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Silly SymphoniesDVD Review of Walt Disney Treasures: Silly Symphonies
Review by Shannon Muir

Overall Rating: 8 out of 10

Individual Ratings:
Feature: 8 out of 10
Sound: 10 out of 10
Picture: 8 out of 10
Bonus Materials: 7 out of 10
Navigation: 7 out of 10

Content Summary
- 2 Disc set
- 36 cartoons listed (2 hidden)
- Most cartoons in color, a couple in black-and-white
- Bonus Features: "The Song of the Silly Symphonies" interview with Leonard Maltin and composer Richard Sherman; "Silly Symphonies Souvenirs" interview with Leonard Maltin and Walt Disney Archives founder Dave Smith; Gallery of artwork
- Region 1 encoding

More Info from

This 2 CD set features a sampling of Walt Disney's SILLY SYMPHONIES produced between 1928-1939. The box claims there are 31 shorts, if you look on the inside booklet 36 titles are mentioned (if the two versions of "The Ugly Duckling" are treated separately), but I personally have only found 35 (again, treating the two versions separately). What adds to the confusion is that host Leonard Maltin gets his own menu of "Leonard's Picks" which duplicate from other menus, with the exceptions of "The Grasshopper and the Ants," and "Wynken, Blynken, and Nod"; the only difference for the other ones comes because Leonard does his own introductions and commentary for those pieces. There are also hidden "easter eggs" that have Walt introducing some of the SILLY SYMPHONIES pieces, some of which do not appear elsewhere on the collection despite being listed in the accompanying booklet.

Film critic Leonard Maltin hosts the collection. Disc 1's introduction provides an overview of the shorts and a brief history of Walt Disney coming to collaborate with Carl Stalling. Disc 2 offers the exact same introduction, just that it doesn't play automatically (it must be selected from the menu).

The SILLY SYMPHONIES shorts are organized by subject matter. Fables and Fairy Tales includes "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," and "Water Babies." Favorite Characters brings us "Who Killed Cock Robin?," "The Wise Little Hen," "Three Little Pigs," "The Big Bad Wolf," "Three Little Wolves," and "Toby Tortoise Returns" (also supposedly, "Practical Pig," according to the booklet though I have yet to locate this short). Under Nature on Screen can be found "Mother Pluto," "Peculiar Penguins," "The Old Mill," "Funny Little Bunnies," "The Ugly Duckling" (versions from 1931 and 1939), "Father Noah's Ark," "Birds of a Feather," along with "Busy Beavers." Lastly, Accent on Music shows off "Music Land," "The China Plate," "Egyptian Melodies," "Flowers and Trees," "The Cookie Carnival," "The Skeleton Dance," "Barnyard Symphony," and "Woodland Cafe."

The video quality varies. While all the shorts can be watched, and generally the color and video is fairly presreved, some like "The Wise Little Hen," "Three Little Wolves" and "Toby Tortoise Returns" show their age with shaky video and intermittent color fading at spots. The audio quality stays consistently good in my experience. Since music resides at the heart of the SILLY SYMPHONIES shorts, the quality audio is an important factor about this collection.

Bonus materials offered on this collection are few, if you don't count the "easter eggs." There are three items, all located on Disc 2. "The Song of The Silly Symphonies" features Leonard Maltin interviewing Richard Sherman (who, along with brother Robert, wrote the music for MARY POPPINS) about Walt's approach to music and specifically about its use in SILLY SYMPHONIES. In "Silly Symphonies Souvenirs," Leonard Maltin goes to the Walt Disney Archives and shows off an array of Silly Symphonies merchandise with the help of Archives founder Dave Smith. While both these interviews are very informative, if you find yourself tuning out of long interviews, these may not be for you. I personally found a lot of the merchandise to be intriguing and entertaining; anyone who says that the tie between animation and merchandising is a truly modern invention would be enlightened by seeing this. The "Gallery" on this disc offers production artwork, behind the scenes photos, and publicity art from a wide variety of the shorts.

Leonard Maltin's commentaries on his picks do help provide historical context on some shorts, such as the Wolf disguising as a Jewish peddler in "Three Little Pigs" and how that was common in the day (even if it didn't make it, in his words, "any less distasteful"). Most commentaries, however, focus on how various SILLY SYMPHONIES pieces seem to be "dress rehearsal precursors" for the animators to experiment with special effects and designs that would later carry through to feature films; for example, Maltin compares the Buttefly Fairy of "The Flying Mouse" with the Blue Fairy of PINNOCHIO. One thing I did learn from the "Music Land" commentary was that new SILLY SYMPHONIES shorts needed to be created month after month; this definitely would have created a challenge to find new material, especially given the number of years they were produced.

Navigation turns out to be the major headache of this collection. The categories are crammed together visually on the page, making it difficult to tell category names from titles, and the small links back to the main menu or other title screens get buried in the mess. The titles highlight in pink, "easter egg" items turn pink or highlight with a transparent star, and menu functions also use the star. The booklet lists "Practical Pig" under Favorite Characters Silly Symphonies but I have yet to locate this short. Three of the shorts are only accessible by the hidden links -- "Barnyard Symphony," "Who Killed Cock Robin?" and "Water Babies" -- all listed in the accompanying booklet but otherwise not findable without a little trial and error. As far as navigating the Gallery section, the main selection menu only shows a portion of each picture in a rectangular cutout at its full size, not as a thumbnail; unless you know exactly which picture you want to see, you must flip through the entire gallery at full-size until the picture is located. It feels like the hidden links approach was done to try and add pizzazz to a collection short on bonus features. If that's the case, the hidden links aren't worth it, in my opinion -- though the content behind them certainly is.

The only options offered as far as language goes are English-language captions for the hearing impaired. No alternative language subtitles or dubs are provided.

The collection, for what it is, I found to be enjoyable, but for a limited pressing seems to me as if it should be a more complete collection. From what I understand, this only represents about half of the SILLY SYMPHONIES shorts made. Still, this collection does bring together a large number of the shorts in one place for convenient storage. For anyone who thought fantastic marriage of animation and music began with Fantasia or even with the modern Disney movies (or even if you already know that's not the case!), sitting back and watching how Walt Disney and Carl Stalling brought things together years earlier opens the minds to the possibilities of animation and reminds us of the art form's heritage.

- Easy comparison of "The Ugly Duckling" circa 1931 and circa 1939 to see the growth of the studio, since both are featured on Disc 2
- Many award-winning and popular favorites in one collection
- Interviews with Richard Sherman and showcase of SILLY SYMPHONY memorbilia

- Crowded menus hamper navigation
- Hidden features difficult to locate
- Non-comprehensive collection

Note: These discs are part of a four-title collection called WALT DISNEY TREASURES, each title with a limited run of 150,000 copies. The other animated title is MICKEY MOUSE IN LIVING COLOR; the two live-action titles in the set are DISNEYLAND USA and THE ADVENTURES OF DAVY CROCKETT. Each set in this collection comes in a tin, with a dual-sided clamshell case contained inside. The limited edition pressing number is stamped only on the tin, with no matching type of "Certificate of Authenticity" inside the clamshell case on or the discs themselves.

You can order Silly Symphonies (note: limited edition) by clicking here.

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