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The Hot Choc-late Soldiers (1934)

6.9
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The Chocolate Soldiers seek to attack Pastry Village.

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Title: The Hot Choc-late Soldiers (1934)

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Mickey Mouse (voice) (uncredited)
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The Chocolate Soldiers seek to attack Pastry Village.

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24 May 1934 (USA)  »

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1.37 : 1
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Featured in Hollywood Party (1934) See more »

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Like warfare, only cuter
20 May 2010 | by (Westchester County, NY) – See all my reviews

This Disney short is something of a rarity, or at least it was until recently. Originally The Hot Choc-Late Soldiers was a segment in the MGM feature Hollywood Party, a strange musical hodgepodge best remembered for a sequence in which Laurel & Hardy pair off with Lupe Velez in an amusing egg-breaking routine. The Disney contribution to the festivities pops up unexpectedly mid-way when several party guests scream that a mouse is loose; host Jimmy Durante catches the mouse, who turns out to be Mickey. (The mixture of animation with live action that allows Durante to interact with Mickey is nicely handled.) Mickey sits at a piano to play an overture. We see that the sheet music on his stand bears the title "The Hot Choc-Late Soldiers" with words and music by noted tune-smiths Nacio Herb Brown & Arthur Freed. Then the cartoon proper begins, and, as Tex Avery would say, Technicolor begins here.

Connoisseurs of Disney's Silly Symphonies will recognize this short as something of a dress rehearsal for two of the best entries in the series, The Candy Carnival and Music Land, both released in 1935. In this early version we find the humanoid candy creatures of the former combined with the stylized combat of the latter. The action is set to Brown & Freed's incongruously cheery tune, which is somewhat reminiscent of Leon Jessel's "Parade of the Wooden Soldiers." What follows is not exactly cheery, however.

We watch the chocolate soldiers march off to war, parading past plump chocolate ladies who wave and wink. One of the ladies kisses a soldier and causes him to go liquid, a surprisingly suggestive gag. Then the troops march off as the band plays and everyone cheers. The chocolate army advances on Pastry Land, a walled fortress manned by their enemies, the gingerbread men. (We're never told about the political issues behind the war, but I surmise it may have something to do with a disagreement over recipes.) As they march we notice some of the cute touches supplied by the Disney crew: soldiers ride on chicks, the Red Cross wagon is drawn by a hopping bunny who sports a blue ribbon, and the soldiers carry candy-striped rifles that fire chocolate-covered cherries. When they reach Pastry Land we find that the enemy soldiers sleep under inverted waffle cones. The battle begins, and the weapons at hand include flaming marshmallows fired with arrows and cream squirted through giant éclairs.

I don't know, is it just me, or is this kind of macabre? I suppose when this material was first seen by audiences in 1934 the memories of the Great War had faded to the point where such a lighthearted treatment of warfare was acceptable, but in watching this cartoon today I can't help but recall that the schoolboys who saw it when it was new (perhaps including my father, my uncle, and their contemporaries) were the same young men who went off to war for real eight or nine years later.

The ending is truly startling. After the chocolate soldiers win the day with a Trojan Horse-style stratagem, they march home in triumph and bask in the cheers of a grateful populace. We notice, however, that the soldiers who march home are maimed. They lack pieces; chunks of arms or legs have been blown off. One soldier missing a leg marches on a prosthetic limb made of candy cane, while another soldier actually marches home headless! (Here's where I'd imagine veterans of the Great War, or their families, would have been discomfited back in '34.) Still, despite their grievous injuries the troops are happily welcomed by the same smiling, waving chocolate ladies who saw them off before the war. And then comes the kicker: Old Mr. Sun grins and winks at us, aims his hottest beams at the passing parade below, and all the soldiers are melted into a great runny pool of chocolate glop, as their candy cane weapons float away. Iris out.

As I noted earlier this cartoon has long been something of a rarity, at least, apart from its original home as a segment of Hollywood Party. It was cut from TV prints of the feature film, but restored when the movie was released on VHS. And now, at this writing anyway, it can be viewed as an separate entity on YouTube. Buffs interested in a fascinating bit of Disneyana may summon it up very easily online. Aside from the historic interest it will hold for animation fans The Hot Choc-Late Soldiers is a sobering parable on the futility of war, delivered in an unusual format, in an unlikely forum, from a most unexpected source.


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