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A package feature made of 2 short films intended to be full length movies. Interestinggg.

#9 – Fun and Fancy Free (1947)

Before World War II began, Walt Disney was working on two new feature films: Bongo and Mickey and the Beanstalk. However, the war essentially halted feature film development at the studio. Many of his artists were being drafted, and most of his studio’s resources were pioneered by the US government to make training films and patriotic propaganda shorts throughout the war.

Those two films got condensed down to the two shorts that make up Fun and Fancy Free.

I think some of the most interesting things about this package feature come from knowing a bit about the behind-the-scenes stuff. For example, Jiminy’s song “I’m a Happy Go Lucky Fellow” was originally written for Pinocchio.

Also borrowing a bit from Pinocchio, the original story treatments for Fun and Fancy Free included the idea that Foulfellow and Gideon from Pinocchio would be the swindlers that give Mickey the magic beans. The next batch of storyboards included Queen Minnie fulfilling that role. In the actual film, it is never revealed who gives Mickey the beans.

The narration of these shorts is still killing me. I guess it made it easier to tell the stories quickly…because they could tell us about things that happen instead of taking the time to show us? I don’t know…but I’m really ready for Disney to return to pure storytelling.

One thing I particularly took note of in Fun and Fancy Free was the quality of the background art. I feel like they had gone pretty minimalist for the previous few films, and I thought they returned to more detailed, interesting background art here. It was nice to see.

As another fun side note, the child actress in the film, Luana Patten, was in Song of the South the year before. Disney has never released this film on video or DVD in the United States because they feel it is too racist and therefore too controversial. She later starred in several Disney films. People complain so much about Disney over-exposing their child stars today, but I guess it has been going on for decades.

I felt like the film featured several clever gags. The bit at the end of the film with Willie the Giant looking for Mickey in Hollywood was fun and put a good button on the ending. In general, I liked that they gave Willie such a fun personality, instead of just making him a villain or a boring oaf. I’ve always enjoyed his appearance in Mickey’s A Christmas Carol.

As I’m still going through the package features, an interesting question has occurred to me. Although it was probably more relevant for the Make Mine Music post, I’ll go ahead and pose it now.

Would a package feature, such as Make Mine Music work today? The thing about that movie that worked in the 40s was the popularity and prominence of the musicians involved. Could you imagine such a thing today? Could there be a package feature of short films with music written by Lady Gaga and Beyonce? It would be interesting. I think it would have to be super conceptual and artistic…but even still I feel like it would be a stretch. What do you think?

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After the two Latin American package features, I was anxiously anticipating a change. My change was a bit bigger than I expected, as it came in the form of a week’s absence from watching and writing. However, I got an apartment in Washington, DC (woohoo!) and am now faithfully returning to The Disney 50 with…

#8 – Make Mine Music (1946)

Here’s what I’ve decided about package features. I think I prefer them without the attempt at storyline or thematic consistency that we saw in both Saludos Amigos and The Three Caballeros. It’s much easier to just enjoy a bunch of well-done, creative shorts that don’t feel so obligatorily tied to a theme.

Make Mine Music is a pretty fun group of shorts. I enjoyed the sense of play and the wide variety of work we get to see.

What is troubling, however, is that for the DVD release of the film, Disney censors out an entire short: “The Martins and the Coys.” Apparently, the portrayal of “comic gun play” was too inappropriate. What…? I mean, in “Casey at the Bat” one of the spectators at the baseball game yells that she wants to “kill the umpire.” That’s pretty violent too, Disney. Probably should have censored that while you were at it. For the venturesome YouTube watcher who isn’t afraid of a little comic gun play, The Martins and the Coys is readily available online.

A few of the shorts stand out in my mind as highlights. “All the Cats Join In” is particularly enjoyable to watch. Employing a sort of minimalist/surrealist style, there is a neat effect involving the animated pencil drawing all of the elements of the scenery just as the characters begin to interact with them.

