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Disney’s Silly Symphonies and the Art of Compromise

Mickey Mouse on a Piano; music and animation compromise

Just as “Steamboat Willie” was gaining steam at the box office and launching Mickey Mouse to superstardom, Carl Stalling was scoring the first two Mickey Mouse cartoons: “Plane Crazy” and “Gallopin’ Gaucho.” After some correspondence with Walt Disney, Stalling ended up as the studios first musical director. Because it was complicated to synchronize sound with animations, Walt and Stalling had to work closely with one another to get the two disciplines to work together before they could begin production on the drawings. Walt and Stalling would often argue over what should take precedence in the animated film. Stalling wanted the music to be the first thing to considered; Disney wanted the action and gags to take precedence.

The First Compromise

Walt ended up proposing a compromise. Action would take precedence in the Mickey Mouse animated shorts, and Stalling could create his own series, soon-to-be-called Silly Symphonies, where the music was given prominence. Stalling agreed, and the Disney Studios had a future hit series that allowed it to experiment in preparation for the first full-length animated feature.

The Second Compromise

Unfortunately, the Silly Symphonies couldn’t find a distributor. Everyone wanted “more mice.” Walt convinced the Carthay Circle to show “The Skeleton Dance.” With the reviews it got, he was able to get the Roxy in New York to show the short. It became a box office hit; Walt still had to add to the title “Mickey Mouse Presents a Silly Symphony” as a compromise for the distributors.

The Third Compromise

Stalling only stayed with the studio for two years. After he left, the director and the composer for the Silly Symphony in production would meet to create a cohesive story with music. They would plan everything in detail before it could be drawn. During these meetings, the director and composer would have to decide what to do with gag segments where artists may have needed more freedom for individual expression in order to make the sequence work. These sections would be scored in post-production.

All of these compromises led to several awards for the Disney Company. More importantly, it gave Walt and his team an outlet to do something different from cartoon to cartoon. They were able to employ innovations, like technicolor and the multi-plane camera, on a smaller scale before committing them to a larger undertaking.

This information comes from Mouseplanet’s ‘The Skeleton Dance Story‘ by Jim Korkis and “The Musical World of Walt Disney” (affiliate link) by David Tietyen.

This article is part of our Disneycember coverage. Doug Walker, the Nostalgia Critic, and Channel Awesome appear to have coined the word “Disneycember.” Come back every day during December and read a new Disney article.

If you want to read more about Disney and creativity, check out “Disneyland Is Creativity” and “The Haunted Mansion Is Creativity.” Read more about the Disney Company in “Penguinate! The Disney Company.” Check out other Disney stories at www.penguinate.weebly.com.

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