Walt Disney’s Silly Symphonies: A Companion to the Classic Cartoon Series by Russell Merritt & J.B. Kaufman
Reviewed by Mike Kenny
Celebrating the tenth anniversary of its original publication, Russell Merritt and J.B. Kaufman’s Walt Disney’s Silly Symphonies: A Companion to the Classic Cartoon Series returns in a newly revised and updated edition. Combining their efforts, esteemed Disney historians Merritt and Kaufman honor the innovative and artistically groundbreaking series of short subjects that advanced the techniques and storytelling traits that would prove invaluable in feature length works such as Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Pinocchio and Dumbo. Originally conceived as music based one-reelers, Walt Disney’s followup series to his popular Mickey Mouse shorts would ultimately push the boundaries of his artists and what could be made possible in animation using cutting-edge technology. Debuting in 1929 with the mesmerizingly eerie The Skeleton Dance, the Silly Symphonies became a constant testing ground for new advancements and abstract tales that relied minimally on reoccurring characters and insistently on splendor, dramatics and forward thinking character animation. Embracing Technicolor photography, the spectacle of Disney’s Symphonies would continue to impress audiences and critics for their decade run, with higher society praising their artistic richness with endless nominations and Academy Awards for their deserved efforts.
Improving where their phenomenal first printing left off, Merritt and Kaufman’s voracious research through the Disney Archives have built upon the proper credits and rarely known details into the making of all of the short features. Detailing the Symphonies distribution history from Columbia and United Artists to eventually RKO Radio Pictures, the animation loving duo expertly cover the constant changes, stylistic formulas and emerging talent that brought their wide range of skills to a series so tonally and aesthetically different than the Mickey Mouse shorts. Including brand new stills, pencil sketches and clean up animation examples, the stunning visuals only reinforce the scholarly research put forth by both Merritt and Kaufman. Presenting a full filmography of the shorts assembled in production order, all information of interest including, credits, negative costs, opening dates and photos accompany each in exquisite detail. Far more accessible than ever, Disney’s Silly Symphonies are some of animation history’s treasured gems that unfortunately find themselves unknown by younger audiences or too commonly undervalued as mere predecessors to Disney’s feature length classics. Much more than the building blocks to Disney’s golden age films, this newly revised offering of Merritt and Kaufman’s Walt Disney’s Silly Symphonies: A Companion to the Classic Cartoon Series serves as a prized addition to any Disney historians library and the perfect gateway to uninitiated audiences unaware of the visual magic sandwiched between Mickey Mouse’s comic exploits and Snow White’s groundbreaking debut.