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.
New characters, which still influence Disney parks and entertainment today, made their debut and earned the studio another Academy Award. “Three Little Pigs” struck a chord with depression era viewers to the point that the song, “Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf,” would become the anthem for that chapter in American history. In addition to earning recognition 1933’s Best Animated Short Film (Academy Awards), the wolf and pigs produced profits for Disney (made for $22,000 and earning $250,000). So popular was this spring time Silly Symphony, it ran for months in theaters and provided push for a separate story department within the studio.
1933, the fourth year for this memorable series, saw a first full season of color cartoons. December brought a tribute to Clement C. Moore’s “Nightmare before Christmas” poem. Filled with memorable moments of childhood wonder, this holiday year-end delight was the perfect sequel to 1932’s “Santa’s Workshop.”
“Birds in Spring” (3/11/1933)
Cheerful chirping and playful progress are put on display in this cartoon following the birth and growth of three hatchlings. From learning to sing and fly to discovering the dangers lurking in nature, “Birds in Spring” is a fun and lighthearted look at life. David Hand directed the 7 minute long cartoon.
“Father Noah’s Ark” (4/08/1933)
Under the musical direction of Leigh Harline, Beethoven’s “Contradanse in C Major” provides the source score in this Wilfred Jackson directed 8 minute animated short. Part musical and part comedy, Noah and his family are assisted by a menagerie of happy helpers as they build the fabled ark. Flood forming rains and vengeful lightning terrorize the family during their 40 day adventure. After 40 days afloat, the waters recede allowing Noah’s family and the animals are able to disembark (with offspring in tow) at the journey’s end. Noah and the ark story would be musically revisited again in “Fantasia 2000.”
“Three Little Pigs” (5/27/1933)
Winning the 1933 Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film, “Three Little Pigs” was directed by Burt Gillett and featured music by Carl W. Stalling and Frank Churchill. “Three Little Pigs” inspired attractions (Fiddler, Fifer & Practical Pig at DCA), park characters and several additional animated appearances (including “Who Framed Roger Rabbit”).
“Old King Cole” (7/29/1933)
Old King Cole invites storybook land characters to a royal ball that’s attended by a who’s who of Nursery Tales. David Hand directed this 7 minute apparent update to “Mother Goose Melodies.”
“Lullaby Land” (8/19/1933)
Wilfred Jackson directed this 7 minute long cartoon. The story opens with the song “Rock a Bye Baby” envisioned literally as a small child is put to bed. The story continues with a whimsical interpretation of what happens when baby drifts off to dreamland, including nightmare perils and pitfalls to be avoided by inquisitive toddlers.
“The Pied Piper” (9/16/1933)
Directed by Wilfred Jackson 7.5 Minutes; Disney’s version of the Pied Piper includes a mayor who vaguely resembles Claude Frollo from Disney’s “Hunchback of Notre Dame” animated film. The song “Toyland” almost has an ominous tone hidden its upbeat rendition at the cartoon’s finale (the song would receive favor again some thirty years later in Disney’s “Babes in Toyland” movie (1961).
“The Night Before Christmas” (12/9/1933)
Sequel to “Santa’s Workshop” Directed by Wilfred Jackson. Wheeling out a wonderful interpretation of Clement C Moore’s famous poem, this 8 minute holiday Santa-centric Silly Symphony featured music by Leigh Harline and was directed by Wilfred Jackson.
The evolution of story and style are evident and this was only the fourth year of Disney’s Silly Symphony series of shorts. With the arrival of Academy Award winning “Three Little Pigs” and the iconic winter wonder of “The Night Before Christmas,” 1933’s collection of cartoons once again prove the experiment to be a success.
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 five (the cartoons of 1934) in ITM’s series on this wonderful animation gold mine known as the Silly Symphonies.
Source and images: Wikipedia, YouTube