Monday, June 15, 2009


So, for the next short, there is quite the disagreement as to what comes next. On the More Silly Symphonies DVD, Hell’s Bells is listed first in chronological order. On and BCDB, Springtime is listed first. I’m going to go with my web friends on this one, and go with Springtime as the first one. Don’t let me down, fellas.

Springtime is just neat. There’s no other way I can describe it. As a Silly Symphony, it’s meant to be the kind of music video that the Mickey shorts have become at this point, so the rules of storytelling are a little looser. That said, it still manages to have a fairly linear progression, with some great gags, interesting animation and a fantastic score.

In case you did not know, Springtime is the first of a series of four Silly Symphonies that would be released covering the four seasons. Each uses a piece of Vivaldi’s landmark Four Seasons, but also then delves into other music as it goes along.

In Springtime, the wilderness is awaking from what I presume was a winter slumber, and is coming alive with dancing, music and song. The opening immediately struck me as something that would be visited later in Flowers and Trees, the first color cartoon. It’s a pair of trees dancing, swaying from side to side as the plants around them join in. I have not seen Flowers and Trees in a while, but I seem to recall it featuring the same scene.

There is no real story to the short, as I said, but it does follow a somewhat linear progression. The first half of the short is not quite as linear, as it pans over from the trees dancing to a trio of flowers that is also dancing. Then, the middle flower runs toward the camera, opens its petals and serves as a platform for two dancing lady bugs. It’s a neat gag, and well animated.

There are a few other fun pieces in the beginning of the short as well, such as when the lightning attempts to strike a cloud, and the cloud keeps dodging. When it’s finally struck and releases rain onto the ground below, a tree takes the opportunity to shower in the rain, until it too, is struck by lightning.

In the second part, though, after the rain, there is a great storytelling device, as the action follows from one participant to the next in order. The first scene features a pair of grasshoppers, then they fall into the mouth of a frog, and the action shifts to the frog. The frog runs into a spider, then a family of frogs. Then a bird comes along and chases the frogs. Each time, we go from a smaller animal to a larger and so on, moving forward with snappy dance routines and music.

It’s been said that the Silly Symphonies were a sort of research and development lab for the Disney animators, and that is evident in Springtime. A couple of things stand out that will bear future fruit. The first is a sequence featuring that frog, where he is dancing on a log. The animation shows the frog and his reflection in the water, complete with ripples on the surface of the water. When you’ve seen the Alice shorts and the early Oswalds with limited backgrounds and no effects, it’s a stunning change.

The second thing that stands out is the frog himself. When Ub Iwerks left the studio to form his own animation career, he started out with a character called Flip the Frog. Flip and the frog in Springtime look very similar. Flip would evolve, but it seems as though he may have gotten his start here.


  1. More silly Ub Iwerks dance sequences.
    Love them!

  2. This is a really fun short, I just love how every action relates to a musical beat. On the DVD, however, the effect is slightly spoilt by the last minute of the short being out of synch (really noticeable from when the crane is chasing the frog and onwards). Good catch on the opening scene maybe being reused in "Flowers and Trees", we'll have to check when you get to 1932.

    It's nice how in these early shorts things haven't got too cute yet. Baby birds and frogs are really cool and weird-looking (as are the real creatures that inspired them) and if things are looking a bit cute (like that caterpillar) they're likely to be gobbled up!

    One little character worth looking out for is the little spider with the baby tooth – we'll meet him again in future shorts.

  3. This short vaguely reminds me of an extremely crude version of the "Nutcracker Suite" segment in Fantasia. It's not nearly as overtly artistic or abstract, but it does share the central premise of various elements of nature dancing around to classical music.

    As Mac pointed out, the Spider who plays his web like a harp will reappear several times later on in the early Silly Symphonies. I find it strange that in the early, black-and-white era, when the Symphonies were just about having a piece of music and animating some dancing and frolicking to go along with it, they actually had one recurring character, but later on, once they switched to color and began to have a solid story in every cartoon, they switched to a series of one-shot casts, with the exception of the Three Little Pigs, Pluto, and some kittens who showed up in two cartoons. Of course, if they'd kept the spider, I suppose the series would have basically just been a clone of the Mickey Mouse series, only in color and with a different recurring character.

    One last spider-related tidbit: there's a comic character named Bucky Bug, who started out in the Silly Symphonies comic and looks similar to the spider seen here. I'm not sure whether or not he was in fact based on the film character, but the resemblance is interesting.

  4. I'd say you're right about Flip the Frog, Ryan—definite, direct antecedent in the frogs here. "Pre-Flip" will appear again in NIGHT, though according to Merritt and Kaufman Iwerks was not involved with that cartoon (...and I would agree).

    Years ago, before Merritt's and Kaufman's research, I mistakenly attributed NIGHT to Iwerks on Flip the Frog's Wikipedia page. I've since tried to eliminate it, but someone reinstates my original mistake every time. I guess it's doomed to become an urban legend, despite its own inventor's best efforts.

  5. B. D., from what research I've managed to do, I can't find any *confirmed* link between Bucky and the spider. Nevertheless, I'd consider it safe to say that the spider *likely* inspired Bucky.
    As I put it in an article for WALT DISNEY'S COMICS AND STORIES 677:

    "1931 found Disney’s publicity department with a problem on its hands. They wished to ramp up promotion for the Silly Symphonies cartoon series. But aside from a lone spider (in Midnight in a Toy Shop [1930] and Egyptian Melodies [1931]), the series had no recurring characters to use as advertising mascots.
    Hmm... a spider. Insect standard-bearers might work, it was decided. But instead of a creepy arachnid, Disney introduced rounder, more humanlike bugs into its cartoon press kits—likely inspired by Harrison Cady’s Beetleburgh comic strip. The bug who would be Bucky, and his family and friends, were the troupe in question."

    From there Bucky went on to be featured in the 1932 Silly Symphony Sunday comics and then an actual cartoon of his own, BUGS IN LOVE (1932).
    You'll notice that I only referenced two spider cartoon appearances in my article... oops! I'd forgotten he appeared in SPRINGTIME as well.

  6. My source for sequencing Springtime in front of Hells Bells is Merritt and Kaufman's "Silly Symphonies" book. While both were in production pretty much at the same time, they list a delivery date of Oct. 4 for Springtime and Nov. 1 for Hells Bells. They also show the earliest opening date for Springtime as Oct. 14th (in Los Angeles) and November 10th for Hells Bells (in New York.)

    Disney is probably using the copyright date for saying Hells Bells is first since it has a copyright date of Feb. 7, 1930 and Springtime has the day after, Feb. 8th. But the copyright date only indicated when the short was registered and shouldn't be used as an official release date. So, I think my sequencing is valid.

  7. Glad you guys liked this review. Patrick, I agree with you, so I did Springtime first and then Hell's Bells. What a contrast!

    This is really a great short, and it's interesting to look at it in the context of what Disney's doing as a company. This is where I really see them trying some new things, like the rippling water reflection and a few other things.

    I'd be interested to see if we know how much Ub contributed to this short, since this and Hell's Bells were in production at the same time. That short definitely has his stamp on it, but it's obvious he did work here, too. Did the man ever sleep?


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