If you’ve ever thought to yourself that Baloo from The Jungle Book (1967) and Little John from Robin Hood (1973) look eerily similar, that’s because the latter was directly copied from the former. Ahead of International Animation Day on October 28, the Cartoon Hangover YouTube channel has tackled the thorny issue of why Disney—and many other film studios, for that matter—recycled old content.
It can all be traced back to Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937), which was partly made through rotoscoping. This technique involved tracing over live-action scenes to make the animation look more realistic, and it was a common practice in the early days of film. (In more recent years, Richard Linklater did it with 2001's Waking Life and 2006's A Scanner Darkly.) That opened the floodgates, and beginning with Disney's Dumbo in 1941, studio directors decided to start copying scenes from earlier Disney movies.
This change in animation philosophy followed a series of commercial losses—including Pinocchio, Fantasia, and Bambi, all of which went over budget—and the practice was purportedly done to save time and money. However, former Disney animator Floyd Norman tells Cartoon Hangover it actually made their jobs more difficult.
“I don’t think it saved much time and I don’t think it saved much money because it was more of a hassle to go dig this old footage out of the archive,” he said. “It would’ve been easier to just sit down and animate a new scene than go back and try to retrofit all this old stuff to something new.”
Norman says he doesn’t think Walt Disney even noticed that scenes were being recycled because “his mind was always on the big picture.” The practice continued after Disney's death, and some of the worst offenders are The Jungle Book, Robin Hood, and The Sword in the Stone (1963). Of course, after the rise of the VHS tape, the practice became riskier because people started watching and rewatching their favorite Disney films. In other words, fans were more likely to notice the recycled scenes.
Check out Cartoon Hangover’s video below to see if any of your favorite Disney scenes or characters have been lifted from another film.