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.
1932 saw more advances in cartoon creativity. The end of black and white as a standard for animated amusements arrived mid-year when Disney’s first color cartoon was created. Year three also saw the introduction of Walt Disney Animation’s most favored pets.
July’s episode, “Flowers and Trees,” is the first animation story to be fully colorized for the Walt Disney Animation Studio. The Technicolor wonder was also the first cartoon to receive an Academy Award. 1932 marked the Oscars’ arrival of “Best Animated Short Film,” which went to “Flowers and Trees.”
He still hadn’t met Mickey Mouse yet, but Pluto pounced into the spotlight for the first time. “Just Dogs” gave the cartoon canine his doggie debut. “Just Dogs” premiered the pooch in April 1932.
“The Bird Store” (1/16/1932)
The Enchanted Tiki Room might owe their inspiration to this chipper chirper of a cartoon featuring feathered friends “singing” along to the melody. A comedy cameo (the four Marx birds) and creeping cat complete the scenes in this 7 minute Silly Symphony. Wilfred Jackson directed the short.
“The Bears and the Bees” (3/12/1932)
In this six-minute animated tale, the bullying of a big bear is punished by bees on the defense, allowing a pair of cubs to continue exploring and exploiting a beehive. Wilfred Jackson directed the cartoon which also appeared on an episode of The Mickey Mouse Club in 1955.
“Just Dogs” (4/16/1932)
Though it was only seven minutes long, the Burt Gillett directed story saw the arrival of Pluto. Set free from the pound by a playful pup, Pluto persists in pushing his former “cellmate” away. Eventually, the two become pals after a battle for a large bone and encounter with an aggressive alarm clock. Circus performer Pinto Colvig (Bozo the Clown) provided Pluto’s voice. Music for the feature was composed by Bert Lewis.
“Flowers and Trees” (7/18/1932)
The technicolor, “three-strip” process was applied to this Silly Symphony as an experiment with the feature that was already partly produced in black and white. As a result, this cartoon became part of an exclusive arrangement between Technicolor and Disney (in effect until 1935). “Flowers and Trees” blossomed as an eight-minute forest adventure directed by Burt Billett.
“King Neptune” (9/10/1932)
“The Little Mermaid” was not Disney’s first dive into the realm of merfolk. However, portions of the sea scuffle were used as a reference for scenes in “The Little Mermaid.” Pirates attempt to take revenge on King Neptune resulting in a water-based war pitting pirates against the citizens of the sea. King Neptune would go on to make additional animation appearances in other Disney cartoons like “Thru the Mirror” and “The Three Caballeros.” Leigh Harline provided a score for the Burt Gillett directed 7:14 long color cartoon.
“Bugs in Love” (10/1/1932)
With music by Frank Churchill and direction by Burt Gillett, “Bugs in Love” was the final Silly Symphony to see simple black and white animation. In this seven-minute story, a pair of insects enjoys a bug-sized carnival until they are antagonized by a hungry crow. A battle between bugs and crow culminates in the bird’s defeat.
“Babes in the Woods” (11/19/1932)
Elves are introduced into the classic Grimm fairy tale “Hansel and Gretel” for this eight-minute cartoon directed by Burt Gillett. Abducted from their encounter with forest elves, Hansel and Gretel are whisked away to be imprisoned within the witch’s gingerbread cottage. The elves come to the rescue and battle the wicked witch.
“Santa’s Workshop” (12/10/1932)
This seven minute long classic Christmas cartoon was directed by Wilfred Jackson. Classical music from Franz Shubert (“Marche Millitaires”) provides the score. This Silly Symphony offers a glimpse into the infamous home and toy factory of Santa Claus. Though some scenes in the short show insensitive cultural stereotypes, “Santa’s Workshop” is shown as part of an annual Christmas special in Sweden and Norway (“From All of Us to All of You”).
Year three of the Silly Symphonies provided the pooch Pluto’s premiere performance and introduced color to cartoons, continuing to exemplify the entertaining experiments of animated entertainment offered by the Walt Disney Company.
Two volumes of “Walt Disney Treasures” DVD set featured the Silly Symphonies and can still be found online for purchase today (albeit with a bit of digging and deep wallet).
Stay “tooned” for part four (the cartoons of 1933) in ITM’s series on this wonderful animation gold mine known as the Silly Symphonies.