As I mentioned in my post about Fantasia, Disney recycled footage originally intended for a “Clair de Lune” segment and made it into a segment for Make Mine Music called “Blue Bayou.” Interestingly enough, as much as I enjoy Debussy’s music, I thought the animation worked better for “Blue Bayou” than it did “Clair de Lune.” Still wasn’t a favorite, but worth a mention.

I loved “Johnny Fedora and Alice Blue Bonnet.” Absolutely loved it. Finally, a great little story without a narrator. One of my main qualms with most of the package feature shorts is that Disney relies too heavily on a narrator instead of just letting the stories tell themselves. “Johnny Fedora” had a pretty simple story, but it was well done and Disney didn’t push it too hard. It was understated, and it worked quite nicely.

As much as I love Sterling Holloway and appreciate his place in Disney history, the narration of “Peter and the Wolf” kind of killed it for me. It could have been an opportunity for Disney to explore some really beautiful Russian artistic work, and the short came with an already established narrative…so why the narrator, I wonder? It just felt dumbed down a bit from what it could have been. Why not just tell the story? I really had higher expectations for this one. I guess I should note, though, that I do remember watching “Peter and the Wolf” in my elementary music school class. The introduction of the instruments at the beginning, showing what their motifs mean int he overall piece, is a pretty cool idea, and it helps illustrate the complexity of Prokofiev’s composition.

So, all in all, Make Mine Music was enjoyable. Out of the three package features so far, I would definitely watch this one again before the other two.

(PS – Yes, I know “Casey at the Bat” is a part of Make Mine Music, and it’s probably the best known of its shorts. I didn’t love it; didn’t hate it. I just liked some of the other stuff more.)

Back in action!

Hello all —

Apologies for having been away so long…but I am back!

Expect a Make Mine Music post tomorrow.

Apartment Hunting! Ahhh!

Well, I’m making the big journey to Washington, D.C., to apartment hunt for my soon-to-be job!

…which means, unfortunately, that I’ll have to put The Disney 50 on hold for a bit.

However, in the meantime, I’m interested to know from readers: What is your favorite of the Disney animated classics? I won’t tell you mine yet — you’ll have to keep reading to find out — but it is coming up very soon!

Oh…also…if anyone knows any good places to live in D.C., please let me know!

Well, that does it for the Latin American-themed package features. I’m pretty excited to move on.

#7 – The Three Caballeros (1945)

Similar to Saludos Amigos, The Three Caballeros was a part of Disney’s goodwill tour of Latin America. Unlike Saludos Amigos, it drags on for 72 minutes.

The Three Caballeros is based around a gift Donald Duck receives for his birthday from his friends in Latin America. The gifts are each cartoon shorts that take us on a journey through various countries and cities. Toward the end, he meets up with Jose Carioca (from Saludos Amigos) and meets a new friend, Panchito Pistoles.

I think the most positive and interesting aspect of this film is the blending between live action and animation. I get the feeling that Disney needed a challenge this time around (as compared to Saludos Amigos), and so they decided to play with the technique they hadn’t visited since Walt’s early Alice shorts. Their effort pays off well; it’s fun watching the animated characters interact with the live action dancers. However, that fun can only go on so long.

I felt that most of the shorts dragged on much longer than they needed to. Also, the few that had actual plot are grouped toward the beginning, while the latter 30 minutes is mostly just music and dancing. It’s entertaining, but I found my attention drifting away from time to time.

The “Cold Blooded Penguin” sequence is enjoyable, and the “Baia” segment features its fair share of beautiful artwork…but other than that? The Three Caballeros isn’t going to go on my list of favorites any time soon.

(However, it is kind of neat that Aurora Miranda, sister of Carmen Miranda, appears in the film.)

And so, my journey through the package features begins with this forgettable 42-minute exploration of South America.

#6 – Saludos Amigos (1942)

After disappointing box office returns from Fantasia and Bambi, the studio needed some money. After watching Saludos Amigos, I can only imagine they needed to make a lot of money really, really quickly.

In the early 1940s, Disney artists traveled to Brazil, Argentina, Chile, and Peru as a goodwill tour underwritten by the United States government. Saludos Amigos turns their journey into a collection of shorts set in each place the artists visited.

