Walt Disney was no fool when it came to the production of the original Mickey Mouse Club in 1955. He realized that doing the hour long show would guarantee another million and half dollars from the ABC television network to help with the completion of Disneyland.
He also agreed with a memo composed by show producer Bill Walsh in January 25, 1955 that audiences would expect animation to be a significant portion of the show. In addition to a Mousekartoon of a previously released theatrical short, an animated opening for the show (that could be recycled every day and cut down costs) was created.
However, costs had to be contained on the children's show. Since animation was so expensive, additional animation could only be created if there were other ways to help recoup those costs. Since the Mickey Mouse Club was to include an educational approach as part of the entertainment, Walt realized that he could create animated educational shorts that could then be rented to schools and other civic institutions like police and fire departments through the Disney Studio new 16mm Film Rental Division that was to evolve into the subsidiary Disney Educational Media Company in 1969.
|In the third issue of Walt Disney's Mickey Mouse Club Magazine (Summer 1956), there was a two page color adaptation illustrated by Paul Hartley of I'm No Fool With Fire short with the last paragraph stating: "These illustrations are from the Walt Disney film I'm No Fool With Fire . This 8 minute Technicolor film may be rented if your school, Scout troop or any other organization you belong to wants to show it. Write 16mm Division, Disney Studio, Burbank, California."|
Many schools took advantage of that offer as well as renting other 16mm offerings (including complete Disney animated features for fundraising purposes).
On the evening of September 23, 1955, just ten days before the debut of the original Mickey Mouse Club on television, Walt Disney in a coast-to-coast 82 station closed circuit broadcast from the ABC studios in New York City, described the Mickey Mouse Club show and the philosophy behind it.
At one point, he said, "Our old friend, Jiminy Cricket, will also be part of the show. Jiminy's going to help us with what we call our 'factual entertainment'. He'll show the youngsters things about the living world, about health, hygiene, safety and many other things that concern their well-being."
A series of four different series hosted by Jiminy Cricket would deal with biology (You, the human animal), safety (I'm No Fool), wildlife (Nature of Things) and general knowledge (Encyclopedia).
Another Jimmie Dodd written song sung by Jiminy is also part of many Disney childhoods: "Get the Encyclopedia! E-n-c-y-c-l-o-p-e-d-i-a. Encyclopedia! If you want to know the answers, here is the way. Just look inside this book and you will see, everything from 'A' clear down through 'Z'. In the Encyclopedia! E-n-c-y-c-l-o-p-e-d-i-a."
"Didn't everyone who watched the Mickey Mouse Club learn to spell 'encyclopedia' that way? That's the way I spell it to this very day, with that same melodious cadence in my head," said film critic Leonard Maltin.
Encyclopedia was a catch-all title covering in animation and live action a variety of topics including a history of milk ("The final step is bottling. Boy, look at those caps go on! Yes, sir, milk is good to drink and it's made into cheese and butter and ice cream and..oh, lots of things. And who do we have to thank for all this? Bossy here. Y'know, with all his knowledge, man has never been able to make a machine to replace the cow."), America's railroads, steel and other topics like Cork and Wheelwright.
The Nature of Things taught audiences about the camel, the prairie dog, the elephant and other animals. Except for Jiminy's animated opening of the segment, the rest of the film generally featured live action snipped from the True-Life Adventures series with voice over narration.
|You dealt with the human body including the five senses and the proper food put into the living machine. "You are a human animal. You are a very special breed. For you are the only animal who can think, who can reason, who can read! Now all your pets are smart. That's true. But none of them can add up two and two. Because the only thinking animal is you, you, YOU!"|
The Encyclopedia opening was later adapted so that Jiminy introduced some of the MMC Newsreel Specials like the visit to Washington, D.C. In addition, Jiminy hosted the Mickey Mouse Book Club, which was a way to use clips from Disney films while supposedly promoting books like Secrets of Life, Cinderella. Uncle Remus, Lady and the Tramp, and The Littlest Outlaw.
