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Cannibal Capers

A Silly Symphony

Release Date : March 13, 1930

Running Time : 6:15

Synopsis

A group of cannibals gather together for a tribal dance. That is, until their dance is interrupted by a ferocious lion!

Credits

Director
Bert Gillett
Animation
Les Clark
Floyd Gottfredson
Jack King
Ben Sharpsteen
Johnny Cannon
Tom Palmer
Norm Ferguson
Wilfred Jackson
Backgrounds
Carlos Manriquez
Music
Bert Lewis

Cut Scenes

The ending, which shows the little cannibal chasing the toothless lion back to the village where he finishes the cartoon in the pot, were deleted when re-release prints were prepared in the 1940s. This edit has been restored in the recent (2006) "More Silly Symphonies" DVD release.

DVD

United States
Disney Treasures : More Silly Symphonies
The Mickey Mouse Club : January 2, 1957

Technical Specification

Color Type: Black & White
Animation Type: Standard animation
Sound Mix: Mono : Cinephone
Aspect Ratio: 1.37 : 1
Negative Format: 35mm
Print Format: 35mm
Cinematographic Process: Spherical
Original Language: English

Released by Columbia Pictures, Inc.

Comments

  • Copyright date : April 1, 1930

From Ryan Kilpatrick at The Disney Film Project : Alright, so now we have the Silly Symphonies without the men who really created them – Ub Iwerks and Carl Stalling. So how does the series hold up in Cannibal Capers? Surprisingly, very, very well.

Director Burt Gillett and his animation team, including Les Clark, took a little different approach to this one. The idea is still simple, the cannibals are gathering for a tribal dance, and are interrupted by the appearance of a lion from the jungle. So there is still a big musical number and silly dances.

The difference is that in this short, the focus is very much on playing with the camera and seeing what inventive things can be done. For example, the opening of the short features what looks like a bunch of trees, swaying in the wind to some chanting music.

As it goes on, though, the camera pulls back and pans up at the same time, revealing the tree trunks to be the legs of the cannibals, and the tops to be their skirts. It’s a very cool opening, and shows some idea of what we are in store for with Cannibal Capers.

After that, we see the four cannibals dance, and then the camera pulls back yet again, revealing the vast landscape of the cannibal village, and showing that these four are not alone, but in fact are performing for their cohorts. It’s a great reveal that moves things forward at the same time.

We see the cannibals preparing for a feast, including mistaking one of their own for a turtle and tossing him into the boiling pot. It’s a fun case of mistaken identity, as the cannibal uses his shield to dance like a nearby turtle, but then gets grabbed by the cook and thrown in.

When the lion shows up, everyone scatters, and another camera trick ensues. The camera shows the lion in the big picture of the village, then zooms in to him, and shows the lion charging toward the camera with a roar. Again, a new trick to the animation arsenal.

The ending is fairly straightforward, as the lion chases our poor friend who had been thrown in the pot. The tables get turned, though, as the lion roars so wide that his teeth fall out, and the cannibal picks them up and uses them on the lion.

Cannibal Capers is by no means high art, and I’m sure it would be offensive to African-Americans today. However, all that aside, it’s entertaining. The plot flows smoothly throughout, but still manages to squeeze in some fun dancing sequences and craziness. There are the nifty camera moves I mentioned above, but otherwise the animation is a little simpler than the earlier shorts, as the cannibals are very much stick figures that use rubber hose animation in their movement. Overall, a fun short, a good story, but it lacks some of the greatness of something like The Skeleton Dance.


From Mac : There's a very good reason for the start of all these new camera moves. I learned from Merritt and Kaufman's Silly Symphony book that Cannibal Capers was the first cartoon to be photographed with Disney's new Universal camera which was more flexible and easier to use than the studio's Pathé camera which had been used on all of Disney's previous cartoons since 1923. Suddenly more camera moves were possible and it's clear Disney took advantage right away.

