It seems the first identification of whalesong as being produced by whales is from the 1880s. Which makes this short’s insistence that only humans and birds produce music . . . a choice. It’s true that there’s an obvious connection between birds and humans in that department, and birds are a logical choice for an anthropomorphized species to discuss music. However, the whales would like a word with this short. And it’s low, steady, soothing, and able to be heard for hundreds of miles.
Professor Owl (Bill Thompson) is teaching a classroom full of many assorted species of bird, most of them “you know, birds.” Today’s subject will be melody, one obviously near and dear to the hearts of his class. He tells them that it is equally important to Homo sapiens, which he then cheerfully dubs “man.” Followed by “women be talking.” Fortunately, most of the short is just sort of “here are snippets of all kinds of songs about all kinds of topics to prove that, yup, people sing songs about all kinds of topics.” All the birds have their preferred topic of which to sing.
This is not the only example of Disney’s jumping on a bandwagon, but it’s a good one. The posters advertise this short as “the screen’s first animated cartoon in 3-Dimension.” It isn’t. Fleischer Studios dabbled in it as early as the ‘30s. It’s hard to research this, because any search of “3D animation” gets you more information about animation that appears to be 3D within the screen than animation that used glasses to appear to come out of the screen. However, it’s true that this is Disney’s first experiment with the latter and one of only two that it made in the book of the ‘50s. That it’s this and a Donald Duck sort is pretty wild, though.
Another way this was experimental is that it was intended to be one of a series teaching about music. Walt was passionate on that subject; he talked a lot about the importance of music to the studio’s films. This is one of the only two of the series ever made, the other being the Oscar-winning “Toot, Whistle, Plunk, and Boom.” It’s kind of surprising that there hasn’t been anything more of the series since. Even though the shorts were toward the tail end of the era of theatrical shorts, there’s still room for a few more of them before Disney stopped producing theatrical shorts altogether.
Frankly, making a few more might’ve led to making a few that were good. This one kind of is, I guess. It’s got that unfortunate “women be talking” bit, yes, but most of the rest of it is neutral. (There’s a “Motherhood” bit that includes lyrics about how great it is accompanied in animation by the frazzled look on an animated rabbit’s face.) But I feel as though getting a few more of these under their belt would’ve let Disney get the hang of them properly. For now, though, better to stick to Professor Ludwig von Drake for your music history.
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