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Walt Disney Treasures - Silly Symphonies

Disney/Buena Vista . R4 . COLOR . 358 mins . G . PAL


In 1929, still riding the success of Mickey Mouse’s arrival on cinema screens in 1928, Walt Disney decided to produce a string of new films he called the Silly Symphonies. These were to meld animation with music to create a wholly new experience for theatre audiences. At first there was no central plot, just characters interacting with the musical accompaniment. Cinema managers, wondering how successful something like this would be, affected the outcome of the series to the point where Disney titled the films: Mickey Mouse presents: The Silly Symphonies, though Mickey never turned up in one of them.

At first the Symphonies were explorations of music. But, after a year or two, they started swinging toward fairytales as Disney experimented with techniques so as to prepare for the very first feature length film in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. In 1931 however, with Disney barely breaking even in their costs per short, the second renaissance of animation occurred; Technicolor. A two-strip system of colour had been in effect since 1929, and Disney was offered the chance to try out a new three-strip system of colour. Seeing an opportunity, Disney gathered an exclusive contract with Technicolor that gave Disney animation the sole right to use it for three years. (Of course, film was allowed to, it was just animation in which Disney gained the monopoly).

Flowers and Trees was the first cartoon to use the Technicolor process and while the film itself is a little lacking storywise, it will forever stand as an historical first. Mickey’s outings were still being made in black and white as he was monstrously popular worldwide and didn’t need the extra incentive, but the popularity of the Silly Symphonies suddenly exploded with the addition of colour. Instantly more ambitious productions were attempted and these are what make up the bulk of this two-disc set. By 1933, Disney had created The Three Little Pigs, which was to be the most popular of the Silly Symphonies to date (and since). Riding the back of the Great Depression, audiences could relate to the optimism of the characters, although the wolf was at the door, so to speak.

From that point on the majority of the Sillys were either based or loosely based on fables and fairytales with a neatly packaged moral or life-lesson summed up in each. While these may seem a little trite today, at the time they were fresh and new and previously unseen on the screen. Disney experimented with colour and music still, even being the first to create visual gags with colour (like a grasshopper turning blue with cold). There’s a fairly good selection of the Sillys here and while they are the slightest bit archaic today, they deserve a look if only to show us how far animation has come from these humble beginnings. Storylines and character designs these days are sleeker, the animation smoother and colours richer, but here in the very dawn of colour animation were laid the foundations that modern animation is built upon. They are worth revisiting and worth the time of the full restorations they have gone through as, even today, there are animation techniques within that were perfected at the time and haven’t been improved upon since. Disney’s famous Multi-plane Camera, for example, gets its first test run here in The Old Mill, which won an Academy Award for animation. This test was the lead up to the use of the camera in Snow White and the full feature films since (or at least up until digital animation took over).

There’s a huge selection of the earliest stuff here and this includes:

  • Disc One Fables and Fairytales
  • Mother Goose Melodies
  • Babes in the Woods
  • Lullaby Land
  • The Tortoise and the Hare
  • The Flying Mouse
  • The Robber Kitten
  • The Golden Touch
  • The Country Cousin
  • Elmer Elephant

  • Favourite Characters
  • Three Little Pigs
  • The Big Bad Wolf
  • Three Little Wolves
  • The Wise Little Hen
  • Toby Tortoise Returns

  • Leonard’s Picks
  • The Grasshopper and the Ants
  • The Tortoise and the Hare
  • The Flying Mouse
  • Wynken, Blynken and Nod
  • Three Little Pigs

  • Disc Two Accent on Music
  • The Skeleton Dance
  • The China Plate
  • Egyptian Melodies
  • Flowers and Trees
  • The Cookie Carnival
  • Music Land
  • Woodland Café

  • Nature on the Screen
  • Birds of a Feather
  • The Busy Beavers
  • Just Dogs
  • Father Noah’s Ark
  • Funny Little Bunnies
  • Peculiar Penguins
  • Mother Pluto
  • The Old Mill
  • The Ugly Duckling (1931 + 1939)

  • Leonard’s Picks
  • Skeleton Dance
  • Flowers and Trees
  • Music Land
  • The Ugly Duckling (1931 + 1939)

Under the headers of Leonard’s Picks are the cartoons plus a brief introduction to why Leonard thinks they’re so great and a bit of historical context. There are other frequent inclusions hidden about the disc set as Easter Eggs and you can read about them in our Easter basket here at DVDnet.


