Saturday Matinee #109: "Father Noah's Ark" (April 8, 1933)
Published February 2, 2013
by Albert Gutierrez
This morning, it snowed during my morning commute. The sky was smothered in grey clouds, no doubt holding more of the white fluffy stuff, but perhaps saving it for this weekend. By early afternoon, the sun started peeking through, various rays would burst through with everything in them to shine a light onto the cold ground below. Large patches of sky were also open, with a vivid and inviting blue that betrayed the dreary, windy atmosphere at ground level. Even amidst this coldness, just seeing the sun shine through the clouds brightened my day (and my afternoon commute). Life's funny like that. One minute, you may be at your lowest of lows. The next, that little bit of light forces its way into the world, and everything comes up roses. All the troubles go away, and you realize just how wonderful it is to be here. This week's Saturday Matinee will look at an early Disney cartoon that uses that concept in telling the well-known Biblical story of Noah's Ark. In addition, we dedicate today's cartoon to a young man, also named Noah. For more information, please visit "Letters For Noah" and consider writing him a letter of hope and support.
Noah and his sons - Ham, Shem, and Japheth - are building a large ark that will weather any storm and flood. They are assisted by various animals with various responsibilities. Loading, unloading, chopping trees, nailing planks, you name it. In addition, their respective wives are loading up the ark with the essentials for their survival: namely food and laundry. They'll need to eat, and although they have no one to dress up for, would need clean clothes as well. Just as the ark is completed, the rain begins to fall. Noah and his sons play their horns, signaling for all animals to board. As the animals line up two-by-two, Noah checks them off on a list as the sons help find space on board the ark. Mrs. Noah, likewise, checks off her list with the insects and other small creatures. Nobody gets left behind, or forgotten.
Well, almost nobody. A pair of skunks are late for the boarding, and accidentally get left behind. They do manage to get aboard the ark, spending much of the forty days and nights on the rooftop. The inside, however, is a mess. Every time the ark sways this-a-way and that-a-way, the animals seesaw back and forth across. You can literally hear one of them mutter "OUCH!" every time this happens. The Noah family pass the time wailing aloud to their Lord, perhaps as penance, perhaps to keep busy. Mrs. Noah, on the other hand, is content with her knitting. The forty-day candle finally reaches its end, and all the animals peer outside any window they can find. The skies are clear! Best of all, a dove appears, holding an olive branch and signaling that it has found dry ground. Noah, his family, and all the animals depart from the ark, which is framed and irises out by a loving rainbow.
Regardless what your beliefs are, the story of Noah and his Ark is one about perseverance, faith, and cooperation. We see all three come together in a beautiful way, allowing life to carry on and truly weather any storm. Cooperation is certainly where this short shines. Man and animal work together, because their own survival is at stake. It's a beautiful thing. Many of the sight gags here also present what Disney would later coin the "plausible impossible." While they traditionally used the term to explain more technical aspects of animation (multi-plane, perspective, etc.), for me, it also accounts for any instance of animals acting in ways unnatural to the real world. Monkeys synchronizing their sawing of trees and porcupines serving as food transport will likely never be seen on a BBC nature documentary, but become perfectly acceptable within a Disney cartoon.
The one sour point I've always had with this short were the forgotten skunks. I do understand that a gag is a gag. After all, who'd want to spend forty days and forty nights with the possibility of being doused by the skunk's "special" scent? However, intentionally excluding the skunks suggests that some animals aren't worth saving. Yet, the actions of the Noah family also - ironically - features one of the most touching moments in the entire short: Mrs. Noah making sure all the insects are saved. These tiny little creatures run a greater risk of being stepped on when inside the ark, but they are still given the chance to survive. It shows that everyone is important, whether you're a large elephant or a little bug. Everyone deserves that chance.
The animation in this short is sometimes clunky and repetitive in parts, especially in Noah and his family. But at the same time, the short is marvelously rendered in Technicolor, making for a visual splendor. The drawings may be crude, but the colors help bring a vibrancy and life to them that simply could not be achieved in monochrome. Ironically, the better-animated "Ye Olden Days" (with Mickey, Minnie, Dippy, and Pete) was released to theatres the same day as this cartoon... and was done in monochrome. Still, the use of Technicolor here almost forgives the obvious moments where the animators would have to re-use a movement over and over again. Still, some gags require animation that is repetitive, such as the porcupines walking in a row, seemingly with all the same fruit and vegetables attaching to their backsides. It's the gags, really, that make this short such fun to watch. Not only for their ingenuity, but for seeing the evolution of Disney's ideas throughout the years. The elephant gag, for example, will get used again in 1941's Dumbo.
"Father Noah's Ark" is only available on DVD in 2001's "Walt Disney Treasures: Silly Symphonies."
The skies are clear
The rain's all over
The skies are clear
My trouble's over
The stormy skies
Have turned to blue
We'll see the sun
come shining through