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.
1935 crawled in with a classic fairy tale revised under the title of “The Tortoise and the Hare.” Though released in January 1935, it won the 1933-34 film “season” Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film.
A second Academy Award, for the same season of Silly Symphony shorts, was awarded to “Three Orphan Kittens,” for 1935’s Best Animated Short Film.
Walt Disney also returned to the Director’s role this year with his version of King Midas’ tale: “The Golden Touch.”
“The Tortoise and the Hare” (1/5/1935)
Directed by Wilfred Jackson with music by Frank Churchill, this classic fable gets a “Disney do-over.” Toby Tortoise and Max Hare’s race becomes a major sporting event, with a few twists. Pinto (Goofy) Colvig, Eddie Holden, and Marcelite Garner provided voices for the 8:17 Silly Symphony short.
“The Golden Touch” (3/22/1935)
Walt himself returned to the director’s chair for a 10-minute tale about King Midas. Along with greed, “Be Careful What You Wish For” as the moral of the story can easily be summed up with Midas’ explanation, “My Kingdom for a Hamburger!” Billy Bletcher voiced the short which was scored by Frank Churchill. This particular cartoon was considered a disappointment to the degree that Walt actually forbade employees to discuss the release.
”The Robber Kitten” (4/20/1935)
Inspiring its own comic strip (“The Adventures of Ambrose the Robber”), 1935’s third Silly Symphony followed kitten Ambrose’s dreams of adventure. Ditching bath time and running away, Ambrose takes on the identity of “Butch” the robber. However, when a sticky situation arises, suddenly bath time seems like a better option. This 7:48 short cartoon was directed by David Hand and featured music by Frank Churchill.
“Water Babies” (5/11/1935)
Wilfred Jackson directed this “day in the life of” and somewhat surreal Silly Symphony. A group of water nymphs frolics about the lake. Some become the butt of mischievous but playful gags during the 8-minute movie.
“The Cookie Carnival” (5/25/1935)
Paying tribute to what would eventually become the “Miss America Pageant,” Cookietown needs a new queen in this 8-minute-long Silly Symphony. Pinto Colvig (who also contributed to the story) and Marcellite Garner provide voices for the sweet story. Leigh Harline scored and Ben Sharpsetteen directed.
“Who Killed Cock Robin?” (6/29/1935)
Bing Crosby, Mae West, Harpo Marx and Edward G Robinson are parodied during the 8-minute Silly Symphony. A courtroom drama of murder, based upon same named nursery rhyme, directed by David Hand, ends with a twist. Frank Churchill’s talents provide music.
“Music Land” (10/5/1935)
Anamorphic musical instruments assume starring roles in this “Romeo and Juliet” inspired story. Instead of Montague and Capulet, rivals symphony and jazz provide tension during the 10-minute Silly Symphony. Leigh Harline provided the score for Pinto Colvig’s story. Wilfred Jackson directed.
“Three Orphan Kittens” (10/26/1935)
“Three Orphan Kittens” provided Walt Disney Animation with a second Academy Award for this season of Silly Symphony treasures. Taken in from the cold weather, a trio of tiny kittens find adventure as they explore their new home. Eventually, to the tune of “Kitten on the Keys,” a pianola provides perfect playtime adventure. This 9-minute cartoon short was directed by David Hand with music by Frank Churchill.
“Cock o’ the Walk” (11/30/1935)
Jealousy, justice, and reconciliation fuel this 8-minute Silly Symphony. Rivalry over a heavenly hen between champion Cock O’ the Walk and a younger Rooster comes to head in a final confrontation. Ben Sharpsteen directed and Frank Churchill scored the short story.
“Broken Toys” (12/14/1935)
Under the leadership of toy sailor, himself discarded, forgotten toys find new life and purpose. Broken toys, including a few celebrity look-a-likes, are given a most touching fresh start in this 8-minute Silly Symphony. Sara Berner, Tommy Bupp, Pinto Colvig, Alyce Ardell and Lillian Randolph lend their voices to the Ben Sharpsteen directed cartoon. Albert Hay Malotte managed music for this December delight.
For this sixth “season” (1935) of Silly Symphony animated fun, Walt Disney returned to direct (“The Golden Touch”). Two features, “The Tortoise and the Hare” and “Three Orphaned Kittens,” were favored with an Academy Award. October’s “Music Land” would return, re-edited with new music and narration by Professor Owl, as part of the 1959 Walt Disney Studios’ “Disneyland: Toot, Whistle, Plunk and Boom” cartoon.
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 seven (the cartoons of 1936) in ITM’s series on this wonderful animation gold mine known as the Silly Symphonies.