This animated short was released in Los Angeles on July 1, 1939, just a few days before the celebration of the 4th of July. The animation is realist, which was director Chuck Jones’ style at this time of his career. It was often described as a Disney-like style, which is why the Studio asked him to work on this project. And with good reason. The studio did not want this short to be looney, but to be a message to the American people.
As Old Glory opens, a wide-eyed, child-like Porky Pig is learning the Pledge of Alliance. “I don’t see why I have to learn that,” he muses. Porky falls asleep there in the school yard, with his text book wide open. Uncle Sam, the iconic symbol of patriotism, appears to Porky in a dream. Uncle Sam moves Porky through early American history, from Patrick Henry’s “Give me liberty”, to Paul Revere’s call to arms. As the short moves into the signing of the Constitution, there is an emphasis on freedom of religion, freedom of press, and freedom of speech. Uncle Sam’s history lesson covers the American Revolutionary War to the expansion of the American old west. The short highlights two great Americans, George Washington who “laid the foundation of a great democracy ” and Abraham Lincoln who gave a “new birth of freedom.”
When Porky wakes up from his dream, he is convinced that learning the Pledge is important because it represents the great history of the country. He has been converted by Uncle Sam to the civil religion. But we’re not talking the Sarah Palin-moose-hunting-while-putting-on-lipstick-while-reciting-the-pledge kind of civil religion.
In 1939 lives were disrupted and families faced separation. Hitler was rising in power and influence in Germany. On September 1st of that year, Hitler’s troops conquered Poland in the Blitzkrieg, or “lightning war.” This would be the spark for the second World War, that would send many young men overseas. In the meantime, the United States was still suffering under the effects of the Great Depression. In 1939, close to 10 million people were unemployed.
Following this short, there would be dozens and dozens of shorts made by Warner Bros. and Disney to raise awareness and support for the government during war time. Why? To encourage unity among the country. The country needed to work together to rise out of the grips of the Great Depression and the country would need to do the same as it faced some of her greatest enemies.
In this Chuck Jones directed Warner Bros. theatrical animated short, Sniffles the mouse makes his second appearance on the big screen. Sniffles is ahead in the mouse community’s scavenger hunt. As the short begins, Sniffles has just gotten a cat’s whisker. The only remaining object to be found is an owl’s egg. Sniffles quickly rises to the challenge.
The task, however, proofs to be difficult. Sniffles slips out into the night to find an owl’s egg. Upon finding an egg, Sniffles quietly picks it up and heads out of the barn. The Parent Owl is quick to not let this happen. Sniffles returns the egg back to its nest. But, the unexpected happens, the egg hatches.
Sniffles does what he can to get the baby owl back into the egg shell. When he finally does, Sniffles ties a piece of string around the cracked egg shell and sets out to return to the party. But, the baby owl slips out before Sniffles knows it. Sniffles is ready to walk away from it all, when it notices the cat!
The cat sets is yellow eyes on the baby owl. Sniffles has to make a split-second decision, will he continue to walk away or will he help the newly hatched owl? Sniffles decides to help the little owl. He runs and grabs the owl. They are chased by the cat, but Sniffles is able to keep the baby owl safe. The Parent Owl soon sweeps in and carries the cat away. In gratefulness to Sniffles for rescuing the baby owl, Parent Owl gives him the egg shell.
Paul writes in Philippians 2:4:
Instead of each person watching out for their own good, watch out for what is better for others. (Common English Bible)
Sniffles contemplates this in that split-second he has to decide if he will do what is best for himself or for the baby owl. Paul continues in Philippians 2 with what has become known as the “Christ Hymn.” Paul quotes an ancient hymn, possibly one of the first that the Christian community used, to articulate who Jesus is: “he emptied himself by taking the form of a slave” (2:7).
Sniffles’ act is one in which we as Christians are encouraged (even called) to do as well. Paul says that we are to “adopt the attitude that was in Christ Jesus” (2:5). If Jesus emptied himself to become a slave, or servant, than we are to have that same attitude as well. In other words,everything from our actions to our decisions have an affect on others. What a difference would we make in our lives, in our communities, in the world, if we followed Philippians 2 to “watch out for what is better for others”? Sniffles provides for us a model for watching out for the good of others.