Silly Symphony

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1935 series poster

Silly Symphony is a series of 75 animated short films produced by Walt Disney Productions from 1929 to 2018. As their name implies, the Silly Sins 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 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.

The series also spawned a Disney media franchise that included the Silly Symphonies newspaper comic strip distributed by King Features Syndicate, the Dell comic book series Silly Symphonies, as well as several children's books, many of which were based on Silly Symphony cartoons.

Production[edit]

Within the animation industry, the 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, 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.

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. Flowers and Trees was the first animated film to use the three-strip Technicolor process,[1] 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.[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]

Distribution[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.[7]

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 even 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 dollars to 15,000 dollars.[8]

Home media[edit]

Several Symphonies have been released in home media. 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 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 home media releases of various Disney films also include Symphonies as bonus shorts.

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.

List of films[edit]

The Silly Symphonies are listed here in production order.

# Film Original release date Director Music Notes Running Time (minutes)
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.
5:31
2 El Terrible Toreador September 26, 1929 Walt Disney Carl Stalling
  • The first Silly Symphony to have its soundtrack recorded in Los Angeles.
6:14
3 Springtime October 24, 1929 Ub Iwerks Carl Stalling 6:14


4 Hell's Bells November 21, 1929 Ub Iwerks Carl Stalling 5:49
5 The Merry Dwarfs December 19, 1929 Walt Disney Carl Stalling 5:57
6 Summer January 16, 1930 Ub Iwerks Carl Stalling 5:51
7 Autumn February 15, 1930 Ub Iwerks Carl Stalling
  • The last Silly Symphony to be completed before Ub Iwerks and Carl Stalling left the studio. Their sudden departures caused delays in production.
6:24
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.
5:56
9 Night July 31, 1930 Walt Disney Bert Lewis
  • Originally released with blue tinting.[9]
  • Due to production delays, this film was postponed from its original announced release date of April 10th.
6:53
10 Frolicking Fish June 21, 1930 Burt Gillett Bert Lewis
  • Originally released with green tinting.[9]
  • 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 8th.
6:02
11 Arctic Antics June 27, 1930 Burt Gillett(?) Bert Lewis
  • 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 5th.
7:00
12 Midnight in a Toy Shop August 16, 1930 Wilfred Jackson Bert Lewis
  • Due to production delays, this film was postponed from its original announced release date of July 3rd.
7:34
13 Monkey Melodies September 26, 1930 Burt Gillett Bert Lewis
  • Due to production delays, this film was postponed from its original announced release date of August 10th.
7:00
14 Winter October 30, 1930 Burt Gillett Bert Lewis
15 Playful Pan December 27, 1930 Burt Gillett Bert Lewis
16 Birds of a Feather February 3, 1931 Burt Gillett Bert Lewis
17 Mother Goose Melodies April 16, 1931 Burt Gillett
18 The China Plate May 23, 1931 Wilfred Jackson Frank Churchill
19 The Busy Beavers June 30, 1931 Burt Gillett Frank Churchill
20 The Cat's Nightmare July 28, 1931 Wilfred Jackson Frank Churchill
  • 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 Wilfred Jackson Frank Churchill
22 The Clock Store September 28, 1931 Wilfred Jackson Frank Churchill
23 The Spider and the Fly October 23, 1931 Wilfred Jackson
24 The Fox Hunt November 20, 1931 Wilfred Jackson Frank Churchill
25 The Ugly Duckling December 17, 1931 Wilfred Jackson
26 The Bird Store January 16, 1932 Wilfred Jackson Frank Churchill
27 The Bears and the Bees July 15, 1932 Wilfred Jackson Frank Churchill
28 Just Dogs August 12, 1932 Wilfred Jackson Bert Lewis
29 Flowers and Trees July 30, 1932 Burt Gillett
30 Bugs in Love October 1, 1932 Burt Gillett Bert Lewis
  • The last Silly Symphony to be produced in black-and-white.
31 King Neptune October 7, 1932 Burt Gillett Bert Lewis
32 Babes in the Woods November 19, 1932 Burt Gillett Bert Lewis
