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The China Plate

A Silly Symphony

Release Date : May 23, 1931

Running Time : 7:32

Synopsis

An oriental scene on a China plate comes to life to tell the story of two young lovers menaced by an overweight Emperor and a fire-breathing dragon.

Credits

Director
Wilfred Jackson
Animation
Johnny Cannon
Rodolfo "Rudy" Zamora
Frenchy de Tremaudan
Joe D'Igalo
Jack Cutting
Frank Powers
Dick Lundy
Ben Sharpsteen
Dave Hand
Jack King
Asst. Animator
George Lane
Hardie Gramatky
Backgrounds
Carlos Manriquez
Emil Flohri
Music
Frank Churchill

DVD

United States
Disney Treasures : Silly Symphonies
Germany
Disney Treasures : Silly Symphonies
France
Disney Treasures : Silly Symphonies
Italy
Disney Treasures : Silly Symphonies
Sweden
Disney Treasures : Silly Symphonies
United Kingdom
Disney Treasures : Silly Symphonies

Television

The Ink and Paint Club: Episode 24: Symphonic Silly Symphonies
The Mickey Mouse Club : November 9, 1955

Technical Specification

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

Released by Columbia Pictures, Inc.

Comments

    • Announced release: May 23, 1931
    • Copyright date: May 16, 1931

From Ryan Kilpatrick at The Disney Film Project : The China Plate is an interesting case in the Silly Symphonies. It’s not exactly revolutionary, featuring a short subject about a young girl falling in love, but it is a new choice of subject for the series. Featuring a story about the Far East, set to Oriental themed music, it’s a new setting and a new toy box for the animators.

The titular plate gives this an interesting framework, as the short opens with a wide shot of the plate, featuring items painted on the plate that will feature prominently in the short. It allows things to be set up and also bookended with the plate’s image. It also puts into play a new paradigm of ancient art serving as a means of storytelling.

Once we get into the story itself, there are some early dance sequences that take up the time. We are introduced to the big heavy, the lord of the castle, and his servants. The next sequence has three dancing umbrella girls, before revealing our protagonist. It’s a fantastic reveal, as we see a dragon face coming straight towards the camera a couple times, before the dragon retracts, revealing that it was a painted umbrella. Behind the umbrella is our heroine.

She proceeds out of the palace to chase a butterfly, ending up falling in the river. A young boy who has been fishing there rescues her, and of course they fall in love. What’s more interesting to me is the boy’s fishing method of lowering a bird into the water, and the bird captures the fish before spitting it out into the boat. It’s a wonderful gag.

Of course, the young lovers must face obstacles. There are two big ones that get in the way – the lord and a dragon. The big lord (is that the right word for a feudal master in China?) gets upset when the boy tries to capture the butterfly and ends up hopping on the man’s head. He and his sweetheart run from the man, and manage to get a way only when he wanders into the open mouth of a sleeping dragon.

The dragon is defeated as well by the two young lovers, when they roll a boulder down a hill into its mouth. The dragon then is unable to pursue them, leaving them free to escape. The dragon is a great creature, though, and is a precursor to things like Maleficent in Sleeping Beauty.

As I said, The China Plate isn’t exactly groundbreaking. The animation is fairly simple, with some interesting gags like the umbrella reveal. But there’s not a lot of personality in the characters, beyond the simple expressions of anger or love. I think it’s very interesting, though, to see the animators playing with a different atmosphere other than a barnyard/nature setting. It shows that there are different skills among the animators that can be shown in more than just the barnyard. That’s very important in its own way.


From Mac : This is one of my favorites. There's a great selection of music which keeps both the story going as well of the fun entertainment of synchronized action. I just love the tap, tap tap of the girls shoes as she runs everywhere! As well as the wonderful music and musical action, there's some really neat touches to look out for in the backgrounds that make this short worth re-watching for me.

The bird in this cartoon is a cormorant and the fishing 'gag' is actually based on a real method of fishing from China and the far East. Unable to swallow any of the big fish themselves due to a ring round their neck, the birds catch the fish for the fisherman. The villain is referred to as an Emperor in all the Willow Pattern story books I have read.


