i-a.”
“Didn’t everyone who watched the Mickey Mouse Club learn to spell ‘encyclopedia’ that way?" said film critic Leonard Maltin. "That’s the way I spell it to this very day, with that same melodious cadence in my head.”
Encyclopedia was a catch-all title that covered, in animation and live-action, a variety of topics, including a history of milk (“The final step is bottling. Boy, look at those caps go on! Yes, sir, milk is good to drink and it’s made into cheese and butter and ice cream and…oh, lots of things. And who do we have to thank for all this? Bossy, here. Y’know, with all his knowledge, man has never been able to make a machine to replace the cow.”), America’s railroads, steel and other topics like Cork and Wheelwright.
The Encyclopedia opening was later adapted so that Jiminy introduced some of the MMC Newsreel Specials, like the visit to Washington, D.C. In addition, Jiminy hosted the Mickey Mouse Book Club, which was a way to use clips from Disney films while supposedly promoting books like Secrets of Life, Cinderella, Uncle Remus, Lady and the Tramp, and The Littlest Outlaw.
The Nature of Things taught audiences about animals. The majority of this segment generally featured live-action snipped from the True-Life Adventures series with voice-over narration.
According to the Disney guide: “In this series, Jiminy assumes a role as a moderator or master of ceremonies, as he discusses and sings about a number of things which interest him. Specifically, he is fascinated with the ‘case’ histories of some of our most popular animal friends. With animation and photography and a special song, he delves into the background, the characteristics and the special qualities of the Horse, the Beaver, the Elephant, the Giraffe and the Camel. He shares with his audience the realization that many of things associated with these animals which appear strange are really just ‘The Nature of Things.’”
You (titled "This is You" in the original proposal) dealt with the human body including the five senses and the proper food put into the living machine. According to the 1955 Disney guide given for classrooms: “Jiminy finds a discussion of the human body and how it works to be not only a rich source for his particular brand of humor, but a subject full of never-ending marvels. He limits himself in this series to spotlighting the five sense of man and the relative degrees to which each has been developed.”
The same “Y-O-U” chalkboard character used in the I’m No Fool series also pops up here to be taught about the human body: “You are a human animal. You are a very special breed. For you are the only animal who can think, who can reason, who can read! Now all your pets are smart. That’s true. But none of them can add up two and two. Because the only thinking animal is you, you, YOU!”
However, the Jiminy Cricket segment that made the strongest impression on young viewers was I’m No Fool. There was a similarity to the “Goofus and Gallant” cartoons that appeared in the Highlights for Children magazine beginning in the 1940s that children would read while waiting in a doctor’s or dentist’s waiting room. These episodes tried to teach proper social skills. Irresponsible and rude Goofus hogs the seat on a school bus but thoughtful Gallant always shares his seat. You can see some samples of Goofus and Gallant behavior here.
“Each unit is in full animation and utilizes humor and a catchy song with varying lyrics to fit the situation. As the title of the series implies, Jiminy believes it’s smart not to be foolish,” stated the Disney guide about I’m No Fool.
The opening of the I’m No Fool series was always the same animation, seamlessly transitioning into the new animation needed for each episode.
Sitting comfortably on the loop handle of an antique candle chamberstick and surrounded by towering mountains of enormous, different-colored books, Jiminy Cricket would burst into song and climb a stack of uneven books: “There are two ways to do anything. The right way and the wrong way. If you want to be right, do things the right way—because if you do things the wrong way, that’s the foolish way. Only fools do things the foolish way—which is the wrong way. Right?”
Jiminy would leap into the air, with his open umbrella slowing his descent, until he landed by a huge blue book with the title of that day’s topic prominently displayed at the top. When Jiminy opened the book, the images on the illustrated pages would spring to limited animated life.
After the brief historical background lesson on the subject, Jiminy was shown standing next to a standard school chalkboard to illustrate his lessons. Carefully, he would write the word “Y-O-U” and the chalk letters would swirl into the form of an idealized young boy who always knew the right thing to do without being told. Later, Jiminy would write the word “F-O-O-L” and it would squiggle into a goofy looking young boy who was always foolish and reckless and whose adventures end in disaster, turning him into chalk dust to be scooped up by Jiminy’s eraser. This character was the “Common Ordinary Fool.”
