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DISNEY

MOVIE INFO

Director:
Various
Cast:
Various
Writing Credits:
Various

Synopsis:
From the beginning, Walt Disney's Silly Symphonies series was a mecca for innovation and unabashed creativity. This second volume of the revolutionary series boasts some of Disney's rarest cartoons, including over a dozen never before released on DVD or video. Among the many animation treasures celebrated here are the never-before-released Hell's Bells and the original unedited Mother Goose Goes Hollywood, plus the Academy Award-winning Three Orphan Kittens (Best Cartoon, 1935). Enriching the collection even further are several optional commentaries by some of the world's foremost animation and film music experts, who also take part in a lively conversation about the series that let Walt Disney push the envelope of animation art to unimaginable flights of fantasy. Featuring exclusive introductions by film historian Leonard Maltin, this is a timeless collection from generations past for generations to come.

MPAA:
Rated NR

DVD DETAILS
Presentation:
Fullscreen 1.33:1
Audio:
English Monaural
Subtitles:
English
Closed-captioned

Runtime: 197 min.
Price: $32.99
Release Date: 12/19/2006

Bonus:
• Leonard Maltin Introductions
• Nine Audio Commentaries
• “From the Vault” Shorts
Disc Two
• Leonard Maltin Introductions
• Six Audio Commentaries
• “From the Vault” Shorts
• “Silly Symphonies Rediscovered” Featurette
• “Animators at Play” Featurette
• Galleries


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RELATED REVIEWS


More Silly Symphonies: Walt Disney Treasures (1929-1938)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (December 27, 2006)

In 1929, Walt Disney expanded his roster of animated shorts beyond the enormously successful Mickey Mouse. He launched the “Silly Symphonies” series with “The Skeleton Dance” and continued to make cartoons in this vein for years to come. 2001 saw the first package of Silly Symphonies shorts under the “Walt Disney Treasures” banner, and 2006 finally brings us the continuation.

More Silly Symphonies presents 27 shorts that span a period of nine years. We start with 1929’s “Hell’s Bells” and progress through 1938’s “Mother Goose Goes Hollywood”. For each short, I’ll offer the following information: the year in which it was produced and its director. I’ll also provide a quick synopsis of the cartoon plus my number grade for each one done on a scale of 1 to 10.

DVD One (one hour, 54 minutes, eight seconds):

Hell’s Bells (1929, Ub Iwerks): We visit Hades where we hang out with the Devil and his pals as they execute nastiness. This seems like a dark subject for a Disney short, though it gives Hell a moderately cutesy flavor. The characters leer a lot but never look too evil. Still, it’s something unusual and reasonably entertaining despite its primitive nature. 6/10.

Springtime (1929, U. Iwerks): Apparently excited about the end of winter, a bunch of animals and plants frolic and dance. I don’t find a whole lot of entertainment on display here, though some delightfully bizarre moments emerge. I like the strange butt-slapping dance performed by newborn birds, and a tree takes a weird shower in a storm. Otherwise this one’s pretty forgettable. 5/10.

Arctic Antics (1930, U. Iwerks): Polar bears, seals and other cold-water denizens play and dance in their natural environs. Since it’s been five years since I watched the first “Silly Symphonies” set, I forgot how many of these shorts highlighted general frolicking and omitted stories. That’s true for “Antics” as it was for “Bells” and “Springtime”. The species and settings change but the behaviors remain the same. At least this one features penguins so it seems timely. 5/10.

Autumn (1930, U. Iwerks): Forest animals prepare for winter and – need I say it? – frolic. Actually, this one comes closer to an actual story than its predecessors. Since we see squirrels and others store food, there’s a true backdrop to events; they’re dancing while the work, at least. Add that to the fact I like squirrels and this one’s pretty decent. 6/10.

Frolicking Fish (1930, Burt Gillett): Man, with a title like that, there’s no question what we’ll get. Indeed, various forms of underwater specimens swim and play. After a short that almost told a story, we revert to the usual general playfulness here. A few clever gags emerge and a malicious octopus enlivens matters, but the short remains average. 5/10.

Monkey Melodies (1930, B. Gillett): Take some simians, put them in the jungle, and watch them sing and dance! Indeed, much frolicking ensues, though this one attempts a sliver of a story via a romance between two monkeys. It’s not much and it doesn’t keep the short from remaining pretty mediocre. 5/10.

Night (1930, Walt Disney): Evening comes and various nocturnal critters romp. While it features a theme awfully similar to its predecessors, at least “Night” manages greater artistic value. Some of the backgrounds look quite good as we see the development of the Disney artists. That’s not enough to make the short too interesting, though. 5/10.

Summer (1930, U. Iwerks): Warm weather delights various insects and prompts them to sit around and do nothing. Okay, that’s not true – they frolic! As with its predecessors, there’s nothing particularly wrong with “Summer”, but it fails to create a personality of its own. 5/10.

Playful Pan (1930, B. Gillett): The pipe-playing half-man, half-beast enchants the plants, animals and insects. “Pan” differs from most of the others since it includes an actual lead character, and it attempts a minor storyline when fire comes to the forest. That’s enough to give us a respite from the frolicking and make the short a little more interesting than most. 6/10.

Winter (1930, B. Gillett): Thankfully, the four seasons come to an end here. Animals dance around in snowy climes. I don’t know how much more frolicking I can take. “Winter” does suffer from an uncharacteristically sloppy piece of animation when a blizzard abruptly stops. Otherwise it’s more of the same. 5/10.

The Cat’s Out (1931, Wilfred Jackson): Put out of the house for the night, a cat experiences a series of calamities. Some frolicking ensues, but not as much as expected. The first half of the short focuses on the cat’s problems, but after that we get dancing and shenanigans from some other critters. At least it attempts more of a story than usual, and it explains the animals’ behavior in a more logical manner than usual. 6/10.

