Silly Symphony

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A poster of Walt Disney's Silly Symphony Flowers and Trees, the first ever film made in full-color Technicolor. This image shows the simple graphic style of the early 1930s animated cartoons.

Silly Symphony is a series of 75 animated short films produced by Walt Disney Productions from 1929 to 1939. Unlike Mickey Mouse, its sister series, most Silly Symphony films do not feature continuing characters, but each film stands alone with independent continuity. (A notable exception to this is the three films based on the 1933 film Three Little Pigs.) The series is notable for its innovation with Technicolor and the multiplane motion picture camera, as well as its introduction of the character Donald Duck in 1934.

The series won the Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film seven times, including the first six years in which the award was presented.

About the series[edit]

Origins[edit]

The series was first distributed by Pat Powers from 1929 to 1930 and released by Celebrity Productions (1929–1930) indirectly through Columbia Pictures. The original basis of the cartoons was musical novelty, and the musical scores of the first cartoons were composed by Carl Stalling.[1]

Distribution by Columbia[edit]

After viewing "The Skeleton Dance", the management at Columbia Pictures quickly became interested in directly distributing the series, and gained the perfect opportunity to acquire Silly Symphonies after Disney broke with Celebrity Productions head Pat Powers after Powers signed Disney's colleague Ub Iwerks to a studio contract. Columbia Pictures (1930–1932) agreed to pick up the direct distribution of the Mickey Mouse series on the condition that they would have exclusive rights to distribute the Silly Symphonies series; at first, Silly Symphonies could not even come close to the popularity Mickey Mouse had. The original title cards to the shorts released by Celebrity Productions and Columbia Pictures were all redrawn after Walt Disney stopped distributing his cartoons through them. Meanwhile, more competition spread for Disney after Max Fleischer's flapper cartoon character Betty Boop began to gain more and more popularity after starring in the cartoon Minnie the Moocher; by August 1932, Betty Boop even became so popular, that the Talkartoon series was renamed as Betty Boop cartoons.

Distribution by United Artists[edit]

In 1932, after falling out with Columbia Pictures, Disney began distributing his products through United Artists. UA refused to distribute the Silly Symphonies unless Disney associated Mickey Mouse with them somehow, resulting in the "Mickey Mouse presents a Silly Symphony" title cards and posters that introduced and promoted the series during its five-year run for UA.

Technicolor[edit]

Shortly after the switch to UA, the series became even more popular. Walt Disney had seen some of Dr. Herbert Kalmus' tests for a new three-strip, full-color Technicolor process, which would replace the previous, two-tone Technicolor process. Disney signed a contract with Technicolor which gave the Disney studio exclusive rights to the new three-strip process through the end of 1935, and had a 60% complete Symphony, Flowers and Trees, scrapped and redone in full color. Flowers and Trees was a phenomenal success, and within a year, the now-in-Technicolor Silly Symphonies series had popularity and success that matched (and later surpassed) that of the Mickey Mouse cartoons. The contract Disney had with Technicolor would also later be extended another five years as well.[2] The shorts began to have stronger plots too,[3] and the success of Silly Symphonies would be tremendously boosted after Three Little Pigs was released in 1933 and became a box office sensation; the film was featured in movie theaters for several months and also featured the hit song that became the anthem of the Great Depression, "Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf".[4] Several Silly Symphonies entries, including Three Little Pigs (1933), The Grasshopper and the Ants (1934), The Tortoise and the Hare (1935), The Country Cousin (1936), The Old Mill (1937), Wynken, Blynken, and Nod (1938), and The Ugly Duckling (1939, with an earlier black-and-white version from 1931), are among the most notable films produced by Walt Disney. Due to problems related to Disney's scheduled productions of cartoons, a deal was made with Harman and Ising to produce three Silly Symphonies; Merbabies, Pipe Dreams, and The Little Bantamweight. Only one of these cartoons, Merbabies, ended up being bought by Disney, the remaining two Harman-Ising Silly Symphonies were then sold to MGM who released them as Happy Harmonies cartoons.[5] Disney ceased production of Silly Symphonies in 1939.[6]

Notability[edit]

Within the animation industry, the Silly Symphonies series is most noted for its use by Walt Disney as a platform for experimenting with processes, techniques, characters, and stories in order to further the art of animation. It also provided a venue to try out techniques and technologies that would be crucial to Disney's plans to eventually begin doing feature length animated films. Among the innovations developed and/or improved upon in the series are Technicolor filmmaking, true and believable character animation, special effects animation, and dramatic storytelling in animation. Disney's experiments were widely praised within the film industry, and the Silly Symphonies won seven Academy Awards for Best Short Subject (Cartoons), maintaining a six-year-hold on the category after it was first introduced. This record was matched only by MGM's Tom and Jerry series during the 1940s and 1950s.

