Disney Classics #10: Melody Time

Another compilation movie, which like Make Mine Music uses popular music as the driving force behind many of the sections. And again, the results are a mixed bag.

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These package movies were later cut up and distributed in different ways and the opener “Once Upon a Wintertime” must have appeared on a Christmas video because I’d seen it before. The short is rather quaint, dealing with a young couple who go skating on a frozen pond and there’s a nice touch in having the young lovers followed and copied by a pair of lovestruck bunnies.

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Quaint and sweet

It’s all cutesy stuff, but not without its charms and there’s a little bit of action as tragedy almost befalls them thanks to some thin ice and a waterfall. It’s decent enough, and in the context of this movie one of the high points.

The low comes courtesy of a section called “Trees” which is instantly forgettable. Another duff entry is the story of Johnny Appleseed, who is apparently an American folk hero. Why is hard to see from this offering as the story seems to be that this fella went and grew apples in the West. That’s it. I’m sure the real story has more to it, but here it’s all rather dull.

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Johnny Appleseed, one boring, boring folk tale

Johnny goes West, befriends the critters, plants the trees and these help the westward expansion of America. I don’t want to get too political here, but even for a kids’ movie this dumbs down the pioneer years and we see Native Americans briefly at a festival where they celebrate apples, everyone is happy with the new status quo. Most worryingly is a kind of manifest destiny vibe where Johnny’s guardian angel tells him to go West to help the frontiersmen, as if the whole thing is divinely mandated.

The musical accompaniment is alright, but the story is rather uninvolving. Slightly more entertaining is “Blame it on the Samba” which reunites Donald Duck and Jose Carioca for the third time. This upbeat number is quite fun and the visuals, featuring the cartoon characters interacting with live action organ player Ethel Smith. The problem is there doesn’t seem to be a story or much of a point, and it’s just a nice upbeat part.

Similarly “Bumble Boogie”, which presents a jazzy update of “Flight of the Bumblebee” is quite fun. It’s got a surreal vibe and the marriage of music and visuals is well done, with the musical instruments morphing into flowers and other things which the bee hero navigates his way through.

The remaining two sections have clearer stories and the first of these, “Little Toot” sung by the Andrews Sisters is quite good fun, dealing with a young tugboat who wants to be like his dad but only succeeds in causing trouble before coming good.

The last section, and the one which closes the film, is the story of Western folk legend Pecos Bill and is narrated by Roy Rogers. It’s got some nice moments, mainly from the hyperbolic exploits of the hero, who lassos a tornado and uses lightning to light a cigarette. There’s a goofy spirit to the proceedings and it’s probably the most fun of the sections, and the story is well done. The visuals are reminiscent of the madcap Looney Tunes style and it has an energy which is lacking elsewhere.

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Pecos Bill in action

Again the wilderness period throws up another package film, and this one has more misses than hits. While the art is solid throughout, and the marriage of live action and animation is slicker here, it still feels lacklustre and too much seems to be included to bump up the running time.

I can’t wait to get back to proper feature length stories, oh well, at least the end of the wilderness period is in sight now.

Disney Score: 3/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.

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Disney Classics #9: Fun and Fancy Free

This movie is essentially a double feature of shorter stories, and both parts are pretty decent, if flawed.

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The linking device is Jiminy Cricket (Cliff Edwards), who sets up both stories. Firstly he arrives in a playroom where he plays a record which plays music by Dinah Shore that serves as narration for the first part.

This deals with the story of Bongo, a circus bear who fed up of his “gilded cage” escapes and winds up living in the woods. He struggles to adapt at first but soon finds his feet and falls for Lulubelle.

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Unfortunately, having been raised in the circus he has no idea of bear courtship rituals which apparently involve slapping each other, and he is hurt when Lulubelle strikes him. Lulubelle then gets grabbed by the hulking, bullying Lumpjaw. When Bongo realises his mistake he runs back to Lulubelle and fights off his rival.

I kinda dug this part because the story is quite well done and the action is madcap and fun. There’s also a marvellously surreal sequence as Bongo and Lulubelle fall in love, which is rather trippy. I also like that as with Dumbo the film is pretty hard on how circuses treat animals, which is quite ahead of it’s time. There are a few parts when it drags a little and the song isn’t particularly catchy, but it still mostly works.

Jiminy then finds a invitation to a party and goes to it. Here he arrives at the weirdest party ever. I get that this film comes from a more innocent era, but for a modern viewer it’s kinda weird that a grown man throws a party for a little girl which is only attended by her and his two ventriloquist dummies. I guess that in the context of the film the ventriloquist dummies are meant to be real characters, but it still feels odd. Why not throw in another couple of kids?

Also, ventriloquist dummies are creepy as hell anyway, but one of them in particular, Mortimer, will haunt my dreams.

