Movie Reviews

DVD Review: Walt Disney Treasures: Silly Symphonies – There’s No “Mickey Mouse” Here

I never realized before viewing the Walt Disney Treasures collection DVD, Silly Symphonies that there were so many cartoons with the Disney name on them which didn’t feature the characters I’ve come to know and love over the years. Although Pluto appears in a few of the animated short subjects, the vast majority feature characters strictly individual to that particular tale.

Silly Symphonies are a series of cartoons that Walt Disney developed at the behest of his music director, Carl Stalling, in which there is no central character. Instead, the music is the central point of the film. Seven of the Silly Symphonies have won Academy Awards.

Some of the animated shorts were familiar to me from my younger days in my elementary school gym. Specifically, I could distinctly recall having seen The Old Mill before. Many of the selections here I have probably seen, but because it didn’t have the familiar cast of Disney characters, I never associated them with the Disney Animation Studios before now.

Walt Disney used the Silly Symphonies as a training ground for new animators as well as testing new techniques and technology. The Old Mill shows off the use of a Multiplane camera while Cookie Carnival features characters created while animators were trying to get a handle on animating Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.

The restoration is really good. Some of the animated shorts are in black and white, but the vast majority were originally shot in Technicolor, and are filled with vibrant colors. I noticed a few flaws in the prints. The DVD comes in a collectible tin complete with a numbered imprint and a paper band around it.

My children did enjoy watching these cartoons with me. Although the characters weren’t present in the animated shorts themselves, the Silly Symphonies were often titled with “Mickey Mouse presents…” complete with a Mickey face, prompting my four-year-old son to ask to “watch Mickey” when I had it paused. These cartoons are truly ageless and although some of the images might be frightening on first viewing (such as the storm in The Old Mill), overall they are much less intense than many cartoons my children view now.

The downside is that this 2-disc collection represents only about half of the actual Silly Symphonies created, and so far there hasn’t been word of a “Volume 2” in the works. Still, this set is a terrific gift for any fan of animation, and a must-have for anyone interested in it in the historical sense. I really think this set is the highlight of my Walt Disney Treasures collection.

Titles on discs:

The Tortoise and the Hare – 1934
The Country Cousin – 1936
Babes in the Woods – 1932
Elmer Elephant – 1936
The Flying Mouse – 1935
The Golden Touch – 1935
The Robber Kitten – 1935
Lullaby Land – 1934
Mother Goose Melodies – 1930
The Wise Little Hen – 1934
Three Little Pigs – 1934
The Big Bad Wolf – 1934
Three Little Wolves – 1936
Toby Tortoise Returns – 1936
Wynken, Blynken & Nod- 1938
The Grasshopper and the Ants – 1934
Who Killed Cock Robin – 1935
Water Babies – 1935
Practical Pig – 1939

Mother Pluto – 1936
Peculiar Penguins – 1934
The “Old Mill” – 1937
Funny Little Bunnies – 1934
Ugly Duckling – 1938
The Ugly Duckling – 1931
Father Noah’s Ark – 1933
Birds of a Feather – 1930
The Busy Beavers – 1931
Just Dogs – 1932
Music Land – 1935
The China Plate – 1931
Egyptian Melodies – 1931
Flowers and Trees – 1932
The Cookie Carnival – 1935
The Skeleton Dance – 1929
Woodland Cafe – 1937
Farmyard Symphony – 1938

Bonus Material:

• Songs of Silly Symphonies – Leonard Maltin interview with Richard Sherman who scored Mary Poppins along with his brother Robert.

• Silly Symphonies Souvenirs – Interview with Dave Smith who heads the Walt Disney Studios archive and his merchandising collection

• Gallery – contains a variety of animation sketches from the Silly Symphonies cartoons

• Easter egg – on Disc 1 move the highlighter up to the “s” in “symphonies” on the main menu and you get a clip of Walt Disney talking about Toby Tortoise Returns as well as fables and their origins in general