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. It also won seven Oscars, a record matched only by Tom and Jerry.In some ways, Fantasia and its 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' Comi Color Cartoons, Columbia's Color Rhapsodies, Van Beuren StudiosRainbow 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.
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; includes the iconic song "Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?", and won the 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.
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 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, appropriately), and Stepin Fetchit (the blackbird). Academy award nominee.
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: Won the 1936 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. Won the 1937 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. Academy award nominee.
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.
The same could also apply to the mother hen in the 1931 version, although she later makes amends after the duckling rescues her chick babies from drowning.
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 Girls Want Bad Boys: Averted in "The Cookie Carnival". The cookie queen picks the sweet gingerbread man over the devil food cakes.
Animation Bump: Later installments of the series. After all, part of the modus operandi 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 accidentally 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 successful re-enactments 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.
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.
Simultaneously played straight and subverted in both the 1931 and 1939 versions of "The Ugly Duckling". The mother chicken in the 1931 version adores her chicken babies but is completely disgusted by the duckling whose egg somehow found its way into her nest. The 1939 version takes it even further when the ducklings hatch and the father is hugs and kisses all around, but then the Ugly Duckling hatches and his appearance alone is enough to cause a fiery marital spat between the duck parents.
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.
Bears Are Bad News: Done in "Little Hiawatha" and earlier with the big vicious bear in "The Bears and Bees".
Big Damn Heroes: 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.
The dwarfs in "Babes in the Woods" pull this off in the nick of time, just before the Witch covered the girl in her transformation potion.
Bittersweet Ending: The end of "The Golden Touch". Sure, King Midas 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!
"The Goddess of Spring" ends with Hades, who notices how visibly miserable Persephone is down in the underworld, compromising by allowing her to return to the above world for a good part of the year, in exchange for spending another part of the year down below from there on out (hence explaining why Spring only comes for part of a year).
Black and White Morality: Present in virtually all of the cartoons, as expected for Disney. The Golden Touch is the only one that seems to skirt away from this, due to its nobilist character being a smug, mischievous trickster who scares the greedy Midas into repentance.
Black 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 Boxing Episode: Two of them: "Cock o' the Walk" and, more obvious, "Toby Tortoise Returns".
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". Though their mannerisms are quite campy, they are competing for the affections of the Cookie Queen.
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 its 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 accidentally turns Toby into a makeshift rocket that the turtle finally gets the upper hand.
Digital Destruction: A very mild example—in the Treasures sets, there are 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 Fication: 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.
Dis Proportionate 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 the town's children away forever.
It's not really disproportionate as his primary motivation was to spare the children from growing up to be as selfish and corrupt as the adults of Hamlin.
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 Terrytoons, 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.
Food Porn: The feast the Wise Little Hen makes from her corn harvest. It's lampshaded in the sung narration.
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.
In the 1939 version of "The Ugly Duckling", after the titular character hatches; the father duck looks to the normal-looking ducklings, then angrily back to the ugly one before engaging the Mother Duck in a heated argument that culminates with her slapping him and the Father Duck storming off in anger. Although the two of them are quacking rather than speaking, their gestures and tone of voice indicate that the Father Duck is claiming that the Ugly Duckling couldn't possibly be his and that the only reason the Ugly Duckling looks so different from the others was if the Mother Duck was having an extra-marital affair.
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".
Hammer Space: 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.
Marry Them All: Suggested, but averted in "The Cookie Carnival" when the Cookie Queen is choosing her king. "My advice would be, marry me! / No, me! / No, me-e-e-e-e! Perhaps you'd better marry all three!"
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 Stepin Fetchit, 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?" Also seen with the police doll in "Broken Toys".
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.
Playing Sick: This is how Peter Pig and Donald Duck get out of helping the Wise Little Hen plant and harvest her corn.
Predators Are Mean: The octopus in "Frolicking Fish", the hawk in "Birds Of A Feather", the titular fly in "The Spider And The Fly", the cat in "The Bird Store", and the Big Bad Wolf in the "Three Little Pigs" series. Averted in the original "The Ugly Duckling", where ducks eating a worm isn't portrayed negatively. Played with by "Birds In The Spring", where one of the titular birds trying to eat a grasshopper isn't portrayed as mean but a snake trying to eat that same bird is.
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 INSPACE: "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.
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 its follow-up "Toby Tortoise Returns".