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Having not seen the movie, I can only judge this short on its merits. It’s not too bad, but there are some things that have to be described as confusing. For instance, why do we assume that the chocolate soldiers are the good guys?
From the beginning, these soldiers march through the streets, literally banging the drums of war, and getting the populace fired up for the attack on the pastry army. Why are they attacking? What did the pastries ever do to them? It’s an odd form for a Disney cartoon to take, as most of the past shorts have featured lots of exposition or character to explain why actions are taking place.
Then, there is the battle itself. This is where the gags fly fast and furious, and they are quite good. Watching the projectiles from the pastry knock the chocolate soldiers down and take chunks out of them like hollow Easter bunnies is very funny. My favorite gag is the launching of marshmallows right after they’ve been heated, which leads to the pastries being stuck against the wall.
But there is another confusing moment as the soldiers are knocked down from scaling the wall, and it looks like they are beaten. A soldier bearing a white flag pushes a chocolate bunny to the front of the pastry castle. Of course, it’s the old Trojan Horse bit, but this time with a chocolate bunny hiding a cadre of soldiers.
What kind of army does that sort of thing? It’s one thing if he had not waved the white flag, but to signal surrender and then pull the Trojan Bunny? Classless.
Of course, I’m partially being tongue in cheek, but this is a different approach for Disney. From the get go it seems as though we are supposed to root for the chocolate soldiers, but their actions are far from clear on that point.
Even more confusing is the ending. As the soldiers are greeted in the streets with a similar parade to the one that saw them off, the sun beats down on them, melting the soldiers into a gooey river of chocolate as the short ends.
As far as messages go, I dare you to find one in this short. In all honesty, it was probably tacked on to the Disney schedule as a means for Walt to strike up a friendship with one of the bigger studios, so we shouldn’t expect big things, but it’s still surprising. Hot Chocolate Soldiers is worth watching just to see if you can figure out what’s going on, but it’s not a vital piece of the Disney oeuvre.
The funniest gag for me is when the soldiers are marching home – one the drummers is missing his head. I also get a kick out of the soldiers riding on easter chicks to war. Everything else in the cartoon is confectionery, but these are portrayed as real birds - talk about messed up! Lucky none of the chicks catch fire or get blown apart - it would've been much more gruesome to see on them take a hit.