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Merbabies

A Silly Symphony

Release Date : December 9, 1938

Running Time : 8:34

Synopsis

A lush underwater backdrop provides the playground for the title characters and an underwater circus.

Credits

Director
Rudolph Ising
Animation
Lee Blair
Tom McKimson
Carl Urbano
James Pabian
Pete Burness
Mike Lah
Mike Lah
Melvin Schwartzmann
Rollin "Ham" Hamilton
Francis Smith
Backgrounds
Art Riley
Don Schaffer
Layout
Maurice Day
John Niendorff
Don Smith
Story
Pinto Colvig
Jonathan Caldwell
Maurice Day
Music
Scott Bradley

Video

United States
Cartoon Classics : Limited Gold Editions II : The Disney Dream Factory : 1933-1938
Germany
Verrückte Musikanten
France
Silly Symphonies Volume 1
Italy
Le Fiabe Volume 2 : Il Brutto Anatraccolo e Altre Storie
Cartoon Classics : Limited Gold Editions II : La Fabbrica dei Sogni

Laserdiscs

United States
Cartoon Classics : Limited Gold Editions II : The Disney Dream Factory : 1933-1938
Japan
More Silly Symphonies

DVD

United States
The Little Mermaid 2 : Return to the Sea
Disney Treasures : More Silly Symphonies
Germany
Zauberhafte Marchenwelt 2
Italy
Walt Disney Le Fiabe 3
United Kingdom
Walt Disney's Fables : Volume 2

Television

The Ink and Paint Club: Episode 13: Silly Symphonies Get Wet
Donald's Quack Attack: Episode 20
Walt Disney Presents: More About Silly Symphonies

Technical Specification

Color Type: Technicolor
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 RKO Radio Pictures, Inc.

Comments

  • This was one of the only Disney shorts to be farmed out to another studio. It was produced by Hugh Harman and Rudolph Ising's new Harman-Ising studio when the workload at Disney studios became too great.

From Ryan Kilpatrick at The Disney Film Project : I mentioned in yesterday’s review that the last few shorts of 1938 are different than the typical Disney shorts. Today’s subject, Merbabies, is different because it is not a Disney short, at least not in one sense. It was released under the Disney banner, but it was not produced by Disney artists.

During the production of Snow White, Walt’s team was overwhelmed, but still had a contract to fulfill for more Silly Symphonies. So, Walt contracted out with his old Kansas City friends, Hugh Harman and Rudy Ising, to produce this short under the Disney banner. The Harman-Ising studio came up with Merbabies. The result?

I’d have to say it’s mixed. There is no doubt that the art and animation in this short is superb. The colors, water effects and character design are all very well done. The problem is, there’s nothing in this that makes it all hang together. Nothing in this short grabs the viewer and makes them pay attention, or pulls them through.

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you know my preference for story over simple gag shorts set to music. It would come as no surprise, then, to know that I did not like Merbabies. Perhaps it was knowing that it wasn’t a “Disney” film per se, but something just seemed off to me.

This is really a spiritual cousin to Water Babies, the earlier short in the Silly Symphonies, which featured cute little babies coming to life from out of a pond. I didn’t really like that one, either. The problem is that once you get the reveal of the cute little babies, there’s not much else to the short.

Sure, there are plenty of gags, and they’re not bad, but there’s nothing I thought was truly great. The middle of the short is basically a parade through the bottom of the ocean. To me, it recalled the old, old Disney shorts, like Alice’s Day at Sea, where we saw a parade just like this. In fact, many of the older Disney shorts featured side scrolling parades of gags just like this, and Harman and Ising worked on those shorts.

The main thing missing from Merbabies is not necessarily a story, though, as much as the lack of a main compelling character. There’s no one character that the viewer can latch onto. At the end, there is a small snail creature that acts like a dog and is somewhat interesting, but it’s just not enough.

I know from reading about this short that many people love it, but I just didn’t get it. Merbabies looks great, but it doesn’t have enough for me to really recommend it highly. I tried to like it, I really did, but it just wasn’t able to hold my interest.


From Mac : This a true oddity in the Silly Symphony series a Disney cartoon made by the team at Harman and Ising. The same high production values and attention to detail are readily on display, but watching these things in order, it's odd too see such a change in the character design. I remember enjoying this cartoon as a child, but it doesn't do much for me now. It's another cutesy cartoon and, as you'd expect from a sort-of sequel to Water Babies, it's a little boring. It's a marked improvement over it's predecessor, however.
From Rod Bennett : The staggering workload of "Snow White" drove Walt to farm this one out to his old Kansas City buddies Hugh Harman and Rudolf Ising over at MGM. And they quit themselves very well, I must say ... but then visual panache was never their chief failing anyway. Merbabies also has a "half-sister" so to speak; the 1939 "Happy Harmonies" short entitled "The Little Goldfish." This one also originated at Disney's and was to have been released as a Silly Symphony - but when Walt pulled the plug on the entire series "Little Goldfish" ended up being completed and sent out as a "Harman-Ising" after all.
From J. D. Weil : Merbabies was one of two Disney theatrical shorts (the other one was Winnie the Pooh and a Day For Eeyore) that outsourced to another another studio (in this  case, MGM); the reason for the out-sourcing was to pay back a favor to Harmon and Ising for letting Disney use their ink and paint department in order to get "Snow White" finished on time. Three shorts were planned. (The other two were "The Wayward Goldfish" and "Goldilocks and the Three Bears"). The work would be supervised on a weekly schedule. But after Merbabies was released, RKO, Walt's distributor, complained that they were supposed distribute Disney's shorts, not MGM's. The other two shorts were then released as MGM cartoons.
From Tom Wilkins : I wonder if these merbabies were the greatest influence to Touchstone's first movie in 1984, Splash! A very cute symphony to say the least, considering I was very surprised that this came out from the Harman/Ising camps. The sea parade was certainly cute and a little parallel to 1935's The Cookie Carnival. Even the underwater circus could not be topped, but the underwater donkey and the musical turtle were pretty interesting to note because they were probably an influence to Harman/Ising's MGM film Little Gravel Voice (1942) and Tom and Jerry's Little Runaway (1952). From a Disney standpoint, however, the climax was the whale, who does absolutely nothing but powerfully sneeze once as the climax of the movie. Could it be sheer coincidence that this whale was the idea for Monstro in Pinocchio? Finally, the musical score is one of the finest for any Disney cartoon and is perfect for the final serene sea scene.
From Jerry Edwards : For me, this Harman-Ising Studios effort is very inferior to similar Disney Silly Symphony shorts of that time - both in story and animation. However, the background art is very nicely done.
From Baruch Weiss : This short is so cute. I just love those Merbabies so I am giving this short a 10. Also I am giving it a 10 for the wonderful music.
From Austin : Lovely short, one of MGM's finest animated outputs, but it retains the Disney charm, background work is outstanding, music is grand, and the animation is certainly worthy of praise.
From Patricia Van Alstyne : Merbabies is definitely by far one of the most spectacular Disney shorts that I fell in love with as a child . My mother always loved the Disney shorts and all Disney movies and has passed on one of the Disney books to her great granddaughter and the art work is sheer enchanting. My granddaughter does art and she is so inspired by the artists and the work of past and present from Disney studios and hopes that someday she could do the same. Merbabies is one of her and my favorites. Such perfection. Sheer candy for the eyes.

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