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Silly Symphony

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Silly Symphony
Distributed byColumbia Pictures (1929–32)
United Artists (1932–36)
RKO Radio Pictures (1937–39)
CountryUnited States

Silly Symphony (also known as Silly Symphonies) is an American animated series of 75 musical short films produced by Walt Disney Productions from 1929 to 1939. As the series name implies, the Silly Symphonies were originally intended as whimsical accompaniments to pieces of music.[1] As such, the films usually 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 making his first appearance in the Silly Symphony cartoon The Wise Little Hen in 1934. Seven shorts won the Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film.[1]

The series also spawned a Silly Symphony newspaper comic strip distributed by King Features Syndicate, as well as a Dell comic book series and several children's books.

The Silly Symphonies returned to theaters with its re-issues and re-releases, and eventually tied with Joseph Barbera and William Hanna's Tom and Jerry's record for most Oscar wins for a cartoon series in the Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film category.


1935 series poster

While Walt Disney and Carl Stalling, a theatre organist from Kansas City, were in New York to add sound to the Mickey Mouse shorts The Gallopin' Gaucho, The Barn Dance and Plane Crazy, Stalling suggested the idea of making a series of musical animated shorts that combined the latest sound technology with storytelling. At first Walt did not seem interested, but when they returned to New York in February to record the sound for a fifth Mickey Mouse cartoon, The Opry House, they also recorded the soundtrack for The Skeleton Dance, the type of short that Stalling had suggested and the first Silly Symphony cartoon.[2]

Within the animation industry, the series is known 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, such as Technicolor, special effects animation, and dramatic storytelling in animation, that would be crucial to Disney's plans to eventually begin making feature-length animated films.[1]

Shortly after the switch to United Artists, 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.[citation needed] Flowers and Trees was the first animated film to use the three-strip Technicolor process,[3] and was a phenomenal success. 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.[4]

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".[5] 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.[6] Disney ceased production of Silly Symphonies in 1939.[7]


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.[8]

Columbia Pictures[edit]

After viewing "The Skeleton Dance", the manager at Columbia Pictures quickly became interested in 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 became so popular that the Talkartoon series was renamed as Betty Boop cartoons.

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. United Artists also agreed to double the budget for each cartoon from $7,500 to $15,000.[9]

RKO Radio Pictures[edit]

In 1937, Disney signed a distribution deal with RKO Radio Pictures to distribute the Silly Symphony cartoons, along with the Mickey Mouse series. RKO would continue to distribute until the end of the series in 1939.

Home media[edit]

Several Symphonies have been released in home media, most of the time as bonus shorts that relate to something within various Disney films. For instance, 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 Silly Symphonies were released in compilations under Disney Videos' "Storybook Favourites" brand. The three "Storybook Favourites Shorts" volumes released included among others, The Three Little Pigs, The Tortoise and the Hare and the remake of The Ugly Duckling.

On December 4, 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.[1]

Some Disney Blu-ray discs include Silly Symphonies as high definition special features.[10] Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs includes six, Beauty and the Beast and Dumbo both contain two and Pixar's A Bug's Life contains one.

The Silly Symphony shorts originally aired on Turner Classic Movies' period program block "Treasures from the Disney Vault".

Some Silly Symphony shorts are viewable on Disney+.

List of films[edit]

The Silly Symphonies are listed here in production order.

