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Toon Talk: Walt Disney Treasures: Silly Symphonies
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Walt Disney Treasures
Another treat for Disney fans and animation historians alike, the third Walt Disney Treasures set spotlights Walt's little-seen classics, the Silly Symphonies. Thirty-seven of the seventy-five shorts that made up this series are featured on the two discs.
The Silly Symphonies were suggested to Walt by his then musical director, Carl Stalling, soon after the success of Mickey Mouse. The series would be "built on the foundation of music", without a continuing central character. Walt saw the potential of the Symphonies to allow him and his animators to explore the medium of filmed animation even further. These shorts were a proving ground for new storytelling techniques and filmmaking technologies that eventually prepared Walt and his staff for their foray into full-length animated features.
Not every short here is a winner. With so many shorts being produced at the same time, there are bound to be some lesser ones in the lot. And most have to be viewed within historical context as well. While some are dated, most having a charming timeliness that ranks them as some of the best cartoons ever produced.
As you watch them, you will realize that there are several continuing themes and trends within them, hereby listed in:
The Top 10 Things You Can Expect from the Silly Symphonies:
- If you miss a gag, don't worry, it will be immediately repeated. For example, in the Skeleton Dance, the skeletons dance to the right, then dance the same steps to the left.
- Older men are always "large": Old King Cole in Mother Goose Melodies, King Midas in The Golden Touch, Noah in Father Noah's Ark.
- The young romantic male is always spurned from a peck on the check by the flirtatious female: the Prince of Jazz and the Princess of Symphony in Music Land, the spider and fly dancers in Woodland Cafe, the rooster and the chicken in Farmyard Symphony, the two trees in Flowers and Trees.
- Really evil villains: the Old Tree in Flowers and Trees, the witch in Babes in the Woods and, of course, the Big Bad Wolf in all four Three Little Pigs shorts.)
- Don't wish for what you shouldn't have: The Flying Mouse, Abner Countrymouse in Country Cousin, Ambrose in The Robber Kitten, King Midas in The Golden Touch.
- A baby's bottom is always good for a sight gag: Lullaby Land, Water Babies and Wynken, Blynken and Nod.
- The "little guy" always triumphs: Elmer Elephant, the little beaver in Busy Beavers, Toby Tortoise in The Tortoise and the Hare and it's sequel, the young fisherman in The China Plate, Peter Penguin in Peculiar Penguins, both Ugly Ducklings.)
- You don't want to be a cat in a Silly Symphony: used as a musical instrument in The China Plate, scared out of it's fur in Skeleton Dance, kicked by a mouse in Country Cousin, turned to gold in The Golden Touch.)
- When in doubt, celebrity caricatures will get a laugh: Jenny Wren as Mae West in Who Killed Cock Robin?, the Big Bad Wolf as Jimmy Durante in The Big Bad Wolf, and both the first Ugly Duckling and the spider in Egyptian Melodies do Al Jolson's "mammy!".
- If there's a chicken, it's voiced by Florence Gill (a.k.a. Clara Cluck): The Wise Little Hen, Mother Pluto, Farmyard Symphony, Funny Little Bunnies.
Both discs share the same, short introduction by Leonard Maltin. The shorts themselves are divided into sections based on theme. In theory, this may have been a valid choice, but as with the Mickey Mouse in Living Color set, I would have much rather preferred a chronological order for the shorts, to display how the animation developed and progressed over the ten years the Silly Symphonies were being produced. For example, one glaring misstep has placed the color remake of The Ugly Duckling before the black and white original.
To add insult to injury, the listing in the set's program book and on the disc menus do not match, and a few of the shorts are only accessible through "hidden" Easter eggs on the DVD menus. While these eggs do include nifty introductions by Walt Disney himself (from the original Disney television series), there's no reason that you shouldn't be able to access the short by itself from the menu, as most of the shorts are. For example, The Practical Pig is not listed on the menu, nor will it play if you click "play all"; you can only watch it from the egg.
With that in mind, the listing of shorts below is in the order as printed in the program book, with note made of any "egg hunting" you may have to do to watch it. All shorts are in color unless otherwise noted.
FABLES AND FAIRY TALES:
Mother Goose Melodies
Original released April 16, 1931. Directed by Bert Gillett. Black and white.
Summary: Old King Cole is treated to various Mother Goose tales, including Little Miss Muffet, Humpty Dumpty and Jack and Jill.
Behind the Shorts: The opening footage of the processional looks awfully similar to the Parade of the Award Nominees short featured in the Mickey Mouse in Living Color set.
Babes in the Woods
November 19, 1932. Directed by Gillett.
Summary: Hansel and Gretel, lost in the woods, stumble upon a dwarf village and the wicked witch's candy-coated house.
Behind the Shorts: The witch and the dwarfs were precursors to similar characters in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.
August 19, 1933. Directed by Wilfred Jackson.
Summary: Upon falling asleep, a little tot and his stuffed puppy visit Lullaby Land, filled with everything a baby needs.
Behind the Shorts: The title song was published as sheet music.
The Tortoise and the Hare
January 5, 1935. Directed by Jackson.
Summary: It's Toby Tortoise versus Max Hare in this amazing race.
Behind the Shorts: Oscar winner for Best Cartoon, inspired the sequel Toby Tortoise Returns, also included in this set. (See "Favorite Characters" section, below.)