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Hell's Bells

A Silly Symphony

Release Date : October 30, 1929

Running Time : 5:32

Synopsis

The devils of hell gather together for a mad frolic.

Credits

Director
Ub Iwerks
Music
Carl Stalling

DVD

United States
Disney Treasures : More Silly Symphonies

Technical Specification

Color Type: Black & White
Animation Type: Standard animation
Sound Mix: Mono : Cinephone
Aspect Ratio: 1.37 : 1
Negative Format: 35mm
Print Format: 35mm
Cinematographic Process: Spherical
Original Language: English

Released by Columbia Pictures, Inc.

Comments

From Ryan Kilpatrick at The Disney Film Project : After the warm, fuzzy feeling of Springtime, the next Silly Symphony, Hell’s Bells, takes a sharp left turn, leaving the springtime feel of nature for the hot fires of Hades. Hell’s Bells is a macabre tour through the torment of Hell, and it’s also another winner by Ub Iwerks and his animation team.

The short is like all the other Silly Symphonies, merely a pictorial representation of various pieces of music. The music in this one, though, is a cut above some of the others. Sure, there are adaptations here of other songs, but the main song during the devils dancing sequence was so good that Alfred Hitchcock picked it up years later as the music for the opening of his television show.

But the animation is the real star here. It’s a real departure from the now solid Mickey and the animal creatures seen in Springtime. The devils in this short are spindly creatures, and their arms and legs flail about in true rubber hose animation style. That wouldn’t be notable, except for the fact that the trend in the other Disney shorts of this time is moving away from that exaggerated movement and towards more “realistic” forms and movements.

This short was directed by Ub, and it shows. The frantic dances, the darker imagery and the “unhappy” ending of the devil being swallowed by his own flames are all more indicative of Ub’s work, rather than Walt’s. It’s especially interesting to watch this short back to back with Springtime, since they were in production at the same time, and Springtime was directed by Walt. The contrast between the two filmmakers could not be more stark.

Not to be outdone by Walt and his work on Springtime, Ub features some great effects animation in this short as well. One scene features a devil dancing over a fire pit, and the shadow on the back wall dances with him. It’s nice work. Another features a spider swinging over a fire pit, straight towards the audience, blacking out the screen, then all the way to the far away perspective and back again. Again, very nicely done.

The sadistic lead devil, that one would presume is Satan, is an interesting character. He acts how you would expect Satan to act, which is good work by Ub and his team, but it’s totally new in the world of Disney animation to this point. This is a true villain character, feeding fellow devils to the three headed dog, Cerberus, and chasing one when he refuses. Rather than the bungling or bullying villain, this is a new turn towards a more serious and disturbing villain.

The whole short is full of disturbing imagery, that makes it a true work of art. Some of my favorites include a snake swallowing a bat then sprouting its wings, devils milking a dragon and getting fire instead of milk, and the short wanderings of the Grim Reaper at the beginning of the short.

Looking at this short, though, its easy to see that Ub Iwerks had different ideas about the things that one could do in animation. This short is really more reflective of the work he would do after he left Disney than anything I’ve seen to this point.


From Mac : Watching these shorts in order, I was struck for the first time when re-watching this one by the three-dimensional feel of this cartoon compared to previous efforts. I don't know if you thought this too, Ryan, but there seemed be a much greater sense of depth. Not only do we have the familiar characters leaning and swaying towards the audience, but there are dark stalactites in the foreground and carefully drawn, detailed perspectives in the background. Looking at your first screen grab for this short it's clear which plain each character is on and it works almost as an attractive 3d set (rather than just a flat background) for the figures to dance around in. This sense of depth helps create a much more atmospheric effect, like we're in the caves with them. I think a lot of the credit for this should probably go to the background painter – Carlos Manriquez.

Another cool effect with this one are the roaring flames which open and close the short. I'm really glad the original titles were included for this one one on the DVD – it's great how the flames actually overlap "The End" title card. It really makes it appear that Satan is an absolute gonner and has been completely destroyed.


From B. D. : Seeing this short makes me wonder what might have happened if Iwerks had never left the studio. Snow White and Pinocchio already have some pretty dark sequences - I wonder how much more pronounced they would have been if Disney had had a guy working on them who specialized in that sort of thing! And think of how much more surreal Fantasia might have been, with Ub animating some of the sequences!
From Jerry Edwards : One of my favorite Disney cartoons - the animation is superb with numerous funny, weird gags. The hooded Grim Reaper enters and then departs. A huge spider swings back and forth towards the audience, then is consumed by flames. A snake-like dragon swallows a bat, sprouts the bat's wings, and flies off. Satan's demons play instruments made from skeletons and skulls. Demons milk a "dragon-cow" and serve the flaming milk to Satan. Satan feeds one of the demons to Cerberus, the 3-headed dog. Satan chases the other demon, who refuses to be dog food. The demon kicks Satan off a ledge and Satan is consumed by the flames.
From Ryan : This is one of the rarest Disney cartoon shorts out there. The Disney Company, with their family-friendly reputation, does not want to release this cartoon to the general public. It's quite a shame too because this is one of the best cartoons ever produced by the Disney. I love the animation of this short, especially the beginning where a spider bounces back and forth over to the audience. I also like the scene where the demons are milking flames from a dragon cow. The scene where Satan feeds one of the demons to his 3-headed hound, Cerberus is quite gruesome. Satan, however, is kicked off the edge by another demon and consumed by flames. Although this cartoon has not been officially released on video/DVD, segments of it can be seen on the Ub Iwerks documentary.
From Rob Drisdelle : I'll give this thing a 10. It's absolutely brilliant and revolutionary; it must've been something to see on the big screen in 1929. I bet people were running from the theatre when the spider part came around. Watching this makes it no wonder that Dali thought of Disney as a surrealist.
From Andrew Liebau : I really enjoyed this cartoon, and I think it is a real turning point in Disney character and emotion animation. When you watch Steamboat Willie and Playful Pan, it is obvious that Disney had gone leaps and bounds from the first to the latter. This change was probably the result of the increase in talented animators, such as Les Clark and others that year. I enjoyed most of the gags, but the best was probably when the two demons 'milk' the dragon-cow, and then feed the flames to salivating Satan! A true classic! I truly believe that this cartoon is not recognized enough when it's humor and technical innovations are taken into account. I rate this cartoon an 8 out of 10, next to such masterpieces of the time as Steamboat Willie and Mickey's Follies.
From Steven : This is an excellent cartoon with amazing animation by Ub Iwerks. I loved the part where the dragon ate the bat and sprouted wings. This is a disturbing yet amazing cartoon. I give it a ten out of ten.

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