One interesting thing about this cartoon is the ending which has only recently been restored to the DVD. I'm not sure when the scene was originally cut. Leonard Maltin suggests it was cut when shown on the Mickey Mouse Club, but Kaufman and Merritt suggest it may have been cut before it was even released. I would guess it was intact on its first release, but cut when it was reissued to theatres.


From B. D. : I'm surprised that they even showed this on the Mickey Mouse Club at all - when I think of MMC, cannibalism isn't exactly the first thing that comes to mind...

It's interesting to see the innovation in film making techniques on display in this film - I wonder if the Universal Camera was a distant precursor to the famous multiplane camera?


From David Gerstein at Ramapith : As far as I'm able to ascertain, the cut predated the Mickey Mouse Club, dating back to at least the 1940s reissue print.

The original ending was certainly still on the cartoon in the mid-1930s, when home movie cutdowns were made: it's from one of those that Disney recovered the lost sequence.

As for cannibalism and the MMC, B. D., I'm damn sure that bratty little Moochie was eating bit-player kids when nobody was looking.


From Mac : That's funny! I remember when I was a little kid reading about Disney cartoons and all I knew of this one was the title. I wondered what the heck it was like since the idea of jungle natives didn't come to mind. I was picturing Psycho cannibals in a bloody kitchen and wondering how that fitted in with an early 30's cartoon aesthetic!
From Ryan Kilpatrick at The Disney Film Project : I was more concerned with the depiction of African natives than the fact that they were cannibals. They're very stereotypical to say the least. Not that I'm offended, but I can see where some would be.

Mac, I've got to get that book. Sounds like it has a lot of info I need for this. The new camera is very much on display in the shorts after this as well.

David, I have to agree with you on Moochie. That kid had shifty eyes. Didn't trust him.


From Jerry Edwards : An enjoyable early Silly Symphony. The opening scene appears to be some palm trees swaying in the wind, only they turn out to be the legs and grass skirts of dancing cannibals. The jungle tribe's riotous musical celebration is interrupted by a fierce lion. The lion chases one of the natives and bites him on the bottom. The lion's teeth come out, still attached to the native's bottom. The native takes the teeth, puts them in his mouth, and chases the lion, biting him as the cartoon ends. The lion is very nicely animated for 1930. The cartoon has several fun gags, such as one native being mistaken as a turtle and thrown into the stew pot. A Mickey Mouse Club version is incomplete, ending with the lion chasing the native and leaving out the very end.
From David Gerstein at Ramapith : While I haven't seen the Mickey Mouse Club version of Cannibal Capers (as Jerry has), I did tape it from Italian TV, and it seems more may be missing from the MMC version... In the original, when it's time to pick a candidate for dinner, the cannibal under the shield isn't mistaken for a turtle the chef knows very well what he's getting, and chooses between the cannibal and the turtle by doing an "Eeny-Meeny-Miney-Mo" toss-up. Then there's a classic bit where the lion stirs the stew and tries to eat the cannibal who'd been in the pot, but the little guy's too smart for him and finds ways of hanging around behind in the spoon. Great animation of the lion smugly strutting over to the pot and stirring it beforehand, too (the animators don't make the lion very consistent, but he's really good in that one scene.)
From Ryan : This is another very rare Disney cartoon because of its depiction of African natives, which in my opinion is a bit of an overreaction since the cannibals don't even look that offensive at all. It's just a silly cartoon with funny gags. I enjoy the way that the lion is drawn and the background art. However, the cannibals are a little out of proportion with the lion as one of them appears so much smaller (small enough to fit in a spoon). This is one of my favorite Silly Symphony cartoons that I enjoy watching from time to time.
From Christian : Despite the obvious racism in this short, it's still, in my opinion, one of the best Silly Symphonies. It has always been enjoyable for me to watch ever since I first saw it on this site when it once offered a new free cartoon each week. Like mentioned in the comments below, it is interesting to see one of the cannibals get out of proportion when the lion picks it up with a spoon. One thing I don't understand is why the re-releases cut the ending with the lion running away out. Not only does it give the short an abrupt ending, but it also doesn't make a lot of sense. But, that's life.

Out of 10 stars, I'd give this short a 9.8.


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