Part comedy and part educational/cultural documentary, Saludos Amigos is really rather uninteresting. The four segments include Disney favorites Goofy and Donald, as well as several new characters including Jose Carioca and Pedro the Plane. Each segment is loosely stitched together with live action footage of the Disney team touring the countries. The live action footage includes a shot of Walt with the artists, which I thought was kind of fun. It felt a little M. Night Shyamalan.

Saludos Amigos is not without clever gags. The bit with Donald and the camel crossing the canyon stands out as particularly funny. However, the movie is rather noticeably missing the sense of artistic interest or depth that Disney had been working toward on the previous 5 features. It is as if they tried to flex their artistic muscle a little bit more with each successive movie after Snow White, and then Saludos Amigos starts back at square one. The decline is particularly noticeable after Bambi, which was such a step forward in terms of visual development.

Also, a reader has brought it to my attention that the El Gaucho Goofy segment originally featured Goofy smoking a cigarette, but Disney has since edited it out of DVD releases. What??? He’s a cowboy. In Latin America. I think he can get away with smoking. I understand that it’s Goofy, and he’s beloved by children worldwide…but they really felt it necessary to edit that out? I would have much preferred that they cut out the clip of the pigs being gutted, personally.

A final complaint that will probably be specific only to me: the map of Texas and Oklahoma that is part of the El Gaucho Goofy segment. Anyone who has ever driven through the panhandle of Texas (where I live) knows that the land is flat. Completely. Flat. Disney’s version is quite mountainous. Like…Rocky Mountain-esque. Artistic liberty, much?

Overall…I’m just kind of wondering why Disney counts this film among their “official” Disney animated classics. It is only 42 minutes — many of which are live action. So…why? I understand they needed money, and the government wanted them to make it…but that doesn’t mean it has to be considered a “Disney animated classic.”

And all this time, I had thought Flower was a girl.

#5 – Bambi (1942)

I have one very specific memory from my childhood regarding Bambi. My mom and I were in line for something at a Disneyana Convention. To entertain us in the long line, there was a Cast Member quizzing us on Disney Trivia. Although I was only 10 or 11, I can truthfully say that I brought my A-game. When asked, “Who wrote the book that Bambi was based on?” I was the only one who could correctly answer: Felix Salten. How I knew that, I don’t recall.

I feel like Bambi is one of those movies that you think you remember all the details — mainly because you remember that his mom dies — and then when you actually watch it, it’s like watching it for the first time.

I have to say, I think Bambi is my favorite so far. The animators really pushed the envelope in terms of character design and animation. The massive amounts of research they did in terms of bringing animals to the studio or travelling to see them in their natural habitats really paid off. This is, I think, by far the most fluid animation out of the first 5 Disney films. They really started to hit their stride with Bambi; the range of the animals’ facial expressions and emotions is really quite something. Unfortunately, coming off of this wonderfully drawn film, the animators had to trail off a bit for the next 6, which were all the odd package movies.

I have always thought Flower was a girl. Young Flower comes off as a girl to me. I don’t know why. Needless to say, I was shocked to discover otherwise when his voice changed in the second act. …You learn something new every day, I reckon.

As expected, the death of Bambi’s mother was devastating. I felt, however, that I would have liked to have more of a “middle” to this short, 68-minute film. Unfortunately, because they did take so much extra time to perfect their drawings of the animals (on average, they only did 8 drawings a day!), they had to cut about 12 minutes of the film to meet deadlines. I would have been interested to see a bit more of Bambi’s life with the Great Prince. I believe that the 2006 sequel, Bambi II, covers this time period of Bambi’s life. Despite my general opposition to the Disney sequels, I might cave and watch it. I’m kind of interested to see what happens. Has anyone seen it? Is it any good?

That complaint aside, Bambi is a wonderful, beautifully animated film. Due to World War II going on at the time, it wasn’t particularly successful financially, but its definitely an admirable artistic feat.

I’m kind of dreading the next 6 — the package films. Kind of a lot, actually. We’ll see.