When "The Skeleton Dance," the first of 75 Silly Symphony cartoon shorts, was released in 1929, it proved there was a market for conceptual cartoons that didn't contain familiar story lines and characters.
In 1928, when Walt Disney's artists completed "The Skeleton Dance," the distributor of the Mickey Mouse shorts rejected the first "Silly Symphony" with a two-word telegram: "MORE MICE." Disney arranged to screen "Skeleton Dance" at the Carthay Circle Theater in Los Angeles, where it received an enthusiastic response, and the series took off. Seven "Silly Symphonies" won Academy Awards, beginning with "Flowers and Trees." Disney used these musically themed shorts to train young artists and test new styles, effects, and technologies: every film represented an innovation of some sort. In "Three Little Pigs," characters who looked alike demonstrated different personalities through the way they moved. "The Old Mill" showcased the newly invented Multiplane camera. The Sugar Cookie Girl in "Cookie Carnival" was one of several female characters the artists created while learning to animate a believable heroine for Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
. The well-chosen selections in this set demonstrate how quickly Disney advanced the art of animation during the '30s. Only eight years separate the crude black-and-white version of "The Ugly Duckling" (1931) from the moving Technicolor Oscar-winner of 1939. Over 60 years later, these films have lost none of their charm. The jazz-dancing insects in "Woodland Café," the wonderfully animated caricature of Mae West in "Who Killed Cock Robin," and the instrument-characters in "Music Land" remain as delightful as ever. Leonard Maltin makes a genial host, and two hidden cartoons include Walt's introductions from the old Disneyland
program. --Charles Solomon