Three Orphan Kittens is a 1935 animated short film in the Silly Symphonies series produced by Walt Disney Productions. It was the winner of the 1935 Academy Award for Best Short Subject (Cartoons). It was followed in 1936 by a sequel, More Kittens.
The film tells the story of three kittens (one black, one orange and one grey) and their adventures in a house. It begins with the kittens left out in the snow. They then notice the house nearby and enter it for shelter. They arrive at its kitchen, and begin to play there after the house's African-American housekeeper (a forerunner of Tom and Jerry's Mammy Two-Shoes) has finished preparing a meal. After more playing in various areas of the house, the film switches its focus to one particular kitten, the black one, who is chasing a feather and eventually ends up on a piano keyboard. The kitten starts to play with the feather walking down the piano keyboard and the feather lands on the 'on' switch with the kitten presses and the then-revealed pianola begins to play; ironically it is playing a variation of "Kitten On The Keys" a song composed by Zez Confrey in 1921. The other two kittens rejoin the first and play around the pianola. When the pianola finishes its song, the kittens leave it and are caught by the housekeeper. As she prepares to throw them out, she is stopped by a little girl (possibly version of Nancy), who decides to adopt the kittens.
The film was produced as an entry in Disney's Silly Symphonies series. At the time, the Symphonies were being used as a vehicle to test the techniques which would be used in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and to provide an informal on-the-job training program to prepare artists for the elaborate scenes that would be included in the studio's feature-length productions. As such, the films were intended to focus on the characters, which were intended to be cute, rather than a particularly developed narrative. It was directed by David Hand, who would later direct Snow White, and animated by Ken Anderson. Like all Silly Symphonies made after 1932, it was produced in three-strip Technicolor. The film was copyrighted on November 20, 1935, nearly a month after its release.
The film was originally released theatrically in the United States on October 26, 1935. In 1937, it was re-released as part of the Academy Award Review of Walt Disney Cartoons, along with four other Academy Award-winning Disney shorts. Following that, it was not released again until 1993, when it appeared in a compilation videocassette of Award-winning Disney shorts entitled How the Best Was Won. It has also been found on VHS tapes of Dumbo, along with Father Noah's Ark and The Practical Pig. Most recently, it was released to DVD in 2006 as part of the Walt Disney Treasures compilation, More Silly Symphonies.
The original version of Three Orphan Kittens contains a scene in which the black kitten encounters a doll that, when flipped by the kitten, becomes a stereotypical African-American girl, which shouts "Mammy!" (a recycled voice clip from Santa's Workshop). In the 1950s and 1960s, when Disney began editing their cartoons before they were broadcast on television, the scene was removed from the film. The film appeared uncensored, first on the VHS release of Dumbo, then on 2006 DVD More Silly Symphonies, where it was placed in a section entitled "From the Vault" along with other cartoons featuring stereotypes, which was prefaced with an introduction by Leonard Maltin.