Walt Disney Treasures-Silly Symphonies

If you create a user account, you can add your own review of this DVD

Released 12-May-2004

Cover Art

This review is sponsored by
BUY IT

Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Animation Main Menu Introduction
Menu Audio
Introduction-Leonard Maltin (Film Historian)
Booklet
Collector Card
Featurette-The Song Of The Silly Symphonies
Featurette-Silly Symphonies Souvenirs
Gallery-119 images
Easter Egg-6 - Walt Disney Intros
Introduction-Leomard Maltin's Picks
Rating Rated G
Year Of Production ?
Running Time 287:56 (Case: 358)
RSDL / Flipper Dual Layered
Dual Disc Set
Cast & Crew
Start Up Language Select Then Menu
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By Various
Studio
Distributor
Disney
Walt Disney Studios Home Ent.
Starring None Given
Case Gatefold
RPI $29.95 Music Various


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Full Frame English Dolby Digital 2.0 mono (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio None
16x9 Enhancement No
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.37:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English
English for the Hearing Impaired
Swedish
Norwegian
Danish
Finnish
Smoking Yes, rare
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    To celebrate the 100th anniversary of Walt Disney's birth, Disney created a series of special collections, known as the Walt Disney Treasures. The first four of these were released at the end of 2001 (and arrived here rather later...). The US releases were housed in special tins, each of which was a strictly limited edition of 150,000 (my copy of the Silly Symphonies tin is number 19234 — I got in early!).

    Why all the fuss? What's so interesting about old cartoons? Aren't they just kid's stuff?

    Disney's first successful cartoon was the famous Steamboat Willie, starring Mickey Mouse, at the end of 1928. That cartoon is a fairly primitive black-and-white affair (yes, it's famous, yes, it's cute, but it's still quite primitive!), and Disney realised that he and his team would need to improve their skills and make better cartoons if they wanted to stay in business and pull ahead of their competitors. A collaborator, Carl Stalling, is credited with suggesting the writing of cartoons based around music, and that's what the inspiration for the Silly Symphony series is, starting with The Skeleton Dance. Although the Silly Symphonies were popular by themselves, Disney maintained that they were experiments, tests of new techniques and skills that he and his team were developing for use elsewhere, particularly in full-length animated features (Snow White did not appear until 1937 — he spent quite some time building up those skills...).

    The cartoons in this collection are history. They display quite clearly the evolution of the Disney cartoon team's style from the very primitive (The Skeleton Dance is included) through to the sophisticated — six of these cartoons won Oscars. Pay attention to the year in which each cartoon was made, although you can often guess fairly accurately just by looking at it.

    The cartoons on the first disc are:

Year Time    
1936 9:46* The Grasshopper and the Ants intro by Walt Disney (Easter egg)
1934 8:17 The Tortoise and the Hare †
1936 8:55 The Country Cousin †
1932 7:24 Babes in the Woods  
1936 8:10 Elmer Elephant  
1934 8:58 The Flying Mouse  
1935 9:39 The Golden Touch  
1935 7:29 The Robber Kitten  
1933 7:06 Lullaby Land  
1930 7:53 Mother Goose Melodies black and white
1935 11:29* Cock Robin intro by Walt Disney (Easter egg)
1934 7:24 The Wise Little Hen first appearance of Donald Duck?
1933 8:23 The Three Little Pigs †
1934 9:00 The Big Bad Wolf  
1936 8:59 Three Little Wolves  
1936 7:21 Toby Tortoise Returns  
1938 9:34* Wynken Blynken and Nod intro by Walt Disney (Easter egg)

    * = runtime includes Walt Disney's intro
    † = Oscar winner: Best Cartoon Short Subject

    The cartoons on the second disc are:

Year Time    
1936 8:16 Mother Pluto  
1934 9:01 Peculiar Penguins  
1934 9:01 The Old Mill †
1934 6:53 Funny Little Bunnies  
1938 8:38 The Ugly Duckling (1939) †
1931 6:29 The Ugly Duckling (1931) black and white
1933 8:06 Father Noah's Ark  
1930 7:46 Birds of a Feather black and white
1931 6:49 Busy Little Beavers black and white
1932 6:57 Just Dogs black and white
1931 8:40* Farmyard Symphony intro by Walt Disney (Easter egg)
1935 9:12 Music Land  
1931 7:15 The China Plate black and white
1931 6:06 Egyptian Melodies black and white
1932 7:31 Flowers and Trees † the first Technicolor cartoon
1934 7:42 The Cookie Carnival  
1929 5:19 The Skeleton Dance the first Silly Symphony
1937 7:20 Woodland Cafe  

    * = runtime includes Walt Disney's intro
    † = Oscar winner: Best Cartoon Short Subject

    Leonard Maltin introduces the collection, provides the extras, and gives his comments on certain selected cartoons, but you can skip him if you find him annoying. He's worth a bit of a listen though, because he conveys some interesting information, even if it's a bit gushing in places — he seems quite sincere in his admiration, though.

