The Wise Little Hen

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The Wise Little Hen
The Wise Little Hen poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byWilfred Jackson
Produced byWalt Disney
StarringFlorence Gill
Clarence Nash
Pinto Colvig
Music byLeigh Harline
Animation byArchie Robin
Clyde Geronimi
Art Babbitt
Louie Schmitt
Ugo D'Orsi
Frenchy de Tremaudan
Wolfgang Reitherman
Dick Huemer[1]
Distributed byUnited Artists
Release dates
  • May 3, 1934 (1934-05-03) (Carthay Circle Theater)[2]
  • June 9, 1934 (1934-06-09)
Running time
7 minutes (one reel)

The Wise Little Hen is a 1934 Walt Disney's Silly Symphony cartoon, based on the fable The Little Red Hen. The cartoon features the debut of Donald Duck, dancing to the Sailor's Hornpipe.[3] Donald and his friend Peter Pig try to avoid work by faking stomach aches until Mrs. Hen teaches them the value of labor.


The Wise Little Hen of the title is looking for someone to help her plant her corn for the winter. Peter Pig and Donald Duck both feign belly aches to get out of the chore, since they would rather play than work. So, with help from her chicks, she plants it herself. Harvest time comes; again, Peter and Donald claim belly aches, but the hen sees through this when boards of their clubhouse fall off showing their little act when they shake hands with each other for evading responsibility. Upon wising up to their ruse, she and her chicks wink at each other upon knowing what to do with Peter and Donald later. She cooks up a tantalizing assortment of corn dishes, and heads over to Peter and Donald to help her eat them, but before she can open her mouth, they already fake their belly aches. Once she asks them to help her eat the corn, they snap out of their façade and are excited to eat, but all she gives them is castor oil. As the hen and her chicks eat the corn themselves, Peter and Donald repent with all their might by kicking each other in the rump.



Though distributor United Artists gave June 9, 1934 as the cartoon's release date, it was actually first shown on May 3, 1934 at the Carthay Circle Theatre in Los Angeles for a benefit program, while it was later given its official debut on June 7 at the Radio City Music Hall in New York City.[2][4]

This cartoon featured the first appearance of Clarence Nash in a Disney production. Nash had been a performer in Chautauqua and vaudeville during the 1920s and later met Wilfred Jackson who wanted Nash to provide bird sounds for a cartoon. During the call, Nash performed a rendition of "Mary Had a Little Lamb" as a duck, and Jackson sent the music into Walt Disney's office. Disney himself proclaimed "[t]hat's our talking duck".[6]

The short was animated by Art Babbitt, Dick Huemer, Clyde Geronimi, Louie Schmitt, and Frenchy de Tremaudan (with assistance from a group of junior animators headed by Ben Sharpsteen)[7][1] and directed by Wilfred Jackson.[8] Animation on the hen was done by Wolfgang Reitherman and supervised by Ben Sharpsteen. Art Babbitt worked on Peter Pig and Donald Duck.[9] Ward Kimball worked as an inbetweener on this short.[10] The song featured in the short, "Help Me Plant My Corn" was written by Leigh Harline.[11]


The Silly Symphony Sunday comic strip ran a three-month-long adaptation of The Wise Little Hen from September 16 to December 16, 1934.[12] The story was adapted by Ted Osborne and Al Taliaferro,[12] and it also was Donald Duck's first appearance in Disney comics.

The 1962 storybook Walt Disney's Story Land: 55 Favorite Stories featured an adaptation of the cartoon called "Mrs. Cackle's Corn". In this version, Clara Cluck is telling the story. By 1962, Donald Duck was thought unsuitable for a bit part in a fairy tale, so they use Daniel Duck instead. Patsy Pig was substituted for Peter Pig.


