Walt Disney’s Silly Symphonies: A Companion to the Classic Cartoon Series was recently updated by authors Russell Merritt and J. B. Kaufman and now makes it’s debut on Disney Press. Interest in Mickey Mouse’s companion series seems to have increased over the past several years, with Fairfax Classics restoring the complete soundtrack for vinyl release last year. With the addition of this book, it now seems the only item not readily available is the Silly Symphonies themselves, with long out of print DVD volumes selling for over $100 each.
The first section of the book, “Disney’s First Fantasyland,” provides a lot of detailed history into the Silly Symphonies series. From the struggle to find a distributor to the way the symphonies evolved as Walt’s team elevated the animation art form. It also puts into perspective the cultural impact of the series, which waned over the years as copycat series like Merrie Melodies and Looney Toons became more mainstream.
The next section is called “Producing the Silly Symphonies” and adds more insight about how the different distributors affected the shorts. It also highlights some of the risks Walt was willing to take with the series, including the implementation of color and the multiplane camera.
The bulk of the book consists of “The Silly Symphonies: A Filmography,” where each short is broken down with as much detail as possible. In addition to various release dates, it highlights the talent behind the short and even which scenes the artists were responsible for. A plot description is available for the unfamiliar, as well as information about any and all home video releases and cultural impact when the short left a lasting impression. This section also features lots of artwork, both final film frames and rough animation from the Animation Research Library.
Six appendices complete the book and further enrich your knowledge of the series. The first goes into three shorts that, while not technically Silly Symphonies, are so closely related that their inclusion feels appropriate. The second chronicles all of the Symphonies that were at one point in production, but never completed (over 30 titles). The others include a compendium of the comic pages created, a discography of all of the music releases, and a list of books based on the shorts.
While any Walt Disney biography is sure to mention the Silly Symphonies as a major stepping stone for the studio, none of them go into the kind of detail that Walt Disney’s Silly Symphonies: A Companion to the Classic Cartoon Series does. In addition to the history and details of each short, it also psychoanalyzes the themes explored and how those progressed into other projects later on. If you’re a Disney history buff, this is definitely worth a read.