They predate Disney’s foray into full length animated feature films by eight years. Looking back at the 75 various “Silly Symphony” cartoons, they could be considered an experimental medium – a way to test new applications, style, story type, and color. However they’re spun, Silly Symphonies represent some of the best examples of Disney ingenuity.
While the name “Silly Symphony” can describe comic books and children’s books, for purposes of this series, we’ll dive into the animated incarnation of this series of entertainment from Walt Disney.
The second year of Disney’s Silly Symphony cartoons saw a change in directors and composers. 1930 also saw an evolution to the cartoon process.
Ub Iwerks, feeling like he was not being properly credited for his work (which included animating “Steamboat Willie” and “The Skeleton Dance”), left Disney’s employ in 1930. Best known for his “Flip the Frog” cartoons, Iwerks studios only lasted six years. In 1937 he produced a quartet of “Looney Tunes” for Warner Brothers. Eventually, in 1940, Ub patched things up with Walt and went back to Disney, where he worked on creating visual effects. His work included helping to craft Disneyland with WED Enterprises.
Music director, and driving force behind the Silly Symphony concept, Carl W. Stalling left Walt Disney Studios just two years into his tenure. He first composed scores for Iwerks and then for Leon Schlesinger at Warner Brothers, where his brilliant scores accompanied their version of cartoon shorts, “Merrie Melodies.” Including his music for another Warner Brothers classic, “Looney Tunes,” Stalling scored over 600 animated features during his 22 years at WB.
Continuing the symphonies of seasons, Summer gets a whimsical treatment of dancing critters enjoying the warm weather. Ub Iwerks directed and Carl W. Stalling provided the score of this six-minute long Silly Symphony.
Scarecrows, pumpkins, crows vs squirrels, migration and the changes in weather are all revealed in the third season-based cartoon short. Directed by Ub Iwerks with music composed by Carl W. Stalling, “Autumn” is 6:24 minutes long.
“Cannibal Capers” (3/13/1930)
A lion interrupts a collection of cannibals engaged in a tribal dance during this 5:56-minute long cartoon. Bert Lewis provided the music and Burt Gillett directed.
“Frolicking Fish” (5/8/1930)
Cartoon style started to evolve with the release of “Frolicking Fish.” For the first time, more image depth is realized by the use of overlapping drawing. This particular black and white Silly Symphony was also released with a green tint in 1930. Burt Gillett directed and Bert Lewis provided music for the 6:02 cartoon.
“Arctic Antics” (6/5/1930)
“Arctic Antics” would be the last Silly Symphony directed Ub Iwerks. The seven-minute short featured frolicking polar bears, penguins, seals and more performing to music provided by Bert Lewis. The cartoon was also featured in the first season of the “Mickey Mouse Club.”
“Midnight in a Toy Shop” (7/3/1930)
Wilfred Jackson directed this revealing glimpse into what goes on in a toy store after hours. Dancing to tunes played by a visiting spider, the toys come to life in this seven-minute short feature. Racial slurs permitted in 1930 detract from this simple story.
Walt Disney directed the seven-minute short showing several nocturnal animals dancing to classical music (“Blue Danube Waltz”). Blue tint was added to the 1930 release to give the cartoon an after-dark ambiance.
“Monkey Melodies” (8/10/1930)
Bert Lewis’ music accompanied the antics of a troop of monkeys in this Bert Gillett directed cartoon. Dancing crocodiles also make an appearance in the seven-minute Silly Symphony.
Burt Gillett (director) and Bert Lewis (music) visit “Winter” in this seven minute, last of the seasons, Silly Symphony short. Ice skating animals, swimming moose, and somewhat hibernating bears all wait for signs of the season’s end from the groundhog.
“Playful Pan” (12/2/1930)
Plants and animals dance around the pipes played by Pan. The power of his music causes lightning and abates a forest fire. The seven-minute cartoon was the final release for 1930 and was directed by Burt Gillett.
This second year of “Silly Symphonies” endured the loss of two of its heavy hitters, yet would continue for another eight years. Advances in animation improved the look of these animated shorts, but bigger and better changes were yet to come!
Make sure to check out the other parts of this wonderful animation gold mine known as the Silly Symphonies: