The penultimate of Disney’s package films, with only The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad to go. Where Saludos Amigos and The Three Caballeros are travelogues, I’ve found it useful to think of this one and Make Mine Music as short story collections which, I hope, gives them a little more dignity artistically and explains the lack of thematic coherence. As any writer can tell you, it’s almost impossible to make a living writing short stories, and these days only Pixar of the large studios regularly makes the cinematic equivalent, the short cartoon. (The good news is that there are scads of the faithful keeping the form alive in basement and garage studios, and on their computers, but I doubt many are making a good living at it.) I’m conflicted on how to describe F&FF and Ichabod, which each have only two stories. I guess you could call them mini-double features. I prefer to compare them to those fondly remembered Ace Double SF Novels of the 1950s and ‘60s, where you had to turn them upside-down to read the other novel. Those stories were usually novellas in terms of actual word count. (Ohmigod, I just encountered a quote concerning those Ace Doubles that I have to put in here: “If the Holy Bible was printed as an Ace Double it would be cut down to two 20,000-word halves with the Old Testament retitled as ‘Master of Chaos’ and the New Testament as ‘The Thing With Three Souls.’” – Charles McGrath.)
I think Melody Time is quite a bit better than its predecessor. Even the least interesting one is fabulous to look at.
Once Upon a Wintertime. Frances Langford sings as a boy and a girl go sleigh riding and ice skating, and get into trouble. At the same time, a pair of bunny rabbit lovers pretty much ape every move. It’s quite funny, and the animation style is simple and strong.
Bumble Boogie. Freddy Martin and his orchestra (with Jack Fina on the piano) play a jazz variation of Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Flight of the Bumblebee,” in the surrealistic nightmare style of “After You’ve Gone” from Make Mine Music. This one is even better. It seems this one was considered for Fantasia (I’m guessing it would have been the original orchestral version) but didn’t make the cut.
The Legend of Johnny Appleseed. A sweet little fable telling the (somewhat) true story of John Chapman, who really did travel the West (what we now call the Midwest) planting apple trees. Usually nobody mentions that he intended to make a profit on all those orchards, and he did. He was an early member of that odd cult, vegetarians, and led quite an ascetic life. Dennis Day voices him, as well as the two other speaking parts. I recall Dennis Day from the old “Jack Benny Show” as what we these days call an airhead. I liked him.
Little Toot. Based on the poem by Hardie Gramatky, and sung by the Andrews Sisters. Not my favorite, but full of action and humor.
Trees. The Alfred Joyce Kilmer poem set to music by Fred Waring and the Pennsylvanians. The poem really sucks, in my opinion, and the singing here is way too reverent. But it is stunning to look at, and the transitions are very inventive, with one thing turning smoothly into another. I remember “Trees” from an old routine by Shelley Berman, where he says he thought James Joyce wrote it. The condescending person he is talking to chuckles, and says, “James Joyce didn’t write ‘Trees.’ ‘Trees’ was written by Joyce Kilmer.” To which Shelly replies “Who’s she?” and got a big laugh. I didn’t get it. Well, I sure as hell didn’t know any men in Texas named Joyce, possibly because the first time they said their name they would be promptly shot.
Blame It On the Samba. Donald Duck and José Carioca with the Aracuan Bird. Vocals by the Dinning Sisters, and Ethel Smith plays the Hammond organ., fabulously, even when it explodes and then reassembles itself around her in mid-air. This seems to be left over from the South American trip, and it is as dazzling as the best material there.
Pecos Bill. Roy Rogers and the Sons of the Pioneers tell and sing the story of the Texas legend to the ubiquitous Bobby Driscoll and Luana Patten. It’s sharp and funny, and pisses me off. I’ve ranted elsewhere about the chickenshit decision of the Disney wonks (no doubt the same chickenshits who won’t release Song of the South on video) to remove all traces of the cigarette that used to be constantly dangling from Bill’s lip. Once again they surrender to political correctness and re-write history, not unlike the Soviets used to PhotoShop (before there even was a PhotoShop) pictures to remove people who had been liquidated or sent to the gulag. But the funny thing is—once again like Song of the South—they did that only to the NTSC version. NTSC is the television standard of North America, Japan, the Philippines, Burma (Burma?), and all of South America except the two countries that matter most, Brazil and Argentina. Pretty much all of the rest of the world except Russia, France, and some African countries (who use something called SECAM) use the PAL system. This is the big majority of humanity, including India and China. For some reason, Disney deems these PAL people adult enough to watch people smoke (and, one hopes, tell their children that it’s a bad thing to do, but it was a different era), and to see Song of the South without immediately wanting to rush out to Wal-Mart and buy a few slaves. Why don’t they trust us to be as grown-up?