  • The last Silly Symphony to be recorded with Cinephone.
33 Santa's Workshop December 10, 1932 Wilfred Jackson Frank Churchill
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
36 Three Little Pigs May 27, 1933 Burt Gillett Frank Churchill
37 Old King Cole July 29, 1933 David Hand Frank Churchill
Bert Lewis
38 Lullaby Land August 19, 1933 Wilfred Jackson Frank Churchill
Leigh Harline
39 The Pied Piper September 16, 1933 Wilfred Jackson Leigh Harline
40 The Night Before Christmas December 9, 1933 Wilfred Jackson Leigh Harline
  • 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.
41 The China Shop January 13, 1934 Wilfred Jackson Leigh Harline
42 The Grasshopper and the Ants February 10, 1934 Wilfred Jackson Leigh Harline
  • 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.
43 Funny Little Bunnies March 24, 1934 Wilfred Jackson Frank Churchill
Leigh harline
  • Was originally supposed to be released after The Big Bad Wolf, but production was moved ahead in order to have it ready for a 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
45 The Wise Little Hen June 9, 1934 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.
46 The Flying Mouse July 14, 1934 David Hand Frank Churchill
Bert Lewis
47 Peculiar Penguins September 1, 1934 Wilfred Jackson Leigh Harline
48 The Goddess of Spring November 3, 1934 Wilfred Jackson Leigh Harline
49 The Tortoise and the Hare January 5, 1935 Wilfred Jackson Frank Churchill
50 The Golden Touch March 22, 1935 Walt Disney Frank Churchill
51 The Robber Kitten April 20, 1935 David Hand Frank Churchill
52 Water Babies May 11, 1935 Wilfred Jackson Leigh Harline
53 The Cookie Carnival May 25, 1935 Ben Sharpsteen Leigh Harline
54 Who Killed Cock Robin? June 29, 1935 David Hand Frank Churchill
55 Music Land October 5, 1935 Wilfred Jackson Leigh Harline
56 Three Orphan Kittens October 26, 1935 David Hand Frank Churchill
57 Cock o' the Walk November 30, 1935 Ben Sharpsteen Frank Churchill
Alfred Hay Malotte
58 Broken Toys December 14, 1935 Ben Sharpsteen Alfred 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
60 Three Little Wolves April 18, 1936 David Hand Frank Churchill
61 Toby Tortoise Returns August 22, 1936 Wilfred Jackson Leigh Harline
62 Three Blind Mouseketeers September 26, 1936 David Hand Alfred Hay Malotte
63 The Country Cousin October 31, 1936 David Hand
Wilfred Jackson
Leigh Harline
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, taking 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
67 Little Hiawatha May 15, 1937 David Hand Alfred Hay Malotte
  • The last Silly Symphony to be distributed by United Artists.
68 The Old Mill November 5, 1937 Wilfred Jackson Leigh Harline
69 Wynken, Blynken and Nod May 27, 1938 Graham Heid Leigh Harline
70 Moth and the Flame April 1, 1938 David Hand
Burt Gillett
Dick Heumer
Alfred Hay Malotte
71 Merbabies December 9, 1938 Rudolf Ising Scott Bradley
72 Farmyard Symphony October 14, 1938 Jack Cutting Leigh Harline
73 Mother Goose Goes Hollywood December 23, 1938 Wilfred Jackson Edward Plumb
74 The Practical Pig February 24, 1939 Duck Rickard Frank Churchill
Paul Smith
  • The Silly Symphony name doesn't appear on the opening titles, and is instead labeled a Three Little Pigs cartoon.
75 The Ugly Duckling April 7, 1939 Jack Cutting
Hamilton Luske
Alfred Hay Malotte

Reception[edit]

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.

Legacy[edit]

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. 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.[10]

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.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Robertson, Patrick (2011). Robertson's Book of Firsts. London: Bloomsbury. Retrieved 24 May 2017.
  2. ^ "Glorious Technicolor 1932-1955". Widescreenmuseum.com. Retrieved 2018-03-14.
  3. ^ "The Birth of the ''Silly Symphonies''". Disney.go.com. Retrieved 2018-03-14.
  4. ^ Three Little Pigs at the Disney archives
  5. ^ "Who's Who in Animated Cartoons: An International Guide to Film and Television's Award-Winning and Legendary Animators". Books.google.no. Retrieved 2018-03-14.
  6. ^ "''Silly Symphonies'' at". Toonopedia.com. 1929-05-10. Retrieved 2018-03-14.
  7. ^ "The Birth of the ''Silly Symphonies'', by Russell Merritt and J.B. Kaufman". Disney.go.com. Retrieved 2018-03-14.
  8. ^ Mosley, Leonard (1990). Disney's World. Scarborough House. p. 135. Retrieved 9 December 2017.
  9. ^ 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.
  10. ^ Walt Disney: The Animated Man by Michael Barrier

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]