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Sidney the Elephant, also known as Silly Sidney, is a relatively successful character from the Terry Toons studio. He was one of several new characters introduced in the mid to late 1950s. In 1955, studio founder and owner Paul Terry had sold it to CBS and promptly retired. The new owners appointed a new creative director for the studio. So they hired Gene Deitch (1924-), one of the guys behind the UPA animation studio. Deitch was not particularly fond of Terrytoons' production up to this point. Animation historians quote him saying: "For thirty years they had been making the crassest of unadulterated crap". He proceeded to drop most of the old characters, and had his crew create new ones.
Sidney was one of the new stars. He first appeared in the short Sick, Sick Sidney (1958), as a neurotic, thoroughly insecure, and rather whiny protagonist. His first few lines have Sidney introduce himself as "nervous as can be", unable to stand the sounds of the jungle, and "terribly insecure". He then jumps up a tree, scared by the noise caused by a bird. Complaining that the jungle noises are driving him crazy. He gets terrified when a safari arrives, an expedition intending to capture the animals and transport them to a zoo. Sidney is notably the only animal particularly worried. A lion ensures him that life in the zoo would be an improvement. But Sidney tries to pass for one of the animals no expedition is interested in, first as a gazelle and then as a snake. When a giraffe informs him that the safari hunters "don't want no elephants", Sidney changes his tune. He now wants to be captured. Eventually resolving to caging himself. But the expedition leaves him behind, taking with them just about any other jungle mammal. For a minute Sidney is at least happy that "now it will be nice and quiet in the jungle". Before deciding than now the jungle is "too quiet". He ends the short complaining about being lonesome.
His second short was more of a hit. In Sidney's Family Tree (1958), 44-year-old Sidney decides that he needs a mother to take care of him. He then politely asks female animals to adopt him. The first couple of animals refuse. But a female monkey, married but childless, takes him up on that offer. Mother and son could not be happier. But Sidney's new adoptive father can't stand the clumsy oaf. He spends most of the short trying to get rid of his dim-witted son. Who doesn't take the hint. When Sidney gets himself a new girlfriend, a young female elephant, the father is elated. Finally, his unwanted son moves out of the house. Mother is in tears. But then both elephants appear. Sidney and his new bride are ready to move in with his folks. Less whiny and more bumbling, Sidney was arguably funnier. This short was nominated for an Academy Award for Animated Short Film, though it lost to "Knighty Knight Bugs" (1958), a Looney Tunes entry featuring Bugs Bunny and Yosemite Sam.
Cartoon shorts featuring Sidney remained in production to 1963. The lion and giraffe were reworked into regular supporting characters, Stanley the Lion and Carol/Cleo the Giraffe. By the time the series ended, Terrytoons had ceased producing most of its theatrical animated series. Turning its attention to creating animated television series. Sidney turned up in his own segment at the Hector Heathcote Show (1963-1965). But when that show also ended, Sidney joined the ranks of Terrytoons' defunct characters. Sidney was an also-run in the comic book medium. He had his own stories in the back-pages of the Tom Terrific series (1957-1958) and in the New Terrytoons series (1962-1979). But Terrytoons characters were never big hits in this field.
Sidney was well-remembered enough in the 1990s to get a parody in Tiny Toon Adventures. In the episode Who Bopped Bugs Bunny, an elephant called "Sappy Stanley" appears as the villain. Attempting to get revenge on Bugs Bunny, because his greatest hit was overshadowed by "Knighty Knight Bugs". Stanley clearly being a Captain Ersatz of Sidney.
Theatrical Cartoon Filmography
- Sick, Sick Sidney (1958), directed by Art Bartsch.
- Sidney's Family Tree (1958), directed by Art Bartsch.
- Hide and Go Sidney (1959), directed by Art Bartsch.
- Tusk Tusk (1960), directed by Martin Taras.
- The Littlest Bully (1960), directed by Martin Taras.
- Two-Ton Babysitter (1960), directed by Dave Tendlar.
- Banana Binge (1961), directed by Gene Deitch?. Several online sources credit Deitch for directing this film. But since it was released two years following Deitch's departure from the studio, this is doubtful.
- Meat, Drink, and Be Merry (1961), directed by Dave Tendlar.
- Really Big Act (1961), directed by Dave Tendlar?.
- Tree Spree (1961), directed by Larz Bourne?.
- Clown Jewels (1961), directed by Dave Tendlar.
- Peanut Battle (1962), directed by Connie Rasinki.
- Send Your Elephant to Camp (1962), directed by Art Bartsch.
- The Fleet's Out (1962), directed by Connie Rasinki.
- Home Life (1962), directed by Connie Rasinki.
- To Be or Not to Be (1963), directed by Connie Rasinki.
- Sidney's White Elephant (1963), directed by Art Bartsch.
- Driven to Extraction (1963), directed by Art Bartsch.
- Split-Level Treehouse (1963), directed by Art Bartsch.
Tropes Related to the Original Theatrical Cartoons:
- Accidental Hero: In Clown Jewels, Sidney foils the plans of jewel thieves. First by uncovering the location of their hidden loot. When confronted by these "desperados", Sidney faints and falls on them. Taking them out of action and leading to their arrest. He is hailed a hero and even gets a reward.
- Addiction Displacement: At the finale of Banana Binge, Sidney seems to have finally ended his addiction to bananas. But is now fixating on kumquats.
- Behind a Stick: Subverted in Sick Sick Sidney (1958). In it, Sidney tries to hide from safari hunters by getting behind a very thin tree. However, Sidney is too fat and thus unsuccessful, saying "Oh they just don't make trees like they did when I was a little boy".
- Eek! a Mouse!: In "The Littlest Bully", Melvin the Mouse has fun with scaring Sidney. Sidney even claims that "All elephants are afraid of mice". To which Stanley the Lion replies with a "humbug, just an old superstition".
- Great White Hunter: Two safari hunters who capture the animals alive turn up in Sick, Sick Sidney. Two "ivory hunters", who have no problem killing elephants, turn up in Tusk Tusk.
- Happily Adopted: Sidney and his adoptive mother's perspective in Sidney's Family Tree fits this trope. If you ask the adoptive father, you get a different story.
- I Can't Believe It's Not Heroin!: In Banana Binge, Sidney is struggling with an addiction to bananas. He has reportedly been addicted to them for years and the only nearby source is a plantation. He already has more than 800 "buck shots" on his body from previous confrontations with its owner. Sidney's doctor points out that he might get killed eventually. So he is trying to "break the habit", getting encouragement from Stanley and Cleo. But actually still has secret stashes of bananas around. When his supply is over, Sidney gets into withdrawal and gets "the twitches" again (specifying its not his first time). The craving for bananas gets too much and Sidney does attack the plantation. Walking through the flames of a flamethrower and destroying a tank to get to his bananas.
- I Just Want to Have Friends: Sidney is a B Type in Hide and Go Sidney, where the plot is driven by his need to find friends. His problem seems to be that his sheer size makes many of his favorite games dangerous to other animals. Including when he attempts to join a game of leapfrog. The other three participants are monkeys and do not appreciate an elephant jumping on them.
- Man Child: Part of the humor in Sidney shorts. Sidney is a full adult but extremely childish in demeanor. Often visually emphasized by his tendency to suck on his trunk. And in Tusk Tusk by having the short open to Sidney sucking his thumb.
- Panthera Awesome: Stanley is typically gruff and frustrated. But his mighty roar can sent anyone flying. Including Sidney.
- The Golden Age of Animation: His earliest shorts came out in the twilight years of the era.
- The Dark Age of Animation: Where much of his output was made.