We’re finally at #1! This is the one that started it all! Directed by Walt Disney, drawn by Ub Iwerks, scored by Carl Stalling. After more than 85 years, it’s one of the most recognizable cartoons, despite having no famous characters. Based on an idea from Stalling that Disney produce some cartoons that would be music-driven rather character-driven (like the Mickey cartoons, which started the previous year), The Skeleton Dance would be the first of 75 incredible cartoons. The series would be the sandbox for the greatest animators of the 1930s and the starting point for incredible composers like Frank Churchill, Leigh Harline, and Bert Lewis.
If you’re at the D23 Expo today, you have the opportunity to see a 32-piece orchestra perform several of the Silly Symphonies – and you can pre-order the amazing vinyl box set and walk away with a 10″ single featuring Three Little Pigs on one side and The Skeleton Dance on the other.
While not a fan favorite, El Terrible Toreador has a lot going for it. While many animation fans point to the Silly Symphony series as the place where Disney animators developed their techniques for animating humans – that would make Snow White and the 7 Dwarfs such a sensation – this cartoon animates human characters in the most over-the-top “squash and stretch” (and bend and twist…) way possible. The surreal aspect of the movements only heightens the hilarity of the short. Additionally, coming after The Skeleton Dance, this was the first Silly Symphony to attempt to tell a story. And Carl Stalling’s genius for presenting familiar music in unfamiliar ways really shines through.
The third Silly Symphony is a fascinating piece of early Disney animation – many of the elements present would appear later in other shorts and full-length cartoons. There is, of course, the ubiquitous spider playing the web as a harp – but there’s also the use of musical cues that would appear in Fantasia. And there’s a frog that looks suspiciously like Flip…
Today’s the day that the Silly Symphony Collection presale goes live at the D23 Expo. The first autograph session take place at 4:30pm, with one more each day of the Expo.
If Hell’s Bells were shown on a hip late-night cartoon show today, you’d have a hard time convincing audiences that it was made over 85 years ago. Every single thing about it works, from the dark yet hilarious gags to the experimental boundary-pushing animation to the tongue-in-cheek use of familiar musical themes. To a casual Disney fan, the look may be surprising, with a feel closer to that of shorts from the Fleischer Studio. But fans of Ub Iwerks animation, particularly the wild shorts he did when he ran his own studio, Hell’s Bells is a perfect precursor to cult classics like Balloon Land.
In just over 12 hours, the D23 Expo begins. If you’re attending the event, you’ll have the first opportunity to check out The Silly Symphony Collection vinyl box set!
One of the first few Silly Symphonies – The Merry Dwarfs was directed by Walt Disney with much of the animation by Ub Iwerks (and probably Les Clark) and a score by Carl Stalling. Like Cannibal Capers, this cartoon is fairly bizarre, most probably because the main characters are not-quite-human. The titular dwarfs are nothing like the seven that would befriend Snow White in Disney’s feature debut. Instead, these folk are insect-sized people – more of a cross between a fairy tale elf and a leprechaun. They work a little, drink a little, dance a little, then drink some more. The real experimental genius of this short occurs in the last few seconds, when the entire frame goes wobbly to signify the drunkenness of the dwarfs.
Did I mention how much I love Disney spiders? This short, the second “seasons” short, focuses entirely on bugs. Caterpillars, butterflies, dragonflies, beetles, flies, and even a spider all make an appearance in this perfect gem of a cartoon. There’s no plot per se, just wonderful vignettes animated by the great Ub Iwerks to a memorable score from Carl Stalling.
The limited edition box presale starts on Friday at the D23 EXPO in Anaheim, and will continue next Monday, August 17, at The Silly Symphony Collection site while supplies last.
This is the stuff. The Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show. Stanley Kubrick’s Paths of Glory. Madonna’s Like a Virgin. The Disney Company was 6 years old when the Silly Symphonies started, but the early Mickey shorts and these first few Silly Symphonies cemented the company’s legacy. The three creative geniuses behind these landmark cartoons were Walt Disney, animator Ub Iwerks, and composer Carl Stalling. Autumn marked the end of that brief era – it’s the last Silly Symphony that Iwerks and Stalling made before leaving Disney. But since we’re counting backwards, let’s enjoy this as our introduction to the first era of the Silly Symphonies.
Check out The Silly Symphony Collection page at the Disney Music Emporium for info on the limited edition vinyl box set of all the Silly Symphony soundtracks.
Looking at Cannibal Capers purely from the perspective as a piece of Disney animation history, there are a few interesting points: it was the very first Silly Symphony made without the contribution of Ub Iwerks or Carl Stalling, it has a few clever gags, and it was the first cartoon to feature Floyd Gottfredson as an animator (Floyd would go on to write and draw the much-beloved Mickey Mouse daily comic strip). However, the poorly conceived racial stereotyping of the title characters make this short difficult to watch, and equally difficult to recommend.
There’s nothing like hindsight when evaluating a series like The Silly Symphonies. When they made Frolicking Fish, the Disney animators were scrambling to fill the void left by Ub Iwerks and Carl Stalling, so this short may have been seen at the time as less ambitious. But necessity being the mother of invention, Norm Ferguson’s work on this short proved to be a breakthrough in animation technique that would inform the way that these cartoons were made for years. Bert Lewis’ fun score provides a perfect musical backdrop for the titular fish, and the octopus who tries to spoil their fun (i.e. eat them).
Visit The Silly Symphony Collection page for more information about the remastered 16-record box set coming soon!
As we move toward the first several Silly Symphonies in our countdown (the much-anticipated Ub Iwerks-Carl Stalling efforts), we should pause and marvel at the unbridled merriment of shorts like Arctic Antics. Like several of these early shorts, there is absolutely no plot whatsoever, just animals (in this case, polar bears, seals, walruses, and penguins) cavorting in ways that approach realism and then veer off into wonderfully surreal anthropomorphism.
One week from the day this posts, pre-orders will begin for The Silly Symphony Collection at the D23 EXPO 2015 in Anaheim. Every single soundtrack has been restored and remastered on an astounding 16-record box set (yes, it’s vinyl). Stay tuned to the Silly Symphony site for details on how to order it online.