The Symphonies also changed the course of Disney Studio history when Walt's plans to direct his first feature cartoon became problematic after his warm-up to the task The Golden Touch was widely seen (even by Disney himself) as stiff and slowly paced. This motivated him to embrace his role as being the producer and providing creative oversight (especially of the story) for Snow White while tasking David Hand to handle the actual directing.[7]

Silly Symphonies brought along many imitators, including Warner Bros. cartoon series Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies, and MGM's Happy Harmonies. The television series Mickey Mouse Works used the Silly Symphonies title for some of its new cartoons, but unlike the original cartoons, these did feature continuing characters. Disney also produced comic strips and comic books with this title.

Years later after the Silly Symphonies ended, Disney occasionally produced a handful of one-shot cartoons, playing the same style as the Silly Symphony series. Unlike the Silly Symphonies canon, most of these one-shot shorts have a narration, usually by Disney legend Sterling Holloway.

Home media[edit]

Several Symphonies have been released on multiple home videos. The original Dumbo VHS included Father Noah's Ark, The Practical Pig and Three Orphan Kittens as bonus shorts to make up for the film's short length. In the UK, several Symphonies were released in compilations under Walt Disney Home Video's "Storybook Favourites" brand. The three volumes released included among others, Three Little Pigs, The Tortoise and the Hare and the remake of The Ugly Duckling. Most Disney films also include Symphonies as bonus shorts in home media releases.

On December 3, 2001, Disney released "Silly Symphonies" as part of its DVD series "Walt Disney Treasures". On December 19, 2006, "More Silly Symphonies" was released, completing the collection and allowing the cartoons to be completely available to the public.

Many of one-shot cartoons are also available on DVD.

Filmography[edit]

