Original Release: September 1947
Runtime: 73 Minutes
If you read my article on the previous film in this series, Make Mine Music, you’ll know that I was starting to get a little tired of the package film era. Essentially, with World War II raging in the background, taking valuable resources from Walt Disney Studios, (Time, money, employees) it was decided that they would forego lengthy full length features and focus on short stories which could then be ‘packaged’ together to make a full length film. Since the animation and time on these projects was not at the high level of previous Disney films, they were cheaper to make and allowed Walt to make back some much needed cash. The problem is that watching many of these in a row, knowing that so many truly magical films are right around the corner, can feel a bit tedious and draining. Then along comes Fun and Fancy Free.
I really really loved this film. That’s not to say that I didn’t have my criticisms and as you may soon discover, I think I loved it for many of the wrong reasons as I have a bit of a dark sense of humor. Fun and Fancy Free exudes everything I think a package film should be. It tells two very complete stories while being entertaining and still having very top-notch animation. Either of these two films could be expanded to be an entire movie and that makes this film really feel like a great bargain; two great stories for the price of one.
Forgive me if I go on about the history of this film a little long but I find it to be so fascinating that I have to share. The two short films in Fun and Fancy Free, ‘Bongo’ and ‘Mickey and the Beanstalk’ were both originally planned to be full length features and were both in full production mode in the early 1940’s. Then, on December 7, 1941, Pearl Harbor was tragically bombed. The day after, the U.S. military essentially took over Disney studios. The studio’s main objective became propaganda films for the folks at home and morale boosting films for the troops. Actually, military was even stationed in the Disney offices to assist with this change-over. This also meant that several films which were slated to come out much sooner like Alice in Wonderland and The Wind in the Willows were put on hold.
When Walt finally saw ‘Bongo’ and ‘The Legend of Happy Valley’ (The original title for ‘Mickey and the Beanstalk’) he realized that their animation styles were very simple and similar, making them not great for a full length but perfect to put together in their own package film. Mickey was pulled from his original package film, Two Fabulous Characters (Which would eventually become The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad) and put it with Bongo and thus was born Fun and Fancy Free.
Jiminy Cricket shows up to lead us in to this film and I couldn’t have been more happy to see him. He’s such a great character with so much charm and charisma. He sings a happy song of “I’m a Happy-go-Lucky Fellow.” This is a great way to start off as it really put me in the mindset that I was going to watch stories that were bound to make me smile. I like that. He sings this as he moves through a room full of books and toys. He meets up with Cleo, from Pinocchio, but then is attacked by a cat who does not look like little Figero. I found this very curious. Maybe this is a different goldfish and they all just look so similar? Hard to tell. Anyway, the song lets off as he encounters a very sad looking doll and a grumpy looking stuffed bear. From here, he finds the story of Bongo on a record, and throws it on, hoping that it will cheer the two toys up.
‘Bongo’ is a very curious story. It was based on the short story written by Sinclair Lewis and was originally published in Cosmopolitan magazine, of all places, in 1930. Originally, this film was meant to be a prequel to Dumbo, which would feature many of the same characters. After all, Bongo starts out as a well-mannered circus bear who wears a little hat and coat and rides around on a unicycle for the audiences enjoyment.
This idea, never came to be. In fact, many of the side characters planned for this version of the story were eventually dropped, leaving us with the central story of a bear who escapes from the circus to live free and then meets the love of his life who he must fight for and learn the bear ways in order to win.
Bongo is very cute and a fun little story but I have my concerns. Alright, let’s just get this out of the way, because we have to talk about the slapping song. For those of you who have not seen the film, the series of events plays out as follows. Bongo falls for a girl bear, Lulubelle but she slaps him, and seeing this as a sign of dislike, as one normally would, he leaves her behind to be courted to by the seemingly much older than her, mean-faced Lumpjaw. That’s right, there is a bear named Lumpjaw and he lives up to his name.
Bongo then goes off into the woods, sad, and happens to overhear a song sung by the bears about how bears like to say “I love you” by slapping each other. I’ve attached a video of the song below so you can really take it in.
