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 HOLLWYOOD, plus the Academy Award(R)-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.
The second set of Silly Symphonies completes the series of music-themed cartoons Walt Disney began in 1929 with "The Skeleton Dance." Disney used these films to train his artists and to experiment with new techniques and visual styles. Viewers who watch the Symphonies in chronological order can see the artists' work improving at an astonishing pace. When a ring of imps dances around a fire in "Hell's Bells" (1929) the flat-looking flames move stiffly, like paper cut-outs; five years later in "The Goddess of Spring" (1934), the flames ripples and crackle, and their changing hues produce multi-colored shadows on the cavern walls. The imps in the earlier film are rubbery golliwogs who just bounce and stretch to the music; in the later film, the rounder, more dimensional devilkins perform a complicated jazz dance. "Goddess of Spring" and "Broken Toys" (1935) also represent the artists' first efforts to animate a believable female character, as they prepared for the challenges of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.
Many of these films were consigned to the vaults for years because of their racial imagery. In the Oscar-nominated "Mother Goose Goes Hollywood" (1938), a gaggle of Hollywood celebrities cavort to familiar nursery rhymes, but the caricatures of Stepin Fetchit and Cab Calloway are no more unflattering or mean-spirited than the ones of Katharine Hepburn, W.C. Fields, and Clark Gable. The outrageous "Cannibal Capers" (1930) and a few other shorts may embarrass viewers today, but as host Leonard Maltin observes, ignoring these film falsifies the past of animation and the United States. This important and entertaining collection will delight anyone interested in the history of the Disney Studio, animation or American popular culture. (Rated G, suitable for ages 5 and older: cartoon violence, tobacco use, ethnic stereotypes) --Charles Solomon