# Title Release date Director Notes
1 The Skeleton Dance August 22, 1929 Walt Disney Clips of this short have been featured in both Disney and non-Disney productions. The first Silly Symphony.
2 El Terrible Toreador September 7, 1929 Walt Disney
3 Springtime October 24, 1929 Ub Iwerks Seen in One Hundred and One Dalmatians.
4 Hell's Bells October 30, 1929 Ub Iwerks Featuring Satan, the Grim Reaper, Cerberus, and various unnamed demons of Hell.
5 The Merry Dwarfs December 16, 1929 Walt Disney
6 Summer January 6, 1930 Ub Iwerks
7 Autumn February 13, 1930 Ub Iwerks
8 Cannibal Capers March 13, 1930 Burt Gillett
9 Frolicking Fish May 8, 1930 Burt Gillett The first cartoon that introduced continuous movements or ’overlapping action’ in animation, instead of the old stop-and-go movements.
10 Arctic Antics June 5, 1930 Ub Iwerks
11 Midnight in a Toy Shop July 3, 1930 Wilfred Jackson
12 Night July 31, 1930 Walt Disney
13 Monkey Melodies August 10, 1930 Burt Gillett
14 Winter November 5, 1930 Burt Gillett
15 Playful Pan December 28, 1930 Burt Gillett Featuring Pan
16 Birds of a Feather February 10, 1931 Burt Gillett
17 Mother Goose Melodies April 17, 1931 Burt Gillett Featuring among others Humpty Dumpty, Jack and Jill, Little Bo Peep, Little Boy Blue, Little Jack Horner, Mother Goose, Old King Cole, and Simple Simon.
18 The China Plate May 25, 1931 Wilfred Jackson A creative retelling of the Willow pattern legend.
19 The Busy Beavers June 22, 1931 Burt Gillett
20 The Cat's Out July 28, 1931 Wilfred Jackson
21 Egyptian Melodies August 21, 1931 Wilfred Jackson
22 The Clock Store September 30, 1931 Wilfred Jackson
23 The Spider and the Fly October 16, 1931 Wilfred Jackson
24 The Fox Hunt November 18, 1931 Wilfred Jackson Remade in 1938 as a Donald duck and Goofy cartoon.
25 The Ugly Duckling December 16, 1931 Wilfred Jackson Based on a story by Hans Christian Andersen. Featuring Clarabelle Cow. A much more comprehensive, colorized version would be made in 1939.
26 The Bird Store January 16, 1932 Wilfred Jackson
27 The Bears and the Bees March 12, 1932 Wilfred Jackson
28 Just Dogs April 16, 1932 Burt Gillett Featuring the first starring role of Pluto (Mickey Mouse does not appear).
29 Flowers and Trees July 30, 1932 Burt Gillett First cartoon produced in full-color three-strip Technicolor. Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film. First Disney cartoon in color.
30 King Neptune September 17, 1932 Burton Gillett Featuring Neptune (mythology) as the "King of the Sea".
31 Bugs in Love October 1, 1932 Burt Gillett Last Silly Symphony shot in black-and-white.
32 Babes in the Woods November 19, 1932 Burt Gillett Featuring Hansel and Gretel.
33 Santa's Workshop December 3, 1932 Wilfred Jackson Featuring Santa Claus.
34 Birds in the Spring March 11, 1933 David Hand
35 Father Noah's Ark April 8, 1933 Wilfred Jackson Featuring Noah, Ham, Japheth, Shem and their respective wives, as well as a cavalcade of animals. The "building the ark" music is an adaptation of Beethoven's Contradanse in C Major, WoO 14 No. 1. The short itself would be referenced several times in the Pomp and Circumstance segment of Fantasia 2000
36 Three Little Pigs May 27, 1933 Burt Gillett Featuring the namesake characters and the Big Bad Wolf. Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film.
37 Old King Cole July 29, 1933 David Hand Featuring the namesake character along with various nursery rhyme characters.
38 The Pied Piper September 16, 1933 Wilfred Jackson An adaptation of The Pied Piper of Hamelin.
39 Lullaby Land November 11, 1933 Wilfred Jackson Featuring the Sandman.
40 The Night Before Christmas December 2, 1933 Wilfred Jackson Featuring Santa Claus
41 The China Shop January 13, 1934 Wilfred Jackson
42 The Grasshopper and the Ants February 17, 1934 Wilfred Jackson Based on a fable by Aesop. Pinto Colvig (Goofy) provides the voice for the grasshopper.
43 Funny Little Bunnies March 10, 1934 Wilfred Jackson Featuring the Easter Bunnies.
44 The Big Bad Wolf April 14, 1934 Burt Gillett Featuring the title character along with the Three Little Pigs and Little Red Riding Hood.
45 The Wise Little Hen May 19, 1934 Wilfred Jackson Featuring the debut of Donald Duck.
46 The Flying Mouse July 14, 1934 David Hand
47 Peculiar Penguins October 20, 1934 Wilfred Jackson
48 The Goddess of Spring December 8, 1934 Wilfred Jackson Featuring Persephone and a version of her uncle-husband Hades/Pluto, identified here with Satan. The Disney animators' first attempt to create visually realistic human characters.
49 The Tortoise and the Hare January 19, 1935 Wilfred Jackson Featuring Max Hare and Toby Tortoise. Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film.
50 The Golden Touch February 16, 1935 Walt Disney Featuring Midas and Goldie the elf
51 The Robber Kitten April 13, 1935 David Hand
52 Water Babies May 11, 1935 Wilfred Jackson
53 The Cookie Carnival June 15, 1935 Ben Sharpsteen A homage to the Atlantic City boardwalk parade and bathing beauty contest (what eventually became the Miss America pageant) of the 1920s and 30s. Pinto Colvig (Goofy) provides the voice for the gingerbread man.
54 Who Killed Cock Robin? July 6, 1935 David Hand Includes caricatures of Mae West (Jenny Wren), Bing Crosby (Cock Robin), Harpo Marx (the cuckoo), and Steppin Fetchit (the blackbird). Incorporated into Alfred Hitchcock's Sabotage.
55 Music Land September 14, 1935 Wilfred Jackson
56 Three Orphan Kittens October 19, 1935 David Hand Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film.
57 Cock 'o the Walk November 9, 1935 Ben Sharpsteen
58 Broken Toys December 14, 1935 Ben Sharpsteen
59 Elmer Elephant January 18, 1936 Wilfred Jackson Featuring a couple "relatives" of Mickey Mouse.
60 Three Little Wolves March 14, 1936 David Hand Featuring the title characters along with their father the Big Bad Wolf and his rivals the Three Little Pigs.
61 Toby Tortoise Returns April 18, 1936 Wilfred Jackson Featuring Max Hare and Toby Tortoise. It is a sequel to The Tortoise and the Hare. Also featuring cameos by Elmer Elephant and a parody of Harpo Marx.
62 Three Blind Mouseketeers June 20, 1936 David Hand
63 The Country Cousin August 15, 1936 David Hand Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film.
64 Mother Pluto October 10, 1936 David Hand Featuring Pluto mothering a number of newly hatched chicks.
65 More Kittens November 7, 1936 David Hand,
Wilfred Jackson
66 Woodland Café January 17, 1937 Wilfred Jackson Contains animator Ward Kimball's first animating assignment.
67 Little Hiawatha February 21, 1937 David Hand The last Silly Symphony distributed by United Artists.
68 The Old Mill October 22, 1937 Wilfred Jackson Disney's first use of the multiplane camera and the first Silly Symphony distributed by RKO Radio Pictures. Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film.
69 Moth and the Flame April 1, 1938 Burt Gillett
70 Wynken, Blynken and Nod May 27, 1938 Graham Heid
71 Farmyard Symphony October 14, 1938 Jack Cutting
72 Merbabies December 9, 1938 Rudolf Ising,
Vernon Stallings
Outsourced to Harman and Ising after the studio donated inkers and painters to the Disney studio to complete Snow White.
73 Mother Goose Goes Hollywood December 23, 1938 Wilfred Jackson Featuring a brief cameo appearance by Donald Duck. The last Silly Symphony to carry the series name.
74 The Practical Pig February 24, 1939 Dick Rickard Featuring the Three Little Pigs, the Big Bad Wolf and the Three Little Wolves. Released as a Three Little Pigs standalone short.
75 The Ugly Duckling April 7, 1939 Jack Cutting Another cartoon version of the classical story, first animated in 1931, and the only Silly Symphony story to be made twice. Released as a one-shot cartoon. Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film. The Last Silly Symphony cartoon produced and distributed by RKO Radio Pictures and in terms of production order.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

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