From Kirby Bartlett-Sloan : I know this one is sometimes shown on a show during "Vault Disney" although I have not paid attention to exactly which one. I was unaware of its existence until I saw it one morning. I have seen it three or four times now.

It bugs me a little bit with the stereotyping, but is pretty much average for what the studio was putting out with the Non-Mickey stuff at the time.


From Jerry Edwards : Painted characters on a china plate come to life. When a boy and girl pursue a butterfly and accidentally disturb a powerful old Mandarin, he chases them. They escape when the Mandarin runs into a dragon's mouth, thinking it to be a cave. The boy and girl escape the dragon by causing it to swallow a huge boulder. They return to the boy's peaceful fishing boat. One gruesome scene is a band that entertains the Mandarin by playing on skull drums. My wife loves one scene in which a large angry face is shown approaching during a dance routine - turns out to be an umbrella a young girl is holding. Interesting to me that the china plate is shown differently at the end than at the beginning - the Chinese men are now missing from the bridge on the plate. I realize this was done on purpose but it still is rather jarring to me. I recognize the ethnic stereotyping could be insulting to Chinese, but I consider it rather mild. But, then, I'm not Chinese. I much enjoy this cartoon, it's one of my favorite early Silly Symphony shorts.
From Mike G : This is one of the most charming and entertaining of the really early (black and white) Silly Symphonies-- the novelty of the Chinese setting makes it more fun to look at than the usual woodland frolic, and the gags are broader and more action-packed. We're lucky they didn't decide the stereotypes were racist and actually run it on Ink and Paint Club -- I think they're innocuous enough.
From Ryan : I found this to be quite a classic work of art. The plate featured at the beginning of this short is so detailed. However, this cartoon does contain a lot of Chinese stereotypes, which may be offensive to some. However, stereotypes were a common sight back in those days and people should accept that fact. This short is also very similar to the Warner Bros. cartoon "One Step Ahead of my Shadow."
From Milo the Cat : Great music coordination to the action (especially in the fight scene). Has anyone noticed how much this is like a Mickey Mouse cartoon? The emperor is big like Pete, the fisher helps the girl like Mickey would Minnie, and shoving a boulder down the dragon's throat is the kind of trick that Mickey would think of.
From Gijs Grob : Although this cartoon consists of the half sing-and-dance-routine half story formula, it is one of the most beautiful and entertaining Silly Symphonies of the era. The fast-paced film, inspired by a Western view on a mythical ancient China, tells a simple story of a small fisherman who saves a girl from drowning, falls in love with her and rescues her from an evil mandarin and a large (Western) dragon. The film is without any dialogue and makes effective use of Ketalbey's musical piece "In a Chinese Temple Garden" to create an oriental atmosphere. The boy and girl are elegantly drawn, especially their hands. The two easily gain the audience's sympathy and transcend the stereotypes that occupy most of the film. The complete cartoon is one of sheer delight.
From DaVon : Despite the Chinese stereotypes involved, it's still an enthralling Silly Symphony and one of the best of not only the black & white Silly Symphonies, but all Silly Symphonies as a whole in my opinion. It has since become and been considered officially a favorite Silly Symphony of mine I believe (don't know what the others would be for sure yet , if they'll be any others). Very innovative at the time/ for its time in the sense of getting a close-up perspective of what goes within the plate where the characters come to life. I don't know for sure if it's the first cartoon to do something like this as a pioneer though. I'd love to get my hands on a copy of the first Silly Symphonies DVD set by Walt Disney Treasures and own it for this short mainly. I know the availability of these sets are limited, but aside for getting preferably a new copy at Amazon, I'm hoping I'll get lucky and it suddenly shows up at a soon-to-be defunct Circuit City or Barnes and Noble on display through the search engine of that website and available for order/purchase. I plan on going to the former later to see if it's actually there. Anyway, I give this an A+. It kept me enticed and I found it to be a boatload of fun. Another recommendation by me. I adore it. My favorite part is with the dragon and where the peasant boy comes to the girl's aid and saves the day. Really delightful cartoon.

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