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What nightmares are made of

The ventriloquist, Edgar Bergen, then narrates the story of “Mickey and the Beanstalk”, with the dummies throwing in gags along the way. Some of these gags actually work, and the dummy Charlie offers sarky commentary and postmodern nods to the story. The story is of course Jack and the Beanstalk but with Mickey in the role, accompanied by Goofy and Donald.

It’s worth mentioning that this movie would be the last feature length outing for Mickey where Walt himself provided the voice.

The story is familiar and told with a few changes, Happy Valley is suffering because the Golden Harp has been stolen, and when they grow the beanstalk they find it in the possession of the giant. It’s an okay story, but it goes on a bit long and sags in the middle.

There are a few moments where it works, such as when Donald, mad with hunger, tries to kill the farm’s cow, which the little girl is appalled by. And Donald is the most entertaining as the barely controlled ball of rage.

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Mickey and Goofy are their usual selves and the story is told well enough. The ending where Willie the Giant is shown to have survived is a cop out and a daft flourish the movie doesn’t need.

The two part structure actually works, with both stories having enough room unlike in the previous episodic movies. But it doesn’t feel like a complete film and the presence of the creepy dummies hurt it a lot in my view.

Disney Score: 5/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Disney Classics #7: The Three Caballeros

The second film of the “wilderness period” struggles as it feels far too close to it’s predecessor. Like Saludos Amigos this is based in South America, episodic and features Donald Duck.

Perhaps I shouldn’t have watched them so close together but I had no idea how similar they would be. Similar, but with the earlier film being superior.

The problem here is that they rely too much on mixing live action and cartoon and in some places this looks a bit creaky. Also the Donald Duck parts are the weakest mainly concerning Donald running around chasing women.

Some of these sequences are flat it trippy as he and his companions Jose Carioca and Panchito Pistoles (a red rooster from Mexico) jump through the pages of books about the continent. Donald chasing after real human women is a bit weird and you wonder what Daisy must have thought. While played for laughs it feels drawn out and starts leaning into sex pest territory.

Luckily some of the other sections work quite well. The music is quality and the different folk dances are quite good. But the real winners are the animated shorts which are rather charming. The first about a penguin who dreams of escaping to warmer climes is funny and well done with a “grass is always greener” ending.

The other is a goofy but entertaining story about a young boy who finds a flying donkey who he buddies up with and uses to win a race. The whole thing is narrated by the boy as a grown man, exasperated by his youthful stupidity and there’s a nice breaking if the fourth wall. It helps that the donkey is cute and likeable.

It’s okay, but drags in places and hasn’t aged well. There’s also a sense of trying to cover old ground. The animated shorts work but you wonder if they wouldn’t have been better as stand alone shorts.
Not without it’s charms but a weak effort.

Disney Score: 4/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Disney Classics #6: Saludos Amigos

It wasn’t until I got with MWF and saw her complete, chronological collection of the Disney Classics that I realised that my impression of the series was out of whack. I always thought there was this long Golden Age and then the shaky 70s-80s era before the Silver Age of the nineties and onwards. It turns out this isn’t the case.

The first five Disney films (see earlier posts in this series) mark the Golden Age of big, much loved and familiar hits. Then there’s this period of lesser known films before Disney emerges from the wilderness with the twelfth movie Cinderella which kick-starts the Silver Age which lasts until the early ’80s.

What’s a shame is that this film, the first of the wilderness years is actually quite a charming piece.

But it is easy to see why it hasn’t endured as much as the others. The travelogue style feels a little dated as does the South America it represents. For later audiences seeing the film open with the artists boarding a plane and some stock footage might spark memories of dull educational films. Like Fantasia it feels like a gamble and something which you can’t imagine the studio trying now.

The documentary parts are done quite well and there’s affection and respect in how they treat the local cultures even if it is brief and simplified. But they mainly serve as a frame on which to hang the different animated sections.

The star here is Donald Duck, who I’ve always preferred to Mickey (who was always too squeaky clean, and Donald’s temper makes him more relatable). Donald plays the hapless tourist who has to deal with the dangerous conditions at Lake Titicaca and a temperamental llama. This sequence is quite fun and well done, especially a dangerous rope bridge crossing.

Donald reappears in the final sequence, a musical number where he dances to samba music with Jose Carioca, a green parrot from Brazil, who introduces him to various parts of South American culture. The scene is quite cool with a catchy, cheerful soundtrack and the birds interacting with the artist’s paintbrush which is pretty cool.

The other sections are a slapstick piece about Argentinian gauchos featuring Goofy which is daft fun.

There’s also a short about a young plane trying to cross the Andes which has enough peril to keep you hooked and is rather sweet.

Due to the way it’s set up it’s not the most cinematic of films and it feels more like a TV special. But it’s entertaining enough and manages to educate while still feeling fun and keeping the momentum going. 

It lacks the level of artistry of Fantasia or the narrative drive of the other films and so while it’s charming enough it doesn’t stick with you in the same way, and it does seem dated in places.

That being said, I was glad I watched it and enjoyed it while I did, but it’s definitely a lesser entry.

Disney Score: 5/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.