The Clock Store (1931, W. Jackson): After hours, various timepieces come to life and – do I have to say it? – frolic. Despite some clever gags and unusually detailed artwork at times, the lack of story disappoints me since I’d hoped “Cat’s Out” signaled a move toward more plot-based shorts. 5/10.

The Fox Hunt (1931, W. Jackson): A bunch of rich jerks attempt to kill an innocent animal to prove they don’t have small penises. No, I don’t like hunting. Despite my problems with the theme, nothing objectionable appears here. Indeed, it comes as no surprise that the fox escapes death. “Hunt” does aptly demonstrate the increasing maturity of Disney animation; it’s still relatively crude but worlds above what they did only two years earlier. 6/10.

The Spider and the Fly (1931, W. Jackson): Happy-go-lucky flies buzz around a house until an evil spider attempts to lure and trap them. I think Disney got this one backwards. The disease-carrying flies ruin all the people’s good, while the spider just tries to get rid of them. Well, at least it carries a moderately interesting battle storyline and some clever attack sequences. 6/10.

The Bears and Bees (1932, W. Jackson): A pair of hungry cubs try to take honey from some bees. This one musters an actual story and boasts less frolicking than usual. The bears are pretty cute and they make the short better than average. 7/10.

The Bird Store (1932, W. Jackson): I know why the caged bird sings – because he’s stuck in a Disney cartoon and that’s all any of their characters does! Yes, “Store” reverts to the standard Silly Symphony motif with lots of prancing and little story, though a hungry cat adds tension to the second half. It works fine but doesn’t enchant. 5/10.

Bugs In Love (1932, B. Gillett): Various insects romp around a junkyard and woo each other. “Love” also brings in a villain to pursue our heroes, as a crow threatens the main young lovers. This makes it look an awful lot like the last few shorts. 5/10.

DVD Two (one hour, 23 minutes, 12 seconds):

Birds in the Spring (1933, David Hand): We watch the birth and development of some baby birds. As with many of its immediate predecessors, “Spring” provides a rough plot but still sticks with much of the usual cutesy antics. The short displays the studio’s growing sophistication, though. For one, it’s this package’s first color cartoon, and it provides greater depth of character and plot. It’s not a classic, but it demonstrates growth. 6/10.

The Night Before Christmas (1933, W. Jackson): This piece brings the classic holiday tale of St. Nick’s visit to life. As expected, “Night” accentuates the cute ‘n’ cuddly side of things, but it provides a decent telling of the story along with fun antics from the toys as they decorate a house. 6/10.

Old King Cole (1933, D. Hand): The title character throws a party and invites all his storybook peers. This creates an unusual twist on the old “dancing and frolicking” theme, but that’s basically all it offers. Still, I’ll give it points for the setting. 6/10.

The Pied Piper (1933, W. Jackson): When rats overrun the town of Hamelin, who they gonna call? Some twit with a pipe. He plays beautiful music that lures the rats out of the city… and then takes the local kiddies when their ungrateful parents refuse to pay for his services.

Given that Disney was built on the success of a rodent, it doesn’t come as a surprise that “Piper” works best when it deals with the antics of the rats. They’re not as cute and fun as Mickey, but they’re not exactly disease-infested beasts, either. The short loses steam when it moralizes, and the ending – in which the kids live in a world of candy – is simply bizarre. 4/10.

The Goddess of Spring (1934, W. Jackson): The title character does battle with the devil and his minions. “Goddess” functioned as one of Disney’s first attempts to realistically animate humans; unfortunately, they weren’t terribly successful here, at least not in terms of the Goddess’s movement. The story’s darker than usual, though, and pretty engaging. The operatic tunes kinda bite, however. 6/10.

Cock O’ the Walk (1935, Ben Sharpsteen): The titular prizefighter comes to town and steals a chicken from the rooster who loves her. The latter takes on Cock in the ring to win back his lady. As usual, my synopsis makes it sound like there’s a concise plot here. Instead, the short largely exists as an excuse for frolicking. It’s more elaborate than most, though, as it approaches Busby Berkeley proportions at times. 8/10.

Three Blind Mouseketeers (1936, D. Hand): The cartoon follows the titular heroes and the attempts of a fat cat who desires to slay the rodents. Fairly cute and charming, “Mousketeers” provides a pretty good short. 8/10.

Little Hiawatha (1937, D. Hand): The titular lad goes out on the hunt. I found it to be mildly charming and entertaining but not anything more. However, one scene provides the most adorable bunny ever recorded on film; Hiawatha attempts to play the hunter and shoot this rabbit with his arrow, but there' s no way he can do so in the face of its quivering cuteness. 6/10.

Merbabies (1938, Rudolf Ising and Vernon Stallings): We visit a land of bare-bottomed aquatic children. Shockingly, they frolic. This may be the most obscenely cute cartoon ever made. It displays fine art and animation but sickens due to its primary characters. If you like Anne Geddes, though, you’ll love this. 3/10.

Moth and the Flame (1938, B. Gillett): A pair of moths woo and eat clothes. The female moth risks death when she encounters fire, though, and the pair need to fight off the flames. One won’t find anything remarkable in the story; as with many others, it ends up with a long battle of many against one. Still, the art looks great, and the short displays enough cleverness to succeed. 7/10.


The DVD Grades: Picture C+/ Audio C+/ Bonus B+

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.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.2857 Stars Number of Votes: 7
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Review Archive:  # | A-C | D-F | G-I | J-L | M-O | P-R | S-U | V-Z | Viewer Ratings | Main