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This notable entry in Walt Disney's famous Silly Symphony series is
perhaps best remembered for its take-off's of current movie stars,
including Bing Crosby, Harpo Marx, and --most spectacularly-- Mae West,
but seen today the film is even more striking for its subversive
treatment of the legal system. The sassy attitude on display here
smacks more of the Fleischer Studio or the wise-guy aggressiveness of
Warner Brothers' Termite Terrace boys than what we usually get from
Uncle Walt. This cartoon also appears to have just barely slipped past
the newly strict Hays Office censors with its naughty insinuations (via
Jenny Wren, the Mae West stand-in) and blatant "pansy" references.
For the first few moments after the opening credits things seem typically Silly Symphony-like: Cock Robin croons a love song to his girlfriend as we take in the rich palette of Disney's Technicolor flowers and trees. Abruptly, Cock Robin is bumped off, plummeting to the ground before the Old Crow Bar in what looks like the seedy part of the woods, and suddenly we're in a different universe. As the morgue orderlies carry Cock Robin away, one of them casually tosses his hat onto the arrow protruding from his chest. A nice dark touch, that.
Then the cops show up and roust three suspects out of the bar, and here's where things get really disturbing. All three suspects are dragged away and clubbed, but a black bird who talks like Stepin Fetchit and wears a white jacket is singled out for special brutality. Despite his protests that he "didn't do nuthin', don't know nuthin', and didn't see nuthin'" the black bird is clobbered repeatedly. The segue from the sequence before the trial to the trial itself is an amazingly bold cross-fade, timed to the rhythm of a cop clubbing this guy's head as it blends with the pounding of the judge's gavel. Eisenstein couldn't have done it better! And when the black bird repeats his denials, the jury mocks his cries with a minstrel show parody. It's only funny in the most grim sense of the word.
Am I being excessively P.C. in examining a Disney cartoon in this fashion? I don't think so, nor am I calling the filmmakers racist. The animators who made this cartoon seem to be taking a very bleak view of the justice system and playing their own cynicism for laughs, the way the Marx Brothers took on politics in DUCK SOUP. But I do wonder how the cartoon went over in cinemas in African American neighborhoods. Did black audiences laugh ruefully? Or watch in stony silence?
Beyond that, what's interesting to me about WHO KILLED COCK ROBIN? is the fact that, with the exception of Jenny Wren, the Hollywood caricatures really aren't central to the success of the whole. The Judge (an owl) and the D.A. (a parrot) are more impressive characters in terms of design than any of the others, and the jury acting as Greek Chorus is a great idea-- even if Gilbert & Sullivan thought of it first. Still, it's Jenny Wren we remember from this film, and here the animators and the uncredited performer who provided her voice really outdid themselves: this is a superb parody of Mae West that beautifully captures her look, her sound, her moves, and her style, especially in her courtroom musical number.
All in all this is a remarkable cartoon, and one that the Disney Organization would never have made after the mid-1930s. Once the war came, and forever after, Uncle Walt never sanctioned anything that could be deemed critical of the American Way of Life.
A Walt Disney SILLY SYMPHONY Cartoon Short.
A dapper young redbreast trilling his song to his lady love is shot with an arrow. WHO KILLED COCK ROBIN? The judge at the murder trial gets a rather surprising answer...
A very colorful and amusing cartoon, highlighted by caricatures of a few Hollywood stars: Bing Crosby, Harpo Marx, the Keystone Kops and, in the unedited version, Stepin Fetchit. The character of Jenny Wren is a splendid spoof of Mae West.
The SILLY SYMPHONIES, which Walt Disney produced for a ten year period beginning in 1929, are among the most interesting of series in the field of animation. Unlike the Mickey Mouse cartoons in which action was paramount, with the Symphonies the action was made to fit the music. There was little plot in the early Symphonies, which featured lively inanimate objects and anthropomorphic plants & animals, all moving frantically to the soundtrack. Gradually, however, the Symphonies became the school where Walt's animators learned to work with color and began to experiment with plot, characterization & photographic special effects. The pages of Fable & Fairy Tale, Myth & Mother Goose were all mined to provide story lines and even Hollywood's musicals & celebrities were effectively spoofed. It was from this rich soil that Disney's feature-length animation was to spring. In 1939, with SNOW WHITE successfully behind him and PINOCCHIO & FANTASIA on the near horizon, Walt phased out the SILLY SYMPHONIES; they had run their course & served their purpose.
In this Silly Symphony cartoon, Cock Robin is shot with an arrow while trying to woo Miss Jenny Wren (wonderfully animated as a Mae West parody). A trial featuring a wide variety of well drawn bird characters follows. The cuckoo bird, drawn to look like Harpo Marx, is especially enjoyable. This is a great short, but it seems to sprint through the story. Other Silly Symphonies, like The Wise Little Hen, take their time with things. This one seems very hurried. Still, that shouldn't take away from enjoying the wonderful animation.
Sometimes I'm so into watching Looney Tunes that I forget about
gorgeous animated Silly Symphonies. This one, despite some jokes that
would be inappropriate today (like a slightly racist one, which is
probably about 20% racist), "Who Killed Cock Robin?" was a pleasure to
I enjoyed this Silly Symphony for the beautiful animation, Cock Robin, the singing and the female robin is good as well. The end is very sweet. Some people may be put off by the "innapropriate jokes" but it should not let you be put off. That was what cartoons were like in those days. They did not know it was rude. Sometimes it's quite nice to watch an "unsafe" cartoon nowadays. :-) A lot of Looney Tunes episodes are like this as well.
A cute and handsome robin sings to a beautiful female robin, playing his guitar (the female robin is supposed to represent Mae West). Someone shoots him and the police investigate very quickly, taking quite a few witnesses to a court case. Will they find out who killed Cock Robin?
Recommended to people who do not mind "different" cartoons and Silly Symphonies! Enjoy! :-)
I have always been a Disney fan, and Who Killed Cock Robin is one of my favourite(after re-visiting it after so many years of having nothing but fond memories of it)Silly Symphony cartoons of the 30s alongside Flowers and Trees, The Band Concert, The Old Mill and The Ugly Duckling(1939). It is quite dark with all the interrogating, the perfect capturing of the mood of a detective story and the black and white opening credits, but the characterisation of Jenny Wren, the natural strut of the parrot while interrogating the parrot, the brilliant courtroom sequence and the delightful caricatures of Mae West(Jenny Wren), Bing Crosby(Cock Robin) and Harpo Marx(the third bird) ensure that it is very smart and satirical also(of the criminal justice system that is). The animation is fluid and colourful, each frame looking beautiful, and of the character designs the revelations were the strut of the parrot and the floating nature of Jenny Wren. The music is wonderful, really helping to enhance the action, and all the characters are great. There was a time where I was annoyed by Dan Cupid's high-pitched voice and his Ed Wynn-like laugh, but I am now used to it. Overall, simply brilliant. 10/10 Bethany Cox
Although this short lost the Oscar to another Disney cartoon (Three Orphan Kittens), it's actually got a lot more going for it than the winner. An adaptation of the old nursery rhyme (very loose adaptation, as is typical of Disney), there's a lot going on here. Mae West isn't the only parody here. Hollywood would be parodied quite a bit by both Disney and Warner Brothers in cartoons. Well worth your time. Recommended.
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