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Silly Symphonies was a hugely popular and influential series of Disney short subjects from The Golden Age of Animation, generally themed around music and lushly animated fairy tales. They were a very important part of Disney's history, pioneering many of their animation techniques, as well as giving animators preparation for work in the feature length animated films that the studio would later become famous for. The series would have a massive impact on the animation industry, inspiring many imitators, some of which would later evolve into future competitors for Disney, such as the Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies franchise.
In some ways, Fantasia and it's sequel could be seen as the successors to these cartoons.
Silly Symphonies brought along many imitators, including the Warner Bros. cartoon series Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies, Max Fleischer's Color Classics, Ub Iwerks' ComiColor Cartoons, Columbia's Color Rhapsodies, Van Beuren Studios Rainbow Parade, Walter Lantz's Cartune Classics, and MGM's Happy Harmonies from former Disney employees Harman and Ising. The television series Mickey Mouse Works used the Silly Symphonies title for some of its new cartoons, but unlike the original cartoons, these did feature continuing characters. Disney also produced comic strips and comic books with this title.
On December 3, 2001, Disney released "Silly Symphonies" as part of its DVD series "Walt Disney Treasures". On December 19, 2006, "More Silly Symphonies" was released, completing the collection and allowing the cartoons to be completely available to the public.
- The Skeleton Dance: August 22, 1929, Walt Disney: The first of the series. The bulk of the cartoon was animated by Ub Iwerks, with one part (with a Skeleton playing a rib-bone xylophone) animated by Les Clark. One of The 50 Greatest Cartoons.
- El Terrible Toreador: September 7, 1929, Walt Disney
- Springtime: October 24, 1929, Ub Iwerks
- Hell's Bells: October 30, 1929 Ub Iwerks
- The Merry Dwarfs: December 16, 1929, Walt Disney
- Summer: January 6, 1930, Ub Iwerks
- Autumn: February 13, 1930, Ub Iwerks
- Cannibal Capers: March 13, 1930, Burt Gillett
- Frolicking Fish: May 8, 1930, Burt Gillett: The first cartoon that introduced continuous movements or "overlapping action" in animation, instead of the old stop-and-go movements.
- Arctic Antics: June 5, 1930
- Midnight In A Toy Shop: July 3, 1930, Wilfred Jackson
- Night: July 31, 1930, Walt Disney
- Monkey Melodies: August 10, 1930, Burt Gillett
- Winter: November 5, 1930, Burt Gillett
- Playful Pan: December 28, 1930, Burt Gillett
- Birds of a Feather: February 10, 1931, Burton Gillett
- Mother Goose Melodies: April 17, 1931, Burton Gillett
- The China Plate: May 25, 1931, Wilfred Jackson: A creative retelling of the Willoware legend.
- The Busy Beavers June 22, 1931, Burton Gillett
- The Cat's Out: July 28, 1931, Wilfred Jackson
- Egyptian Melodies: August 21, 1931, Wilfred Jackson
- The Clock Store: September 30, 1931, Wilfred Jackson
- The Spider and the Fly: October 16, 1931, Wilfred Jackson
- The Fox Hunt: November 18, 1931, Wilfred Jackson
- The Ugly Duckling: December 16, 1931, Wilfred Jackson: Based on a story by Hans Christian Andersen. Featuring Clarabelle Cow. A much more comprehensive, colorized version would be made in 1939.
- The Bird Store: January 16, 1932, Wilfred Jackson: The last Silly Symphony distributed by Columbia Pictures.
- The Bears and the Bees: July 9, 1932, Wilfred Jackson: The first Silly Symphony distributed by United Artists.
- Just Dogs: July 30, 1932, Burton Gillett: Featuring the first starring role of Pluto (Mickey Mouse does not appear).
- Flowers and Trees: July 30, 1932, Burton Gillett: First cartoon produced in full-color three-strip Technicolor. First cartoon to win the Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film.
- King Neptune: September 10, 1932, Burton Gillett: Featuring Neptune (mythology) as the "King of the Sea".
- Bugs in Love: October 1, 1932, Burton Gillett: Last Silly Symphony shot in black-and-white.