The animation for these chalkboard “stick figures” was done by the underrated animator Cliff Nordberg.
At the end of various examples of the right and wrong things to do in a sort of “safety game” between You and the Fool, Jiminy would pin an “I’m No Fool” button on the smart lad. “The winner and still champion!” Jiminy proclaimed.
During the original run of The Mickey Mouse Club, five eight-minute I’m No Fool shorts were produced. Legendary X. Atencio, perhaps best known for providing the lyrics to the theme songs of the Pirates of Caribbean and the Haunted Mansion, had a long career in animation, including some innovative experiments with Bill Justice in stop-motion animation. Atencio did the layout for all of these shorts.
Disney Legend Les Clark, who had transitioned into directing educational shorts beginning with You, the Human Animal, directed some, if not all, of these Jiminy Cricket shorts. Clark would go on to direct many other Disney educational projects including 1965's Donald's Fire Survival Plan and 1973's Man, Monsters and Mysteries.
“I did work on The Mickey Mouse Club as my first assignment as a Disney apprentice in-betweener back in 1956,” Disney Legend Floyd Norman told me. “I worked for Rolly Crump, the assistant animator who would eventually be known as an Imagineering Legend. We did the Jiminy Cricket stuff for animators such as Jack Parr, and Bob Carlson. We often saw Cliff Edwards upstairs in [director] Les Clark’s unit. I worked with Rolly on the I’m No Fool series and the Encyclopedia series as well. As a matter of fact, I still have a few sketches of Jiminy Cricket I did back in 1956. Guys you mentioned like Jerry Hathcock, Bob Youngquist, Cliff Nordberg, George Nicholas and others were working on the same material.”
Here are the five original I’m No Fool shorts.
1. I'm No Fool ... With a Bicycle
Original premiere: October 6, 1955
Jiminy Cricket gives a short history of the bicycle and then shows basic safety rules for riding. This short premiered on the fourth episode of the original Mickey Mouse Club. Released in 16mm for rental on April 1956. Updated version September 1988.
2. I'm No Fool ... With Fire
Jiminy Cricket gives a history of man's discovery and reliance on fire through history and shares some lessons on how to properly handle its potentially destructive nature. Released in 16mm for rental on April 1956. Updated version September 1986.
3. I'm No Fool ... as a Pedestrian
Original Premiere: October 8, 1956
Jiminy Cricket shows the history of reckless driving from 3000 AD up to the present and then illustrates the problems faced by modern pedestrians and how to walk safely in an area with traffic. Released on 16mm for rental on Oct. 1956. Updated version 1987.
4. I'm No Fool ... In Water
Original Premiere: November 15, 1956
Jiminy Cricket shows the proper way to behave while swimming and basic water safety rules. Released on 16mm for rental on April 1957. Updated version 1987
5. I'm No Fool ... Having Fun
Original Premiere: December 17, 1956
Jiminy Cricket discusses the history of recreation and emphasizes the safety rules necessary to have recreational fun safely. Released on 16mm for rental on April 1957.
Fifteen years later, a sixth I’m No Fool cartoon was made. Since Edwards had passed away in 1971, he was unable to record new material. Snippets of his voice, including the opening song, were used but new material of Jiminy talking was supposedly done by Sterling Holloway. The voices did not match at all.
6. I'm No Fool ... With Electricity
Original release date: October 1973
Jiminy Cricket discusses the discovery and history of electricity and gives rules for avoiding electrical accidents by respecting electrical safety rules. Direction: Les Clark, Story: Bill Berg, Original Music: George Bruns, Film Editing: Jim Love, Art Department: Kendall O’Connor, Animation: Charlie Downs. Updated version September 1988.
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Disney Educational Media created new additions to the series, as well as updating some of the existing cartoons. Eddie Carroll, the official voice of Jiminy Cricket since 1977, supplied the voice for Jiminy when any new dialog was necessary. Generally, these versions included the original opening song and history lesson and then transitioned to live action, eliminating the “You and Fool” segment. These versions also sometimes included new characters like Pinocchio, Gepetto and an outer space alien.