The Disney on Television Classroom Guide was distributed by Disney and ABC to teachers throughout the country with program notes, guide sheets suggesting classroom activities and other things.
In a 1955 edition, Walt Disney wrote, "We have the greatest respect for the basic intelligence of our future adults and their desire to learn. We, likewise, are aware of a sometimes prevalent habit of 'talking down' to audiences of this type. To the best of our ability we aim to 'talk up' as much as possible as we program our material, remembering that we will accomplish more if we 'entertain' as we go along."
However, the Jiminy Cricket segment that made the strongest impression on young viewers was I'm No Fool. There was a similarity to the "Goofus and Gallant" cartoons that appeared in the Highlights for Children magazine beginning in the Forties that children would read while waiting in the doctor's waiting room. These episodes tried to teach proper social skills. Irresponsible and rude Goofus hogs the seat on a school bus but thoughtful Gallant always shares his seat. You can see some samples at this link.
The opening of the I'm No Fool series was always the same animation, cutting back the actual amount of new animation needed for each episode.
Sitting comfortably on the loop handle of an antique candle chamberstick and surrounded by mountains of enormous different colored books, Jiminy Cricket would burst into song and climb a stack of uneven books. He would leap into the air, with his open umbrella slowing his descent, until he landed by a huge blue book with the title of that day's topic prominently displayed at the top. When Jiminy opened the book, the images on the illustrated pages would spring to limited animated life.
After the brief history lesson on the subject, Jiminy was shown standing next to a standard school chalkboard to illustrate his lessons. Carefully, he would write the word "Y-O-U" and the chalk letters would swirl into the form of an idealized young boy who always knew the right thing to do without being told. Later, Jiminy would write the word "F-O-O-L" and it would squiggle into a goofy looking young boy who was always foolish and reckless and whose adventures end in disaster, turning him into chalk dust to be scooped up by Jiminy's eraser.
The animation for these chalkboard "stick figures" was done by the underrated Cliff Nordberg. At the end of various examples of the right and wrong things to do, Jiminy would pin an "I'm No Fool" button on the smart lad. "The winner and still champion!"
During the original run of the Mickey Mouse Club, five eight minute I'm No Fool shorts were produced. Legendary X. Atencio, perhaps best known for providing the lyrics to the theme songs of the Pirates of Caribbean and the Haunted Mansion, had a long career in animation, including some innovative experiments with Bill Justice in stop motion animation. Atencio did the layout for all of these shorts and was the one who came up with the idea of using colored cardboard as the background for the opening titles of the Mickey Mouse Club.
Disney Legend Les Clark who had transitioned into directing educational shorts beginning with You, the Human Animal directed many, if not all, of these I'm No Fool shorts. Clark would go on to direct many other Disney educational projects including 1965's Donald's Fire Survival Plan and 1973's Man, Monsters and Mysteries.
"I did work on the Mickey Mouse Club as my first assignment as a Disney apprentice inbetweener back in 1956," Disney Legend Floyd Norman told me. "I worked for Rolly Crump, the assistant animator who would eventually be known as an Imagineering Legend. We did the Jiminy Cricket stuff for animators such as Jack Parr, and Bob Carlson. We often saw Cliff Edwards upstairs in (director) Les Clark's unit. I worked with Rolly on the I'm No Fool series and the Encyclopedia series as well. As a matter of fact, I still have a few sketches of Jiminy Cricket I did back in 1956. Guys you mentioned like Jerry Hathcock, Bob Youngquist, Cliff Nordberg, George Nicholas and others were working on the same material."
Rolly Crump got his start at Disney in 1952 as an inbetweener and eventually became an assistant animator. He moved over to Imagineering in 1959. Hathcock worked with animator Paul Carlson on the almost impossible to find "How to Draw Jiminy Cricket" booklet sold at the Art Corner in Disneyland.
