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Western Animation / The Truth About Mother Goose

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The Truth About Mother Goose is an animated short film (14 minutes) from Disney in 1957, directed by Bill Justice and Wolfgang Reitherman.

The short is a one-off cartoon about three common children's songs. After a trio of jesters sing each song, a narrator gives the purported history of their origins. "Little Jack Horner" is said to originate in the story of one Thomas Horner, who stole a deed for a piece of property that was intended to go to King Henry VIII. "Mary Mary, Quite Contrary" is linked to Mary, Queen of Scots and her tragic history. "London Bridge Is Falling Down" is said to originate with the decay of the medieval London Bridge in the 18th century.


  • Artistic License – History: The three explanations given for the origins of the three rhymes are presented as fact when in reality no one knows where they came from. There is no evidence that deeds to property in 16th century England were carried around in pies, and for that matter, the earliest versions of "Jack Horner" associate the story with Christmas pies. Other stories of "Mary Mary, Quite Contrary" associate the rhyme with the Virgin Mary or with Henry VIII's daughter, Queen Mary I. "London Bridge is Falling Down" may be related to the medieval bridge's state of disrepair but has also been linked to an even earlier bridge that is said to have been destroyed by raiding Vikings way back in 1014. The Jack Horner and Mary, Mary rhymes are not attested to until 200 years or more after the 16th-century times of Thomas Horner and Mary of Scotland.
    • Lampshaded in the end. When the man in the moon asks if those are really the true histories, the jesters say "Well, as far as we know."
  • Aside Glance: Mary glances at the camera and says "Oh, dear" after her armies are defeated.
  • Behind a Stick: Jack Horner manages to hide behind a very narrow tree while skulking around with his pie.
  • Break the Haughty: The cartoon establishes that if Mary could just feign modesty for humoring the Scottish and English nobles, she probably would have kept her crown. She couldn't, however, remaining rebellious and "contrary". Being imprisoned on suspicion of executing her husband isn't what breaks her, however, nor is her failed attempt to retake Scotland. What does make her frown in sadness is when Elizabeth I finds her guilty of conspiring with court nobles and imprisons her.
  • Car Meets House: A nautical example. In the London Bridge segment, a ship's bowsprit goes through the painter's window and pushes him through the canvas he's working on.
  • Dark Reprise: Each song gets one.
    • A paranoid Jack Horner imagines a sinister version of "Little Jack Horner" playing accusingly as he tries to fall asleep.
    • "Mary Mary, Quite Contrary" is played in a lower and more ominous key as Mary is being led to her execution.
    • “London Bridge Is Falling Down” is sang mockingly and off-key by a bunch of drunks after the bridge becomes a shadow of its former self.
  • Downer Ending: Mary, Queen of Scots, is tried and executed after seeking refuge with Elizabeth Tudor, her cousin. The narrator does warn the viewer that it's not a happy story.
  • Face Death with Dignity: As the narrator said, Mary remained "quite contrary" to the end.
  • Fatal Flaw: For Mary, Queen of Scots, her rebellious nature and Pride. Despite being warned that no one in Scotland liked her fluttering ways, Mary persisted in Really Gets Around and cheating on a jealous husband. This eventually got her killed when she tried the same tricks in England.
  • Gory Discretion Shot: The short takes care not to show Mary's execution; instead it ends as she walks up a flight of stairs with a man holding an axe behind her, followed by the final image of the segment being the prison tower. The implications are still jarring though.
  • Greek Chorus: The three jesters who sing the nursery rhymes.
  • Have a Gay Old Time: Mary of Scotland is said to have brought "the gay French ways" with her to Scotland from France.
  • Historical Hero Upgrade: The animated short doesn't mention how Mary was accused of planning a coup to usurp Queen Elizabeth I. Zigzagged in that it's still unclear if Mary was an active participant in the coup or was an Unwitting Pawn in the Babington Plot, though she did consent to it.
  • Karma Houdini: Jack Horner gets away with stealing the estate meant for King Henry and leaving his courtier boss to take the blame. That said, he does live in paranoia over the 'accusing' nursery rhyme that was growing in popularity.
  • Limited Animation: A few scenes use it, such as the building of London Bridge, and the brief appearances of Henry VIII (only his head and arms move) and Elizabeth I (who only glances her eyes at a wayward Mary); the latter is justified by the ornate clothing worn by them, which would be far too difficult to animate.
  • The Man in the Moon: He's just hanging around in the book as part of the audience listening to the three jesters sing the songs.
  • Narrator: After the jesters sing the songs, an unseen narrator gives the history behind each of them. There is also a later version where Ludwig Von Drake is the narrator.
  • Oh, Crap!:
    • Mary has this reaction when Elizabeth imprisons her.
    • The painter who is painting a scene of London Bridge as it burns doesn't notice until his brush catches fire and he actually brushes fire across the painting.
  • Pie in the Face: The courtier who presents the pie to Henry VIII receives this when the king opens the pie up and finds a deed missing.
  • Playground Song: Three famous playground songs and the (supposedly) true stories behind them.
  • Powder Trail: One is shown as Kirk o' Field is blown up in order to murder Lord Darnley. (The cartoon does not mention that Darnley escaped, only to be strangled to death outside.)
  • Recycled Animation:
    • Mary flirting with the courtiers of Queen Elizabeth I is adapted from a scene of Katrina Von Tassel in The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad. An earlier scene of her running down a flight of stairs in her billowy blue gown seems to be recycled from Cinderella. (For that matter, her dress also seems to resemble Cinderella's gown more than anything a 16th century royal would wear.)
    • The jousting scenes in the London Bridge segment were later reused in The Sword in the Stone.
  • Running Gag: The painter living in London Bridge getting his work ruined by whatever mishap is befalling the Bridge. Assuming the elderly painter near the end is even the same one, since the narrator stated "centuries passed" before the Bridge fell.
  • Scenery Porn: The original London Bridge, as well as the view of London from the rooftops of the houses on the Bridge.
  • Shoot the Shaggy Dog: Mary, Queen of Scots, tried in vain to keep her throne and contrary ways at the same time. Unfortunately, the Scottish nobles disliked her, with their Rage Breaking Point being Lord Darnley's assassination. They forced her to abdicate and locked her up. Mary escaped imprisonment and raised an army, only to lose against the rebellious nobles. She was forced to flee to England. Queen Elizabeth I, however, was jealous of the attention her cousin received and sentenced her to death. The only consolation that Mary had was that she never lost her contrary nature.
  • Tempting Fate: A few drunken patrons at a bar in the debilitating Bridge are singing "London Bridge is falling down", and guess what happens a moment later?
  • Thick-Line Animation: Drawn in the thick-line style that became very popular in the 1950s.