USA, 6 min
Directed by: Burt GillettHere's a little treasure that's rarely been allowed outside the Disney Vault. When watching Cannibal Capers (1930), one is faced with two options: you can be angered by the cartoonish racial stereotypes, or you can simply laugh, as I did, at the silliness of it all. Nowadays, most viewers are willing to dismiss perceived racism as "a sign of the times," but I think, particularly in this case, to do so is to do both Walt Disney and 1930s audiences a disservice. The caricatures of African tribesmen in Cannibal Capers are so outlandishly exaggerated that they could only have been intended as a spoof, perhaps satirising the xenophobic generalisations that were admittedly prevalent in the popular culture of the time (and they're still around today, so don't feel too vindicated). This cartoon, in line with many of the earliest Silly Symphonies, simply chooses a setting and devotes its inhabitants to a few minutes of dancing: The Skeleton Dance (1929) had skeletons, Hell's Bells (1929) had scary imps, Flowers and Trees (1932) had plants… and so Cannibal Capers has cannibals.
A major theme of the cartoon seems to be the perceived "primitiveness" of the cannibals, as they are frequently mistaken – both by the viewer and other characters – for lower forms of nature. Or perhaps, less cynically, it's more a commentary on how harmoniously the cannibals exist in their environment. For example, we first glimpse the dancers by their stick-thin legs, which are initially mistaken for trees swaying in the breeze. Later, a cannibal attempting to imitate a turtle is mistaken for one by his own villagers, and is promptly tossed into the boiling pot. But this gag can run both ways. An angry lion (introduced with a stunning zoom into his gaping jaws) loses his crown as King of the Jungle, humiliated so decisively by a cannibal that he winds up more closely resembling a (white) man in a lion suit, fleeing on his hind-limbs. Is this British Colonialism getting nipped in the bud by the locals? Also note how closely the cannibals resemble the title character in The Ugly Duckling (1931), reinforcing that cartoon's status as a racial allegory.