Celebrated Shorts: 5 Classic Disney Films You Need To Watch
This week, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will unveil the nominations for the 2022 Academy Awards. While the Oscar for Best Animated Feature has become synonymous with Disney and Pixar films, the category is not as old as you might think. It was introduced at the 74th ceremony held on March 24, 2002, a mere twenty years ago. The blink of an eye for a tradition that dates back to 1937 when Walt created the first full-length animated feature in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.
That’s not to say that Disney wasn’t raking in the accolades before that. Far from it. The category of Best Animated Short Film debuted at the 5th version of the annual gala. Disney won that night for the film Flower and Trees and would go on to win nine of the next ten (the lone exception being in 1940). This year, Disney is expected to be nominated in the Animated Short Film category for the beautiful and poignant Us Again.
To celebrate this rich history, let’s take a look at some of the most noteworthy animated shorts the company has made over the years.
Flowers and Trees (1932)
Directed by Burt Gillett, with animation by Les Clark, David Hand, and Tom Palmer, this charming piece was truly historic. Not only was it the first film to win Best Animated Short (known at the time as Best Short Subject, Cartoon), but it was the first commercially released film in the full-color three-strip Technicolor process.
Part of the classic Silly Symphonies series, it tells the story of two trees attempting to woo a female tree in the springtime and the disastrous consequences of the loser’s ire.
Originally planned in black and white, Walt ended up scrapping all the work they had done after signing a deal with Technicolor. It seems the idea to make the switch to color was the right one, as Flowers and Trees was a wild success. In fact, last year it was selected by the Library of Congress for preservation in the National Film Registry for being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”
Toot, Whistle, Plunk, and Boom! (1953)
Voted #29 in a list of the 50 Greatest Cartoons of All Time by a group of 1,000 animation professionals in 1994, Toot, Whistle, Plunk, and Boom! was directed by Ward Kimball and Charles A. Nichols. The animation was provided by Ward Kimball, Julius Svendsen, Marc Davis, Henry Tanous, Art Stevens, and Xavier Atencio.
In the film, a character named Professor Owl takes his class on a journey through time to explore the principles of brass, woodwind, string, and percussion instruments. Like Flowers and Trees, it contained several notable firsts. It was the first cartoon produced in CinemaScope, and the first distributed by Buena Vista (now known as Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures).
At the 26th Academy Awards, Toot, Whistle, Plunk, and Boom! won the Oscar for Best Short Subject, Cartoon.
It’s Tough to Be A Bird (1969)
The Golden Age of American Animation is said to have stretched from 1928 (with the introduction of sound cartoons) to the end of the 1960s. In some ways, It’s Tough to Be A Bird could be considered a bookend for the period, with Steamboat Willie standing at the beginning.
Released in December of 1969, the film was directed and produced by Ward Kimball. Eric Larson and Art Stevens provided animation, and voice acting talent was provided by Ruth Buzzi and Richard Bakaylyan among others.
The story explores birds’ contributions to mankind over the course of history, as well as their fight for survival from prehistoric times to the present. It featured the song, “When the Buzzards Return to Hinkley Ridge” composed by Mel Leven, the same man responsible for the hit Disney song, “Cruella de Vil.”
The short took home Best Short Subject, Cartoon at the 42nd Academy Awards. It would be the last Walt Disney Animation Studios film to do so until 2012 when Paperman received the trophy.
Tin Toy (1988)
While Pixar’s Tin Toy was not technically a Disney film, it was distributed by Buena Vista Pictures, so we’re going to include it. Besides, it would end up playing a substantial role in Disney’s future. Directed by John Lasseter, the film is about a small one-man-band toy and his interactions with a human baby named Billy. Though at first, he tries to flee the slobbering affection of the child, he later chases him around demanding his attention when the infant decides he’s more interested in the box the toy came in.
Along with being an entertaining story, the film was a test for PhotoRealistic RenderMan, a 3D rendering software now known as Pixar RenderMan. In addition to winning an Academy Award (Pixar’s first, and the first for a CGI film), it caught the attention of Disney who signed an agreement with Pixar to produce a feature-length film that would be called Toy Story.
In 2003, it was selected for preservation by the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.
Almost 45 years passed from the release of It’s Tough to Be a Bird before the next Walt Disney Animation Studios film would receive an Oscar, but Paperman proved it was well worth the wait.
The short premiered with Wreck-It Ralph and was directed by John Kahrs. Speaking about his inspiration for the story, he said, “Every morning on my way to work I would go through Grand Central Station … and sometimes you’d meet eye to eye with people, just strangers, like a pretty girl or something, and you’d think is there a connection? You feel that connection for a split second and wonder who that person was. That’s the core idea of it – what if two people were really perfect for each other, and they had that chance meeting? And what if they were separated – how would those two people get back together again? And how could a little bit of magic and fate intervene to bring them back together?”
It tells the story of a young accountant in the 1940s, his chance encounter with a woman named Meg, and his subsequent attempts to connect with her again, all of which revolved around paper airplanes. Watching the piece feels a bit like witnessing visual poetry or listening to a beautiful ballad.
Speaking of Paperman, Leonard Maltin referred to it as, “perfection itself.”
The animated short is a special genre, one that has gone hand in hand with Disney since Walt’s days animating the Alice Comedies in Kansas City almost a century ago. It’s a gift that just keeps on giving, and I, for one, can’t wait to see what they come up with next.