Come to the Land of Symphony, or maybe you’d like to sail over to the Isle of Jazz, in this week’s breakdown!
The story outline for Music Land, populated by humanized musical instruments separated by two opposing islands of classical and jazz music, circulated around the studio around December 19, 1934. Story artist Bill Cottrell noted Pinto Colvig as part of the story team in a production memo. Animator Grim Natwick recalled Ted Sears’ involvement during story development, as well; Sears suggested how the hero, a boy saxophone from the Isle of Jazz, escapes his imprisonment in the Land of Symphony after several ideas were rejected, which ended up in the film. Surviving story sketches reveal Earl Hurd—the patented inventor of the cel process in animation and creator of his own animated series, with child character Bobby Bumps, during the teens—contributed to the story.
As with many Disney cartoons during this period, the animators are cast by sequence—Dick Lundy animates the flirtation between the Prince of Jazz, the boy saxophone, and the Princess of Symphony, a girl violin; Lundy’s animation in his work on the film, particularly on the princess coming down the steps to meet him, to the accompaniment of F.J. Gossec’s “Gavotte,” prefigures his musical timing as a director for Walter Lantz a decade later. Frenchy de Tremaudan handles the following sequences of the queen interfering, as the boy is marched away to confinement inside of a large metronome. Dick Huemer animates the scenes of the boy and girl during the warfare between the two islands, and the settlement, which ends their hostility.
Les Clark animates the boy inside the prison, writing a note—in actually, “The Prisoner’s Song” on sheet music—and having a bird deliver the message to his father, the King of Jazz, a caricature of popular bandleader Paul Whiteman, often touted as “The King of Jazz.” (That title lent itself into a 1930 musical revue by Universal, recently restored and screened to modern audiences.) These scenes aren’t credited on the “semi-final” draft, but are confirmed by the exposure sheets for the film. Clark also animates the double wedding, between the prince and princess, and the king and queen.
One animator, Gerry Geronimi, primarily handles scenes with one character; Geronimi animates many of the scenes of the King in his palace, including a risqué moment, showing his amusement with a female ukulele dressed in a hula skirt. Others struggled with the material—in later years discussing the film with John Culhane, Grim Natwick thought musical instruments were not pliable enough for animation, dismissing the characters as cold and benign. Natwick animates the string instruments dancing to Beethoven’s “Minuet in G” in the opening, which he found difficult.
Music Land uses a large abundance of special effects—water, smoke, and explosions, especially during the battle sequences. Cy Young and Ugo D’Orsi, two of the studio’s chief effects animators, are credited for their effects work in the draft. However, other documents–such as exposure sheets, sweatbox notes and department ratings, which scrutinized animator’s footage and quality of their work—reveal other effects animators on the film. Some of these artists include George Rowley, Dan MacManus, Ed Aardal, George Drake and Jim Tyer, who left Van Beuren to improve his animation at Disney’s. Frank Thomas, later a top animator, was relatively new during the production of this film. He recalled animating the musical notes, falling like confetti, during the wedding scenes, to which he said: “I could’ve been an effects animator!”
Leigh Harline, the musical composer of this film, worked closely with director Wilfred Jackson on his cartoons. Jackson felt Harline’s music was more “symphonic” than the scores studio musician Frank Churchill provided, appropriate in context of the film’s story. During the barrage fired between the two islands, the King’s vibrant brass/woodwind battleship attacks with a Harline original, while the Queen responds to an organ bombardment, blaring Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries.” As the princess waves a white flag and rows to the opposing island to disrupt the battle, the score combines the two compositions together, accompanied in a threatening hostility. At the end of the film, a Bridge of Harmony is shown spanning across the two islands, uniting them both; as the instruments celebrate, the score displays a certain community transforming, with symphony and jazz merging together as one.
J.B. Kaufman and Russell Merritt’s updated and revised edition of Walt Disney’s Silly Symphonies: A Companion to the Classic Cartoon Series will be available in a few weeks. Pre-order your copy now! I have another Silly Symphony post for next week. After that one, there will be a breakdown that some of you will least expect—even I was surprised material from this particular series existed. Just wait and see.
(Thanks to J.B. Kaufman, Didier Ghez and Michael Barrier for their help.)