- Babes in the Woods: November 19, 1932, Burton Gillett: Featuring Hansel and Gretel.
- Santa's Workshop: December 10, 1932, Wilfred Jackson: Featuring Santa Claus.
- Birds in the Spring: March 11, 1933, David Hand
- Father Noah's Ark: April 8, 1933, Wilfred Jackson: The "building the ark" music is an adaptation of Beethoven's Contradanse in C Major, Wo O 14 No. 1.
- Three Little Pigs: May 27, 1933, Burton Gillett: Featuring the namesake characters and the Big Bad Wolf. Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film. One of The 50 Greatest Cartoons.
- Old King Cole: July 29, 1933, David Hand
- Lullaby Land: August 19, 1933, Wilfred Jackson
- The Pied Piper: September 16, 1933, Wilfred Jackson: According to "Too Funny For Words", the short was a flop.
- The Night Before Christmas: December 9, 1933, Wilfred Jackson: A follow up to "Santa's Workshop".
- The China Shop: January 13, 1934, Wilfred Jackson
- The Grasshopper And The Ants: February 10, 1934, Wilfred Jackson: Based on a fable by Aesop. Pinto Colvig (Goofy) provides the voice for the grasshopper.
- Funny Little Bunnies: March 24, 1934, Wilfred Jackson: Featuring the Easter Bunnies.
- The Big Bad Wolf: April 14, 1934, Burton Gillett: A follow up to the Three Little Pigs. Was considered a failure.
- The Wise Little Hen: June 9, 1934, Wilfred Jackson: Featuring the debut of Donald Duck.
- The Flying Mouse: July 14, 1934, David Hand
- Peculiar Penguins: September 1, 1934, Wilfred Jackson
- The Goddess of Spring: November 3, 1934, Wilfred Jackson: Featuring Persephone and a version of her uncle/husband Hades/Pluto, identified here with Satan. The Disney animators' first attempt to create visually realistic human characters, although the short was considered a flop.
- The Tortoise and the Hare: January 5, 1935, Wilfred Jackson: Featuring Max Hare and Toby Tortoise. Won the 1935 Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film.
- The Golden Touch: March 22, 1935, Walt Disney: Featuring Midas and Goldie the elf. Also the last short Walt ever directed, due to how much he loathed it.
- The Robber Kitten: April 13, 1935, David Hand: According to "Hollywood Cartoons", the short was considered a failure when released.
- Water Babies: May 11, 1935, Wilfred Jackson
- The Cookie Carnival: May 25, 1935, Ben Sharpsteen: A homage to the Atlantic City boardwalk parade and bathing beauty contest (what eventually became the Miss America pageant) of the 1920s and 30s. Pinto Colvis (Goofy) provides the voice for the gingerbread man.
- Who Killed Cock Robin: June 26, 1935, David Hand: Includes caricatures of Mae West (Jenny Wren), Bing Crosby (Cock Robin), Harpo Marx (the cuckoo), and Steppin Fetchit (the blackbird).
- Music Land: October 5, 1935, Wilfred Jackson
- Three Orphan Kittens: October 26, 1935, David Hand: Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film.
- Cock o' the Walk: November 30, 1935, Ben Sharpsteen
- Broken Toys: December 14, 1935, Ben Sharpsteen
- Elmer Elephant: March 28, 1936, Wilfred Jackson
- Three Little Wolves: April 18, 1936, David Hand: Another follow up to Three Little Pigs. Another failure.
- Toby Tortoise Returns: August 22, 1936, Wilfred Jackson: Featuring Max Hare and Toby Tortoise. It is a sequel to The Tortoise and the Hare. It's also one of Disney's most cartoony short subjects, doing zany antics way earlier than in the Looney Tunes shorts that would make this style of cartoon famous.
- Three Blind Mousketeers: September 26, 1936, David Hand
- The Country Cousin: October 31, 1936, David Hand: Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film.
- Mother Pluto: November 14, 1936, David Hand: Featuring Pluto the Pup mothering a number of newly-hatched chicks.
- More Kittens: December 19, 1936, David Hand: A sequel to Three Orphan Kittens.
