I thought I'd share with you all this 1955 American Motors commercial that I found on YouTube a while back as it's really quite amusing. Many of you may know that Disney dabbled in TV commercials when the studio's budget was tight back in the 40's and 50's. At the time, Disney was recovering from the financial setbacks of World War II while also trying to launch Disneyland's opening and its new television series Disneyland. To help offset the costs, Disney began producing TV commercials like the one feature above.
A great article from Animation World Magazine written by Jim Korkis documents Walt Disney's production of these commercials and includes interviews with Disney veterans about this era. According to Korkis, Disney produced two kinds of commercials: those "featuring the classic Disney characters primarily for sponsors of the Disneyland television program like American Motors and Derby Foods" and others "for a variety of other accounts, often creating memorable new advertising character icons from Tommy Mohawk for Mohawk Carpets to Fresh up Freddie for the 7-Up soft drink."
Korkis' interview with Harry Tytle reveals the frustrating nature of these commercial contracts, citing Disney's sentiment that there was "no residual value" and that they were entirely at the "whim of the client." But these commercials brought in big bucks for the company at a time when capital was needed to help launch Disney's success.
It's interesting how different these commercial characters were as opposed to their feature-film counterparts. I've posted a black and white picture of Brer Rabbit above from the film for comparison. In the film, Brer Rabbit has much rounder, soft features and is less stylized in the modern mid-century fashion than the commercial character is. The commercial animation and designs were likely a product of Tom Oreb's. They do resemble the work Oreb did for similar cartoons like the Mickey Mouse American Motors commercial and the Peter Pan peanut butter commercials. (A character model sheet for the Peter Pan commercial is pictured below copyright of the Walt Disney company and courtesy of the Animation World Magazine.)
The American Motors "Nash Rambler" commercial really struck me as unusual, particularly because Disney never released the movie Song of the South to home video or DVD as a result of the racial controversy surrounding the film. Offhand, it seemed like an unusual choice to use the Brer characters, particularly since the film had been released in theaters some nine years earlier. Additionally, other major feature films such as Peter Pan, Cinderella, and Alice in Wonderland were hitting theaters during these years.
As it turns out, the choice to use Song of the South characters was maybe not so random as it first appeared. Evidently, as a promotional tool, the Disney company had launched a Song of the South based cartoon strip entitled Uncle Remus & His Tales of Brer Rabbit in 1945 before the movie was released. This cartoon strip was popular enough to continue running for 30 years after its original launch, making the characters well-known. An example of the cartoon strip is posted below courtesy of Lambiek.net whose webpage goes further into depth on Paul Murry, the illustrator of the Uncle Remus Sunday comic strip, and other comic strips he illustrated.