The Cookie Carnival was one of Disney’s Silly Symphonies series. It was released in 1935, making it almost 80 years old! It reminds me of animation which came much later, like Bertie Bassett, the mascot of Bassett’s Liquorice Allsorts, and The Land Of Chocolate fantasy sequence from The Simpsons, in that it’s a world where everything, including the people, are made of confectionary.
The short begins with a parade. A marching band playing brass instruments wearing uniforms followed by floats of various beauty queen contestants, and everyone is a personified dessert, having arms, legs and a face. The participants include Easter eggs, an ice cream sandwich, numerous animal shaped biscuits, and a song plays over the scene. I like the lyric that calls it a “cookie jamboree”, I thought it was quite a good pun.
The main plot of the short is a Cinderella story. A cookie girl who looks like she’s dressed in rags is crying because she wants to join the parade, but has nothing to wear. A gingerbread man (voiced by Pinto Colvig, best known for voicing Goofy) passes. He has a red cherry-like nose and a cupcake wrapper hat, and decides he wants to help the cookie girl. He decorates her so she can be part of the parade, with toffee for hair, blue, white and purple icing for a dress along with small pink purple and yellow candy hearts, and a red candy heart for lipstick, marshmallow face powder, and a violet ribbon. She is entered into the contest under the name Miss Bonbon, wrapped in cellophane with a golden ribbon on top, like a candy treat you might see in a sweet shop window, and wins the competition.
The crowd then trample over the gingerbread man in excitement, and carry Miss Bonbon on a wedding cake where a jam swiss roll is rolled out for her as a red carpet, and she is crowned queen. She is told as queen, she must now choose a king, and a carousel cake shows her suitors. This part has dated quite badly, as they were based on vaudeville acts of the time. They include two candy cane men (with their background scenery showing the urban myth of Sir. Walter Raleigh laying his red cape over a puddle for Elizabeth I to cross over, for some reason), a barbershop duo representing “old fashioned cookies that your mother used to bake”, two camp effeminate Angel Food Cakes (who to modern audiences remind them of Ned Flanders from The Simpsons), upside down cakes standing on their head in an upside down living room, and three drunken rum cookies in a saloon. I think my favourite were the Devil’s Food Cake pair, which are devils with a slice of cake for a body and forks for tridents. Though why they are all competing as groups when she was only meant to choose one king I’m not sure. Anyway, Miss Bonbon turns them all down.
Meanwhile, the gingerbread man tries to get in front of the crowd and is chased by guards and runs under the red carpet, and is attacked by the guards, damaging his cupcake hat. Miss Bonbon says “Stop! I say! Don’t crown the king that way!” indicating she has chosen the gingerbread man to be her king, and indeed his hat now resembles a crown and the swiss roll a cape. It ends with everyone celebrating, and the happy couple kissing, with a lollipop melting as they do.
With many cartoons that are this old, there are likely to be some elements which can be offensive to modern audiences. This short is quite mild on that score compared to many of its contemporaries, but there are some things. The Angel Food Cakes come across as caricatures of camp closeted gay men. One of the beauty queen contestants in the parade, Miss Licorice, seems to be a caricature of a black woman, and while it’s only a brief appearance and nowhere near as bad as some of what happened in cartoons in this era (such as the infamous Censored Eleven, cartoons from the ’30s and ’40s which were banned for, among other things, their racist content), it’s still there and still noticeable, and a reminder of how different society was back then.
But, values dissonance aside, what to say about this cartoon today? You still occasionally see fancy dress costumes based on Miss Bonbon’s outfit. Miss Jello, a plump woman made of jelly wobbles, shakes and dances and only turns up at the very end, but seems to be quite popular with people who see it today. The plot is wafer thin, even for a cartoon short, and it’s more noteworthy for the bright, colourful and creative visuals. The “candyland” it creates is very nice to look at. As well as the confectionary theme, there is also something of an old fashioned toy shop feel to the whole thing. Miss Bonbon ends up looking more like a porcelain doll than a cookie, the parade includes what look a bit like cookie versions of toy soldiers, and a small clown rows a pastry like a boat. As light as the plot is, it’s not unappealing. We get two “rags to riches” stories for the price of one, Miss Bonbon is a cookie Cinderella, while the gingerbread man goes from being a homeless drifter (when he is introduced we see him walking on peppermint railway tracks carrying a candy cane knapsack) to a king.
Part of the process of the Silly Symphonies series were for Disney animators to experiment and see what worked and what didn’t. Miss Bonbon is an example of them trying to animate more realistic looking human characters, which is why she goes from looking like a flat cookie cutout to human looking by the end. She has been suggested to be a forerunner for Snow White in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. The director of this short would also go on to work on Pinocchio and Bambi.