Here are the five original I'm No Fool shorts.
Almost two dozen 78 rpm records featuring songs from the Mickey Mouse Club were released including one in 1955 with Cliff Edwards' rendition of Jiminy Cricket singing five of his songs, including I'm No Fool, in both an orange and black vinyl version. The title is simply "Jiminy Cricket Sings 5 Mickey Mouse Club Songs" and also has Encyclopedia, You the Human Animal, Who Wants to Go Exploring and the Nature of Things.
Fifteen years later a sixth I'm No Fool cartoon was made. Since Cliff Edwards had passed away in 1971, he was unable to record new material. Snippets of his voice, including the opening song, were used but new material of Jiminy talking was supposedly done by Sterling Holloway. The voices did not match at all.
6. I'm No Fool ... With Electricity
Original release date: October 1973
Jiminy Cricket discusses the discovery and history of electricity and gives rules for avoiding electrical accidents by respecting electrical safety rules. Direction: Les Clark Story: Bill Berg Original Music: George Bruns Film Editing: Jim Love, Art Department: Kendall O'Connor, Animation: Charlie Downs. Updated version Sept 1988
In the late Eighties and early Nineties, Disney Educational Media created new additions to the series as well as updating some of the existing cartoons. Eddie Carroll, the official voice of Jiminy Cricket since 1977, supplied the voice for Jiminy. However, these cartoons also sometimes included characters like Pinocchio, Gepetto and an outer space alien.
Generally these cartoons were almost twice the length of the originals, included live action and were often meant to be followed by a live question and answer session, often by a police officer or a teacher. The suggested age level for these videos was for kindergarten through Second grade. While these updated versions offer more current information, they lack the charm of the original episodes.
There were sixty episodes of the Ink and Paint Club made for the Disney Channel. Episode number 15 which originally aired December 12, 1997 was entitled "Jiminy Cricket is No Fool" and contained the following six original shorts: I'm No Fool as a Pedestrian, I'm No Fool With a Bicycle, You and Your Five Senses, You and Your Sense of Smell and Taste, You, the Human Animal and I'm No Fool in the Water.
On Mouse Tracks, the following shorts were also shown: You and Your Food (Episode 12), I'm No Fool with a Bicycle (24), I'm No Fool in the Water (37) and You and Your Sense of Touch (53). On Quack Attack, the following shorts were shown: You, the Human Machine (Episode 5) and You and Your Sense of Smell and Taste (48).
Unlike many of the characters introduced in classic Disney animated features, Jiminy Cricket enjoyed a rich career beyond his debut in Pinocchio. He was used as a host in a second animated film, Fun and Fancy Free that foreshadowed his use as a host of several episodes of the Disney weekly television series, in particular the annual Christmas special, From All of Us to All of You.
Besides being in an American Motors commercial, Jiminy Cricket also shilled for Baker's Instant Chocolate Flavored Mix, a sponsor for the original Mickey Mouse Club that made the "most delicious chocolate drink". At the same time, Jiminy did a Public Service Ad for the United Way, singing a song about the benefits of giving. Today, he is used by the Disney Company as the symbol of "green" environmentality.
However, it is Jiminy's role on several educational shorts for the Mickey Mouse Club that stand out in most Disney fans' memories.
A window on a building in Mickey's Toontown at Disneyland advertises the services of Jiminy Cricket, Motivational Speaker, representing the business No Fools, Inc. In both Mickey's House at Toontown and Minnie's country house in Walt Disney World's now demolished Toontown Fair, bulletin boards display fliers advertising Jiminy's acclaimed "I'm No Fool" lecture series:
"Are you being foolish about safety? Renowned safety authority and longevity expert Jiminy Cricket will present his highly acclaimed lecture series 'I'm No Fool' at Mickey's Toontown City Hall-next week only. All interested Toons are invited to attend. For more information call Toontown 4-3665. Can you live with your conscience if you miss it???"