More Silly Symphones appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.33:1 on these single-sided, double-layered DVDs; due to those dimensions, the image has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. The discs presented most of these windowboxed to retain the original dimensions. To examine this set, it makes the most sense to split it in two, as DVDs One and Two offered distinctly different experiences.
All of the material on Disc One provided black and white visuals. Of course, these were also the oldest shorts in the set and thus the most prone to problems. Inevitably, source flaws cropped up much of the time. On various occasions, I saw flickering, blotchiness, specks, lines, marks, grain, tears, and dirt. Sharpness usually seemed good, though some softness interfered. Those instances weren’t significant, at least, as the shorts mainly appeared reasonably defined.
Blacks also generally came across as solid, though this varied. Some shorts looked too bright, while others were too dark. I found it hard to accurately judge the black and white cartoons given their age. They’re so old that we can only expect so much from them. These shorts were up and down, but I thought they seemed satisfactory for material made more than 70 years ago.
Matters improved when we moved to the color shorts on DVD Two, though the samples remained inconsistent. Source flaws definitely decreased. I still saw some specks and marks along the way, but these declined noticeably. Most of the cartoons looked fairly clean.
Sharpness was also a little stronger. Some of the shorts appeared a bit ill-defined, and I noticed edge enhancement on occasion. Nonetheless, I thought the clips were acceptably concise. Jagged edges and shimmering were minor.
Colors varied. Much of the time, the tones were fairly solid. I thought they rarely became truly dynamic, though, and sometimes they came across as a bit pale. “Goddess of Spring” was the worst offender since it seemed surprisingly brown and drab. That short boasts significant historical value, so it deserves superior clean-up work.
Blacks worked fine, and shadows were perfectly acceptable. Neither seemed especially strong, but I didn’t detect any problems in either realm. Overall, the shorts – both black and white and color – lacked consistency and could be downright ugly. Nonetheless, many of these concerns seemed tough to avoid given their age, and I found the set to satisfy most of the time.
As for the monaural audio of More Silly Symphonies, it demonstrated similar vintage-related issues. Again, the black and white shorts were the most significantly flawed. Source issues created concerns. I noticed varying levels of background noise, crackling, hiss, hum and static. Some shorts were worse than others. “Autumn” and “Playful Pan” stood out as especially problematic. Most of the cartoons remained perfectly listenable for material from the late Twenties and early Thirties, but the noisiness became distracting at times.
Speech was a very minor concern in these shorts. Hardly any dialogue ever emerged, so that wasn’t a problem. Effects also played a small role, though what I heard tended to be shrill and rough. Music was the most important element, and those areas varied. The score and songs usually seemed tinny and insubstantial. All of this added up to audio without noticeable strengths, but I couldn’t complain too much since the stems were recorded in such olden days.
As with all the “Walt Disney Treasures” releases, More Silly Symphonies features a smattering of supplements. On DVD One, we start with an introduction from Leonard Maltin. In this informative one-minute and 58-second piece, the film historian gives us a quick overview of the cartoons in this set and their historical significance.
The main extras on DVD One come from nine audio commentaries. These accompany eight different shorts. “Springtime” features Daniel Goldmark, while “Night” offers Ross Care and “Monkey Melodies” spotlights David Gerstein. Goldmark sits with Maltin for “Winter” and “The Spider and the Fly”, while Care reappears for “The Clock Store” and “Bugs in Love”. Gerstein also does a track for “Bugs in Love”, and JB Kaufman shows up for “The Fox Hunt”. In a nice touch, a “Play All” feature allows us to view all nine commentaries without returning to the menu. When viewed that way, they fill a total of 54 minutes, 54 seconds.
If I recall correctly, prior “Walt Disney Treasures” releases never included any commentaries. That makes their addition here a nice touch. Across the tracks, we hear about the evolution of the Silly Symphonies series, animators and their different styles, technical innovations and connections to later works, musical selections and their use in the shorts, historical perspective, and other related issues.