# Film Original release date Director Music Notes Running time (minutes) Based on
1 The Skeleton Dance August 22, 1929 Walt Disney Carl Stalling
  • First entry in the Silly Symphony series.
  • The soundtrack was recorded in February 1929 in New York.
2 El Terrible Toreador September 26, 1929
  • The first Silly Symphony to have its soundtrack recorded in Los Angeles.
3 Springtime October 24, 1929 Ub Iwerks 6:14
4 Hell's Bells November 21, 1929 5:49
5 The Merry Dwarfs December 19, 1929 Walt Disney 5:57
6 Summer January 16, 1930 Ub Iwerks 5:51
7 Autumn February 13, 1930
  • The last Silly Symphony to be completed before Ub Iwerks and Carl Stalling left the studio. Their sudden departures caused delays in production.
8 Cannibal Capers March 20, 1930 Burt Gillett Bert Lewis
  • Production on this and several other Silly Symphonies were delayed due to the sudden departures of Ub Iwerks and Carl Stalling.
  • The version that aired on the Mickey Mouse Club was cut short at the end. The version that is on the "More Silly Symphonies" DVD includes the original ending along with the cut ending.
6:15 (5:56 cut)
9 Night July 31, 1930 Walt Disney
  • Originally released with blue tinting.[11]
  • Due to production delays, this film was postponed from its original announced release date of April 10.
10 Frolicking Fish June 21, 1930 Burt Gillett
  • Originally released with green tinting.[11]
  • It was on this film that animator Norm Ferguson discovered the "follow-thru" animation technique that allowed for characters to move more naturally.
  • Due to production delays, this film was postponed from its original announced release date of May 8.
11 Arctic Antics June 26, 1930 Ub Iwerks (Possibly)
Burt Gillett (Possibly)[clarification needed]
  • The animators' draft lists Ub Iwerks as the director, even though he left the studio before animation began.
  • Due to production delays, this film was postponed from its original announced release date of June 5.
12 Midnight in a Toy Shop August 16, 1930 Wilfred Jackson
  • Due to production delays, this film was postponed from its original announced release date of July 3.
13 Monkey Melodies September 26, 1930 Burt Gillett
  • Due to production delays, this film was postponed from its original announced release date of August 10.
14 Winter October 30, 1930 6:53
15 Playful Pan December 27, 1930 6:59
16 Birds of a Feather February 3, 1931 8:04
17 Mother Goose Melodies April 16, 1931 Bert Lewis
Frank Churchill
8:10 Mother Goose
18 The China Plate May 23, 1931 Wilfred Jackson Frank Churchill 7:32
19 The Busy Beavers June 30, 1931 Burt Gillett 7:07
20 The Cat's Out July 28, 1931 Wilfred Jackson
  • The film's working title was The Cat's Out, and the current vault print features that title in its credits. However, it was copyrighted and released as The Cat's Nightmare.
21 Egyptian Melodies August 27, 1931 6:20
22 The Clock Store September 28, 1931 7:12
23 The Spider and the Fly October 23, 1931 Frank Churchill 7:14
24 The Fox Hunt November 20, 1931 Frank Churchill 6:22
25 The Ugly Duckling December 17, 1931 Bert Lewis
Frank Churchill
  • This short would be remade in color in 1939, also titled "The Ugly Duckling".
