Sunday, August 29, 2010

Summer - January 16, 1930

6th in the Silly Symphonies series is Summer. This film is akin to the previous Springtime and features various insects engaging in their summer activities.

The toon opens with a merry caterpillar in what appears to be perhaps a garden. He is soon joined by three more caterpillars who emerge from a fallen apple.

The quartet of caterpillars begin to dance and play to the music. This dancing is of course very common in Iwerks/Disney cartoons. Nothing new here, but still enjoyable. Once the dancing is over, the caterpillars disappear inside their cocoons.

Out of the cocoons come two butterflies who travel from flower to flower in search of sweet nectar.

The butterflies soon come upon a stick bug who manages to scare them away. The stick bug does a few interesting stiff dance moves before it falls off its branch and into the water.

From there, the action then focuses to four water bugs. These bugs seem like figure skaters as they glide swiftly across the surface of the water.

One thing I do enjoy about this toon is the easy flow it has. The action flows perfectly from one insect to another.

Soon a giant dragonfly flies across the lake with an adventurous and musical ladybug in tow.

The action then shifts to a pair of dung beetles gathering together a dung ball. All goes well until a giant hill causes the ball to tumble.

The dung ball tumbles down the hill and bursts against a dirt wall to reveal a group of beetles.

The beetles dance and spin around the clearing like mythical nymphs.

Out of nowhere a flower springs up from the ground and opens to reveal a quartet of flies.

After the flies dance for a bit, the flower wilts. The flies leave to find another fun activity.

Soon the flies find a sleeping spider and decide to have some fun. They each take a corner of the web and move off to a nearby clearing.

The flies decide to bounce the spider up and down and wake him up. Surprised, the spide awakes suddenly.

The laugh of course is on the flies as the tables are turned. The spider attaches its web to a tree branch and devours each and every fly for disturbing his slumber.

In the end, the spider celebrates his impromptu lunch. As he jumps for joy, the tree leaves fall all around him and the toon ends.

Summer is an entertaining toon, but really is not very remarkable. Just a year prior, the stellar toons The Haunted House and Mickey's Choo-Choo premiered. It's a shame Summer fails to live up to its predecessors' quality.

Friday, August 27, 2010

The Merry Dwarfs - December 16, 1929

The Merry Dwarfs is the 5th toon in the Silly Symphonies series. This film is definitely an interesting can be found in the From the Vault section of its DVD.

Tucked away in a magical forest is the home of the 3-inch tall merry dwarfs. These creatures who make homes out of pumpkins and mushrooms are really the first fairytale-like characters to be featured in the Silly Symphonies.

The dwarfs offer many opportunities for great gags. This dwarf is at first angry about breaking his broom (actually a leaf) until he discovers his long beard works just as well.

The resident shoemaker dwarf is busy creating 6 pairs of shoes for his sleeping customer...all while dancing merrily of course.

The blacksmiths create shoes for the village's rough and tough grasshopper. I enjoy these fanciful shorts because Disney has such a great way of dreaming up inventive ways to mirror regular society life.

The Merry Dwarfs is placed in the From the Vault section because it heavily features alcohol. The reason why the dwarfs are so merry is because they regularly down mugs of beer.

Through jolly dancing, the dwarfs are able to drink barrels of their own magical beer. All this beer of course causes some rather strange things to occur...

Funny dances and using daisies as May Poles are just some side effects of dwarf beer. This dancing should also indicate to you the animation style of Ub Iwerks.

These dwarfs showcase very interesting and creative forms of dancing...but then again that's to be expected after a few beers...

A rather giddy dwarf manages to use a leaf as a frilly and playful dress. This little scene actually is a great piece of solid animation.

One of the funniest moments in the toon comes when 2 dwarfs fall accidentally into a barrel of beer. As they emerge...

...they can't seem to stand straight. This is some great animation that has no boundaries as the dwarfs stumble here and there all over the screen.

The best part comes at the end of the short. The background starts to jumble and twist as the dwarfs become progressively drunker. It's a great effect!

The Merry Dwarfs is not an outstanding toon, but it is a very entertaining film to watch. The inclusion of an alcohol-related subject alone is a good reason to view this short. Great animation that is silly and entertaining makes this film a solid early Silly Symphony.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Hell's Bells - October 30, 1929

Hell's Bells is the fourth film in the Silly Symphonies series. It's an interesting, though rather macabre toon that shows great animation style.

Hell's Bells opens rather dramatically as fire engulfs the screen to reveal a chamber of Hell. From around the fire pit emerges a hooded Grim Reaper character, setting the scene for evil mischief.

The set design for this toon is very well done. The cave surrounding the outer edges of the screen adds an amount of depth that allows the film to look more thematically appealing. It's a great touch.

Along with many of the early Silly Symphonies, the animation for this film was supplied mainly by Ub Iwerks. A true trademark of Iwerks' animation technique is the tendency for his characters to pop out at the audience. Here a spider swings towards the camera, eats the audience, and swings back into the center of the screen.

We are also introduced the Devil's pet, a three-headed canine. This creature is based on the mythological creature Cerberus who lives in the underworld of Hades. This character will of course be revisited by Disney years later in 1997's Hercules.

