Sunday, October 7, 2012

Disney Canon: Melody Time (1948)

'Melody Time' is the first-to-last of Disney's 'package' films and has an enormous resemblance to 'Make Mine Music', which we already covered. It is also composed out of seven short segments animated to popular music of the time. Much that could be said about the production of the film has already been said in our previous entries and there's not much to add to that. 'Melody Time' might well be the most obscure of all the entries in the Disney canon. Some of the segments in the other package films have gotten pretty well-known, but none of the pieces that make 'Melody Time' seem to have stood the test of time. 

Like we did with 'Make Mine Music', I thought the best way of covering this one was to do it by segment. Here we go: 

Once Upon a Wintertime
The first segment is sung by Frances Longford and I am familiar with these images, albeit from a Disney VHS in which they were the images to a 'Jingle Bells' sing-a-long. However, I didn't know they belonged in this movie, much less that they weren't scored to 'Jingle Bells'. The segment focuses on a lovestruck couple and some cute rabbits skating on a lake. However, when the ice starts breaking things get pretty dangerous. I didn't see the danger sequence coming and was glad that it played silently to the score, without narration. As you might remember, constant narration was one of the things that bugged me about the previous 'package' films.

Bumble Boogie
Freddy Martin and his orchestra play a jazzy interpretation of Rimsky-Koraskov's 'Flight of the Bumblebee'. It features a little Bumblebee amidst a chaotic musical nightmare. It is quite surreal and entertaining, although a little too short, but it's still one of my favorite segments of the film. Also, Wikipedia tells me it was one of the pieces considered for 'Fantasia'. Take that as you will. 

The Legend of Johnny Appleseed
Dennis Day tells the story of American pioneer John Chapman, who roamed the Midwest planting apple trees. It is one of the most well-known segments of the film, because it was re-released separately in 1955, but that's still not saying much. A celebration of the American pioneers seems like something that doesn't really resonate with me, but it is nice to see the man being celebrated be a guy who plants trees instead of a native-killing warrior. 

Little Toot
Now, the Andrew Sisters are back from 'Make Mine Music' for this segment. Little Toot is a little boat who wants to be like his dad. Now, I'm a sucker for the Andrew Sisters, so I really enjoyed this segment, which provides a surprisingly emotional arc for the lead character.

Fred Waring and the Pennsylvanians make a musical arrangement of Joyce Kilmer's poem and animators set it to some beautiful images of the seasons passing. I appreciate it as an ode to trees, which are a pretty nice thing and something that this movie seems to appreciate a lot and I think it's a smart move of their part to make the segment rather short so that the young ones don't get bored by it.

Blame it on the Samba
Here we have a 'Three Caballeros' reunion, in which Donald Duck and Jose Carioca are joined by the Aracuan Bird, who lifts their spirits by introducing them to the Samba. Now, the Aracuan bird is a funny character and the segment is very amusing, but I thought it was Jose Carioca who was the big samba enthusiast. Also, wasn't the Aracuan bird supposed to be Colombian? Anyway, I'd still rather blame it on the samba than the boogie.

Pacos Bill
Now, the last segment (featuring Roy Rogers and the Sons of the Pioneers) is most probably the most famous of all the segments in the film, but not exactly for the right reason. The story of the famous Texas cowboy may be the longest of the segments, but it isn't particularly better than the other segments. Neither is it significantly worse. It just achieved notoriety because of a scene featuring Pecos smoking a cigarette  which was later edited out of the film in subsequent home video releases. Still the story of the best cowboy that ever lived (who incidentally was supposedly raised by coyotes!) is very amusing, although not quite as kick-ass as it sounds.

Overall, 'Melody Time' is the most consistant of the 'package' films in that all its segments are in the same area of "goodness". Now, it certainly doesn't achieve the heights of 'Mickey and the Beanstalk' or 'Peter and the Wolf', but there is something to be said about uniformity and how it enhances the viewing of the film when compared to the others.

Next Time: It's the last of the 'package' films: 'The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad'. On the meantime, why not practice your samba moves?

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