Original Release: April 1946
Runtime: 76 Minutes
If it hasn’t become clear yet by my mentioning in every article, let me say it again here, World War II was not kind to Disney. Several of the studios big budget films had flopped and the small budget films had only just barely made ends meet. At this point, it seems that Walt Disney Studios was surviving on the kindness of the United States Government and a bit of prayer from Walt himself.
That’s not to say that there weren’t plenty of ideas coming out of the studio, it simply was a matter of not having the time, money or manpower to finish them. This inevitably led to the creation of package films; features which included several shorts to make up a whole movie. With all these spare ideas and no where to put them, it’s easy to see how the mixed bag of animated shorts set to popular music of the time, Make Mine Music, came to be.
The team at Disney was stretched thin. Many animators had been drafted into the war while many others were working on propaganda films for the U.S. government, the money for which was keeping the company afloat. Yet artists have a way of creating and so, in their spare time, they had created short segments and two years after The Three Caballeros, these ideas were all put into one film. The problem I find is that Make Mine Music feels like a hodge-podge of everything. The only unifying string throughout the film (barely) is that each piece is set to music. Going in, I expected something like Fantasia but with more popular music of the 1940’s. This isn’t really the case.
There are a lot of segments here and they range from great to passable to instantly forgettable. The original version of the film opened with a segment which was not in the copy we viewed, but I did manage to watch it after the fact. ‘The Martins and the Coys’ was largely panned for being overly violent. It’s essentially a story of two hillbilly families who shoot at each other until they are all dead. Afterwards, they watch from heaven as their children marry, making them all upset that they would do this in a very Romeo/Juliet sort of fashion. By the end, though, the couple is fighting as we see that people are just born to hate others? It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense and it isn’t really missed from the current version of the film. It is interesting though that this seems like the first time Disney was asked to ‘edit’ something in order to be more family friendly, at least in my Vault re-watch that is. I’m sure we’ll see more of that as we continue this journey.
I won’t say much about ‘Blue Bayou’ as there isn’t much to be said. It is an overly simple scene of two cranes flying through a bayou by night while Benny Goodman sings in the background. It is a very slow and tedious piece with some nice scenery but as the current version of the film stands, it starts us off on a very slow, boring note.
Luckily, the next segment, ‘All the Cats Join In,’ is much more entertaining. Once again sung by Benny Goodman, we see a bunch of teenagers go out for a night of some swing dancing as an illustrated pencil draws in the scene as it happens, which makes this a very fun sequence to watch. Cars stop at stop lights right as they are drawn while women throw on their skirts from closets that just came into being.
I have one problem with this segment. At one point, the pencil draws a girl with a more voluptuous figure. The boy who she’s meant to dance with, yawns, as if bored by the idea of a ‘big girl’. The pencil then corrects this by erasing her behind, leaving her with a smaller one. Yikes. This would so not be okay today. Honestly, I’m surprised it was okay then. It takes all the body image issues of women and shoves them into a cute little cartoon world and it really took me out of the short. I actually gasped. All that blatant sexism aside though, ‘All the Cats Join In’ was fun for the most part.
‘Without You’ is another ballad with not much happening on the screen. These pieces feel like pallet cleansers, but unfortunately I think you could remove most of them and have a better movie afterwords. Oh well, at least the art is pretty to look at. We also have to consider that some of these ballads were very popular at the time. Watching commercials of the time, it’s evident that a slower pace was something that people connected to so perhaps these segments were much more entertaining in the 40’s.
‘Casey at the Bat’ is a good example of a piece that isn’t really driven by music. There is some singing but also an announcer which sort of fills in the holes. The piece is actually taken from the poem by the same name by Ernest Thayer. This is the story of a baseball game and the reliance the team puts on one player who never misses, Casey.
We see everything that leads up to him coming on the field and once he does, we see what a pompous jerk he appears to be. We fully expect him to save the day and win the game, when he strikes out. This proves to be a good twist and very funny. The animation of this segment also stands out as being very fun and crazy and actually made me not hate baseball, so that’s a win I suppose.
Two Silhouettes is another ballad but mixes up the formula by having the silhouettes of two live actors against an animated background. This proves to at least be an interesting experiment as it was something that hadn’t really been done much at the time. The movement of the dancers also makes it more engaging than the previous two ballads.
