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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Great Reference Book But Perhaps Too Esoteric for the Casual Reader, June 16, 2007
This review is from: Walt Disney's Silly Symphonies: A Companion to the Classic Cartoon Series (Hardcover)
For those of us who have appreciated the great merits of Disney's series of Silly Symphony cartoons, this book is ALMOST a dream come true. For reference purposes, it is hard to imagine that anyone could surpass the astonishing quantity of information provided for each animated short, including detailed production credits (broken down to the specific artists who worked on each scene), release dates, story synopses, and almost anything one could want to know about each of these Disney gems. While some of the more obscure information, such as the identities of concept/inspirational artists and background painters, is not always provided, it is obvious that this book contains as much detail as is contained in the Disney studio files. The book is particular important for anyone who collects Disney animation art from the 1930s, since it is the first comprehensive source that can be used in identifying the various artists who were responsible for some of the best artwork ever produced by the studio.

But....Anyone who is expecting an entertaining book with many nice pictures from the Silly Symphony cartoons will probably be disappointed. While some images from each cartoon are included, the choice of illustrations for inclusion in this otherwise exemplary book is markedly uninspired. For the most part the illustrations are scans from the actual cartoon footage, but in a single instance (More Kittens), original story drawings are used instead. And in one instance (The Moth and the Flame, a cartoon which itself is a brillant example of Disney animation from the very artistic peak of the studio), the single illustration consists of some later image, loosely based on the original artwork of the film, but more closely resembling those watered-down images seen on postage stamps from Caribbean nations. Some of the choices for images, which were presumably intended to be at least somewhat representational of each cartoon as a whole, are also rather puzzling. How many viewers of The Cookie Carnival would choose a scene of the Old-Fashioned Cookies as a high point of the cartoon, either in terms of the narrative, the characters, or the art? But this book was clearly not intended for the coffee table, and illustrations were obviously of secondary concern to the authors.

The introductory essay is interesting, but it reads a bit too much like a college essay. While it is understandable that the authors were looking for some theme by which to tie together 75 disparate animated shorts, one has to wonder whether Walt Disney or any of his staff really considered the psychology of childhood insecurities to any significant degree, or rather, if most of the elements of nightmares and terror were inherent in the source materials. One thing is certain, the Silly Symphonies would have been as bland as most shorts in the Mickey Mouse series absent such elements of evil/insecurity/misunderstanding by one's peers/cannibalism (I'm not kidding, read the essay), or other plot elements. Still, how many viewers of Babes in the Woods have ever considered (or, I should say, SHOULD consider, even now) the abscence of parental figures and of a wholesome home environment for the Hansel and Gretel characters? It is too bad that so many critics of popular media feel compelled to justify the very existence of certain genres on some basis, whether as illustrations of current views in child psychology or otherwise. But the strengths of almost every one of the cartoons in the Silly Symphony series, especially in terms of artistic quality, are so apparent that anyone who goes to the trouble of finding the cartoons (aided by the detailed information in this book as to where they appear on tape and disc) will appreciate most of what Walt Disney and his artists surely intended for them to see.

One final comment that will be of little concern to most . . . but it should be pointed out that the authors credit all of the artwork for the series of Good Housekeeping pages based on Disney shorts, including many of the Silly Symphonies, solely to Tom Wood. While Wood was certainly the major artistic force behind the beautiful watercolor illustrations, two other artists were certainly involved: Hank Porter, who drew all of the illustrations for the Farmyard Symphony page (plus many other pages as well), and Manuel Gonzales, who was almost certainly responsible for drawing a number of pages, including the ones based on Don Donald and The Practical Pig. It is a shame that Gonzales' contributions to Disney publicity art have now been ignored in both of the only two books that deal with Disney Good Housekeeping art to any signficant degree.

Having set that record straight, and despite the foregoing nit picking, I sincerely believe that this book makes a valuable contribution to the history of the Walt Disney studio and should be part of the library of all persons with a serious interest in Disney films and art.

Craig W. Englund
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Definitive work on Disney's great early achievement, April 28, 2007
This review is from: Walt Disney's Silly Symphonies: A Companion to the Classic Cartoon Series (Hardcover)
Only half-remembered today (and almost impossible to see except for a few titles until, at last, they were released on DVD in the "Walt Disney Treasures" series), the Silly Symphonies shorts were at the forefront of Disney's art in the 1930s, the place where his best animators experimented and pushed the field until, finally, he was ready to expand the Silly Symphonies' lavish, dark fairy-tale universe into feature films like Snow White and Pinocchio. As the authors, who wrote the equally groundbreaking Walt in Wonderland about Disney's pre-Mickey career, point out, the series' importance in the 1930s was far more widely recognized, as it won the Oscar for best animated short every single year during the decade-- sometimes with only other Silly Symphonies for competition.

This groundbreaking history sets out the importance of the Silly Symphonies as a laboratory of Disney's art. Usually this is seen in terms of technical achievement-- from the revolutionary marriage of animation and music in the charmingly crude Skeleton Dance, to the introduction of Technicolor in Flowers and Trees, to the sleek use of the multiplane camera for 3-D effects in The Old Mill. But the authors also make the case that it was crucial in the development of Disney's almost preternatural understanding of child psychology; long before Bambi struck toddlers with all the force of King Lear, shorts such as The Flying Mouse and The Ugly Duckling had already mined that territory.

A lengthy essay on the history and importance of the series is followed by an amazing film-by-film history which serves as a perfect companion for adults watching the series today; and the text is liberally illustrated with stills, posters, production drawings and more. This is likely stand for all time as the definitive work on one of the most important, yet neglected, series of films in cinema-- not just animation-- history.
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Walt Disney's Silly Symphonies: A Companion to the Classic Cartoon Series
Walt Disney's Silly Symphonies: A Companion to the Classic Cartoon Series by Russell Merritt (Hardcover - October 6, 2006)
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