7:11 The Ugly Duckling
26 The Bird Store January 16, 1932 Frank Churchill 6:52
27 The Bears and the Bees February 15, 1932 6:18
28 Just Dogs May 16, 1932 Burt Gillett Bert Lewis 7:13
29 Flowers and Trees July 30, 1932 Bert Lewis
Frank Churchill
30 Bugs in Love October 1, 1932 Bert Lewis
  • The last Silly Symphony to be produced in black-and-white.
31 King Neptune October 15, 1932 7:11
32 Babes in the Woods November 19, 1932
  • The last Silly Symphony to be recorded with Cinephone.
8:14 Hansel and Gretel
33 Santa's Workshop December 10, 1932 Wilfred Jackson Frank Churchill 6:37
34 Birds in the Spring March 13, 1933 David Hand Bert Lewis
Frank Churchill
35 Father Noah's Ark April 8, 1933 Wilfred Jackson Leigh Harline 8:24 Noah's Ark
36 Three Little Pigs May 25, 1933 Burt Gillett Frank Churchill
Carl Stalling
  • Winner of the 1932–33 Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film.
  • From this film came the Disney studio's first hit song, "Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?".
  • Originally had a scene where after Practical Pigs asks "Who's there?" then cuts to the Wolf (disguised as a Jewish peddler) saying "I'm the Fuller Brush Man...I'm giving a free sample!" in a Yiddish accent. This scene was edited in 1948 and changed the Wolf's disguise along with the dialog. This is the version that's on home releases (the R2 release of "Walt Disney Treasures - Silly Symphonies" DVD includes the original animation with the altered dialogue.[citation needed])
8:41 Three Little Pigs
37 Old King Cole July 29, 1933 David Hand Frank Churchill
Bert Lewis
7:28 Old King Cole
38 Lullaby Land August 19, 1933 Wilfred Jackson Frank Churchill
Leigh Harline
39 The Pied Piper September 16, 1933 Leigh Harline 7:32 Pied Piper of Hamelin
40 The Night Before Christmas December 9, 1933
  • Was originally supposed to be released after The China Shop, but production was moved ahead in order to have it ready for a Christmastime release. As a result, both films were given each other's production numbers.
8:27 A Visit from St. Nicholas
41 The China Shop January 13, 1934 8:23
42 The Grasshopper and the Ants February 10, 1934
  • The song featured in the film, "The World Owes Me a Living", would become a recurring theme for Goofy. Coincidentally, Pinto Colvig, the voice of Goofy, also voiced the Grasshopper in this film.
8:24 The Ant and the Grasshopper
43 Funny Little Bunnies March 24, 1934 Frank Churchill
Leigh Harline
  • Its 1950s reissue was distributed by RKO Radio Pictures.
  • Was originally supposed to be released after The Big Bad Wolf, but production was moved ahead in order to have it ready for an Easter release. As a result, both films were given each other's production numbers.
44 The Big Bad Wolf April 14, 1934 Burt Gillett Frank Churchill
  • A sequel to "Three Little Pigs".
9:21 Little Red Riding Hood
45 The Wise Little Hen May 3, 1934 (Carthay Circle Theatre)[12]
June 7, 1934[12]
Wilfred Jackson Leigh Harline
  • The debut appearance of Donald Duck.
  • Was originally supposed to be released after The Flying Mouse, but production was moved ahead for reasons unknown. As a result, both films were given each other's production numbers.