I was happily surprised to see that a short I loved as a child, ‘Peter and the Wolf,’ was originally from this movie. Here we are introduced to each character as an instrument so that we can pick up on the musical cues of the song. The ever lovable voice of Winnie the Pooh and the Cheshire Cat, Sterling Holloway, shows up to tell us the tale of Peter, Sasha the Bird, Sonia the Duck, Ivan the Cat and of course, the Wolf.
I loved this segment. Sure it has sentimental value for me, but it also has the most through line as far as story is concerned. There is dramatic tension as the wolf attacks and we even believe that Sonia has been eaten for a good part of the short. The animals are all very well animated and the story is simple yet engaging. The musical cues work well and hearing the oboe mix with the flute every time Sasha and Sonia appear together creates a very cool effect as far as our ears and eyes working together. This is the definite high point of the this film in my opinion.
‘After You’ve Gone’ uses Benny Goodman once more as we see an octet of instruments transformed into the actual instruments who go on a romp through a world of color. This segment is very lively but feels like it would have been very at home in Fantasia, using many of the same visual cues as the film.
‘Johnnie Fedora and Alice Bluebonnet’ is so very cute. Johnnie and Alice are lovers as well as hats, who live at the hat shop until Alice is purchased. She sings for Johnnie but he cannot hear her. Finally he is bought and after escaping his owners head he goes on a journey to find her. He is trampled on, involved in a bar fight and almost goes down the drain when he is finally recruited as the hat for a fancy horse, part of a horse drawn carriage.
As things go with star crossed lovers, it turns out Alice is also part of the horse hat squad and they live happily ever after riding along atop their respective horses. What can I say? This is Disney at what it does best, lovers who are separated but must then go through hell to be back together and earn their love. I loved this little short and feel like it could be the header for any pixar or Disney film even today.
We finally end with a tale that is equal parts cute, terrifying and depressing. ‘The Whale Who Wanted to Sing at the Met’ is exactly what the title implies. Stories start spreading of a whale who can sing that has been spotted out at sea. The conductor Tetti-Tatti concludes that this means that the whale has eaten an amazing opera singer and must be killed in order to save his new star. After all, it’s the only logical conclusion…right?
Tetti-Tatti sets sail and they find the whale, who sings to them, believing he is about to get his lucky break. We see a montage of Willy performing different operas at the met and see him in various outfits as he does this until finally we are snapped back to reality where Tetti-Tatti actually harpoons Willy, killing him. We end with Willy in heaven singing his heart out. Yeah, it’s about as depressing as it sounds.
The creepiness in this short comes from the animation of Willy himself. For starters, his mouth opens where his chest would be which is not standard for a whale. I get the feeling this was done for animation purposes so that he was easier to illustrate him singing the operatic tunes, BUT after the initial cuteness, it starts to seem very odd. Willy also has three tonsils which act as three different singers and can even sing separately in Tenor, Baritone and Bass. The tonsils are shown vibrating often and I have to say it was a little disconcerting. The whole affair gets very out of sorts quickly, and I think that this tale of a whale could best be explained by the phrase ‘jumping the shark.’
After all of this, Willy is killed before he even gets his chance and is sent to heaven. I don’t necessarily mind this ending as I like the idea that it implies that some legends are just too powerful for this world and I like the implications of man destroying beautiful things because he can’t understand them. I think these messages are deep and worthy of being talked about but this is the last segment of the film, meaning that we leave on a very low, sad note.
I can’t say that Make Mine Music was one of my favorite films so far. For every moment of greatness, there are at least two stumbles. I do think it is fortunate that many of these shorts were shown later on in different packages and on the Disney channel itself, separate from the whole film as it would be sad to lose the best of this package due to the fact that there are so many duds. If you want my advice, watch ‘Peter and Wolf’ and ‘Johnny Fedora’ and you’ll be set, unless it’s Halloween and you want something to scare the kids. Then feel free to get to know a little whale with three terrifying tonsils and a misplaced mouth, which even breathes fire at one point for added horror. Paranormal Activity ain’t got nothing on Willy.
Next up: Fun and Fancy Free
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NOTE: Obviously all the photos are courtesy of Disney Entertainment and I would never in a million years claim them as my own. That being said, all are actually taken with my phone during our viewing in order to capture the moment in a slightly different way than originally intended.
ALSO: My Fiancee has a blog too and he is talking about all the classics we are currently watching, which involves more than just Disney. Head over HERE and check it out!