Book Review: Silly Symphonies Volume 3: The Complete Disney Classics 1939-1942

Contains only one Silly Symphonies adaptation, but plenty of other Disney magic.
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The Silly Symphonies comic strip started as a venue for adaptations of Disney’s long-running series of animated shorts, but by the time of the Sunday color strips presented in this collection, the title was far less indicative of its contents. While the artistic merits remained high, the strips only adapted one animated short, The Ugly Duckling, while devoting the rest of the space to Pluto one-offs, a lengthy adaptation of Pinocchio, and ongoing original adventures of Little Hiawatha. As such, the brand name doesn’t really match the strips, but the contents are still decidedly Disney and completely entertaining.

The collection starts off with a few Pluto strips before segueing into The Ugly Duckling adaptation, a difficult choice for a comic strip due to the dialogue-free nature of the short. The writer gets around the film limitation by letting the characters talk, travelling a slightly different path to arrive at the same happy conclusion. From there, Pluto takes over for months of the strip’s run, with varying ownership ranging from Goofy to Minnie to even Horace Horsecollar. The collection notes reveal that his shifting ownership had to do with the competing distributor arrangements for Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck strips that limited characters that could appear in Silly Symphonies, even though Pluto was at one point being positioned for his own solo strip.

In advance of Pinocchio’s theatrical release, the comic strip devoted a few months to a lavish retelling of the story, condensing the tale and generally keeping a lighter tone than the eventual film. While its debut was originally scheduled to coincide with the film’s release, delays on film production resulted in nearly half of the 16-week strip story reaching readers before the film hit ever theaters. The strips are a faithful retelling of the film and serve as a great way to revisit the story in a different format.

The largest component of the book is previous Symphonies character Little Hiawatha, here embarking on entirely new adventures. His tales take up nearly the entire second half of the book, or almost two years of strips, although he's not even mentioned on the book cover. At times, he’s joined by a fellow Native American, Minnehaha, an intended subject of a scuttled Symphonies sequel. If you’re no fan of Disney's take on these historical figures, you may initially be cool to this run. I’m in that camp, so I wasn’t entirely sold on such a hefty swath of the book’s contents being devoted to this corner of the Disney universe, especially when Hiawatha’s appearance shifts between a gangly tween and his cuter animated kid look, but the strips prove to be amusing and continue the high artistic standards of the rest of the title.

IDW Publishing’s Library of American Comics imprint continues to do fantastic work with their archival projects, presenting these strips in a sturdy hardcover edition with heavy paper stock and exacting attention to linework and color reproduction, ensuring that each strip is the best possible presentation ever accessible to readers. While the collection name might be a bit misleading due to the editorial decisions made during the strip’s original run, the artistic quality remains high throughout the run, making this another essential book for comic strip fans and Disney enthusiasts.

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