Silly Symphonies

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The China Shop

Film Review by Dean Duncan Jul 6, 2015

There sure are a lot of stories in which the inanimate objects wait for the human to leave and then have fun, aren’t there? Hans Andersen was the great master of this device, and explored it with quite astonishing range and variety: The Daisy, The Steadfast Tin Soldier, The Flying Trunk, The Bronze Pig, “Monday” and “Thursday,” from The Sandman, The Buckwheat, The Sweethearts, The Pine Tree, the father’s cane in Mother Elderberry, The Old Street Lamp, the roses in The Neighbors, The Old House, the houses in The Happy Family, The Collar, The Flax, the apple branch in There Is a Difference, Five Peas from the Same Pod, The Two Maidens, The Piggy Bank, The Bottle, The Old Oak Tree’s Last Dream, The Winners, The Pen and the Inkwell, The Cock and the Weathercock, “Lovely,” after a fashion, The Puppeteer, The Old Church Bell, The Snowman, Grandfather’s cane in The Ice Maiden, the method explained in “The Will-o’-the-Wisps Are in Town,” Said the Bog Witch, The Windwill, The Silver Shilling, In the Children’s Room, The Teapot, The Snowdrop, entering adulthood in Luck Can be Found in a Stick, The Candles, the furniture in The Front Door Key, and most astoundingly, the book of fairy tales in The Cripple.


This motif is also basic to the Silly Symphonies. It might be the very most basic thing about them, or even about the animated cartoon entire. But it’s so underexploited, so underexplored! Andersen strikes variations that extend far into the realms of childhood, psychology, mythology, ideology, everything. Disney animates, but that is usually about all. We should understand, perhaps, how agonizing this industrial process is, and make allowances for the limitations that naturally follow. But limitations they are. From one cartoon to the next, no one seems to say or do anything very new with this superb resource, or all of its possibilities.

I lie: one nice wrinkle, twice explored by the Sillies, is when Santa arrives, and watches the inanimates at play. As an agent or minister of grace, as a demi-divine, he is not subject to the usual restrictions or segregations.

Our family is watching. I have propagandized them and, as a result, we are afraid that this charming, colourful, prettily designed vignette is going to be hi-jacked by a bad guy. Sure enough, here comes Bacchus. (Who isn’t really a bad guy, if I recall correctly.) The pretty porcelain maid is kidnapped, and her French swain goes after her.

The ensuing battle is by the book and basically boring, except for a possibly unconsidered consequence. All of these plates and cups and figures have faces, and some degree of life and personality. In their melodramatic zeal, no one seems to mind how many of them get broken or even pulverized while these mere three figures resolve their conflict. Collateral damage, I believe it’s called. Someone should take note of this kind of thing!

The film’s ending, in which the shop’s proprietor makes up for his losses by turning himself into an antique shop, is quite piquant. That was a good one.