Disney Cartoon #14, CinemaScope Special: "Toot, Whistle, Plunk, and Boom" (November 10, 1953)
by Albert Gutierrez
This week's Cinemascope Special, "Toot, Whistle, Plunk, and Boom," also has the honor of being the very first CinemaScope Disney cartoon ever made! I was excited to pick the number out of my hat this week, because it's one of my favorite cartoons. "Toot, Whistle, Plunk and Boom" was the second in the short-lived "Adventures in Music" series, which was meant to be music specific. Its first short, "Melody" premiered in theatres a year earlier and was made in the Academy ratio. I initially thought that portions of "Toot, Whistle, Plunk and Boom" were also in Academy, with re-shot backgrounds to make it in CinemaScope (as mentioned a few articles ago). But it turns out that instead, the two shorts have very similar framing, leading to a natural consistency between the two.
The story of "Toot, Whistle, Plunk and Boom" is very basic. Professor Owl tells his class that they will learn about the four types of instruments, and the types of sounds they make. Using a trumpet, a clarinet, a violin, and a drum, he explains how they each are used for the toot, whistle, plunk, and boom. To explain their roots, Professor Owl introduces us to the very first tooters, whistlers, plunkers, and boomers: the cavemen. Their chanting and musical intonations are quite simplistic, but catchy! From the cavemen, we then move on to other historical periods when instruments were improved upon.
Ancient Egypt gives us a newer Toot, which would evolve into the modern day bugle, which itself evolved into the trumpet and other brass horns. A mere tube of grass was the first Whistle, and that itself lead to the woodwind instruments, most notably the clarinet. The evolution of the Plunk is quite interesting, as it shows how the Plunk evolved into two separate instruments, the strings and the keyboards. By the time we get to the Boom, Professor Owl simply says that it evolved into all other instruments that go BOOM! Quite redundant, but still makes sense. They then all come together in various configurations like marching bands, bluesy city folk, boom-boom Latin dancers, and the reliable cavemen.
As the first CinemaScope Disney short, "Toot, Whistle, Plunk and Boom" does not disappoint. Occasionally, there is centered animation with static sides, but the important and most exciting shots in the short make sure to use the entire widescreen vista that is afforded to them. The animation style is not one of my favorites, to be honest. It evokes a modern stylized design that I felt was done much better in 1961's One Hundred and One Dalmatians. Here, it looks like moving concept art rather than a style of animation that would work effectively. However, the biggest strength of the short, and the one that the series was based on, is the music. It's very catchy and unforgettable, using melodies that are easy to remember and enjoyable to toot, whistle, plunk, or boom. Pun intended, haha!
For anyone who's ever grown up with the old "Disney Sing-Along Songs" VHS tapes, the first several volumes re-used animation from "Melody" and "Toot, Whistle, Plunk and Boom," but dubbed them with some new dialogue tailored for the Sing-Along Songs format. As a kid, I actually thought this was animation made specifically for those half-hour programs. Imagine my surprise when I first watched the two "Adventures in Music" cartoons years later! Suddenly the familiar images from my childhood were now saying different words! You have to give props to Disney, the dubbing was very effective on those "Sing-Along Songs" as I thought they were the natural sound mixes used.
If you've still got those VHS tapes, you're getting portions of the two shorts, and I recommend keeping those simply for the nostalgic purposes. But the best way to view the shorts are in their original "Adventures in Music" form. They were first made available on the first Fantasia 2000 DVD, and re-appeared in the "Virtual Vault" in the 2010 Blu-Ray collection that pairs Fantasia and Fantasia 2000. The two shorts are also in the "Walt Disney Treasures: Disney Rarities" set from 2005. This set has a lot of other great cartoons, some of which I've covered in past Saturday Matinees. Unfortunately, "Toot, Whistle, Plunk and Boom" is non-anamorphic widescreen on all these releases.
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