7:43 The Little Red Hen
46 The Flying Mouse July 14, 1934 David Hand Frank Churchill
Bert Lewis
47 Peculiar Penguins September 1, 1934 Wilfred Jackson Leigh Harline 9:21
48 The Goddess of Spring November 3, 1934 Leigh Harline 9:48
49 The Tortoise and the Hare January 5, 1935 Frank Churchill 8:36 The Tortoise and the Hare
50 The Golden Touch March 22, 1935 Walt Disney 10:34 King Midas
51 The Robber Kitten April 20, 1935 David Hand 7:48
52 Water Babies May 11, 1935 Wilfred Jackson Leigh Harline 8:17 The Water-Babies
53 The Cookie Carnival May 25, 1935 Ben Sharpsteen Leigh Harline
  • According to the Film Superlist: 1894–1939, this cartoon entered the public domain in 1963 when its copyright was not renewed.
54 Who Killed Cock Robin? June 29, 1935 David Hand Frank Churchill 8:30 Cock Robin
55 Music Land October 5, 1935 Wilfred Jackson Leigh Harline 9:34
56 Three Orphan Kittens October 26, 1935 David Hand Frank Churchill 8:55
57 Cock o' the Walk November 30, 1935 Ben Sharpsteen Frank Churchill
Albert Hay Malotte
58 Broken Toys December 14, 1935 Ben Sharpsteen ALbert Hay Malotte
  • Was originally intended to follow Elmer Elephant and Three Little Wolves, but production moved ahead to have the film ready for a Christmastime release. As a result, this and the latter film switched production numbers.
59 Elmer Elephant March 28, 1936 Wilferd Jackson Leigh Harline 8:29
60 Three Little Wolves April 18, 1936 David Hand Frank Churchill 9:26 The Boy Who Cried Wolf
61 Toby Tortoise Returns August 22, 1936 Wilfred Jackson Leigh Harline 7:34
62 Three Blind Mouseketeers September 26, 1936 David Hand Albert Hay Malotte 8:43
63 The Country Cousin October 31, 1936 David Hand
Wilfred Jackson
Leigh Harline 9:15
64 Mother Pluto November 14, 1936 Wilfred Jackson Leigh Harline
  • Originally designated part of the Mickey Mouse series, it was reclassified as a Silly Symphony just before release, with its original production number going to Don Donald.
65 More Kittens December 19, 1936 David Hand Frank Churchill
  • The film's production number was originally assigned to the Donald Duck short Don Donald.
66 Woodland Café March 13, 1937 Wilfred Jackson Leigh Harline 7:37
67 Little Hiawatha May 15, 1937 David Hand Albert Hay Malotte
  • The last Silly Symphony to be distributed by United Artists.
9:12 The Song of Hiawatha
68 The Old Mill November 5, 1937 Wilfred Jackson Leigh Harline 8:42
69 Wynken, Blynken and Nod May 27, 1938 Graham Heid 8:20 Wynken, Blynken, and Nod
70 Moth and the Flame April 1, 1938 David Hand
Burt Gillett
Dick Heumer
Albert Hay Malotte 7:45
71 Merbabies December 9, 1938 Rudolf Ising, Vernon Stallings Scott Bradley 8:37
72 Farmyard Symphony October 14, 1938 Jack Cutting Leigh Harline 8:11
73 Mother Goose Goes Hollywood December 23, 1938 Wilfred Jackson Edward Plumb 7:32
74 The Practical Pig February 24, 1939 Duck Rickard Frank Churchill
Paul Smith
  • The Silly Symphony name does not appear on the opening titles, and is instead labeled a Three Little Pigs cartoon.
75 The Ugly Duckling April 7, 1939 Jack Cutting
Clyde Geronimi
Albert Hay Malotte 8:59 The Ugly Duckling


