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.
Disney again won the Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film in 1936. The year also produced a trio of sequels. “Tortoise and the Hare,” “Three Little Pigs,” and “Three Orphan Kittens” received follow up features. Pluto also returned in “Mother Pluto.” 1936 also marked the final “full” year of cartoons for the “Silly Symphony” series. Subsequent seasons saw significantly smaller selections.
“Elmer Elephant” (3/28/1936)
Presumed precursor to “Dumbo,” this 8:29 minute long Silly Symphony showcases adventures of a ridiculed pachyderm. Instead of flying, Elmer turns to his trunk to save the day. Leigh Harline handled music under Wilfred Jackson’s direction. Outside of a pair of cartoon cameos (“Toby Tortoise Returns” and “Who Framed Roger Rabbit”) Elmer never really appeared in future features. Instead, this film was recycled by Disney in one of their short-lived DTV videos (think MTV) covering Yes’ “Owner of a Lonely Heart.”
“Three Little Wolves” (4/18/1936)
Making “Silly Symphony” first, “Three Little Wolves” became the second sequel to 1933’s popular “Three Little Pigs.” Playing to global tensions of the time, villainous Big Bad Wolf takes on Hitler-like characteristics for this 9-minute animated allegory. David Hand directed, while Frank Churchill managed music.
“Toby Tortoise Returns” (8/22/1936)
Competition between Max and Toby returns in this Wilfred Jackson directed 7-minute Silly Symphony. Instead of racing across the countryside, boxing becomes brilliant conflict, leading to an explosive conclusion. Both Leigh Harline and Frank Churchill helped score “Toby Tortoise Returns.”
“Three Blind Mousketeers” (9/26/1936)
Classic cat and mouse mischief joins nursery rhyme (“Three Blind Mice”) for an Alexandre Dumas inspired 8-minute adventure. Facing off against Captain Katt, a trio of cellar mice thwart traps set by the fiendish feline. Katt’s nocturnal nap is interrupted in the process, resulting in perilous pursuit. Albert Hay Malotte’s music compliments dual direction by both Dave Hand and Jack Cutting for this September “Silly Symphony.”
“The Country Cousin” (10/31/1936)
Country mouse Abner gets invited to relocate and enjoy city life by his cousin Monty. In the process of enjoying fine dining, Abner discovers Champagne. Inebriated, the country mouse’s mishaps earn unwanted attention and awaken a dreaded enemy – the house cat. After Abner further antagonizing the fearsome furry beast, Monty runs away. Left to escape on his own, Abner decides returning to country life is far more civilized. Leigh Harline’s score adds to the eight-minute animated adventure. Wilfred Jackson directed. “The Country Cousin” earned an Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film of 1936.
“Mother Pluto” (11/14/1936)
After unintentionally hatching a nest full of chicks, Pluto is assumed, by the hatchlings, to be their mother. When an attempt to evade the young followers fails, Pluto takes to nurturing his new nestmates. Those plans evaporate when mother hen returns to find the eggs she’s hidden under hay in his doghouse are no longer there. Custody conflict erupts forcing mother hen to enlist assistance from an all to ready to fight Rooster. Ultimately, the chicks prefer Pluto’s motherly love. Leigh Harline’s skills provide the 8 ½ minute David Hand directed cartoon with its musical score.
“More Kittens” (12/19/1936)
“Three Orphan Kittens” return an encore performance in this David Hand and Wilfred Jackson directed “Silly Symphony.” Frank Churchill’s musical direction gives the 8-minuted animated adventure its score. After being banished for their indoor mishaps, the tiny black, grey and orange explorers manage more mischief throughout the garden.
With 1936’s winds of war echoing in the animation, “Three Little Pigs” returned for a satirical third feature. However one more appearance arrives in the final years of this cavalcade of creative cartoons. Other sequels secured the return of Toby Tortoise and a trio of troublesome kittens. 1936 also gave Disney an additional trophy, by way of Best Animated Short Film, for “Country Cousin.”
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 eight (the creative cartoons of 1937) in ITM’s series on this wonderful animation gold mine known as the “Silly Symphony” Cartoons.