Though the quality varies, each commentary offers generally good notes. Yeah, some are better than others, but I think you’ll take something away from each one. They provide nice details and give us a fine overview of Disney in the era.
DVD One includes four additional shorts that it places in a section called From the Vault. It appears Disney put these four cartoons in a separate area due to controversial elements. Leonard Maltin introduces this domain with a one-minute, 47-second clip that puts them in historical perspective.
One annoyance: the DVD makes it awkward to skip this introduction. You can’t chapter search past it, though unlike prior Maltin “Vault” intros, at least you can fast forward through it.
El Terrible Toreador (1929, W. Disney): Based loosely on Bizet’s Carmen, a battle ensues to protect a waitress from a lout, and we then watch a bullfight. As crude as they are, there’s something amusingly surreal about some of these really early shorts. 7/10. “Toreador” ends up in the “Vault” due to Mexican stereotypes, I guess, though I see nothing crass or objectionable in those elements.
The Merry Dwarfs (1929, W. Disney): A bunch of wee folk dance and frolic as they do their work. This is standard stuff for early Disney and a disappointment after the more ambitious “Toreador”. 5/10. I’m not sure what takes this one to the “Vault”, though I suspect it’s the depiction of how booze impacts the little people.
Cannibal Capers (1930, B. Gillett): Man-eating natives frolic and that’s about it. While not much of a short, I gotta give this one credit for simply being such an insane concept for a cartoon. 6/10. Obviously the depiction of the Africans plops this one in the “Vault”.
Note that two versions of “Capers” appear here. One boasts the short’s “original ending”. Maltin opens it with a 17-second intro. The alternate ending shows the natives laughing as they chase off a lion. Sure, it’s offensive, but I don’t think it’s worse than the preceding six minutes, so I’m not sure why it ever got cut.
Midnight in a Toy Shop (1930, W. Jackson): A spider enters a toy store after hours and becomes terrorized by the various objects. Though the concept of an arachnid in this situation makes less sense than usual, it leads to some fun gags. 6/10. A stereotypical black girl doll creates this one’s “Vault” status.
Additional commentaries pop up for three of those cartoons, though. JB Kaufman chats along with “El Terrible Toreador”, while David Gerstein and Leonard Maltin accompany “Cannibal Capers” (with original ending). Lastly, Jerry Beck discusses “Midnight in a Toy Shop”. Via “Play All”, these run a total of 20 minutes, seven seconds.
They continue to offer useful material, though it surprises me that only “Capers” discusses the controversial elements. At no point in the commentaries for “Toreador” or “Shop” do we hear hints of why they’re in the “Vault”. Despite those odd omissions, the information is more than enough to keep us interested.
As we move to DVD Two, we start with another introduction from Maltin. This one lasts two minutes, 48 seconds, as he discusses the package’s scope and extras.
More commentaries come here. We find composer Richard Sherman for “Old King Cole” and Care for both “The Pied Piper” and “Moth and the Flame”. Kaufman chats during both “Merbabies” and “Cock O’ the Walk”, while we hear from Goldmark for “The Goddess of Spring”. Expect remarks similar to those for DVD One’s shorts. We learn more about the music, the animators and composers, and historical elements. The commentaries continue to entertain and inform.
Still more shorts pop up in DVD Two’s From the Vault domain. This comes with the same one-minute, 47-second intro from Maltin.
King Neptune (1932, B. Gillett): Rowdy pirates invade the King’s realm and abduct mermaids. We’ve seen plenty of this sort of story, though “Neptune” seems a little more epic and ambitious than most. It’s also a little rougher and more graphic, so it becomes unusually interesting. 8/10. I believe the main reason this one’s in the “Vault” stems from the topless mermaids – complete with nipples, a fact that startles me. There’s also an obviously gay pirate who sings “blow the man down”; those lines might have seemed innocent 74 years ago, but they take on different meaning now.