- Woodland Café: March 13, 1937, Wilfred Jackson: Contains animator Ward Kimball's first animating assignment.
- Little Hiawatha: May 15, 1937, David Hand: The last Silly Symphony distributed by United Artists.
- The Old Mill: November 5, 1937, Wilfred Jackson: Disney's first use of the Multiplane Camera and the first Silly Symphony distributed by RKO Radio Pictures. Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film.
- Moth and the Flame: April 1, 1938, Burton Gillett
- Wynken, Blynken, and Nod: May 27, 1938, Graham Heid
- Farmyard Symphony: October 14, 1938, Jack Cutting
- Merbabies: December 9, 1938, Rudolf Ising: Vernon Stallings Outsourced to Harman and Ising after the studio donated inkers and painters to the Disney studio to complete Snow White.
- Mother Goose Goes Hollywood: December 23, 1938, Wilfred Jackson: Like Toby Tortoise Returns, this short is another oddball in the series, parodying the fairy tale stories of the series with caricatures of many Hollywood celebrities from the time period inserted into those classic stories.
- The Practical Pig: February 24, 1939, Dick Rickard: Yet another follow up to Three Little Pigs. Like the other Little Pigs shorts after the first, it was a failure.
- The Ugly Duckling: April 7, 1939, Jack Cutting: Another cartoon version of the classical story, first animated in 1931, and the only Silly Symphony story to be made twice. Nominated for the Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film.
Tropes Related To The Series:
- Actor Allusion: Pinto Colvig, then voice of Goofy, would sing the tune "The World Owes Me A Living" as Goofy, which was the song from "The Grasshooper and the Ants", where Pinto voiced the eponymous grasshopper.
- Adorkable: Toby Tortoise in both of his appearances. Hopelessly outclassed by Max Hare and afraid of his own shadow, but he's just so darn sweet about the whole thing. His hat's penchant for flipping above his head helps.
- Alcohol Hic: The jolly rum cookies in "The Cookie Carnival".
- All Just a Dream: The ending of "Wynken, Blynken and Nod".
- All of the Other Reindeer: Demonstrated in "Elmer Elephant".
- An Aesop: Due to the fairy-tale nature of many of the shorts, it was not uncommon to have morals attached to them.
- Anachronism Stew: In "The Golden Touch"--it's very unlikely that they had hamburgers around in Medieval Europe.
- Animation Bump: Later installments of the series. After all, part of the modus operendi of making the cartoons was to pioneer animation techniques. More specific examples in the shorts are given below:
- One scene in "Egyptian Melodies" has a background that moves in perspective--think the Dungeons from the first Phantasy Star, but fully animated. This footage was so impressive that Disney would reuse it for the Mickey Mouse cartoon "The Mad Doctor".
- Frolicking Fish is a progressive example--during the making of the cartoon, animator Norm Ferguson accidently discovered the principle of "Follow Through and Overlapping Action"--prior to this short, the characters started and stopped in a cyclish, machine like way, but Norm animated it so that when the fish were stopping one action, they were already beginning another action, creating a very smooth, lifelike effect. You can see Norm's work on the trio of fish doing an old vaudeville soft-shoe dance in the short. Walt was so pleased by this that he had his animators study Norm's animation.
- Cock O' The Walk is one of the most impressively animated shorts in the series, featuring succesful reinnactments of broadway dance routines, tricky drawing angles, and LOTS of crowd scenes. The most notable work is by Bill Tytla, who animated virtually all of the scenes with the rooster and the pullet dancing.
- Three Orphan Kittens has several backgrounds--complete with reflections in the floor tiles--that moved in perspective.
- Anthropomorphic Food: All the characters in The Cookie Carnival are, well, cookies.
- Anti-Villain: King Midas from "The Golden Touch" arguably fits this category.
- Art Evolution: The series initially started off with the standard issue rubberhose limb art style of the time period, but life drawing classes gradually evolved the series into a more naturalistic, lively art style that would go on to define Disney.