WHAT?! That was my initial reaction. I’m sorry but this whole song just creeps me out. It’s a song about hitting our loved one’s and there’s a whole part where the male bear is looming over the female and then tosses her around before slapping her. And sure, the females do plenty of slapping but this whole segment reeks of domestic abuse. I’m torn here because I think from a purely childlike perspective, the song is really cute and the bears dancing in a line is adorable. However, from an adult perspective, the implications of this segment and what it’s teaching kids are just too concerning to ignore. “Don’t worry if Daddy hits Mommy, that’s how we say I love you.”
Okay, let’s shake it off. Let’s calm down. ‘Bongo’ is very well animated and still very cute. I like everything but the implications of the bear slapping and if I can turn off the screaming voice in my head that tells me everything wrong with that song, I actually find it pretty catchy. Let’s just move on, shall we? Bongo eventually fights off Lumpjaw and saves the day, getting the girl in the process, and then, of course, must slap her. Yikes, I just…I can’t!
Let’s get back to Jiminy who decided to attend a party and when he shows up we see OH MY GOD WHAT IS THAT?!!?!?
Alright, aside from the fact that this might just be the most terrifying party anyone has ever walked in on, let’s examine the facts. Actors Edgar Bergen and Luana Patten were very popular at the time so before we worry about the live action actors setting around with dummy puppets Charlie McCarthy and Mortimer Snerd, we need to remember that fact. Before we even take into account that Luana’s parents are no where to be seen, considering it is her birthday, and the fact that Edgar’s strange hat makes him look ten times more like a creepy old man, we need to remember that people were probably excited to find out these two would be in the film together. Okay. Deep breaths. Let’s continue.
Edgar tells us the story of Mickey and the Beanstalk, originally titled ‘The Legend of Happy Valley.’ This story stars Mickey, Donald and Goofy for the first time together in one of the Disney Canon films. This short was originally meant to be a full length movie but before that it almost didn’t happen at all. When Walt was pitched this tale, he loved the idea but said it would never happen as it “killed the characters.” Eventually though, after several tweaks and the fact that Mickey’s popularity was declining, he green lit the project.
This story was also supposed to include characters Honest John and Gideon from Pinocchio as well as Minnie Mouse but they were cut out of the final version in order to save time and money. The story is similar to ‘Jack and the Beanstalk’ but with a Disney twist. In the land of Happy Valley everything is happy until the magical golden harp which makes everyone happy is stolen by the giant, Willie. The valley becomes desolate and barren and Mickey, Donald and Goofy must sell their cow to make ends meet.
Mickey comes back home with no food or money. Only magic beans, which Donald promptly yells about and then throws away. Once asleep for the night, the beanstalk grows. This happened to be a fantastic segment as the beanstalk literally takes our heroes up with it as they sleep, and since they can apparently sleep through anything, the end result is hysterical.
Up the beanstalk they must trick Willie, who we find can transform shape using the words “Fee Fi Fo Fum,” in order to save the harp.
They race down the beanstalk and chop it down, sending Willie falling.
Back in the real world, Mortimer is upset by the giant’s death, when the Giant literally raises the roof and peaks in, showing us that he is still alive and searching for Mickey. If only Willy the Whale in our last film had had an equally non-depressing death.
‘Mickey and the Beanstalk’ is fun in the way that it twists the formula. It surprises us by giving us an unconventional version of a story we already know. Mickey, Donald and Goofy are insanely fun to watch together. This marked the last time that Walt voiced Mickey as his schedule became too hectic. In fact, in later versions of the film, many of his lines were redone by the new voice actor Jimmy MacDonald.
I can’t tell if I liked Fun and Fancy Free because it was really good or because it was so ridiculous with its slapping bears and creepy birthday parties and funny hats. Either way, the film ended with me smiling and that’s all you can really ask for. Every Disney film teaches us something and this one is no exception.
“When love comes along don’t be silly, never ever waste your time like a sap. Let the others hug and kiss, but the bare facts are this; that a bear likes to say it with a slap.” Insert slap here.
Next Up: Melody Time
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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!
Categories: Vault Disney