Succinct structural form marks all Disney's pictures and makes other animated cartoons, no matter how ingenious they may be, look pallid."
The narrative source of the production is consistently the characters themselves, and the film's style is a mixture of realism in terms of the lush and colorful scenery and a caricature of the protagonist and antagonist, Toby and Max, as the bullied and bully, the show-off and the showed-off, respectively. As Nowell-Smith points out:
The technical advances explored in the Silly Symphonies partly arose from a rivalry with the Fleischers, who, among all the other animation studios that survived into the sound era, consistently produced excellent cartoons in the early 1930s. Unlike the Disney product, which tended increasingly to an 'illusion of life' live-action imitation, the earlier Fleischer cartoons reveled in stylization, caricature, unrealistic transformations, elaborate repetitive cycles, direct address to the audience, and illogical developments which seem inherent, distinctive properties or potentials of animation.
In fact, there is an enormous amount of attention to "illusion of life" details evidenced from the open scenes with hundreds of characters, many of them actively animated in mini-race scenes and darting in and out of the stands and scurrying about in impromptu footraces while a beleaguered albino hippopotamus tries to keep order and direct traffic (even so, a stork on crutches is tumbled to the ground and the stork character appears more than once) (see Figure 2 below).
Figure 2. Opening scene of Disney's "The Tortoise and the Hare."
In the midst of all of this commotion, the cheering crowd welcomes Max with a thunderous ovation, followed by their laugh-filled reception of Toby. Virtually every scene features multi-colored flora in an apparent attempt to use every color in the Disney art studio's repertoire.
The draftsmanship involved in this cartoon short is characterized by heavily outlined characters with clearly delineated features and body appendages, all with the trademark four-fingered hands making hand definition easier to communicate and more pronounced for viewers. As noted above, almost all of the scenes of the preparatory scenes and the race itself are framed with landscapes of trees as boundaries and are sprinkled throughout with flowers, mushrooms and small bits of vegetation. Shading and texture are also abundant, with even the rock wall in the girl's school scene being illustrated in a three-dimensional fashion.
As to the historical relativism involved in this fable, "The Tortoise and the Hare" is numbered among Aesop's fables, including other well-known tales such as, "The Boy Who Cried Wolf,' "The Golden Goose," and "The Lion and the Mouse."
The backgrounds used throughout the production are equally lavish in their attention to detail, and are sprinkled with cloud formations and landscapes that feature appropriate perspective, roads, trails, footpaths and other details that help create a realistic sense of depth and dimension. The combination of these features and the high-quality animation, for its day, ensured that "The Tortoise and the Hare" would receive popular acclaim upon its release and it won an Academy Award in 1935 as a result of these attributes.
The research showed that the clear-cut moral lesson involved, the speculator production values, and the virtual absence of violence makes Disney's 1935 cartoon short, "The Tortoise and the Hare" an enduring favorite for children and parents alike, and it is likely that audiences in the 22nd century will be watching this Silly Symphony as well. The universal appeal of this production and Disney's other early Silly Symphonies is in sharp contrast to many modern animated features where backgrounds are limited to repeating same-scene montages, colors are meager and dialogue is designed to position and sell products rather than entertain. Indeed, it is difficult to not root for the tortoise and his triumphant finish which shows just what can happen when "you stick your neck out," even if the moral lesson of the story suggests that one should not be overconfident when doing so.
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Jacobs, Lewis. 1939. The Rise of the American Film: A Critical History. New York: Harcourt Brace.
Lounsberry, Barbara, Susan Lohafer, Mary Rohrberger, Stephen Pett and R.C. Feddersen. 1998. The Tales We Tell: Perspectives on the Short Story. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.
Nowell-Smith, Geoffrey. 1997. The Oxford History of World Cinema. Oxford: Oxford University Press.