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Melody Time is a charming musical anthology film that's expertly crafted and filled with high-spirited numbers.
All Critics (8)
| Top Critics (3)
| Fresh (7)
| Rotten (1)
The straight technical expertism is still one of the wonders of the movie world.
Like healthy, imaginative children, those Disney boys are full of strange caprice. One minute they are doing something charming; the next minute they are slopping in the jam.
A charming, imaginative anthology of cartoon shorts set to music by the likes of such '40s favorites as Roy Rogers and The Andrews Sisters.
This last musical compilation film from the Disney studios was also one of the best, and Disney's animators display their entire creative range.
A film much more entertaining than you'd expect, even if only two of its seven sequences individually reach classic status.
Very colorful, very musical Disney animation near-classic.
A slight improvement over Make Mine Music as another Disney package film combining music and narrative, now with seven stories that may not exactly be memorable but still manage to entertain, even after this run-of-the-mill anthology format has clearly become tired.
You would think that all the Disney package films would have very little to choose between them, since they are all made under the same principles and time constraints, and all have the same slight nature. But as we have seen, the overall quality varies according to the content of the individual shorts, and each of the films has its own series of problems. Make Mine Music is a collection of shorts that promised much but delivered little; Fun & Fancy Free has a really good second half but struggles to get going; and The Adventures of Ichabod & Mr. Toad falls into two opposing traps regarding adaptation.
Melody Time does have a couple of decent stories to carry it, but most of its other sections have either technical shortcomings or questionable narrative decisions. There is more of an overarching theme this time around, which gives at least a feeling of continuity, and like its predecessor it's passable without being remarkable. And then the final story arrives and the whole film comes crashing down, thanks to one of the dumbest, laziest, and arguably worst creations ever to bear Disney's name.
Before we analyse each of the stories in turn, as with Make Mine Music, there are some general observations that can be made. While many of the package films were about finding common ground with Europe and celebrating shares values, like Ichabod or Saludos Amigos¸ this film is more about acknowledging American culture and particularly the early pioneers. There is a lot more Christian imagery on display, and more of an emphasis on classic American narratives of exploration, individuality and pushing back boundaries. While many of the package films bought Disney a lot of time, Melody Time is a lot more assertive.
We begin with Once Upon A Wintertime, and it doesn't take long to spot the budget limitations that so many of the package films exhibit. The animation is somewhat stilted, particularly in the movements of the horses, and the character designs are far more bulbous than we are used to seeing from Disney. Frances Longford sings perfectly well, and the song itself is fine if completely forgettable. But what isn't so forgettable is the uneasy tonal shifts, something that crops up time and again throughout this film.
The short starts off very much in Bambi territory, complete with rabbits and antics on a frozen lake. But after setting up a jovial mood, the film takes an uncomfortable turn, devoting the best part of 2 minutes to shots of women's undergarments as Jenny stumbles on the lake. And then, having made us feel awkward, things take a darker turn as the lake becomes a flowing river, and then a raging waterfall over which our heroes just avoid falling to their deaths. There is a nice twist to the story, insofar as it's not directly the man in the relationship who saves the day, but it still leaves us scratching our heads as to its emotional intentions.
Bumble Boogie is another item that was shortlisted for Fantasia, following on from Blue Bayou in Make Mine Music. It entails a busy bee being chased all over the screen by flowers and objects, bellowing out Freddie Martin's jazzy reimagining of Rimsky-Korsakov's 'Flight of the Bumblebee'. This piece is interesting in hindsight, with some of the creative decisions foreshadowing future Disney efforts; the moment where a piano's keyboard rears up and turns into a snake is clearly reflected in Jafar's transformation at the end of Aladdin. Like Blue Bayou, there are several nice moments in which the music and visuals match, but overall it goes on far too long.
The Legend of Johnny Appleseed is the best segment, and is also the second-longest at around 17 minutes. Based on the story of the pioneer John Chapman, it introduces one of the major themes (the origins and celebration of the American Dream), and does so in a cheery and involving way. The songs are all pretty catchy, particularly the wagon song in the first few minutes, and Dennis Day does a great job as the main character. The tone is also much more settled, rooting itself in Snow White with the animal scenes and allowing its Christian message to come across in a warm, inviting way. There are a couple of mis-steps - the guardian angel's entrance and the Indians at the dance - but otherwise it's very hard to fault.
