Silly Symphonies

film 37 of 61

The Goddess of Spring

Film Review by Dean Duncan Jul 6, 2015

The Persephone myth! It’s always seemed to me to be one of the most striking inventions in all of human storytelling. So simple, so elemental, so enormous. Such depth of feeling, so mournful, and yet so tinged with hope and possibility. So elegant, and artful!

These qualities are not so evident in this present telling! Director Wilfred Jackson made some very good pictures in the Silly Symphonies series. But like so many of his colleagues in the animation industry—and let’s be fair: there had to have been a time or two where the studio heads had to have felt the same way—sometimes you get a pretty strong impression of an employee doing a job of work. In The Goddess of Spring we’ve got an honest effort from all sorts of the talented people that were involved. Inspiration? Not much.

There’s a film d’art aspect here (cf. the producorial activities of Adolph Zukor in the 1910s), and very strong indications that Disney is both thinking and moving ahead toward the production of a feature length cartoon. As we now know, that was an incredibly difficult thing to take on, such that it is important to be respectful, to make allowances for the mixed results that inevitably followed.

These are: there’s a sense of strain here, and of striving for culture and respectability. What they actually accomplish is kitsch. This issue is often present and very important in the history of Disney productions. It is not meant as an insult to suggest that for all of his high-cultural ambitions, Walt was probably a more natural (remember The Terrible Toreador?), more felicitous (remember all those early Mickey cartoons?) vulgarian. As an arbiter of taste—forward to Fantasia, etc.—his success is decidedly more mixed.

Look at that posh bird cavort around. Are those elves? Are they Norse or Celtic? Sometimes these post-mythological assemblies can get a little garbled, as far as phyla and orders and classes and such go. Looking at this particular display one wonders; what might Tex Avery have done here? (Maybe the gleefully violent opening of Screwball Squirrel provides that answer.)

Back and forth, liking, less so. I love the flowers’ dancing legs/roots. That’s a great idea, and very well pulled-off. As it were. On the other hand I wonder why Hades is gotten up like the Christian devil, and why is his realm hell-like? St. George defeats the dragon, which is to say that Christianity supersedes Paganism. But lots of tale-tellers, including Disney, have managed to address this issue a little less confrontationally. (Cf. our review for The Secret of Kells, q.v.) The singing is silly. On the other hand the dancing devils in the shadowy firelight are really great. The coloured flames too. I hate to be a stickler, but where are the pomegranates? Adaptors should feel free to adapt, but sometimes adaptors sure like to take out important original elements, and for no particular or discernable reason.