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.
In this final season of its 10-year run, Disney’s Silly Symphony cartoons only produced two features. Both were released early in 1939 as the animation studio switched gears to create full length animated motion pictures.
Though short in season, 1939 was marked by milestones. Another sequel for “the Three Little Pigs” gave Practical, Fifer and Fidler a fourth feature. Yet another Academy Award, for Best Animated Short Film, went to the second Walt’s 1939 Silly Symphony cartoons, “The Ugly Duckling.”
“The Practical Pig” (2/24/1939)
Reviving catchy theme “Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf,” this 8-minute feature finds a pair of the poor pigs in a pickle as they are captured by the Big Bad Wolf. It’s up to Practical Pig and his newly created lie detector to save his brothers. Directed by Dick Rickard, with music by Frank Churchill and Paul J. Smith, this particular Silly Symphony short was shot sans usual series title card. Opening, instead, as “Three Little Pig” performance, the title change suggests the popular pig brothers may have originally had a bigger future in store.
“The Ugly Duckling” (4/7/1939)
Co-directed by Jack Cutting and Clde Geronimi, this 9-minute long cartoon brings Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale to life for a second time in the Silly Symphony series. First appearing as a black and white cartoon, in 1931, this new color remake earned Walt Disney Animation Studios the Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film. Better known for providing the voice of Donald Duck, Clarence Nash provided duck sounds while Albert Hay Malotte directed music for the film.
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).
Walt’s decade of entertaining experiments came to an end in April of 1939. A clear evolution of ever improving artistry and technical prowess progressed with each year’s releases. As the studios’ focus turned to full length animated motion pictures, experience gained producing these Silly Symphony cartoons sharpened skills for these future Disney Animation Studios soon to be classics.
“We used them to test and perfect the color and animation techniques we employed later in full-length feature pictures like Cinderella, Snow White, and Fantasia.” -Walt Disney (as recounted in Oh My Disney)
From August 1929, through April of 1939, 75 “episodes” of Silly Symphony shorts entertained audiences. These innovative animated experiments earned Disney a total of seven Academy Awards for Best Animated Short Film. The success of Silly Symphonies inspired studios like Warner Brothers (“Looney Tunes” 1930-1969 & “Merrie Melodies” 1931-1969) and MGM (“Happy Harmonies” 1934-1938) to produce cartoon series of their own.
Do you have a favorite Silly Symphony cartoon? Please animate your thoughts in the comments section.