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 might be 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.
While only three entries emerged for 1937’s season of Silly Symphony cartoons, major accomplishments mark this eighth year of Disney animated short features. Outstanding among this trio of treasures, “The Old Mill,” won Walt his fifth Academy Award (Best Animated Short Film). “The Old Mill,” ushered in new animation techniques in wildlife rendering and a brand-new tool for more realistic imagery: the multi-plane camera. It became proving ground for Disney’s first feature-length animated movie (“Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs”).
“Woodland Café’” (3/13/1937)
It could easily be an inspiration for Pixar’s 1998 animated feature “A Bug’s Life” and the matching Animal Kingdom attraction (Its Tough to be a Bug!). This seven-minute glimpse into insect night life features jazz dance numbers and short theatrical performances from nature’s smaller creatures. Wilfred Jackson directed and Leigh Harline provided musical direction.
“Little Hiawatha” (5/15/1937)
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem “The Song of Hiawatha” comes to life in this 9-minute short directed by David Hand. Would-be warrior Hiawatha explores (and antagonizes) nature while trying to keep his pants from falling down. He soon learns that where there are bear cubs, mama bear is, much to his chagrin, not too far away. Albert Hay Malotte directed the music for this Silly Symphony.
“The Old Mill” (11/5/1937)
In this 9-minute movie, intense weather threatens local wildlife who take refuge in a nearby mill. Under the direction of Wilfred Jackson and Leigh Harline’s musical direction, amazing animation comes to life with stunning realistic rendering and effects.
“The Old Mill” showcases Disney’s newly created animation device, the multi-plane camera, which stacks several layers of drawn animation in front of the camera. Thus, allowing impressive depth and detail to the action on screen.
Walt’s continuing push towards improving viewing experiences becomes clear with the application of his new multiplane camera. Additional animation advancements in lighting, weather, and wildlife provide proof that “Silly Symphony” cartoons did more than just win awards. “The Old Mill” allowed Disney to test techniques that would bring life to several, now classic, full length animated features like “Snow White,” “Pinocchio” and “Fantasia.”
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 more animated amazement: part nine (the cartoons of 1938) in ITM’s series on this wonderful animation gold mine known as the Silly Symphonies.