It has become a tradition for many people to watch “Groundhog Day” on Groundhog Day. But we mustn’t forget all the other films related to the “holiday” that came before Bill Murray met Punxsutawney Phil and became stuck in time. All of them are animated shorts, from Disney, Iwerks, Warner Bros., Famous Studios and Rankin/Bass. There are a couple others, including an Oswald the Rabbit short I can’t locate online. Almost all that I did find are appropriate to those of us in the Northeast experiencing the winter storm. Apparently the real Phil did not see his shadow this morning, signaling an early spring. But looking out my window, I must be skeptical.
I’m surprised there hasn’t been a cheap horror film set on and involving Groundhog Day. There is a recut-trailer version of “Groundhog Day” to seem like a scary movie, though. And also some of the following shorts have horror elements, enough that some people wouldn’t want their kids seeing them. Another thing in common that I love: shadow play gags!
Watch the six films in full after the jump.
“Winter” – An early Silly Symphonies short from 1930 and the last in the Disney series’ seasonal output. After a day of winter fun, a bunch of animals (including a bear that looks an awful lot like Mickey Mouse) head over to the home of Mr. Groundhog, Weather Prophet. At first the little guy sees no shadow and his forest friends dance with joy. But then the shadow appears and chases the groundhog back to his home as a winter storm arrives.
“Summertime” – This Ub Iwerks ComiColor cartoon from 1935 seems to be a rip-off of the previous short. Maybe he was trying to better his old friend, Walt Disney? I don’t know if it is better, but it is more violent. A snowman melts morbidly. Old Man Winter is firebombed. And prior to that Old Man Winter chases the groundhog back into his home with an evil shadow. I don’t get why it’s titled “Summertime” if it’s about the transition from winter to spring.
“One Meat Brawl” – His name in this 1947 animated short from Warner Bros. (directed by Robert McKimson) is Grover Groundhog. Isn’t he cute as he sings and dances? But then things turn violent as he makes his first appearance outside the hole and hunters fire upon him. He miraculously escapes the barrage of shotgun shells only to be further hunted by Porky Pig and his dog Mandrake. Good thing Grover is a fine manipulator.
“Ground Hog Play” – In this 1956 Casper short, the friendly ghost befriends fellow comic strip star Hillary the Ground Hog by first pretending to be the animal’s shadow. Can ghosts really catch people and cover themselves in soot yet also still move through matter? Casper later befriended another groundhog, simply named Mr. Groundhog, in “Weather or Not” (1963), which is like a cross between “Ground Hog Play” and “One Meat Brawl.”
“Unnatural History” – Another Warner Bros. short, this one from 1959 (directed by Abe Levitow) satires nature documentaries by spotlighting a number of different kinds of animals. The joke with the groundhog is that his shadow isn’t really what he uses in determining the end of winter. He has a whole laboratory filled with technology to help him in that.
“Jack Frost” – This classic begins with a prologue set on a modern day February 2, in which news reporters surround the home of Pardon-Me-Pete (voiced by Buddy Hackett). He comes out, sees his shadow, tells us of its magic and how he and Jack Frost have a little deal going. Then he dances with the shadow to, of course, “Me and My Shadow,” and finally introduces us to the main story of this 1979 Rankin/Bass TV special: that of Jack Frost and the origin/significance of Groundhog Day.