Walt Disney's 1939 "The Practical Pig" was not only the fourth and final animated short to feature the Three Little Pigs (and the Big Bad Wolf), but it was the next to last installment of the groundbreaking Silly Symphony series. Like the other Silly Symphonies, it is built around music. The dialogue is sung, there is an orchestrated score throughout, most sound effects are created using musical instruments and percussion, and the detailed animation is excellent, making exceptional use of Technicolor (which the shorts had been using since 1932).

It had been three years since the previous Pig adventure ("Three Little Wolves") and in that time, the animators had matured even more, adding a mastery of shade and shadow to their work that had only been touched on previously in the color shorts. Unlike the other three, "The Practical Pig" does not mine fairy tales or fables for its ideas, instead is an original Pig picture.

The choice of title should be no surprise, since Practical1 is the "hero" of all four. Not only instilled with the strong work ethic and common sense so valued by America at the time, he is clever and smart and saves the his two brothers' bacon time and time again. And for all the talk about the way the animators individualized the three pigs, the only one with discernible "personality" is Practical.

It opens with him building another machine (as with the "Wolf Pacifier" of the previous entry). This time it's a lie detector (no, not a polygraph—this is a cartoon and "lie detectors' really detect lies). His brothers scoff and say he's "crazy in the bean." They would rather go swimming and treat his warning about the Wolf with an altered rendition of their signature song: "he's afraid of the Big Bad Wolf...", ending by blowing raspberries. Then they race off to the old swimming hole ("last one in is a pork sausage").

Arriving at the swimmin' hole, the change behind a fence—once again demonstrating the absurd cartoon rule that an animal character can be naked from the waist down or the waist up, but never at the same time (unless the character normally wears no clothes—yet they will still usually put on a suit to go swimming...go figure).

Well, of course the Wolf is there hiding in the reeds. As the two pigs blather on about who is the "pork sausage," Mr. Wolf shifts into gear, suggesting to himself "pork pie." As in the other cartoons, he resorts to disguises to capture the pigs. This time as a horribly fake-looking mermaid strumming something vaguely jazzlike on a lyre. He/she tosses them a single red rose. The pigs are intrigued and, perhaps, a bit attracted ("look a mermaid").

The swim over and begin fighting over the rose—the Wolf's token of "affection." The inevitable occurs and the two are promptly scooped up on a large net by the Lupus mermaidus (apologies to Chuck Jones & co.) and secreted off to his lair. There, the Three Little Wolves are waiting for dinner, armed with a fork, a long knife, and a cleaver. He tells them the two are "in the bag" but they won't eat until they get the third one.

While he plots his next move, the kids go ahead and start mustarding and bunning up one of the pig's legs, preparing to have a before dinner snack. Papa Wolf does not like this and blows the wolves down: "no eats 'til pop gets back." He takes a feathered pen and writes something on a piece of paper, then goes off to bag himself another pig. Not ones to listen to dad, the little wolves start preparing a pork stew with carrots and potatoes and two little pigs—and lots of ketchup.

Dressed as a freckled (acne?) messenger boy, the Wolf arrives at Practical's house and huffs and puffs and blows the letter under the door. Practical knows who it is. He reads the letter:


"He's got 'em!" Practical goes into action, starting up machinery that pulls away the welcome mat, dropping the Wolf into a shaft. The Wolf then appears strapped to a chair inside—strapped to the lie detector. He tells his first lie when he claims to have never heard of the two missing pigs. The detector does its job. It's made of a phonograph with a big horn speaker piece, light bulbs, a bell, glass tubing, beakers, whistles, and a monitor with a needle that indicates LIE or TRUTH. (Steam seems to be involved somehow.)

Well, he's lied and the second part of the machine begins cranking. The Wolf gets his mouth washed out with soap. He claims he hasn't seen them and is rewarded with a scrub brush smacking his backside. He seems to catch on and tries to avoid discussing the two: "I'm your pal," "you got me wrong." Wrong answer. The machine goes nuts as he is thoroughly washed and smacked.

During the interrogation, the little wolves are preparing to bake the pigs in a pie. Just before they get shoved into the oven, the pigs make note that the wolves seem to have forgotten to add the pepper. Of course the lid comes off the shaker and the pepper gets all over causing the inevitable (at least in cartoons) result of explosive sneezing. The discharge of mucous is great enough to blow the doughy pie crust right off the tin and (in a cartoony example of a sorta equal and opposite reaction) flatten the wolves against the far wall.

Leaping out of the pie in a shower of peas, the two pigs flee the scene. At that time, the Wolf is busy being folded, spindled, but not mutilated by the lie detector (all while the music plays variations on the "Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf" theme). Finally, he tells the truth to avoid further punishment: "they're in the old mill" (of course). With that, a rocket is shoved into his shirt and he's blasted into the sky to explode in a bloom of fireworks.

Just as Practical is about to speed to the rescue, his brothers (still dressed in swim trunks) burst through the door, embedding him in the wall. Angry—"Didn't I tell you not to go swimming?"—Practical advances and they back into the chair. Now the "lie detector" functions as a punishment machine (which seems to be its chief function). The two are clamped into it and their bottoms battered red with brushes (with the exception of the brass-copper-looking clamps—possibly a technicality—they are in violation of the whole "nudity" thing, and frankly, it's a bit creepy).

Practical then says those words that have made kids cringe throughout history: "Remember, this hurts me more than it does you." And for the first time in history—courtesy of the amazing lie detector machine—an "adult" gets his just deserts for something kids know ain't the truth. It ends with him getting a dose of his own medicine.

In total, Disney made four shorts featuring the Three Little Pigs:

1The pigs were not named in the shorts (with the exception of Practical, for this later short). However, they were given names.

(Source: the Walt Disney Treasures: Silly Symphonies DVD set)

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