may 2012

silly symphony

If you could ask Carl Stalling, he would probably say it was his idea; and if you could ask Walt Disney, he would probably say it was his idea. Whosever idea it was, the seed of the idea originated with Stalling. He had been frustrated with the work he had been doing on the Mickey Mouse cartoons, which, by 1929, were really starting to take off. Stalling was dissatisfied that he had to tailor his music to fit the flow of the cartoon, and not vice-versa. Between him and Disney, they envisioned a series of shorts where that would be reversed; where the action would be subservient to the music. And thus the Silly Symphonies were born .

The Silly Symphony series became a showcase for the Disney artists. In them, they were allowed to let their imaginations run a little freer, not being locked into the demands of a single character. The Symphonies were intended to have no recurring characters (although a few of the regular characters did appear in a few) and usually ended up having little or no real plotline. Most tended to be dance numbers (as in the first Symphony, "The Skeleton Dance") or lyrical, pastoral works (as in what is probably the best known Symphony, "The Old Mill.")

They also became the method where the Disney artists experimented with new techniques. The multi-plane camera (which proved to be a milestone in animation; giving flat, two-dimensional animation a three dimensional look) got its first tryout here. Disney's first color short was a Silly Symphony. Disney's first real attempt at animating realistic human figures was also tried first in a Symphony; a necessary step before they started on their first feature length film, Snow White.

Ironically also, the one medium where the artists were not really concentrating on character gave us the first short where Disney felt true character had finally been achieved: "The Three Little Pigs."

75 different Silly Symphonies were created over a ten-year span (1929-1939). The series was discontinued once the feature films proved to be so successful.

Source: Disney

‘The Old Mill,’ a 1937 Silly Symphonies cartoon produced by Walt Disney, directed by Wilfred Jackson, scored by Leigh Harline, and released to theatres by RKO Radio Pictures on November 5, 1937. The film depicts the natural community of animals populating an old abandoned windmill in the country, and how they deal with a violent thunderstorm that nearly destroys their habitat. ‘The Old Mill’ won the 1937 Academy Award for Best Short Subjects: Cartoons. It is ranked at the IMDb top short list as the 17th greatest short film ever. It was also included in the book The 50 Greatest Cartoons As Selected by 1,000 Animation Professionals, in which it is honored as #14.


An award-winning 1933 Silly Symphony cartoon, produced by Walt Disney. The production cast the title characters as Fifer Pig, Fiddler Pig, and Practical Pig. The first two are depicted as both frivolous and arrogant. The end of the story has been slightly altered: the wolf is not cooked but instead burns his behind and runs away howling. Fifer Pig, Fiddler Pig, Practical Pig, and the Big Bad Wolf also appeared in House of Mouse in many episodes. They also appeared in Mickey's Magical Christmas: Snowed in at the House of Mouse. The three pigs can be also seen in the Walt Disney Parks and Resorts as greetable characters.

The 1939 color version of The Ugly Duckling by Walt Disney, based on the like-titled Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale. The film was directed by Jack Cutting, and released in theaters on April 7, 1939. Music was composed by Albert Hay Malotte, who was uncredited for the film. An earlier Silly Symphony animated short based on this fairy tale had been produced in black and white in 1931. This 1939 color film won the 1939 Academy Award for Best Short Subject (Cartoons), and also happened to be the last entry in the Silly Symphony series.

In the Andersen tale, a duckling is harassed because of his homeliness. To his delight, he matures into a swan, the most beautiful bird of all, and his troubles are over. In this version, the baby swan's sufferings are shortened, as he is found by his family, after only a few minutes of rejection and ostracism, instead of a whole year. This abbreviated version is read by Lilo to Stitch in the 2002 Disney film Lilo & Stitch. The story has a deep impact on Stitch, who sets out to look for his real family.

Walt Disney’s 1931 black and white version of The Ugly Duckling


Another Walt Disney 1931 black and white symphony, ‘The Clock Store,’ directed by Wilfred Jackson


‘Old King Cole’ is a 1933 Disney cartoon in the Silly Symphonies series, based on several nursery rhymes and fairy tales, including Old King Cole. It was directed by David Hand and released on July 29, 1933. It's a remake of the 1931 Silly Symphony short ‘Mother Goose Melodies,’ but in color, with more details and technically advanced animation. Old King Cole, Little Boy Blue, Old Mother Hubbard, Little Bo Peep, Little Red Riding Hood and the Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe are a few of the familiar characters populating the cast.

One evening in Storyland, the story book ‘Old King Cole’ opens itself and the king's castle folds open. Other story and nursery rhyme books do the same thing and several famous characters leave their homes to go Old King Cole's party. There, all characters have a small sing-and-dance act. When the Ten Little Indians get on the stage, their dance is so catchy that Old King Cole and all the other characters join in as well. After Old Mother Hubbard accidentally pushes King Cole into a fountain, the mice from Hickory Dickory Dock tell everyone that it's midnight and that everyone should go home. All the characters return to their books, and King Cole sings a farewell song to everybody and puts out a bottle of milk for the milkman before he runs back inside and the cartoon closes.

Founder/Publisher/Editor: David McGee
Contributing Editors: Billy Altman, Laura Fissinger, Christopher Hill, Derk Richardson
Logo Design: John Mendelsohn (
Website Design: Kieran McGee (
Staff Photographers: Audrey Harrod (Louisville, KY;, Alicia Zappier (New York)
Mailing Address: David McGee, 201 W. 85 St.—5B, New York, NY 10024