Thursday, July 2, 2009


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.

1 comment:

  1. I felt the same way as you that this one is very much akin to the seasons shorts we've seen so far. In fact, it's so close in feel that it's surprising to know that Iwerks and Stalling are no longer at the studio.

    Original prints of this cartoon were printed on blue stock giving this short a blue-tinted appearance. I think that this would have really helped with the nighttime atmosphere of this cartoon especially in the scenes that aren't that dark. Of course Iwerks' was easily able to top this blue-tint effect with his first Flip cartoon"Fiddlesticks" a few months later which was made in two-strip technicolor.

    In fact this short has a really similar scene to 'Fiddlesticks'. Not only is there the Flip-like frog, but he does a walking-dance across the lily pads, croaking in time to the music. The frog even taps his feet atop a turtle in both scenes. Also the Frog in Night has a girlfriend just like Flip in another early Iwerks cartoon "Puddle Pranks".

    It's worth comparing the opening sequence of "Fiddlesticks" to the first frog scene in "Night". I think there are too many close similarities for it all to be just be a coincidence. Maybe this scene had been discussed at the Disney studio before Iwerks and Stalling left?


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