- Art Shift: A very mild example, but in the follow ups to Three Little Pigs, animator Grim Natwick managed to bring some of the East Coast style of design into the shorts, as evident in the designs of Little Red Riding Hood and the Three Little Wolves, which wouldn't look so out of place in a Fleischer cartoon. The girl from "Cookie Carnival" also has a Fleischer-esque look, due to her also being drawn by Grim.
- Babies Make Everything Better: Thrives in "Wynken, Blynken and Nod".
- Baleful Polymorph: "Babes in the Woods" has the witch use potions to turn her captive children into all sorts of assorted creatures. They get better in the end, thankfully.
- Big Damn Hero: Cupid pulls this in the end of "Who Killed Cock Robin"--an ironic example, as he was the one who kicked off the murder plot in the first place.
- Bittersweet Ending: The end of "The Golden Touch". Sure, the King may have lost his entire kingdom and fortunes, but hey, at least he dosen't have the Golden Touch anymore so he can eat--AND he got his hamburger--with onions, no less!
- Bragging Theme Tune: "The World Owes Me A Living" from "The Grasshopper and the Ants".
- Breakout Character: Donald Duck, incidental character in "The Wise Little Hen", would become one of (if not THE) most famous and beloved characters in the Disney pantheon. And according to the book "Mickey and the Gang: Classic Stories In Verse", Walt Disney even had the foresight to realize Donald could be his next big star, having press kits ready by the time "The Wise Little Hen" hit the theaters.
- The Cameo: Pluto (the character from "The Goddess of Spring") would make a cameo in a Floyd Gottfredson Mickey Mouse comic, when Mickey was trying to call Pluto (the dog), who had been spirited away by a magic spell. This comic can be found in the book "Mickey and the Gang: Classic Stories in Verse".
- Toby Tortoise Returns has several cameos of characters from the Silly Symphonies series.
- Some Silly Symphonies characters would also make cameos in the Mickey Mouse short "Mickey's Polo Team".
- Camp Gay: Cupid from "Who Killed Cock Robin?", but only because of his exaggerated mannerisms, curly hair, beak modeled to resemble red lips, large eyelashes, effeminate voice, obsession with giggling, and making his entrance on a heart-shaped space formed by pink flowers. Aside from that, he barely qualifies.
- Camp Straight: The angel food cakes in "The Cookie Carnival".
- Captain Ersatz: It's quite possible that Tom and Jerry borrowed many elements of its shorts from "The Country Cousin", which features full pantomime action and slapstick, and it's protagonist mouse bears a startling resemblence to Jerry in both appearance and personality. Also, Max Hare from "The Tortoise and the Hare" could be considered a prototype for the later Merrie Melodies character Bugs Bunny--Tex Avery even admitted that the idea for Bugs came from Max Hare.
- Mammy Two-Shoes of Tom and Jerry also makes her first appearances in the short "Three Orphan Kittens" and its follow up "More Kittens".
- Chekhov's Gun: In "Babes in the Wood", the witch uses a potion to turn a child-turned-cat into stone. At the climax of the short, the creatures-turned-back-into-children use it to defeat her when she falls off her broom and into the cauldron containing it.
- Clumsy Copyright Censorship: From comments gathered from some sources, in old VHS releases of "Cock O' The Walk", the song used in the middle of the the short, "The Karaoka", was dubbed out of those prints and replaced with a much more generic instrumental tune due to copyright issues. Fortunately, the original print and song was brought back for the Walt Disney Treasures: More Silly Symphonies DVD set.
- Country Mouse: Used in "The Country Cousin". Abner Mouse even provides the page image.
- Curb Stomp Battle: Toby Tortoise is pretty much hopeless against beating Max Hare in "Toby Tortoise Returns"--it's only when Max Hare stuffs him full of fireworks and firecrackers and accidentely turns Toby into a makeshift rocket that the turtle finally gets the upper hand.
- Dead Baby Comedy: In the climax of "Who Killed Cock Robin?", when the three suspects are going to be hanged, the jury sings an eager ditty about hanging them, all to the tune of "The Farmer in the Tell".
- The Determinator: The flame from "The Moth and the Flame".
- Digital Destruction: A very mild example--in the Treasures sets, theres some mild hints of DVNR every now and again, but you usually have to look for it to notice. Also, the aforementioned VHS edit of "Cock O' The Walk".
