At first you think this will be another boring affair like
but then it betters itself. I like the bellydancing worm, and how the
lightning strikes the tree. (It cuts like a saw slicing the tree in
half) I don't remember seeing that joke reused later on. Otherwise you
have to say it's rather similar to
Flowers and Trees.
Or the other way around since this cartoon came before
The main thing about this short that is notable to me is that the title character of Pan plays only a minor role in the chaos that ensues throughout. Pan opens the short by leading a pair of fish on a silly trail through a small lake, but disappears about midway through. While that makes sense in the story, it is still kind of odd.
The storyline has Pan making his presence known in the forest, doing the aforementioned dance with the fish, and then going off screen as a lightning bolt strikes a tree, literally sawing it in half. A fire ensues, and the fire takes on personality, jumping on trees, spanking animals, and pursuing others throughout the forest.
Of course, the animals then go to Pan to help. Pan is able to coerce the fire to follow him, by playing his flute, then leading the little animated firelings to water. After dealing with a particularly reluctant flame, he manages to get all of the fire to douse itself, and saves the forest.
The animation of the fire was really the standout of the short in my opinion. The fire has so much personality that it becomes a character, with little flames with legs marching off of one tree and jumping to another as just one example. There are plenty more, such as the flames pursuing yet another Mickey bear up a tree and grabbing it.
To digress briefly, I remember the first time I saw a Mickey teddy bear at Once Upon a Toy at Downtown Disney. I flipped out. How could they do such a thing? Mickey is a mouse, not a bear, etc., etc. The more I see these Mickey-esque bears, the more I laugh at myself.
Other than the fire, there is not much of Playful Pan that really stands out. The music is mediocre, at least to me, and there’s not a great deal of stand out animation, again, other than the fire. What I did like to see was the squirrels, my favorite characters from
Autumn, had returned here, evacuating their tree. For some reason, those characters appeal to me.
Playful Pan is the last of the Silly Symphonies from 1930, so it is interesting to notice the change that has occurred. Other than the throwback of
Winter, the latter half of the year had Silly Symphonies that focused on story first, and music second, something that was not the case when the series started. In this short, the music is really an afterthought, which is quite the departure from the original concept.
In addition to the critters we've seen from the past, there's some new supporting characters we'll see again. Most notable are the little flames (I'll always think of them as "Firelings" now!) who'll pop up throughout the 30's. We'll also see that caterpillar with the detachable body again (I think we might have seen him before, but can't quite remember).
Plus this cartoon boast some unique plant-life designs. There are two plant characters with weedy bodies and two big flowers for eyes – a really quirky and cool design. The trees-with-faces characters look great two – one of whom we get to see burn and die, the other a nice weird design who runs on four leg roots!
Personally, the music doesn't feel like an afterthought to me. There's more of a shift towards story now, but they're still set-up for lots of musical sequences with
synchronized animation. The studio lost a fantastic talent in Stalling, but I think this change in emphasis has as much to do with Disney's desire to keep the series fresh and interesting, trying new things rather than constantly repeating themselves. Bert Lewis has been doing the scores on the Symphonies since Stalling left. If anyone hasn't been enjoying his musical selections they may be pleased to know that Frank Churchill will be joining the staff soon.
Many gags were used in later cartoons. The climatic action scene (the
fire in the woods) was replicated in
and Trees only two years later; the instrument playing and
subsequent subliminal music were replicated in the Mother Goose era of
the Silly Symphony in The Pied Piper only a year after
that. The "Playful Pan" himself was replicated by MGM in "Tale Of The Vienna
The first half of the cartoon provided very little interest but a lot
of silliness from Playful Pan's music and the outside creatures. It was
a little intriguing for him to go from flutist to conductor of the percussion
ensemble. Once the lightning sawed the tree and started the forest ablaze,
all the animals prayed for Smokey The Bear's arrival. (He should have talked
to the clouds since they provided the sparks.) A raccoon finally awakens
the Playful Pan from his slumber and goes back to work, doing a great job
leading the personified fire into the lake, except for one stubborn flame,
who gets extinguished by blowing water through his flute with pinpoint accuracy.
This was certainly a fine cartoon, but I still wonder ... how can fire
tickle and not burn?