- Music written by Italian composer Amilcare Ponchielli as a ballet in the 1876 opera La Gioconda (The Smiling One).
- Animation directed by T. Hee and Norman Ferguson.
This segment depicts an animal ballet which thematically conveys Ponchielli’s intention to express the hours of the day through music, ostriches symbolizing the morning, hippos symbolizing the afternoon, elephants symbolizing the evening and alligators symbolizing the night, with the two main stars of the segment being the prima ballerina Hyacinth Hippo and the reptilian leader of the dancers of the night Ben Ali Gator who is in love with her.
This is the second-best segment after The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. Walt Disney made the wise suggestion to keep the animals silly but have them still take the ballet completely seriously, never making them perform for laughs but letting the humor unfold naturally by accident. This helps make the segment even funnier and makes the characters in the segment even easier to love.
Dance of the Hours is the greatest example of how Walt saw animation as the art of caricature. Anthropomorphizing animals with human-like features is something Disney has been doing since its earliest days but the challenge in doing this believably Walt acknowledged was maintaining the feel of the animal’s anatomy in the caricature while exaggerating it. The depiction of circus animals in Dumbo and forest animals in Bambi are prime examples of how good animators can pull it off. Dance of the Hours is the ultimate culmination. Elephants use their trunks as part of their dance routines, Ben Ali Gator crawls on the floor towards Hyacinth and Mademoiselle Upanova fights the other ostriches over some grapes, reminding the audience that these are animals.
The designs of the animals had several inspirations. The main ones being German artist Heinrich Kley and American cartoonist T.S. Sullivant of Life Magazine fame, as well as the illustrations of Lewis Carroll and A.A. Milne books.
Norm Ferguson and T. Hee were the perfect directors for this segment. Ferguson created the personality for Mickey Mouse’s dog Pluto giving him his human-like facial expressions while T. Hee was an experienced caricaturist who Walt Disney first hired to lampoon film stars in the 1938 short Mother Goose Goes Hollywood.
While Ferguson previously supervised the animation of the old hag from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs plus Foulfellow and Gideon from Pinocchio, he left most of the animation in Dance of the Hours to better draftsmen such as John Lounsbery, although Ferguson often gave animators advice on how to make the segment more broad as he was a master of staging action.
Lounsbery had assisted Ferguson with his animation in Snow White and Pinocchio and made his reputation on this movie with his excellent animation of Ben Ali Gator from his cape-flinging introduction to his hilarious dance with Hyacinth Hippo where he spins her around and rides her like a merry-go-round.
Aside from Lounsbery, some of the best animators in the business worked on Dance of the Hours:
Preston Blair animated in this segment alongside the Disney movies Pinocchio, Dumbo and Bambi before moving to MGM and doing phenomenal animation for Tex Avery.
Hugh Fraser animated on many Pluto, Donald Duck and Goofy shorts before joining Hanna-Barbera and animating on The Flintstones, The Jetsons, Jonny Quest and many productions in the 1970s and 1980s from Scooby-Doo to Charlotte’s Web to The Smurfs.
Harvey Toombs animated for Disney from the 1940s to the 1960s before working for Hanna-Barbera and Ralph Bakshi.
Hicks Lokey was a Betty Boop animator who left Fleischer to work at Disney from the 1940s to the 1950s, Hanna-Barbera from the 1950s to the 1980s and back to Disney on Adventures of the Gummi Bears.
Ray Patterson moved from Disney to MGM to animate on many Tom and Jerry cartoons in the 1940s and 1950s, later working for UPA, Hanna-Barbera and Ralph Bakshi.
Grant Simmons animated for Tex Avery at MGM and Charles Mintz for Screen Gems on the Color Rhapsody series before becoming a director for UPA on Mr. Magoo and The Dick Tracy Show and for Ralph Bakshi on Spider-Man.
Howard Swift shifted to Screen Gems to direct for Charles Mintz’s Color Rhapsody series.
As for the dance moves that the animals perform, actual ballerinas were studied to achieve authenticity in their performances, which helped particularly with the burlesque of the ostriches and the light-footed dancing of the Hippos.
It paid off. The presentation of this entire segment is flawless from beginning to end, perfectly building up to a well-earned crescendo featuring all four animal species dancing together, the opera house collapsing at the end the perfect cherry on top of this farce.