In the spring of 1933, Walt Disney released what unexpectedly became one of his studio’s biggest hits, Three Little Pigs. The short cartoon, and the original song it contained, Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?, became smash hits. The story of these pigs literally keeping the wolf away from their door and their defiant song connected with audiences who were themselves facing the hardship of the Great Depression.
Three Little Pigs (1933)
The cartoon was so successful that Disney produced three sequels: The Big Bad Wolf (1934), Three Little Wolves (1936), and The Practical Pig (1939). None of these follow-up films were able to duplicate the success of the first, leading Walt to state that “You can’t top pigs with pigs”, and the characters were largely retired after 1939.
However the cartoon’s influence would continue for decades, as directors, writers and animators at other studios produced parodies of Disney’s hit.
The first came in 1942 with Blitz Wolf. Directed by Tex Avery, who had recently relocated from Warner Bros. to MGM, this cartoon updates the story from a Depression metaphor to a parable of World War II, with the Big Bad Wolf as Adolf Hitler. Being the work of Tex Avery, it obviously has a very “Looney Tunes” style to its humor, but Avery also attempts to imitate the art style of a Disney cartoon and even got voice actor Pinto Colvig to reprise his role as the smart little pig from the 1933 film.
Blitz Wolf (1942)
Pigs in a Polka (1943) is sort of a two-in-one Disney parody, of both The Three Little Pigs and the more recent Fantasia. Here the story is set to Brahms’ Hungarian Dances, but sticks fairly close to the original story and the Disney cartoon. Director Friz Freleng and writer Tedd Pierce do manage to add in quite a bit of the humor you’d expect from a Warner Bros. cartoon though, such as the pigs handing the huffing and puffing wolf a bottle of mouthwash, or the wolf somehow plummeting down a ten-story elevator shaft in a one-story house. Freleng started his career at Disney in the 1920s, so he’s also lampooning his former employer with this film. In a kidding manner, of course, I know of no hard feelings between Friz and Walt.
Pigs in a Polka (1943)
With all the famous stories the cartoonists at Warner Bros. inserted Bugs Bunny into it was only a matter of time before Bugs and the Three Little Pigs crossed paths. The Windblown Hare (1949) still shows the influence of the Disney short, Carl Stalling even accompanies the Big Bad Wolf with a tune very similar to Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf, but here writer Warren Foster and director Robert McKimson turn the story on its head, casting the pigs in the role of crooks who swindle Bugs, thus setting the plot in motion. This is Warner Bros. Cartoons at its 1940s peak, with a group of talented writers, animators, musicians and actors in their prime making this one a classic Looney Tune.
The Windblown Hare (1949)
Robert McKimson rturned to the theme of the Three Little Pigs as villains in 1952 with The Turn-Tale Wolf. Although here the allegations leveled against the pigs appear to be enturely the fabrications of a sleazy wolf, McKimson does reuse the same pigs from his earlier cartoon. The plot is similar to Friz Freleng’s The Trial of Mr. Wolf (1941), in which the Big Bad Wolf gives his side of the Red Riding Hood story and I also can’t help but wonder if either of these cartoons influenced the authors of the 1989 children’s book The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs, which also is built around giving the wolf’s side of the story.
The Turn-Tale Wolf (1952).
Nearly a quarter of a century after the Disney cartoon, Friz Freleng directs one last animated adaptation of the story, Three Little Bops (1957). This one is, like many of Freleng’s cartoons, based around music, in this case updating the story to set it in a 1950s jazz club. Singer/songwriting as well as longtime cartoon voice actor Stan Freberg provides the musical narration and voices the characters. It’s one of the greatest cartoons to come out of the Warner Bros. cartoon studio and a fitting finale to the story of classic animation and the Three Little Pigs
Three Little Bops (1957)