BREW HOLIDAY GIFT GUIDE: SILLY SYMPHONIES

The first in a series of holiday gift-giving suggestions from your pals at Cartoon Brew.sillybooksmall.jpgEditor Piera Patat of La Cineteca Del Friuli heard my plea and sent me a review copy of Russell Merritt and J.B. Kaufman’s Walt Disney’s Silly Symphonies: A Companion to the Classic Cartoon Series which was published in Italy last month.My high expectations for this long awaited tome were more than met. Merritt and Kaufman’s Silly Symphonies is a must-have reference for everyone, from Disney aficionados to aspiring animators, anyone interested in animation history. The Silly Symphonies were a significant stepping stone in the aesthetic progression of animated cartoons in general, and Disney’s artistic growth in particular.This book documents each and every film in the series with facts, commentary and detailed minutiea. Full credits, from studio drafts, crediting animators with their specific scenes along with working titles, complete voice credits, length (by footage), negative costs, TV premiere dates, musical credits and my favorite bit of trivia: what feature films each Silly opened with in its initial New York (usually at Radio City Music Hall) and Los Angeles (usually the Loews State or Grauman’s Chinese) theatrical engagements.sillydvd.jpgThe filmography takes up half the book, the other sections include a lengthy introduction detailing the history of the series, how it changed as Disney moved from one distributor to another, what influenced the stories the series told and how the Sillies were used to train Disney’s staff for eventual feature production. Appendicies detail Unfinished Symphonies, a discography, a bibliography of licensed childrens books based on the series and further information on offshoots like Hot Chocolate Soldiers (a Silly Symphony created for MGM’s 1934 feature Hollywood Party).It’s all here. Each film is illustratred with several rare images, however if I had one quibble with the book, it’s that I wish they had used more original art, production stills, pressbook and poster images over certain frame enlargements used here. It’s hard to complain though – the book is a necessity, a first class piece of research. Editor Patat informs me that Indiana University Press will be distributing the book in the U.S. (though it’s not listed on their website, nor on amazon, yet).While you’re waiting, I highly recommend pre-ordering Walt Disney Treasures – More Silly Symphonies which goes on sale December 19th. This second volume contains the rest of the Silly Symphonies series not already released on DVD – including several never before released on video in any format (Hell’s Bells and Cannibal Capers are two notorious titles rarely seen since their original theatrical release). The films have been completely restored and several cartoons have audio track commentary by the likes of Leonard Maltin, J.B. Kaufman, Daniel Goldmark, Ross Care, Dave Gerstein, Richard Sherman and me. The book and the DVD set make a killer combination of cartoon greatness. Highly Recommended!