Generally, these cartoons were sometimes twice the length of the originals, with the additional live-action and were often meant to be followed by a live question-and-answer session, often by a police officer or a teacher. The suggested age level for these videos was for kindergarten through second grade. While these updated versions offer more current information, they lack the simple charm and effectiveness of the original episodes.
UPDATED: I’m No Fool With Fire
Original Release Date: 1986 (9 minutes)
New material includes live action of a young school boy and a young girl sharing with a fireman named Captain Brody what they know including “stop, drop and roll” and creating a home exit route in case of fire. They are writing reports for their school on fire safety and are given a tour of the fire station. The updated version does not include the animated segment with scenes of You and the Fool, eliminating Jiminy Cricket dialog like “Try it again, stupid.” The new live-action material was produced and directed by Martha Moran with a special thanks to Ed Reed of the Los Angeles Fire Department.
UPDATED: I’m No Fool as a Pedestrian
Original Release Date: 1987 (15 minutes)
Jiminy Cricket introduces the program, which stars Geppetto and Pinocchio, who is learning how to be an “Expert Pedestrian.” With the help of his friends Billy, Amy and Maria, Pinocchio learns many important guidelines for pedestrian safety, from the “stop, look and listen” tool to making good decisions about crosswalk signs.
UPDATED: I’m No Fool in the Water
Original Release Date: 1987 (9 minutes)
Jiminy Cricket introduces this program on water safety with a light-hearted overview of primitive man’s first contact with water taken from the original short. Next, Jiminy makes viewers aware that there are wrong places to swim. Connie, the lifeguard, then takes over and teaches three youngsters some important water safety rules. With Connie’s coaching, the children practice the survival float maneuver and then excitedly — and safely — swim off for a race.
UPDATED: I’m No Fool with a Bicycle
Original Release Date: September 1988 (16 minutes)
Jiminy Cricket introduces the program, which stars Geppetto and Pinocchio, who is learning how to ride a bicycle safely. With the help of his friends Eric and Denise, Pinocchio learns safety rules for riding his bicycle safely and where to ride his bike. He also learns how to make his bike safe to ride and how to dress and wear a helmet so that he is safe, too.
UPDATED: I'm No Fool ... With Electricity
Original Release Date: September 1988
Unfortunately, I was unable to find information on the updated version although it probably followed the format of the previous films of eliminating the You and the Fool sections and adding live action.
I'm No Fool ... In Unsafe Places
Original Release Date: January 1991 (14 minutes)
One of the lessons Pinocchio has to learn after becoming a real boy is how to recognize what is a safe play area and what is not. Unsafe places include railroad tracks, crosswalks, pools, storm drains and playing in abandoned refrigerators or at construction sites. There is also a 28-minute version available.
I'm No Fool ... On Wheels
Original Release Date: January 1991 (13 minutes)
Pinocchio learns the proper procedures and equipment for riding bicycles, roller skating, and skateboarding from his live-action friends. There is an expanded 25-minute version available, as well.
I'm No Fool ... With Safety at School
Original Release Date: January 1991 (12 minutes); (expanded version March 1993 (28 minutes)
Jiminy Cricket and Pinocchio show how to behave safely at school from their live-action elementary school friends. There was also a 28-minute version released.
I'm No Fool ... In a Car
Original Release Date: April 1992 (15 minutes)
Proper automotive safety is explained after an outer space alien unbuckles his seat belt in his spaceship and falls to Earth. On Earth, the alien learns about car safety.
I'm No Fool ... In an Emergency
Original Release Date: April 1992 (13 minutes)
A police officer gets injured during a chase trying to capture an outer space alien. Two live action children demonstrate how to handle the situation calmly by calling the paramedics.
I'm No Fool ... In Unsafe Places II
Original Release Date: April 1992 (15 minutes)
An outer space alien learns how to keep away from unsafe and hazardous areas with the help of two live action children.
These updated editions are no longer available from Disney Educational Media, not only because the information may be out of date but the clothing styles and acting in the live action sections would probably look odd for today’s audiences.
I wish that the Disney Company would consider releasing the original Jiminy Cricket educational shorts on DVD/BluRay, as well as considering releasing many of the other educational shorts made by the company. While some of the information may be a little out of date (which is why Disney historian and friend Leonard Maltin should do an appropriate introduction), the entertainment value and the artistic craftsmanship should be preserved and shared.