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Western Animation / How to Catch a Cold

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How to Catch a Cold is an animated short produced by Disney in 1951, sponsored by Kleenex, the tissue company.

It follows an unnamed man, stricken with a cold, who is given advice by a man who calls himself Common Sense. He tells the man what to do to avoid catching future colds, how to look after oneself while sick with a cold, and how to avoid getting other people sick.

It has a bit of outdated information, such as the old idea that going out in the rain makes you susceptible to illness, so decades later, a live-action version was made staring Goofy educating a little boy named Jeff who also had a cold, that used more scientifically accurate information.

How to Catch a Cold provides examples of

  • Adapted Out: None of the characters from the original short feature in the live-action short.
  • Anthropomorphic Personification: Common Sense represents the man's... well, common sense.
  • Anti-Sneeze Finger: At one point, the man holds his finger to his nose to prevent a sneeze.
  • Artistic License – Medicine: This short has a few myths, like being cold can lower your resistance (which is only true if there's a rapid change in temperature or if you're already fighting an infection), and that viruses can survive for weeks on surfaces (they generally only survive about a week on surfaces). The live-action version was made to counter these myths.
  • Artistic Title: The letters on the title card are blown away by a sneeze from offscreen.
  • Bittersweet Ending: The live-action version ends with Jeff still sick, but slightly better.
  • Butt-Monkey: Zigzagged. The man is sick, and he claims he's been having a lot of bad luck in general, though Common Sense thinks he just has bad judgement, and it's not revealed who's right.
  • Catch Your Death of Cold: Downplayed; this skit claims that being in the cold or the rain can weaken your immune system. This is generally only true if you're already fighting an infection.
  • Delayed "Oh, Crap!": After the man uses sports as an analogy for the immune system, the man initially gets sidetracked and says, "Hooray!", but then he realises that the man is implying he might catch a serious disease.
    Man: "Hooray!... uh... pneumonia?!"
  • Disease-Prevention Aesop: The whole point of the sketch is to teach how to avoid catching and spreading colds.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: In the hand-washing part, a boy is seen being dragged back to the sink by his ear for not washing his hands thoroughly enough.
  • Downer Beginning: The short begins with the man lamenting his poor health.
  • Downer Ending: The short ends with the man still sick and lying in bed, with the possibility of him catching a more serious illness still up in the air. The live-action version, at least, had more of a Bittersweet Ending, with Jeff still sick but slightly better.
  • The Everyman: The protagonist is described as "common" and he doesn't really have that much of a personality besides wanting to do well at work.
  • Here We Go Again!: At the end, Common Sense sneezes and realizes he might have caught the man's cold, so he gets in bed besides him.
  • Hypochondria: At the end, Common Sense assumes he is sick because of a single sneeze.
  • Hypocrite: As Common Sense points out, the man calls the businessman, paperboy, and two men on the bus inconsiderate for exposing him to their colds, but he did the same when he first contracted his.
  • Induced Hypochondria: Downplayed when Common Sense tells a man who's already sick with a cold that it may actually be the early signs of something serious like measles or whooping cough.
  • Infection Scene:
    • We see the man kissing his wife and son while sick, then they both catch colds.
    • When Common Sense reveals that the man's wife spread her cold to three of her friends at the bridge lunch, she is seen sneezing directly onto one of them, which is presumably how she got it.
    • During the "ABC" part, we see a boy get sick by sucking some candy that was already sucked by a sick girl, and a baby get sick by putting the sick girl's doll in her mouth.
  • Lilliputians: Common Sense is about the size of a man's fist.
  • Monstrous Germs: Occasionally, germs are seen as a cloud of red dust.
  • Must Have Caffeine: Implied when the man is seen sleep deprived and then heading to work and skipping breakfast but still drinking his tea or coffee.
  • The Napoleon: Common Sense is very small, and he has a snappy attitude, saying things like, "Your luck's good enough; it's your judgement that's bad!" and "Where was your common sense?!".
  • No Name Given: The only characters with names are Common Sense and, in the live-action version, Goofy and Jeff. Everyone else is unnamed.
  • Out Sick: Invoked. Common Sense convinces the man to take a sick day from work.
  • Pajama-Clad Hero: The protagonist spends the entire short in his pyjamas, because he's just woken up and has to stay in bed from his cold.
  • Product Placement: Downplayed; while the beginning and end title cards boast that the short is presented by Kleenex, and the short prominently features disposable tissues, the actual short never refers to the tissues with a brand name.
  • Recycled Animation: The scenes of the man square dancing are based on animation from "The Martins and the Coys" segment of Make Mine Music.
  • Sick Episode:
    • Exaggerated in the original short where the main man is sick with a cold, plus he's also infected his wife, son, and five coworkers, his wife has infected three of her friends, his coworkers and his wife's friends have infected their families, and his son has infected six classmates. In addition, a businessman, a paperboy, and a two men on the bus are also seen with colds and the "ABC" segment shows three children with colds.
    • In the live-action version, Jeff the boy has a cold, but he's the only one sick (his brother had a cold last week, but he's better now).
  • Sickness Equals Redness: The man has a pink, inflamed nose due to his cold.
  • Sidetracked by the Analogy: When Common Sense uses sports as an analogy for the immune system fighting a virus, he briefly forgets it's all an analogy and shouts, "Hooray!".
  • Sleep Deprivation: The man initially has a weak immune system because he didn't get enough sleep due to staying up late dancing.
  • Sneeze Interruption: At one point, Common Sense says, "It's just common—-" only for the man to sneeze. Common Sense then finishes his sentence, that it's just common sense to use tissues.
  • Unnamed Parent:
    • In the original version, the man and his wife are the unnamed parents of a boy (who's also unnamed). He is called "Junior" by Common Sense, so possibly the father is called "___ Sr.", but we don't know his name.
    • In the live-action version, Jeff has a mother, but she is unnamed.
  • Visual Pun
    • When the man looks at himself in the mirror and sticks out his tongue, it has a tiny overcoat on it. In other words, he has a coated tongue.
    • As Common Sense talks about the man overexerting himself, a candle burning at both ends is shown.
  • Wearing It All Wrong: When the man is worried that he may have a serious disease, he is seen wearing a tiny jacket on his tongue.
  • Working Through the Cold: Defied. The man wants to go to work, but Common Sense convinces him not to. Although, he did go to work earlier, while still sick with the same cold, and infect five coworkers, and a paperboy is seen working while sick with a cold.


Video Example(s):


How to Catch a Cold- ABC

We're shown exactly how the boy and baby got their colds: the boy shared candy with an infected girl, and the baby sucked a doll belonging to said girl.

How well does it match the trope?

4.5 (2 votes)

Example of:

Main / InfectionScene

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