A Symphonic Series Shows How Music Can Carry a Toon

Depression-era delirium: Woodland Café
photo: FSLC

If movies—in every tangential form they take—could be considered a mass intoxicant, then cartoons are the audiovisual equivalent of raw-mash moonshine, undiluted, stupefying, hypnotizing in their outlaw nonsense. The Walter Reade series narrows the massive historical field to singin'-dancin' animation, and the archival hours of silliness only begin with Disney's Depression-era pioneerings—Mickey Mouse's first voyages into sound, as well as the Silly Symphonies stretching from 1935 to an excerpt from Fantasia 2000—as well as the contemporaneous deliriums of Disney-vet Ub Iwerks. (In toto, the shorts are a crash lesson in jazz and classical composition.) The assault of MGM shorts, ranging from Tom & Jerry's torture duet routine whenever it entailed song to Tex Avery's landmark ur-toons, is decidedly more id-familiar, while the Warner films, helmed by Jones, Freleng, Clampett & Co., are familiarly, merrily psychotic. By comparison, Columbia had a scattershot record, but accidental beauts include the torrentially melancholic Little Match Girl (1937) and John Hubley's Oscar-nommed Mozart-kugel Magic Fluke (1949). The full features are selective—Fantasia (1940) and its Italian evil twin, Allegro Non Troppo (1977), are showcased, but no Yellow Submarine or South Park: Bigger Longer & Uncut. American Pop (1981), Ralph Bakshi's bizarre, anemic boogie through a century of culture history, gets a rare show of support, but Sylvain Chomet's The Triplets of Belleville (2003), multifariously awarded but still underseen, is a fabulously anachronistic slam dunk, sharing more with Iwerks and Avery than with its post-millennial competition.

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