Three Orphan Kittens is much more like the “cute” shorts that we have seen, such as
Water Babies or Funny Little Bunnies. It features, oddly enough, three orphan kittens, who are stuck in the snow, but find a way into a house, where they find warmth and a table being set for dinner.
Of course, the kittens proceed to wreck everything. The dinner table sequence is not particularly memorable, because it doesn’t feature great gags. There is good stuff there, but nothing that particularly stands out. It’s just cute, with kittens fighting with pies, getting stuck in a bottle and the like.
After the dinner table, the kittens head to a little girl’s room, where they get into a battle with the toys. Again, nothing really stands out, but it’s just cute little gags. The kittens duel with a baby doll and other toys, and one of them gets knocked into a nearby pillow, causing a feather to fly into the air.
That is what starts the most interesting part of the short. The lead kitten chases the feather, and the movement of the camera follows him. I know that sounds like nothing special, but it is almost as though the rooms themselves are moving, because as the cat goes from room to room, there is no cut. It is what we’d call a tracking shot in cinema, but here it’s something new and different.
Then, the feather lands on a player piano, leading to the next great sequence. The cats try to get the feather as it bounces along the keys. The lead kitten, entranced, plays a tune on the piano that fits the mood of the scene. It’s a clever bit, as he plays a creeping song as he creeps up on the feather, then a crescendo as he crashes forward and the feather flies away. It’s very well done.
Ultimately, the damage the cats do catches the eye of the housekeeper, who is preparing to throw them out when the little girl sees them. Then, the cats get their comeuppance. The girl dresses them up like dolls and treats them like babies, forcing a bottle in the lead kitten’s mouth as the short closes.
The feather sequence is the real standout of this short. The way the camera tracks the lead kitten through that scene is remarkable, and to follow it up with the piano gag is great work. A little more work like that in the beginning of the short would make this one a classic, but as it is, it’s just another “cute” short in the Silly Symphonies series.
I think this cartoon may introduce a new character into the world of animated cartoondom too: Mammy Two Shoes. The stereotype of the fat black maid had already existed for decades in America when this cartoon was released . However, this is the earliest cartoon I know in which the maid's face is never seen. In a cartoon that shows an animals point of view, it makes dramatic sense that we only ever see the (droopy stockinged) feet and arms of this dominating figure. Disney would use the character again in a few other cartoons, but the same idea, based on the same stereotype, would be used much more famously (and to even greater comic effect) in the Tom and Jerry cartoons. I'm not sure where she was first called Mammy Two Shoes (probably in Tom and Jerry). References to the Disney version often call her Aunt Delilah (perhaps a reference to Aunt Jemima who is the same basic stereotype?), but the little girl in this cartoon calls her Mandy (not Mammy).