- Disney Acid Sequence: Arguably the entirety of "Wynken, Blynken and Nod".
- Disney Death: Done in the end of "The Busy Beavers".
- Disneyfication: The fairy tales presented are toned down from their source material. Justified, as Walt claimed in one interview that times and tastes were changing and the stories couldn't have been presented as they originally were.
- Disproportionate Retribution: The Pied Piper, from the eponymous short, is so angered at being swindled out of his money, that he uses his music to take their children away forever.
- Do Not Touch the Funnel Cloud: Demonstrated in the 1931 version of "The Ugly Duckling".
- Earn Your Happy Ending: Demonstrated in "King Midas" (where Midas is forced to give up his kingdom--castle and all--just for a burger) and the 1939 version of "The Ugly Duckling".
- Everythings Better With Bunnies: "Funny Little Bunnies" is a classic example of this.
- Everything's Better with Chickens: Milked for all it's worth in "Cock O' the Walk".
- Everything's Better with Monkeys: "Monkey Melodies" and "Elmer Elephant" demonstrate this.
- Everything's Better with Penguins: In Peculiar Penguins
- Everything's Even Worse with Sharks: Demonstrated in Peculiar Penguins.
- Everything's Worse with Bears: Done in "Little Hiawatha".
- Everything's Worse with Bees: In the climax of "Birds in the Spring".
- Fire and Brimstone Hell: As depicted in "Hell's Bells" and "The Goddess of Spring".
- Follow the Leader: This is hands down one of the most influential series of cartoons in the History of Animation...and also one of the most ripped off as a result. Almost every studio in the 1930's, sans Terry Toons, was trying to rip off of these cartoons--none of them were successful, however.
- The Looney Tunes and Merry Melodies cartoons, by virtue of improvement of the shorts, with a certain Expy of Max Hare, might be considered an exception.
- Getting Crap Past the Radar: This gem from "Toby Tortoise Returns", when Toby is knocked out of the ring and falls onto Jenny Wren's lap and needs some, er, encouragement:
"I like a man that takes his time."
- In "Santa's Workshop", in the first minute or two, if you look in the background, you can see er...reindeer chocolate being scooped out of one of the stalls.
- Good Is Dumb: Toby Tortoise, although its arguable whether he's genuinely stupid or just slow to act.
- The Grim Reaper: A golden version of him appears in the climax of "The Golden Touch".
- Hammerspace: In "Toby Tortoise Returns", his small shell is demonstrated to be able to hold himself, a mouse-trap, dozens of fireworks and firecrackers, and a diving helmet.
- Hijacked by Jesus: In a feat that would be echoed 63 years later by Disney, The Goddess of Spring flanderizes the mythical Greek figure Pluto, from a merely fearsome but noble being into an ersatz for Satan.
- Hoist by His Own Petard: Demonstrated in "Flowers and Trees" and "Toby Tortoise Returns".
- Instant Plunder, Just Add Pirates: Done in "King Neptune".
- Ironic Echo: From the Golden Touch, "Give me gold, not advice!" comes back to bite King Midas in the back minutes later.
- Karmic Trickster: Goldie the Elf from "The Golden Touch".
- Mickey Mousing: Part of why the series was made was to take the sound and animation mixing of Steamboat Willie one step further.
- Monkey Morality Pose: Featuring in a china figure of the three Good Little Monkeys (no relation) in "The China Shop".
- Ms. Fanservice: Parodied with Jenny Wren from "Who Killed Cock Robin?".
- No Celebrities Were Harmed: Jenny Wren from "Who Killed Cock Robin?" is a shameless caricature of actress Mae West--but was such a successful caricature of her that Mae herself praised it! Cock Robin might be a caricature of the then-popular crooner Bing Crosby. The crow from the short is also a caricature of black actor Stephen Fitchitt, and Harpo Marx of the Marx Brothers is caricatured here as a woodpecker.
- Elmer Elephant has a throwaway gag with three pelicans doing a Jimmy Durante impression.
- Officer O'Hara: Parodied in "Who Killed Cock Robin?".
