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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
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.
While it is not a favourite of mine, 'The Hot Choc-late Soldiers' is
still a lot of fun and it is a shame that it is pretty much a rarity
aside from featuring in (and being a highlight of) 'Hollywood Party'.
There is actually not very much here in 'The Hot Choc-late Soldiers' that's wrong, other than that it is quite slight story-wise and for a Disney cartoon it did feel a little too short (being about a minute and a half shorter than the average Disney short). It is understandable if it's not for everybody's tastes, especially those expecting something funnier and less cutesy. Just for the record, personally neither are an issue.
Going on to what is good about 'The Hot Choc-late Soldiers' the animation is very colourful and beautifully drawn, drawing favourable comparisons with 'The Cookie Carnival' (one of my favourites) and the traditional early Fleischer animation style. In the battle sequence that dominates most of the short, there are some really clever visuals and inventive animation that makes imaginative (on the same level of 'The Cookie Carnival' in imagination) use of sugary treats. The music is another strong component, from the incredibly catchy title song to the energetic, lusciously orchestrated and sometimes tense incidental music.
Despite how cutesy it all sounds, 'The Hot Choc-late Soldiers' doesn't just have one emotion and such. While there are funnier and faster-paced Disney cartoons around, there are still some fun gags that are mostly down to how the treats are used (i.e the agreed surprisingly suggestive touch with the soldier melting at being kissed). For a Disney short of this time, it's reasonably daring too with the battle having parts of genuine tension as well as genuine fun- yes, fortunately warfare is not "sugar-coated" (pun intended) here- and in particular the poignantly bittersweet ending, that is so unexpected when one expects it to end happily like the defeat suggests.
Although there isn't a main character here the characters are cute and you do care about what happens to them. The singing vocals of (I think) an uncredited Arthur Freed help give the title song its rousing nature.
In conclusion, not a favourite but still has a lot to like and should be known more. 8/10 Bethany Cox
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I'd never even heard of oldy The Hollywood Party, but I'd definitely buy it just for the sake of having this adorable sweet little gem! The live action part at the beginning was...different, but it was a relief when the actual cartoon started. Kinda thought I was watching the wrong feature for a second there... This fine animation is really a Silly Symphony in all but name. It would have made a grand addition to the series. A group of chocolate soldiers go to war against a neighbouring cookie kingdom-now that's a wave of destruction that's easy on the eyes, a battle you can sink your teeth into! War looks delicious in this world, and the sight gags fly fast and furious. The battle has all the classic elements, there's the cavalry, which in this particular instance consists of soldiers saddled on the backs of cute little fluffy baby chickens, and bunny-drawn chariots-both of which are even more impossibly cute than they sound! There are catapults which hurl molten marshmallows, a candy-cane battering ram which shatters on impact, one of those rampart-boarding ladder thingies which is used in an attempt to breach the cookie castle-doesn't work, and after everything the chocolate soldiers actually end up winning via means of a dirty trick, they enter the cookie fort with a Trojan horse, which ironically is in the form of a dove of peace! Cue a heck of a lot of Disney death! Quite dark I'd say, especially for a short about anthropomorphic candy! They really beat em' good too, no mercy given here-not at all! And as the show draws to a close things get really strange when everybody winds up melting into puddles of sweet goo, courtesy of jolly ol' Mr.Sun! Ha! The moral from my point of view is clear: in war there are no victors. That's what you call a bittersweet ending! I really loved this. Everything looks so cute and delicious-but it's still war! Know what I mean? Excellent stuff, it deserves to be better known than it seems to be. Still, it's probably a good thing to have one or two little treasures left undiscovered-and this was a very sweet surprise indeed!
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