Warner Bros. had the Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies, Disney had the Silly Symphonies. This is the second volume collecting those shorts, covering the years 1929 to 1938. The shorts are selected on a menu that can be presented in alphabetical or chronological order, and it is the latter approach that is the most enlightening, as we can see the cartoons evolve. There is no dialogue in these shorts – the point was to fuse animation and music. And while that is an end in itself in the earlier cartoons (and quite the technological feat at that), more and more narrative content develops over the years. The culmination of this form of animation would, of course, be Fantasia, and in such early pieces as “Hell’s Bells,” one can see in embryonic form the ideas that would become, for instance, the “Night on Bald Mountain” segment.
The sound is mono, as is to be expected, and in fact, as is to be preferred: given the archival nature of this collection, the less that is monkeyed about with, the better. The sound quality is remarkably good, especially given that the earliest pieces here are from the dawn of the sound era. Even in those cases, the distortion and static is minimal.
This too is generally excellent. Print quality does vary somewhat, and some of the earliest pieces are showing their age with black-and-white tones that are starting to bleach, and miscellaneous other damage. But even the worst are perfectly watchable, and the best are close to pristine, and are unlikely to have looked any better than they do now. As one moves forward through the years, the picture quality understandably improves, and the colour shorts look marvellous.
Leonard Maltin is guide and host on the discs, and his introduction breaks down the features in a useful fashion, especialllyi since there are some 14 audio commentaries provided here (8 of which are on Disc 1). They are clear, informative, and punch up the historical interest of the collection to no small degree. Disc 2 has a 15-minute documentary, “Silly Symphonies Rediscovered,” which, though interesting, is a bit on the short side. More archival fascination is provided by “Animators at Play,” footage of Disney and his team having a lunch-break game of baseball, with Maltin doing commentary duties. There are three art galleries: “The Art of Silly Symphonies,” “Silly Symphonies in Print,” and the related “Sunday Funnies and Comic Books.”
Superb as the collection of shorts is, and good as the commentaries are, the extras still feel a bit thin in the documentary department.