Cannibal Capers, the first Silly Symphony cartoon after the departure of Ub Iwerks, was a very different cartoon, featuring some nifty camera moves, less reliance on animals and silly dances, and some disturbing subject matter. Apparently that didn’t work, because the latest Silly Symphony, Night, is a return to previous form.
I’d almost classify Night as an unofficial part of the “Four Seasons” quartet of Silly Symphonies, because it falls very much in that same vein. This time, rather than a season, the short examines what happens as the moon rises over a pond. Of course, it’s all set to music, but there’s a slight difference in this short.
The short’s tone is set right off the bat by a full moon rising over the pond, that then turns into a buck toothed singer. The moon’s singing is comically bad, and that sets the stage for a plethora of off key singing to follow. We get bad songs from owls, mosquitoes and frogs, all involved in activities of love or pursuit of happiness.
The action flows from scene to scene very well, much in the same way that it did in Springtime or Autumn. We go from the moon to the owl flying over the scenery, to the lightning bugs flying by, to mosquitoes underneath and finally to the frogs the mosquitoes try to sting. It’s very fluid and gives the short a nice sense of being a continuous short instead of a collection of gags.
I’d be remiss if I did not note the artistic merit of the opening scene, showing the long shot of the moon rising over the pond. It’s a beautiful piece of work, and the reeds and waves on the pond move and sway in time with the music. That just makes it all the more entertaining when the camera zooms in to the moon and it turns around to reveal its silly face.
Another interesting bit was the lightning bugs, who at first perform a dance in the sky, alternately lighting up to do a nice light show. But next, we see two bugs performing a vaudeville soft shoe. I can only imagine that these two bugs are pulled right out of Walt’s head, reflecting back on his days as a kid performing vaudeville with Walt Pfeiffer. Just an interesting peek into Walt’s psyche, I think.
We also see in this short the return of the frog from Springtime. It was noted then that this frog was similar to Flip the Frog, who would later become Ub Iwerks’ cartoon star. The frog is back here, and one has to assume it was based on the same model sheets that Ub developed for the previous short. I wonder if we’ll see him again, after Flip the Frog has debuted?
Night is entertaining, but it does feel somewhat like a retread. The gags are good, but not as funny as in other shorts. It feels very much part of the “Four Seasons” group, as I mentioned above. I think Walt and his crew did a great job of animation on Night, but could have used a little more humor to make this one truly great.