Four Seasons of Silly Symphonies
There is a season, turn turn turn – Or so the song goes. The changing seasons have always been a source of inspiration for artists, from Antonio Vivaldi to Walter Disney. In 1929 the Disney Studio began a series of cartoons called Silly Symphonies which, as the name suggests, were designed to emphasize music and the latest technical innovation of synchronized sound. During the first year of Silly Symphonies the animation studio created a four-part animated interpretation of the seasonal cycle: Springtime (1929), Summer (1930), Autumn (1930) and Winter (1930). When viewed as a single programme, the four seasons showcase the rapidly evolving style and expertise of the animators as well as foreshadowing Disney’s ambition towards larger-scale projects like Fantasia (1940).
The first of the silly cycle, Springtime, was released in the fall (not spring) of 1929 and it was directed by Walt Disney himself. During the pre-Mickey days of the Alice Comedies and Oswald The Lucky Rabbit, Walter was the lead animation director on virtually all cartoons released by the studio but as early as 1930 his role changed to that of an executive producer and creative overseer of an extremely in-demand production company. As they were produced during a formative year for the studio, Disney’s four seasons reflect a passing of the torch from Walter those animators that directly succeeded him and who were able to advance his vision for a quality of animation that had not been seen before. Summer and Autumn were directed by Ub Iwerks, the man who is credited with designing Mickey Mouse and responsible for a number of significant technical innovations in the animating process. Autumn was the last cartoon that Iwerks directed for his long-time friend and partner Disney before being lured away by producer Pat Powers to create his own line of cartoons released through MGM.
The cycle’s final installment, Winter, was helmed by Burt Gillett who would soon become one of the studio’s most prolific director of Mickey Mouse cartoons. In the years to come, Gillett would direct some of Mickey’s best loved adventures, including The Gorilla Mystery (1930), Mickey’s Pal Pluto (1932) and Lonesome Ghosts (1937). The cycle’s theme of the natural world carries over into Gillett’s next major achievement at Disney; Flowers and Trees (1932), the first film released in full colour using three-strip Technicolor film which garnered the Disney Studio its first Academy Award. But more on that next week.