Dr. Tracey Mollet suggests that the short's narrative reflects the economic reality of the time, the Great Depression, and President Roosevelt's efforts to bolster the agricultural sector. Mollet surmises that Peter Pig and Donald Duck's actions, not helping to cultivate and harvest crops, is a rejection of "early New Deal policy of self-sufficiency in farming".[13] The short reinforces the belief in New Deal policy by having Donald and Peter pay a consequence for their rugged individualism by being fed castor oil as the Hen and her chicks eat their crops.[13] The featured song also draws upon contemporary elements as it references the "harsh weather [that] had antagonized the crises in the rural sector" across the 1933-1934 winter as the Hen seeks to grow corn "so she is 'not left short when winter comes again'".[13] The short's end reinforces the "self-sufficiency of the hen" in contrast to "Donald and Peter's laziness [which] is punished as they are left hungry".[13]

Home media[edit]

The short has been released several times on home media. The first release was in 1986 on Betamax on Donald Duck Volume 1. It was released in 1989 on VHS, Beta, and Laserdisc on Mickey Mouse & Donald Duck Volume 2. It was re-released on those same three formats in 1991 on Donald Duck's 50th Birthday.

It was released on December 4, 2001 on Walt Disney Treasures: Silly Symphonies - The Historic Musical Animated Classics,[14][4] and on May 18, 2004 on Walt Disney Treasures: The Chronological Donald, Volume One: 1934-1941.[15]


  1. ^ a b "Happy Birthday Donald Duck! Walt Disney's "The Wise Little Hen" (1934) |". Cartoon Research. Retrieved March 14, 2018.
  2. ^ a b Kaufman, J.B. (June 8, 2020). "When's Your Birthday?". Cartoon Research. Retrieved September 26, 2020.
  3. ^ Lenburg, Jeff (1999). The Encyclopedia of Animated Cartoons. Checkmark Books. pp. 74–76. ISBN 0-8160-3831-7. Retrieved June 6, 2020.
  4. ^ a b c Merritt, Russell; Kaufman, J. B. (2016). Walt Disney's Silly Symphonies: A Companion to the Classic Cartoon Series (2nd ed.). Glendale, CA: Disney Editions. pp. 148–149. ISBN 978-1-4847-5132-9.
  5. ^ Scott, Keith (3 October 2022). Cartoon Voices of the Golden Age, Vol. 2. BearManor Media. p. 240. Retrieved 28 September 2022.
  6. ^ Peri, Don (2010). Working with Walt - Interviews with Disney Artists. University Press of Mississippi. pp. 51–52. ISBN 9781604739183. Retrieved March 27, 2023.
  7. ^ Malone, Patrick A. "The Wise Little Hen". The Encyclopedia of Disney Animated Shorts. Archived from the original on July 26, 2011.
  8. ^ "The Wise Little Hen". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved 2007-06-09.
  9. ^ Friedman, Jake (2022). The Disney Revolt - The Great Labor War of Animation's Golden Age. Chicago Review Press. ISBN 9781641607223. Retrieved March 27, 2023.
  10. ^ Pierce, Todd James (2019). The Life and Times of Ward Kimball - Maverick of Disney Animation. University Press of Mississippi. ISBN 9781496820976. Retrieved March 27, 2023.
  11. ^ Hischak, Thomas; Robinson, Mark (2009). The Disney Song Encyclopedia. Scarecrow Press. p. 76. ISBN 9780810869387. Retrieved March 27, 2023.
  12. ^ a b Duvall, Earl; Taliaferro, Al; Osborne, Ted; De Maris, Merrill (2016). Silly Symphonies: The Complete Disney Classics, vol 1. San Diego: IDW Publishing. ISBN 978-1631405587.
  13. ^ a b c d Mollet, Tracey (2017). Cartoons in Hard Times - The Animated Shorts of Disney and Warner Brothers in Depression and War 1932-1945. Bloomsbury Academic. pp. 27–30, 60. ISBN 9781501328770. Retrieved March 27, 2023.
  14. ^ "Silly Symphonies: The Historic Musical Animated Classics DVD Review". DVD Dizzy. Retrieved 20 February 2021.
  15. ^ "The Chronological Donald Volume 1 DVD Review". DVD Dizzy. Retrieved 13 February 2021.

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