    Perhaps the most compelling example of the advances in animation through the 1930s is provided by the two versions of The Ugly Ducking. I think they made a mistake by presenting them out of order. You should really watch the 1931 version first, to see what it is like in black and white, with comparatively primitive animation, then watch the 1939 version, in colour, and much more smoothly animated.

    I didn't get to see any of these in the cinema on their first release (heck, some of these pre-date my father!), but I have seen a number of them on television over the years. But I hadn't seen all of them, and I'm glad to get the opportunity to do so now — this really is historic stuff, yet there is animation being produced today that isn't up to the standard of some of these 70-year-old cartoons.

    Do bear in mind that age when you see the occasional quite dated idea — the one that struck me most forcefully was the grasshopper in The Grasshopper and the Ants: he spits a fair bit (I guess he's chewing tobacco?). The China Plate has a somewhat unenlightened view of China, too.

    When you consider that when you choose the Play All options you get 130:52 on Disc 1 plus a further 157:04 on Disc 2, it's clear that you get a lot of cartoons in this collection. Add in the Easter egg introductions by Walt Disney (taken from shows in 1955), and this is quite a package. Strongly recommended if you have any interest in the history of animation, or if you just like good cartoons.

Don't wish to see plot synopses in the future? Change your configuration.

Transfer Quality

Video

    These cartoons are presented in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1, and therefore are not 16x9 enhanced. I would expect that the original aspect ratio was 1.37:1, so this is extremely close.

    They have done a lot of restoration on these cartoons, and it certainly shows. I doubt anyone outside the studio has seen them looking this good, even in the original cinema releases.

    The picture is generally a little soft, but no worse than many a current transfer, with a dusting of light film grain. Shadow detail is not a consideration in this style of animation. There is no low-level video noise, but there's a fair bit of mosquito noise and/or background shimmer (depending on the cartoon).

    Colour is startlingly good, much more saturated that one might have expected, and with a lot less in the way of colour-related artefacts: there is no oversaturation and no colour bleed. The only colour-related artefacts to be seen are in the extras: there are some amazing false colour effects to be seen, such as at 11:23 in Silly Symphony Souvenirs, where a black-and-white cartoon shows a wonderful rainbow. Well, there is one other minor glitch: at 1:44 into The Wise Little Hen there is one frame where the strips of the Technicolor have moved apart resulting in an effect like a loss of convergence (come to think of it, that's exactly what it is!) — it's a single frame, so you have to be watching closely to notice it.

    There are lots of film artefacts, but they are all small or fine, such as some fine vertical scratches, or small spots and flecks. A few cartoons show traces of light staining. For 70 year old film, this is close to perfect.

    There's some light aliasing, but no moirι to be seen. There are no MPEG artefacts other than a fair bit of background shimmer.

    There are subtitles in five languages, including English, plus English for the Hearing Impaired. I sampled both the English subtitle tracks. Where there is dialogue, it is subtitled accurately, and the subtitles are easy to read and well-timed. Note that a lot of Silly Symphonies don't have much in the way of dialogue, anyway.

    Both discs are single sided and dual layered. The layer changes are placed between cartoons, so they are invisible.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

    The only soundtrack is Dolby Digital 2.0 mono, in English, at 192kbps.

    There have been impressive advances in audio since the 1930s, and there are limits to how much you can clean up the sound. All these cartoons exhibit limited fidelity recording, with restricted bass, limited high frequencies, and a fairly constant hiss. There are occasional pops and crackles, but a lot fewer than one expect. Even with the artefacts, the sound is not hard to listen to.

    The dialogue (what there is of it) is clear and readily understood. Audio sync is not readily judged on animation of this kind, but there are no egregious errors in sync.

    The score is bouncy and bright for the majority of the Silly Symphonies. A variety of composers worked on these cartoons, and unfortunately they weren't credited on the cartoons, so I can't tell you who they were.

    The mono soundtrack makes no use of the surrounds or subwoofer.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

Menu

    The menu is static, with music. It's easy to operate, and there's an Easter egg on almost every menu.