- Panty Shot: Several shots of Tilly Tiger's garments are displayed in "Elmer Elephant".
- The blonde moth from "The Moth and the Flame", due to the wide, curvy shape of her skirt and the length being above the knees. This allows to give views of her white (or light blue) undies, such as when she puts on a show by doing the can-can for the male flame and she also flashes by bending over, and lifting the back on her skirt.
- Public Domain Soundtrack / Standard Snippet: Often featured in the cartoons.
- Poorly-Disguised Pilot: "Mother Pluto" is a Silly Symphony In Name Only. The music is there almost by compromise, it plays exactly like Pluto's previous appearances, and his official solo series launched the next year. Pluto had starred on his own, as the first time without Mickey Mouse, in another short in this series: Just Dogs.
- Recycled in Space: "Cock O' The Walk" is a collection of Broadway dance routines WITH CHICKENS!
- The Remake: The Ugly Duckling, originally released in 1931, was a fun little action short, that had almost nothing to do with its inspirational source. Eight years later, the 1939 version completely revamped the art and the story to be both more believable and more faithful to the original tale; by being one of the most polished shorts, it effectively served as the series' Grand Finale.
- Rhymes on a Dime: Not uncommon in the shorts.
- Rubber Hose Limbs: Mostly in the early shorts.
- Santa Claus: Gets two shorts to himself: "Santa's Workshop" and "The Night Before Christmas".
- Satan: A very cartoony version of him appears in "Hell's Bells".
- Screw the Rules I Have Plot: So when Toby Tortoise was knocked out of the ring in "Toby Tortoise Returns", why didn't the match automatically go to Max Hare?
- Shaped Like Itself: The "Nothin' But A Nothin'" song from "The Flying Mouse" demonstrates this:
You're nothin' but a nothin', a nothin', a nothin', you're nothin' but a nothin', you're not a thing at all!
- Shout-Out: In the shorts "Birds of a Feather" and "Egyptian Melodies", a character will shout "Mammy!" as a gag.
- Something Completely Different: "Toby Tortoise Returns", "Mother Goose Goes Hollywood" and "Mother Pluto".
- Stock Footage: "Egyptian Melodies" has some animation of a hallway moving in perspective that would later be reused in the Mickey Mouse cartoon "The Mad Doctor".
- Super Speed: A trait of Max Hare from "The Tortoise and the Hare".
- Sweet Dreams Fuel: "Wynken, Blynken and Nod" is full of this.
- "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Delivered to the mouse in The Flying Mouse, although its more of a Reason You Suck Song.
- The Twelve Principles of Animation: The series was important in developing and refining these principles.
- Through a Face Full of Fur:This happens with both furry and non-furry animals, including the following such as:
- The Hobo Cookie from "The Cookie Carnival", who turns red in the face after kissing the Cookie Queen (who's now real and no longer a gingerbread), when he realizes they're being watched. He grabs a lollipop and they kiss once again while trying to hide behind it, but they can still be seen since the candy part is transparent and their literal heated passion causes it to melt at the end.
- The grasshopper from "The Grasshopper and the Ants", who is blue from the wintry cold as he's caught in a blizzard and he trudges through the snow, seeking shelter.
- Turtle Power: Toby Tortoise from "The Tortoise and the Hare" and it's follow-up "Toby Tortoise Returns".
- Anti-Villainous Breakdown: King Midas goes through this in "The Golden Touch" when he discovers everything he touches will turn to gold.
- Villain Song: "You're nothin' but a nothin'" from The Flying Mouse (although the bats are more along the lines of bullies) and "Hades" from The Goddess of Spring.
- Visual Pun: In "Cookie Carnival", we get a glimpse of two figures representing the Devil's Foodcake--they being actual devil like figures.
- Wheel-O-Feet: A proto-example is featured in "The Tortoise and the Hare".
- Woodland Creatures: Would often pop up in the shorts.
- Wraparound Background: Seen during the Toy Parade sequence of "Santa's Workshop".
- Zany Cartoon: "Toby Tortoise Returns", arguably one of the earliest examples, even predating Tex Avery's landmark short "Porky's Duck Hunt".