Saturday Matinee #104: "Corn Chips" (March 23, 1951)
Published December 29, 2012
by Albert Gutierrez
Chip 'n' Dale shorts often leave me feeling conflicted at times. On the one hand, we get fun and brilliant shorts like "Two Chips and a Miss," which turn our diminutive heroes into rivalling suitors for a lounge singer. On the other hand, the lion's share of their appearances are usually them taking something away from Donald or Pluto. While the gags that arise are diverting, the formulaic nature of such shorts tends to support the "if you've seen one, you've seen them all" mentality. Then again, we can't expect every single short to be wholly unique from the other. That kind of optimism is, frankly, unrealistic. When a studio has budgets and deadlines, the tried-and-true formulas usually are easier to work with as opposed to always branching out. Plus, we can still look at formulaic shorts and derive what makes them different, how each one treats the same situation or conflict. That's the beauty and the curse of such shorts. This week, we'll look at a rather standard Chip 'n' Dale short, "Corn Chips," and see how it remains faithful to - and deviates from - the usual formula for Chip 'n' Dale shorts.
Donald is shoveling snow, when he realizes that Chip 'n' Dale are masters at it. In their haste to shovel snow from their tree branch, they fail to realize that Donald has moved them onto his sidewalk. Naturally, they finish the sidewalk and hit a fire hydrant before realizing they've been had. Donald laughs it off and retreats inside, satisfied that he no longer has to do work. Chip 'n' Dale, on the other hand, decide to get even. They see that Donald is going to make some popcorn, so the two sneak into his house while he gets some wood for his fireplace. Chip tries to eat a few kernels, but find that they are tough and inedible. In frustration, he kicks some towards the fire, where the heat pops them into the soft and delicious treat everyone knows and loves.
Realizing the wonderful new snack they can have, the two chipmunks jump into the box of kernels, which is promptly poured into the popping bowl. Donald settles down in his easy chair, grabbing a handful of popcorn, before realizing that Chip 'n' Dale have taken the bowl back to his tree. He steals the bowl back from them; for a minute, Chip thinks Dale ate it all. When the two see Donald walking away with an extra-tall winter cap, they find he has stacked the popcorn on atop his head. A quick glance at Chip angles Donald's head, dropping the popcorn into Dale's bowl. A chase soon ensues, followed by a game of keep-away, with the popcorn passed back and forth between the chipmunks.
Donald decides to smoke out the chipmunks from his tree, starting a fire. The two realize their great opportunity, and surrender the hatful of popcorn to Donald. As he walks away victorious, Chip 'n' Dale pour the entire box of kernels into their tree, where they pop all over Donald's yard. "Aw, nuts!" Donald mutters, as he begins shoveling away his popcorn-filled sidewalk.
"Corn Chips" was Chip 'n' Dale's thirteenth appearance in the Disney shorts, with them appearing under the "Donald Duck" banner (only three of their shorts were under their name). Let's be honest, here. This short is pretty much the same as shorts like "Three for Breakfast," "Winter Storage," "Toy Tinkers," or "Donald Applecore." Donald does something to bother the chipmunks, they retaliate, and end up winning. Nothing new, nothing exciting, right? Actually, this short takes what could be another tired retread and gives it a couple new twists. The biggest difference, at least in my viewing, is that the short manages to tell multiple stories within its seven minutes. Usually the shorts only focus on one narrative, especially given their brevity. This one ends up with probably three, each one tied to the other.
The first story, and the one which frames the entire short, is that of Donald shoveling his walk. He notices Chip 'n' Dale are better at it, and cons them into shoveling his. Through the events of the other two stories, Donald is back where he started, showing that his mischief never gets him far. In the second story, Chip 'n' Dale discover popcorn, essentially adding to their growing list of food they take away from Donald. We get better gags with this story, including a memorable segment with them playing keep-away, along with Donald's uncanny ability to balance popcorn on his head. As they battle Donald for the food, we get to see the third story at play. This one is less direct than the other two, but shows the conflict between sizes.
The third story is really a showcase for animators. Scale is something that sometimes is overlooked in Disney animated shorts, as by this point, they don't receive the same polish and attention as the theatrical films. But the animators really get creative with their limited time in the cartoon, to give us some shots that help juxtapose the difference between Donald and Chip 'n' Dale. There's a great moment when Donald is reaching into his bowl and we see it from the chipmunk's perspective. Donald's hand literally reaches towards the audience, and gets exponentially larger as he gets closer to the bowl. The skewed angle also makes such a shot seem more menacing than it really should.
Later on, when Chip 'n' Dale are gliding along the roof in the popcorn bowl, they pass by in close-up just as Donald is starting to chase them in the background. He remains small, they remain large, but he naturally catches up. The frenetic pacing of this shot literally makes them look like they are about to fly right off the screen; again, this is a great showcase of the animators' ability to "scale" a scene for dramatic effect. The two screen caps below don't do the scene justice at all, it's best experienced - like all animation - whizzing by you at twenty-four frames a second:
"Corn Chips" is only available on two DVDs. It was first released in 2005's "Classic Cartoon Favorites: Volume 8, Holiday Celebration with Mickey & Pals," a compilation disc with seven shorts, including this one. Images from this week's Saturday Matinee are from that disc. The short was then digitally restored and included in 2008's "Walt Disney Treasures: The Chronological Donald, Volume Four," an extremely rare set that sold out quickly and, like all Treasures sets, is now out of print.