Following the critical and commercial success of “Flowers and Trees,” Walt decreed that all Sillies should henceforth be in vivid technicolor. The Mickey Mouse shorts were popular enough that they stayed in black and white (which was less costly to produce) for the time being. “Flowers and Trees” was also the first film to be released by United Artists (Disney and Columbia had a falling out), and one of the last few to be recorded with Cinephone. By December 1932, Walt Disney Productions had transitioned into using RCA Photophone.
In April 1933, the Sillies had another major hit: “The Three Little Pigs.” This short was based on the children’s fable, and was a sensation. It introduced the song “Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf.” (The song was such a hit it went on to have a life of its own, which includes being covered by LL Cool J in 1991.) It would also take home an Academy Award, and today is regarded as one of the greatest cartoons of all time. If you grew up watching “The Wonderful World of Disney” on ABC, you’ve probably seen the short at least once.
So why was this short such a phenomenon? Obviously, it had the color and sound going for it; however, one of the bigger innovations was that Disney placed a lot of emphasis on developing the story and the characters. This was about the time Walt began experimenting with a dedicated story department. The pigs and the wolf have very clear and distinct personalities and motivations, and this makes the story more compelling than say, the nondescript dancing plants in “Flowers and Trees.”
The story also reflected the public’s feelings at the time. In “Cartoons in Hard Times,” Tracey Louise Mollet argues that the “narrative and characters of the animated short … embrace the values of the new administration” — referring to the Roosevelt administration and The New Deal. (If you’re not up on your Depression-era history, essentially FDR introduced a bunch of federal legislation to bolster the American economy and help those struggling, which was basically everyone.) Mollet further posits that the “carefree” pigs represent the attitude of the ’20s, while the hardworking, “practical” brick-house-building pig is the New Deal. In this analogy, the wolf is uh … unchecked rampant capitalism, I guess? Point is, Disney had his finger on the pulse of America for this one.