Introduction by Leonard Maltin (0:51)

    A brief introduction to the idea of the Silly Symphonies.

Featurette: The Song of the Silly Symphonies (11:44)

    Leonard Maltin interviews one of the composers who scored the Silly Symphonies, talking about, amongst other things, how Walt Disney conveyed instructions about the music.

Featurette: Silly Symphony Souvenirs (17:27)

    Leonard Maltin talking to one of the curators of the archives, about merchandising and the Silly Symphonies, including a few tips on what would be an affordable collectible.

Introductions: Leonard's Picks

    Leonard Maltin providing a few words of introduction to each of several cartoons:

Easter Egg: Walt Disney introduces The Grasshopper and the Ants (9:46)

    You get to this Easter egg by (SPOILER ALERT: highlight with mouse to read) moving the cursor up to the S in Symphony on the opening menu, and pressing Enter.

Easter Egg: Walt Disney talking about the Silly Symphonies and Water Babies (2:08)

    You get to this Easter egg by (SPOILER ALERT: highlight with mouse to read) moving the cursor left to highlight the kitten's sword(SPOILER ALERT: highlight with mouse to read) on the second page of the Fables and Fairy Tales menu, and pressing Enter.

Easter Egg: Walt Disney on Nursery Rhymes, and introducing Cock Robin (11:29)

    You get to this Easter egg by (SPOILER ALERT: highlight with mouse to read) moving the cursor up to highlight the chick in the Favourite Characters menu, and pressing Enter.

Easter Egg: Walt Disney talking about Eugene Field and introducing Wynken, Blynken and Nod (9:34)

    You get to this Easter egg by (SPOILER ALERT: highlight with mouse to read) moving the cursor up to highlight the "Leonard(SPOILER ALERT: highlight with mouse to read) " on the Leonard's Picks menu on the first disc, and pressing Enter.

Easter Egg: Walt Disney introduces The Old Mill (9:46)

    You get to this Easter egg by (SPOILER ALERT: highlight with mouse to read) moving the cursor to the bunny on the Nature On Screen menu, and pressing Enter.

Easter Egg: Walt Disney introduces Farmyard Symphony (8:40)

    You get to this Easter egg by (SPOILER ALERT: highlight with mouse to read) moving the cursor to the hat on the saxophone on the Accent on Music menu, and pressing Enter.

Gallery: Artwork and Photos

    This is a long gallery, visible as thumbnails and full-sized images. Unless I've miscounted, there are 119 images in all.

Booklet

    This is a nicely made little booklet about the Walt Disney Treasures series, but it's kind of an advertisement, too.

Collector Card

    A reproduction, about postcard size, of the theatrical poster for Flowers and Trees.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    The Region 1 release of this title came in a numbered limited edition tin. (I don't know what they intend to do once the limited edition version runs out...) Inside the tin is a normal double Alpha case, which holds the two discs, a booklet, and a postcard of the poster for the original release of Flowers and Trees. This Region 4 includes the same booklet and the same postcard (that's a pleasant surprise!), and two discs which are essentially the same (the same cartoons, the same extras, and similar menus — they get some fancier transitions, but that's about the only difference). The Region 4 doesn't get a double Alpha case. The Region 4 discs are packed in digipack clear plastic holders on a heavy glossy card background — this is not a bad package, although not as durable as a plastic keep-case. So all that's really missing from the R4 package is a cutesy metal tin — not a big sacrifice, given that the tins would probably raise the price at least $5. I'm going to call this a draw, because all the important stuff is the same, including the quality of the transfer, which is really very good in both regions.

Summary

    Real animation history, and some fine cartoons, on a pair of DVDs that are excellent value. I'm rating the package as a whole higher simply because of the historic value.

    The video quality is far better than one might expect for 70 year old film.

    The audio quality is adequate. Considering what the original material must have been like, this is very good.

    The extras are extensive, and carefully thought out.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Tony Rogers (bio-degrading: making a fool of oneself in a bio...)
Friday, July 02, 2004
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer DV-S733A, using Component output
DisplaySony VPH-G70 CRT Projector, QuadScan Elite scaler (Tripler), ScreenTechnics 110. Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
AmplificationDenon AVC-A1SE
SpeakersFront Left, Centre, Right: Krix Euphonix; Rears: Krix KDX-M; Subwoofer: Krix Seismix 5

Other Reviews
DVD Net - Jules F
AllZone4DVD - OliverD

Comments (Add)
The Other Treasures in R4? -
Another Easter Egg - M D B
No printed matter -