A great gag is presented here as a bat is eaten by some sort of demonic snake. The snake at once sprouts wings and flies away.

Finally the audience meets the head honcho himself, the Devil. It seems the Devil enjoys having entertainment in his chambers, as evidenced by his demonic band.

There's some great animation here as the band gleefully plays their bone instruments with sinister smiles plastered on their faces.

During the music, the demons begin to dance around the chamber. There's a great segment here involving a demon and his large shadow cast upon the wall. The precise way in which the shadow follows all the movements of the demon's dance is a great piece of animation in these early years of the Disney studio.

Much like the cartoons before it, Hell's Bells also showcases interesting dances involving a trio of characters. This seems to be a trend in these early Silly Symphonies.

Soon the Devil grows tired of entertainment and hungry for dinner. He rings the dinner bell as his demon servants milk a nearby dragon for yummy fire.

Pleased with the speediness of his servants, the Devil quickly downs his entire pot of delicious and hot flame soup.

One thing about working for the Devil is that you never know what he'll do next. One unlucky demon is plucked up and thrown to Cerberus for lunch.

The Devil orders the remaining demon to receive his fate; however, this demon was clearly not born yesterday. He promptly runs in the opposite direction, and a chase ensues.

Hiding under a cliff, the demon manages to confuse the Devil until he is able to kick him over the edge and into the pits of Hell.

The Devil tumbles down into the pit, but is able to find a cliff to hold on to for dear afterlife. However, the fires of Hell are hungry, and soon they take the Devil down into the depths of the Underworld.

Hell's Bells is a little gem of a toon . It's interesting to note that this Silly Symphony is really the first one to have the beginnings of some sort of story. Although that story didn't begin until the toon was more than half over, as time goes on the Silly Symphonies are able to find a true balance between showcasing music and presenting an entertaining story.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Springtime - October 24, 1929

The 3rd Silly Symphony cartoon is actually the first in a series of four toons focusing on the four seasons. Springtime is a playful musical film which acts as a true showcase of the amazing synchronization skills of the Disney studio.

The film opens on a forest scene with flowers and trees dancing playfully. It's hard not to compare the opening to that of Flowers and Trees, which also features nature dancing about. According to Daniel Goldmark, author of the book Tunes for 'Toons , the music used for the opening sequence is "Morning Mood", the popular tune from the Peer Gynt Suite No. 1.

As the flowers dance, one flower steps towards the camera to reveal bugs dancing on its petals.

Next we see a caterpillar dancing along the ground. His animation is very well done, and the gag of his body splitting is a good one. But of course this is nature, and soon the tasty caterpillar is gobbled up by a hungry bird.

The action then focuses on the bird and his family, including his wife and four children. As the bird dances about, his body stretches and squashes in very cartoonish ways. This is interesting because the Mickey Mouse cartoons started in this fashion, but had begun to move away from this technique. It did exist here and there in some cartoons, but for the most part Mickey was presented without the "rubber hose" effect.

What is interesting is that even though there are numerous animals in Springtime, only the mother and father birds wear any sort of clothing.

Being spring, rain is always just around the corner. A great gag is shown here as a lightning bolt screws a hole in a storm cloud and creates a deluge of water.

One older tree definitely enjoys his shower time, though being hit by lightning is not always the best feeling...

Once the rain has died down, the forest creatures start to come out from their hiding places. These grasshoppers enjoy dancing in the grass, so much so that they dance right into the open mouth of a hungry frog.

Longtime Disney animator Ub Iwerks worked on many Mickey Mouse and Silly Symphonies cartoons. His animation style is evident in this frog which bears a remarkable resemblance to Flip the Frog, a later character of Ub Iwerks.

The Silly Symphonies were used regularly as an experiment testing ground for new ways to use animation. A great example of this is the awesome water reflections created for the pond frog.

A great technique that is in much of Iwerks' animation is a character zooming into the camera in order to create depth. It's almost like an extremely primitive version of 3D.

This spider with one tooth appears here in this film for the first time. The character is used in future Silly Symphonies such as 1930's Midnite in a Toy Shop.

Soon the music wakes a crane up from its nap, and by the look of things it is on the prowl for lunch.

Meanwhile, the pond frogs begin to dance about on their log. The animation is strange to watch, as the frogs wear blank faces. This animation definitely is a reminder of The Skeleton Dance.

Soon however the fun is spoiled by the hungry crane. A great gag is shown here as the frogs smallest to biggest jump into each other's mouths.

The chase is on as the crane runs after the last remaining frog. The crane throws the tasty frog up into the air...

...and each frog previously ingested comes out in the sky. Gravity soon kicks in, and all four frogs become a great lunch for the crane.

The toon ends as the crane runs off on an empty stomach. It falls into a puddle of water, and with a crash the camera goes dark.

The action in Springtime is by no means terribly exciting; in fact the film really has no story. Even though the toon does seem dull by today's standards, it is really the marriage of music and animation that would have been most interesting and even revolutionary to audiences back in 1929. With that in mind, Springtime surely excels in its purpose to both amaze and entertain.