Silly Symphonies

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Silly Symphonies is a series of animated short subjects, 75 in total, produced by Walt Disney Productions from 1929 to 1939, while the studio was still located at Hyperion Avenue in the Silver Lake district of Los Angeles. Unlike the Mickey Mouse series, to which it is a sister series, Silly Symphonies did not usually feature continuing characters (an exception being the characters in The Three Little Pigs which had three sequels). Donald Duck got his start in a Silly Symphonies cartoon (The Wise Little Hen, 1934), and Pluto's first appearance without Mickey Mouse was also in a Silly Symphonies cartoon (Just Dogs, 1932). Characters such as Donald Duck and Humphrey the Bear were separated from the Silly Symphonies group to have their own cartoon series.

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About the series

The series was first distributed by Pat Powers from 1929 to 1930 and released by Celebrity Productions (1929–1930) indirectly through Columbia Pictures. The original basis of the cartoons was musical novelty, and the musical scores of the first cartoons were composed by Carl Stalling.[1] After viewing "The Skeleton Dance", the management at Columbia Pictures quickly became interested in directly distributing the series, and gained the perfect opportunity to acquire Silly Symphonies after Disney broke with Celebrity Productions head Pat Powers after Powers signed Disney's colleague Ub Iwerks to a studio contract. Columbia Pictures (1930–1932) agreed to pick up the direct distribution of the Mickey Mouse series on the condition that they would have exclusive rights to distribute the Silly Symphonies series; at first, Silly Symphonies could not even come close to the popularity Mickey Mouse had. The original title cards to the shorts released by Celebrity Productions and Columbia Pictures were all redrawn after Walt Disney stopped distributing his cartoons through them. Meanwhile, more competition spread for Disney after Max Fleischer's flapper cartoon character Betty Boop began to gain more and more popularity after starring in the cartoon Minnie the Moocher; by August 1932, Betty Boop even became so popular, that the Talkartoon series was renamed as Betty Boop cartoons. In 1932, after falling out with Columbia Pictures, Disney began distributing his products through United Artists. UA refused to distribute the Silly Symphonies unless Disney associated Mickey Mouse with them somehow, resulting in the "Mickey Mouse presents a Silly Symphony" title cards and posters that introduced and promoted the series during its five-year run for UA.

Shortly after the switch to UA, the series became even more popular. Walt Disney had seen some of Dr. Herbert Kalmus' tests for a new three-strip, full-color Technicolor process, which would replace the previous, two-tone Technicolor process. Disney signed a contract with Technicolor which gave the Disney studio exclusive rights to the new three-strip process through the end of 1935, and had a 60% complete Symphony, Flowers and Trees, scrapped and redone in full color. Flowers and Trees was a phenomenal success, and within a year, the now-in-Technicolor Silly Symphonies series had popularity and success that matched (and later surpassed) that of the Mickey Mouse cartoons. The contract Disney had with Technicolor would also later be extended another five years as well.[2] The shorts began to have stronger plots too[3], and the success of Silly Symphonies would be tremendously boosted after The Three Little Pigs was released in 1933 and became a box office sensation; the film was featured in movie theaters for several months and also featured the hit song that became the anthem of the Great Depression, "Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf".[4] Several Silly Symphonies entries, including Three Little Pigs (1933), The Grasshopper and the Ants (1934), The Tortoise and the Hare (1934), The Country Cousin (1936), The Old Mill (1937), Wynken, Blynken, and Nod (1938), and The Ugly Duckling (1939, with an earlier black and white version from 1931), are among the most notable films produced by Walt Disney. However, Disney ceased production of Silly Symphonies in 1939, as the studio began to focus on producing films and new series shorts.[5]

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