I’m not sure if it was inspired by the phrase “the lion shall lie down with the lamb”, but if so, it’s quite an imaginative take on it.
It begins one spring night with a Stork delivering lambs to a flock of sheep. He tells the lambs to pick the ewe they like best to be their mother. They all go straight past one who is on her own and wearing a cowbell to the ewes in the flock, leaving the cowbell ewe in tears.
There’s one more baby left, but the Stork quickly realises that it’s not a lamb. Checking his notes, he sees there has been a mix up. This is a lion cub named Lambert who is supposed to go to South Africa. However, by this time Lambert has chosen the ewe without a lamb as his mother. The Stork tries to take Lambert back, but the ewe butts the Stork. The Stork decides to just leave and let Lambert stay with the ewe.
The next morning the lambs are all together. Lambert wants to join in, but he obviously looks and sounds totally different to the rest of them. The other lambs gang up on him, taunt him with a song, butt him after knowing Lambert can’t butt his head like they can, and all laugh at him. These lambs are jerks! If ever a bunch of lambs deserved to be turned into lamb chops and served as a roast dinner it’s these!
By autumn, Lambert and the lambs have reached adulthood. Lambert is now a huge lion and the lambs have become rams. But Lambert is still meek, and the rams still bully him.
One night, Lambert is woken to the sound of a wolf howling. He is scared. The Wolf gets Lambert’s mother, who calls to him for help. The other sheep all run away. Lambert’s mother manages to get loose from the Wolf but he chases her to the edge of a cliff. Seeing his mother in danger awakens the wild instincts in Lambert and he gives a powerful lion’s roar. It’s now the Wolf’s turn to be terrified. Lambert goes up to him and butts him over the edge of a cliff.
Lambert’s mother is proud of him and the other sheep all love him now too. We’re also told at the end the Wolf clung onto a branch underneath the cliff edge, which has berries on so he won’t starve.
This cartoon short is quite popular. It’s very nicely animated and looks good. Emperor Hirohito of Japan was apparently a big fan of it.
It was narrated by Sterling Holloway like a lot of Disney shorts. June Foray, perhaps most famous for voicing Granny from the Sylvester and Tweety cartoons did a LOT on this short too. She voiced Lambert’s mother, Lambert himself as a cub when he was purring and meowing, the lambs and the sheep.
Lambert’s lion roar was voiced by Candy Candido, and he also voiced the Wolf’s growls. Lambert’s one spoken line, saying “Mama”, was voiced by Stan Freberg. Despite not making many sounds, Lambert had three different voice actors!
The story of an underdog triumphing and winning others over is one that’s appealing to people. The one it is most similar to is Rudolf The Red Nosed Reindeer, with an animal that is notably different from the others in his group, they bully him, until one night he saves the day and they all love him. I have to say though, I’ve never seen either Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindeer or Lambert The Sheepish Lion as having a completely happy ending. Funny how the reindeer all love Rudolf now he’s Santa’s favourite! Both Rudolf and Lambert would be well within their rights to tell the others to go stuff themselves. To be honest, in Lambert The Sheepish Lion I find the sheep more unlikable than the Wolf. At least the Wolf has the excuse of being hungry!
The lambs are like this from the start with how they reject the ewe with a cowbell who becomes Lambert’s mother. “If you’re not in the crowd and stand out in any way, we don’t like you”. Well, I suppose sheep and reindeer are herd animals.
The story is also similar to one of Disney’s classics Dumbo from 1941, and the Stork from Dumbo is in this. He has the same character design and again is voiced by Sterling Holloway. The Stork wears a red uniform instead of the blue one he wore in Dumbo though. So a reverse of the British postal service, where they used to wear a red uniform and switched to blue. (There’s an obscure bit of trivia for you!).
The Wolf is also from an earlier Disney film. It is the same wolf from the Peter And The Wolf segment of 1946’s Make Mine Music. Some of the animation is even recycled
wholesale. To be fair, the Wolf deserved more than one cartoon to appear in, as he is a very fearsome looking beast! Sharp shiny teeth with saliva dripping from them and demonic yellow eyes. Though he ends up looking a bit foolish by the end of this short, not least that they used the same sound Goofy makes when he falls off a cliff.
Animation from Lambert The Sheepish Lion was also recycled in a short called Social Lion just two years later. The lion is clearly a different character to Lambert, but it is the exact same character design and animation, and even the voices by Candy Candido and Stan Freeberg were reused. Social Lion isn’t well remembered these days, largely because, frankly, it isn’t very good. For a start, the animation in it is very poor and it really stands out compared to the how well animated the lion is.
Lambert The Sheepish Lion raises a few questions though. Lambert was supposed to be delivered to a lioness in South Africa. For one thing, is she wondering where her cub has got to? For another, did she get a lamb instead?! And if so, did she think it was a fast food delivery?! In real life, there was a case of a lioness trying to raise an oryx as her own. It ended in tragedy, not because she tried to eat it, but because she couldn’t feed it.
Which raises another question. What was Lambert eating all this time? I always found it hard to believe Simba in The Lion King would grow up to be a big, strong healthy lion on a diet of grubs and insects, but there is no way Lambert would have living off nothing but grass and water!
While it has its flaws, Lambert The Sheepish Lion also has a lot of qualities. Again it’s very beautifully animated, it’s fine for telling the story it wants to tell, and it has aged pretty well, so on the whole, it’s good.