Having handled this material so delicately and effectively, Little Toot is a big step back into uncertainty. It starts very innocuously, as a well-worn story about a son trying to impress his father but ultimately bringing shame on the family and being shunned - think Dumbo without the emotional depth. The music is provided by The Andrews Sisters, who appeared in Make Mine Music during the segment Johnny Fedora and Alice Blue Bonnet.
Then things move swiftly into dark territory, first with a ship destroying an entire city (like Dumbo's mother collapsing the tent), then Little Toot floating out through the creepy 'bad buoys', and then our hero being repeatedly electrocuted as he tries to tow the liner back to port. And after all that, the short goes back to the happiness of its opening act, as if nothing had happened. While there's nothing wrong with the story arc on paper, the opening feels too cutesy to mesh with the darker material, and emotionally the section doesn't ring true.
Trees takes us back to Bambi territory, specifically to the montage in the middle of Bambi where the animals are sheltering from the rain. This section doesn't have the luxury of Frank Churchill's Oscar-nominated score, but it does occasionally rival Bambi in terms of bucolic visual beauty. There is one beautiful moment, in which a storm ravages the tree before the sun breaks through, and the camera pulls back to reveal these events being contained in a single raindrop. This section also has nods to Fantasia, with the tree in question being on a mountain surrounded by a beam of light - very reminiscent of Night on Bald Mountain which served as the climax of that film.
Blame It On The Samba is extremely slight but also completely inoffensive. It reunites Donald Duck with his companions from The Three Cabelleros, blending the three animated characters with live-action footage of Ethel Smith playing the organ and singing from The Dinning Sisters. In concept and execution, it's no better or worse than what Gene Kelly was doing in Anchors Aweigh around the same time - though Kelly's routine does have more movement and panache to it. Suffice to say, it's a very sanitised version of the samba, with the organ putting us more in mind of a fairground than a dance floor.
Finally, we come to Pecos Bill, the longest segment and one of the most painfully bad moments in Disney history. Like the previous segment, this combines animation with live-action, but this time around it's so cheesy and naff that it physically hurts. Roy Rogers is difficult to bear at the best of times, and that's before we add in the often sexist dialogue. Characters deliver lines like "A woman in the story?!" without a hint of irony or self-awareness, and the whole story could have used both of these in spades.
The tale of Pecos Bill is considered an example of fakelore: it is an entirely spurious story which is positioning itself as a genuine legend and an integral part of American culture. Disney could have had a lot of fun with this, using their animation style to deconstruct the story and end up with a counterpoint to Johnny Appleseed. But instead they treat it like it's gospel truth, and the straighter they play the material, the stupider it becomes. The feats become more and more ridiculous, running further and further into Tex Avery territory, and then the stereotypical love interest turns up, with a story arc every bit as offensive as her counterpart in The Martins and the Coys.
Like that section of Make Mine Music, Pecos Bill was subsequently censored by the MPAA - and for all the wrong reasons. While the censors removed all the images of Bill smoking, they left in all the sexual imagery, such as Sue's repeated upskirt shots and Bill's guns going off by themselves (use your imagination). The climax involving a bouncing bustle and the Moon is insultingly idiotic, and the whole section has a nasty, gung-ho, nationalistic ring which leaves a really sour taste in the mouth.
Melody Time isn't much better or worse than Make Mine Music; it differs only in that its peaks are regularly higher and its troughs are abysmally lower. The quality of Johnny Appleseed and Trees in particular make the weaknesses of the other segments all the more baffling, and leave us crying out for the Disney of the 1950s when most of these problems had been ironed out. The film is still of historical interest for Disney aficionados, but casual viewers will get very little out of it.
Number 5 of the Compilation Era
Animation is top notch.
The shorts are actually all great and while not the most memorable will still stay longer then most of the shorts of the era.
Next up: Mr. Toad vs. The Headless Horsemen
Donald Duck is so cool
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