Silly Symphonies

film 7 of 61

The China Plate

Film Review by Dean Duncan Jul 6, 2015

The Disney Corporation emphasizes the home runs among these films, or it celebrates the distinction and historical importance of the whole sequence. It might not talk quite as much about the apparent also-rans, or of how much interest, craft and quality that they so often contain.

Not all of the Silly Symphonies are masterpieces. A few of them, like The Old Mill (q.v.), sure looked like they wanted to be. Mostly, though, they were produced as part of a efficiently rationalized industrial process, which churned what was supposed to be a pleasing and profitable line of product. No shame in that, and plenty of room for craft, imagination, affection and even artistry. Eccentricity too, which can be just as interesting.

The China Plate is a nice little film. It may not have been bogged down by a lot of research on Chinese history and customs. Mind you, it is informed by an actual China pattern, though an actual China pattern that originated in England. Accuracy aside, this does point to the centrality of decorative and designed elements in the majority of these films. Their plots and ideologies can be a real mixed bag. But they tend to look really great!

Predictably, we have some stereotypes here. If you relax a bit, and increase your level of vigilance, and carry a lot of grains of salt, some of them can actually be pretty funny. I like the gag where the musician mistakes a cat for his stringed instrument, and they both screech at exactly the same time and in exactly the same manner. (Also, good cormorant jokes, something I can’t ever remember saying about any other film that I’ve seen.) Elsewhere, as with the stereotypical lovers and the stereotypical villainous Emperor who strives to thwart them, you might not feel so happy.

Thing is, this is not so much China-bashing, or China insensitivity. Actually, most all of the characters in most all of the Sillies get the same treatment, probably with the same combination of time-linked indecorum and antic, ingratiating good will. That might be a problem too, but it might not be a problem to get too angry about. Anyway, something to watch for, and see what good we can take out of, going forward. (Hint on what good we’ll be able to take out: lots!)