|This article relies too much on references to primary sources. (June 2010)|
Silly Symphony is a series of 75 animated short films produced by Walt Disney Productions from 1929 to 1939. As their name implies, the Silly Symphonies were originally intended as whimsical accompaniments to pieces of music. As such, the films usually had independent continuity and did not feature continuing characters, unlike the Mickey Mouse shorts produced by Disney at the same time. (Exceptions to this include Three Little Pigs, The Tortoise and the Hare, and Three Orphan Kittens which all had sequels.) 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.
Silly Symphony won the Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film seven times, including the first six years in which the award was presented.
The series also spawned a Disney media franchise which included the newspaper comic strip Silly Symphony, the Dell comic book series Silly Symphonies, as well as several children's books, many of which were based on Silly Symphony cartoons.
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 film-making, true and believable character animation, special effects animation, and dramatic storytelling in animation.
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. The shorts began to have stronger plots too, 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". 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. Disney ceased production of Silly Symphonies in 1939.
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.
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.
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.
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 - two days before the 100th anniversary of Walt Disney's birth - 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.
List of films
|1||The Skeleton Dance||August 22, 1929||Walt Disney||Clips of this short have been featured in both Disney and non-Disney productions.|
|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||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||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 the Donald & Goofy film The Fox Hunt|
|25||The Ugly Duckling||December 16, 1931||Wilfred Jackson||Based on a story by Hans Christian Andersen; remade 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 Technicolor; won the inaugural Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film|
|30||King Neptune||September 17, 1932||Burton Gillett||Featuring Neptune as the "King of the Sea"|
|31||Bugs in Love||October 1, 1932||Burt Gillett||Last black-and-white Silly Symphony|
|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; won the 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||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, Sequel to Santa's Workshop|
|41||The China Shop||January 13, 1934||Wilfred Jackson||Sequel to The China Plate|
|42||The Grasshopper and the Ants||February 17, 1934||Wilfred Jackson||Based on a fable by Aesop, Sequel to Bugs in Love|
|43||Funny Little Bunnies||March 10, 1934||Wilfred Jackson|
|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, Sequel to Three Little Pigs|
|45||The Wise Little Hen||May 19, 1934||Wilfred Jackson||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; won the Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film|
|50||The Golden Touch||February 16, 1935||Walt Disney||Featuring Midas and Goldie the elf, Sequel to Old King Cole|
|51||The Robber Kitten||April 13, 1935||David Hand||Sequel to The Cat's Nightmare|
|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 of the 1920s and 30s (which became the Miss America Pageant. In the Public Domain.|
|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||Won the 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||Some toys are caricatures of Hollywood stars.|
|59||Elmer Elephant||January 18, 1936||Wilfred Jackson|
|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||Sequel to The Tortoise and the Hare; featuring cameo 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||Won the 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,
|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; won the 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,
|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||Last film showing a Silly Symphony title card; features multiple caricatures of Hollywood film stars and a cameo by Donald Duck|
|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||Remake of the 1931 film and the only Silly Symphony story to be remade; won the Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film|
Disney's experiments were widely praised within the film industry, and the Silly Symphonies won the Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film seven times, 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.
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.
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.
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.
- Golden age of American animation
- List of Disney animated shorts
- Other animated shorts series
- Glorious Technicolor 1932-1955
- The Birth of the Silly Symphonies
- Three Little Pigs at the Disney archives
- Who's Who in Animated Cartoons: An International Guide to Film and Television's Award-Winning and Legendary Animators
- Silly Symphonies at toonopedia.com
- The Birth of the Silly Symphonies, by Russell Merritt and J.B. Kaufman
- Walt Disney: The Animated Man by Michael Barrier
- Silly Symphonies at The Big Cartoon Database
- Silly Symphonies at Toonopedia
- Silly Symphonies at The Encyclopedia of Disney Animated Shorts