Well, this isn’t just a collection of the Sillys since colour began, rather a collection from the very outset. So there are fluctuations between colour and black and white as well as screen ratio. What we see though has been digitally restored to the best possible state it can be in. One thing I noticed in the Mickey Mouse Treasures that appears here with more frequency is the mild double vision afforded to some parts of some cartoons. This doesn’t seem to be a ‘special effect’ as it happens randomly and with no story contribution to why it happens. There’s also some re-use footage here in Mother Goose Melodies that appears on the Mickey volume as The Parade of Award Nominees. The drawings aren’t quite as tight here as the Mickey series, but they certainly emulate the style of the time.

Cel artefacts are a bit more apparent here than in that other volume as well (these are the fibres and crap that adhere to cels before shooting and are shot into the filmstock during shooting). Otherwise these oldies look as good as they can (and probably better than they ever have). There is no widescreen here and even the 4:3 ratio is capped in some earlier pieces like The Skeleton Dance.


As with that other volume, Dolby Digital stereo brings us the original tracks here, although there are more than one or two occasions where the audio hums and pops fairly clearly. Not to disparage Buena Vista in this transfer though; no doubt the existing originals sound like crap by now and have been cleaned and treated as well as they could be. The sound is still clear and such, it just isn’t as clear as a regular new release is these days. Most of the pieces use music more than words (and those words are told in verse, more often than not) and this comes across in a mildly tinny manner reminiscent of the whining type of musical reproduction common of the time. Some of the songs and backing vocals are so hideously dated as to cause wincing, but turn the volume down a little and it should be okay (unless you’re into that sort of thing).


There’s plenty of stuff here tucked away as Easter Eggs, but you’ll have to scoot across to our Egg Wing to check them out.

Leonard Maltin, film historian and general brown-noser, does an introduction here that opens on Disc One and this is repeated on Disc Two. It’s only :51 long thankfully, although Lenny does know his shit, it has to be said.

Disc Two holds The Song of the Silly Symphonies, an 11:44 interview and discussion with Richard Sherman (the scorer for Mary Poppins, which Leonard believes to be the best score ever. Okay Lenny). This is a bit sugary and ends with Leonard and Richard singing Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?. My God!)

There’s also a recent featurette with Dave Smith, the curator and founder of The Walt Disney Archive where all the old promo stuff gets stored for posterity. This is truly fascinating as they investigate the bizarre toys and such of the era and goes for 17:27.

Finally there’s a gallery that holds 119 thumbnails of rough artwork and posters we can click on to see full size.

And extra finally, there's an eight-page booklet detailing the cartoons with various other titbits and a postcard sized lithograph of the original movie poster for Flowers and Trees. It's nice and shiny.

There’s much more here than on the Mickey disc and this goes a ways toward filling out the value on these restored classics (as if they needed it).


While lacking the spontaneity and familiarity of Mickey Mouse, the Silly Symphonies still contain the roots of modern animation. Numerous firsts and Oscar winners are here for posterity and, for that purpose alone, this set is a good investment for any cartoon or animation lover. The transfers have been accomplished with loving attention to detail and the eclectic nature of the collection is bound to contain something for everyone.

While the young today (and indeed all animation audiences) are wholly spoiled by technique and computer wizardry, this compilation makes an interesting contrast to the hi-tech of today and is a worthy addition to any animation or classics collection.

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      And I quote...
    "A magnificent restoration of the very foundations of modern animation. "
    - Jules Faber
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