Santa’s Workshop (1932, W. Jackson): St. Nick and his elves get ready for their big night. This one offers the usual antics and does nothing to stand out from the crowd. It’s reasonably charming but nothing special. 5/10. Only one element earns this one’s “Vault” status: a stereotypical black girl doll that sings “Mammy!”
The China Shop (1934, W. Jackson): Remember “The Clock Store” from DVD One? Put in in color, change the setting to a china shop, and you have the same short. 5/10. What put this one in the “Vault”? Honestly, I’m not sure. Maybe I missed something, but I noticed nothing objectionable.
Broken Toys (1935, B. Sharpsteen): Discarded toys try to revive themselves and obtain new owners. An overdose of cuteness mars this one, but the Hollywood parodies add spark, and it’s also interesting to see as a precursor to the Island of Misfit Toys. 6/10. Some black and Asian stereotypes relegate this one to the “Vault”.
Three Orphan Kittens (1935, D. Hand): A trio of abandoned cats attempt to get a new home; frolicking ensues. At least the frolicking isn’t just the usual musical shenanigans, as their actions attempt to serve the plot. Much adorable behavior occurs, though it’s tolerable. 6/10. A couple of black stereotypes cause this one’s “Vault” status.
More Kittens (1936, D. Hand and W. Jackson): The felines from the last short return for more mischief. The same strengths and weaknesses come along the way. 6/10. The same black stereotypes also pop up here and lead to its place in the “Vault”.
Mother Goose Goes Hollywood (1938, W. Jackson): Various Tinseltown personalities appear in fairy tales. This one proves less satisfying is you don’t recognize the actors, but it’s a lot of fun if you do. 8/10. As usual, black stereotypes cause problems here.
As you might guess, some of the “From the Vault” cartoons also provide commentaries. Kaufman and Maltin chat along with “Santa’s Workshop”, while Maltin sits alone for “Mother Goose Goes Hollywood”. Beck accompanies both “King Neptune” and “Broken Toys”, and we hear from composer Sherman for “Three Orphan Kittens”. As usual, the commentaries offer good info. Most of them address the politically incorrect elements as well, though this isn’t consistent. In any case, the commentaries add productive notes to the set.
Two featurettes follow. Silly Symphonies Rediscovered runs 14 minutes, 30 seconds and mixes movie clips, archival elements and interviews. We hear from Goldmark, Kaufman, Beck, Care, Sherman, Gerstein, and Walt Disney’s Silly Symphonies co-author Russell Merritt. The show looks at the origins of the Symphonies and their use of music as well as technical innovations, songs selected and created for the shorts, story development, connections to the feature films, and other issues related to the Symphonies.
At times, “Rediscovered” pours on the plaudits too heavily. It beats us upside the head with praise for the series and those behind it. However, they deserve most of these accolades, and we get enough good content to allow the program to prosper much of the time.
During the six-minute and 10-second Animators at Play, we find archival footage. Maltin introduces this clip of a 1930s softball game with Walt Disney and staff. Maltin narrates with info about the setting and participants. This becomes a cool historical glimpse behind the scenes.
Galleries break into three subcategories. We find “The Art of Silly Symphonies” (85 frames), “Silly Symphonies in Print” (30) and “Sunday Funnies and Comic Books” (66). The first one presents various sketches and concept art, while the others show published Disney efforts. All are fun to see.
Finally, the DVD’s booklet includes a short text overview from Maltin as well as some archival images. An insert card also displays a reproduction of the poster for “Summer”.
It took five years for Disney to produce this set, but fans should happily greet More Silly Symphonies. Personally, I think the shorts are more interesting for historical value than as entertainment, but I’m still glad to see them. The DVDs feature acceptable picture and audio along with a solid roster of extras. While I’m not wild about many of the cartoons, this set remains a must have for animation fans.