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.


The Symphonies 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.[13]

Silly Symphonies brought along many imitators, including Warner Bros. cartoon series Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies, MGM's Happy Harmonies, and later, Universal's Swing Symphony.

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 "Specials" have a narration, usually by Disney legend Sterling Holloway.

In the 1934 MGM film Hollywood Party, Mickey Mouse appears with Jimmy Durante, where they introduce The Hot Choc-late Soldiers.[14]

The 1999–2000 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.

As of 2021, three of the Silly Symphony shorts (Three Little Pigs, The Old Mill, and Flowers and Trees), have been selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress, for being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".[15][16][17]

Comic adaptations[edit]

A Sunday Silly Symphony comic strip ran in newspapers from January 10, 1932, to July 12, 1942.[18] The strip featured adaptations of some of the Silly Symphony cartoons, including Birds of a Feather, The Robber Kitten, Elmer Elephant, Farmyard Symphony and Little Hiawatha.[18] This strip began with a two-year sequence about Bucky Bug, a character based on the bugs in Bugs in Love.

There was also an occasional Silly Symphonies comic book, with nine issues published by Dell Comics from September 1952 to February 1959.[19] The first issue of this anthology comic featured adaptations of some Silly Symphony cartoons, including The Grasshopper and the Ants, Three Little Pigs, The Goddess of Spring and Mother Pluto, but it also included non-Symphony cartoons like Mickey Mouse's Brave Little Tailor.[20] By the third issue, there was almost no Symphony-related material in the book; the stories and activities were mostly based on other Disney shorts and feature films.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d Merritt, Russell; Kaufman, J. B. (2016). Walt Disney's Silly Symphonies: A Companion to the Classic Cartoon Series (2nd ed.). Glendale, CA: Disney Editions. ISBN 978-1-4847-5132-9.
  2. ^ Davis, Amy M. (20 February 2007). Good Girls & Wicked Witches: Women in Disney's Feature Animation. Indiana University Press. ISBN 9780861969012. Archived from the original on 2021-11-19. Retrieved 2021-11-19.
  3. ^ Robertson, Patrick (2011). Robertson's Book of Firsts. London: Bloomsbury. ISBN 9781608197385. Archived from the original on 29 July 2020. Retrieved 24 May 2017.
  4. ^ "Glorious Technicolor 1932-1955". Widescreenmuseum.com. Archived from the original on 2015-10-02. Retrieved 2018-03-14.
  5. ^ "Three Little Pigs at the Disney archives". Archived from the original on 2007-10-06. Retrieved 2007-11-27.
  6. ^ Lenburg, Jeff (2006). Who's Who in Animated Cartoons: An International Guide to Film and Television's Award-Winning and Legendary Animators. Hal Leonard Corporation. ISBN 9781557836717. Retrieved 2018-03-14.
  7. ^ "Silly Symphonies at". Toonopedia.com. 1929-05-10. Archived from the original on 2012-09-15. Retrieved 2018-03-14.
  8. ^ "The Birth of the Silly Symphonies, by Russell Merritt and J.B. Kaufman". Disney.go.com. Archived from the original on 2011-05-20. Retrieved 2018-03-14.
  9. ^ Mosley, Leonard (1990). Disney's World. Scarborough House. p. 135. ISBN 9781589796560. Retrieved 9 December 2017.
  10. ^ "Blu-ray Forum - View Single Post - List of Disney Animated Shorts on Blu-ray". forum.blu-ray.com. Retrieved 2021-02-24.
  11. ^ a b Layton, James; Pierce, Davis (February 24, 2015). The Dawn of Technicolor 1915–1935. Rochester, New York: George Eastman Museum. p. 269. ISBN 978-0-935398-28-1.
  12. ^ a b Kaufman, J.B. (June 8, 2020). "When's Your Birthday?". Cartoon Research. Archived from the original on October 1, 2020. Retrieved September 26, 2020.
  13. ^ Walt Disney: The Animated Man by Michael Barrier
  14. ^ "Hot Choc-late Soldiers, the (Film)".
  15. ^ "Librarian of Congress Announces 2007 Film Registry" (Press release). Library of Congress. December 27, 2007. Archived from the original on July 22, 2014. Retrieved December 21, 2021.
  16. ^ Morgan, David (December 16, 2015). ""Shawshank Redemption", "Ghostbusters" added to National Film Registry". CBS News. Archived from the original on May 14, 2019. Retrieved December 21, 2021.
  17. ^ Hinckle, Jessica (December 21, 2021). "2021 National Film Registry Selections Reflect Diversity & Challenge Stereotypes". ComingSoon.net. Archived from the original on December 21, 2021. Retrieved December 21, 2021.
  18. ^ a b Holtz, Allan (2012). American Newspaper Comics: An Encyclopedic Reference Guide. Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press. p. 351. ISBN 9780472117567.
  19. ^ "Silly Symphonies - Inducks". Inducks. Archived from the original on 10 June 2020. Retrieved 14 July 2019.
  20. ^ "Silly Symphonies #1 - Inducks". Inducks. Archived from the original on 9 May 2021. Retrieved 14 July 2019.

Further reading[edit]

  • Maltin, Leonard: The Disney Films. (Fourth edition.) New York: Disney Editions, 2000. ISBN 0-7868-8527-0.
  • Merritt, Russel – Kaufman, J. B.: Walt Disney's Silly Symphonies: A Companion to the Classic Cartoons Series. Gemona: La Cinecita del Friuli, 2006. ISBN 88-86155-27-1.

External links[edit]