Disney Cartoon #29: "Peculiar Penguins" (September 1, 1934)
by Albert Gutierrez
As I sit at my computer typing this week's Saturday Matinee, the temperature is 94', with a heat index of 113', and 63% humidity. Every morning this week, I was greeted by an intense wave of sticky heat whenever I stepped outside. This heat was further exacerbated whenever I stepped inside my car, which sits out in the driveway. The car's air conditioner takes about fifteen minutes to actually give me cool air, something that isn't helpful when my morning commute - I pick up my cousin from her summer class - is only ten minutes. How I long for April 25ths or December 8ths. The only way to beat this heat is to find ways to cool down, and for me that means attacking my rediscovered-in-the-freezer half-quart of Rita's Water Ice, an electric fan set on high, and some Disney cartoons all with snowbound settings. And what's more snowbound than to take a trip to Antarctica with a couple peculiar penguins?
"Peculiar Penguins" opens on Penguin Island, population 15 million. The unseen chorus tell us of how penguins are quite peculiar, with the males looking somewhat dumb while the females fuss for hours (no lie). Among the penguins, we meet Peter and Polly, two young penguins who are in love. Peter showers Polly with food, a double-scoop snow cone and a blowfish, the latter of which causes her to balloon up on several occasions, frightening Peter. He gets the idea to kick the blowfish out of her, but his action causes Polly to slap him several times and leave. No penguin of hers does that! She starts paddling away on a block of ice, and Peter is sad, then scared. A shark fin is following Polly in the water, but she doesn't heed his warnings.
The shark laughs, and then bursts up in front of Polly, totally destroying her ice raft. She swims away, with the shark following dangerously close. Peter grabs a wooden branch (where it came from, nobody knows) and swims immediately out to Polly. As the shark is about to take a fatal bite into Polly, Peter emerges from the water and hits the shark square on the nose. This allows Polly to swim off to safety, while the shark now chases after Peter. Peter reaches a small ledge by the water and jumps out, grabbing a small branch dangling above off the cliff. The shark jumps up too, attempting to reach him, causing Peter to pull himself up higher. However, he pulls too hard on the branch, causing a large boulder to fall from the cliff and into the shark's mouth. This causes the shark to sink to the bottom of the sea, while Peter and Polly are now free to marry and waddle off into the Antarctic sunset.
Up until I wrote this week's article, I had no idea that the penguins had names. I never really thought they needed them, as I assumed they were one-off characters. When I was looking up the theatrical release date for the short, both Big Cartoon DataBase and DisneyShorts.org mentioned that they were named Peter and Polly. In addition, the two sites mentioned that Peter & Polly are featured in a cameo with several other Silly Symphonies characters in "Mickey's Polo Team" (1936). I hadn't seen that cartoon in sometime, so I pulled out "Mickey Mouse in Living Color" in order to both confirm the appearance and watch the short again. Continuing with the additional "Peculiar Penguins" appearances, the menacing shark from the short looks remarkably like the one in short "Sea Scouts." DisneyShorts.org considers the two characters different, even though they look quite similar.
Growing up, we had a "Silly Symphonies" VHS that contained this short, "Father Noah's Ark," and "The Tortoise and the Hare." It wasn't my favorite on that tape - Father Noah was - but I always enjoyed watching it regardless. It was this short, Mary Poppins, and Chilly Willy on "The Woody Woodpecker Show" that really helped establish my perception of penguins. Seeing them in CGI incarnations like Madagascar, Happy Feet, Surf's Up is charming, but nothing beats Peter and Polly, the singing waiters, or little Chilly Willy. It's probably the childhood nostalgia that is blinding me, but penguins were so much better animated during that time. Sure, Happy Feet's Mumble can dance up a storm, but he has yet to do it with Dick Van Dyke.
"Peculiar Penguins" can be found in 2001's "Walt Disney Treasures: Silly Symphonies" and 2005's "Classic Cartoon Favorites: Volume 8, Holiday Celebration with Mickey & Pals." It doesn't really have any holiday connotations, which makes its inclusion in the "Holiday Celebration" disc rather confusing. Then again, that compilation disc only has probably two or three truly-holiday cartoons. Either way, you're bound to find that disc rather than the Treasures one. Also, you can find "Mickey's Polo Team" in 2001's "Walt Disney Treasures: Mickey Mouse in Living Color" and 2005's "Classic Cartoon Favorites: Volume 5, Extreme Sports Fun" while "Sea Scouts" is in 2004's "Walt Disney Treasures: The Chronological Donald" and 2006's "Walt Disney's Funny Factory with Huey, Dewey & Louie."