Original Release: May 1948
Runtime: 75 Minutes
Here we are, at the end of the package film era of Disney, and all I can say is, “Thank goodness.” In the 1940’s Walt Disney Studios created package films, which were collections of several short films made into one feature, in order to save time and make back some much needed money before launching into true full length movies after the war. While The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad, is still technically a package film, Melody Time is widely considered the last of this era.
Melody Time feels much like the spiritual successor to Make Mine Music in that it takes several popular singers of the time and has them sing songs which are then the backdrop for several short stories. I find it truly interesting that all of these films are very similar to the style and formula of Fantasia, yet only Fantasia is really strongly remembered in the current day. Perhaps that is simply because of the the sequel, Fantasia 2000, but it’s hard to tell. While many of this films segments are entertaining, few ever manage to be truly amazing or moving as we so often expect from Disney and I find that the package film era ends on a bit of a quiet note, with some raucous cowboy shootin’ and hog tyin’ thrown in for good measure.
We start off the show with ‘Once Upon a Wintertime.’ In this story, we see a young couple ride out to go ice skating, followed by two bunnies who mirror their young love and sense of adventure. After rejecting the boy for not being nice enough to her, the girl is swept away by melting ice and she, and one of the rabbits must be saved before careening over a waterfall.
This a cute segment, for sure, but I find it strange that the music is so somber and slow when the entire piece is very fun and has lots of slapstick. The music and the animation feel like two foreign objects slammed together and forced to cooperate and it sometimes works but not all the time. It is my understanding that this segment was later put to the music ‘Jingle Bells,’ which seems like a much better fit to me. The song itself was sung by Frances Langford, who was quite popular at the time, making me wonder if this song was only chosen due to her. Either way, at least the bunnies are cute.
‘Bumble Boogie’ is very short and sweet but looking back, it was probably my favorite segment of the film. It involves a little bumble bee running away from a surreal orchestra which is constantly transforming to attack him, all set to a jazzy version of ‘Flight of the Bumblebee’ by Rimsky-Korsakov. The music is fast and all the imagery is full of color and is very whimsical. It doesn’t feel forced or cheesy at all and that’s something I’ve become very thankful for in these old shorts. Most importantly, all the elements of this film still work today. It doesn’t feel horribly aged thanks to the creativeness and the music. This piece was originally considered for Fantasia but did not make the cut. I’m very glad to see that it still got to see the light of day as it stands as one of the best parts of this film. And that’s coming from someone who is terrified of bees, so you know it must be good.
‘The Legend of Johnny Appleseed’ is one of the longer shorts in this collection and is a retelling of the classic tale of John Chapman, a man turned folk tale, who traveled the United States countryside with nothing but a pan for a hat, his bible and about a billion apple seeds.
Johnny thinks he is too weak to seek adventure as a pioneer until his guardian angel, who is a bit of a hillbilly, shows up to tell him that all he needs is his bible and pan hat and he’s set. Johnny is a pretty easy character to like. He is kind to the animals and as someone who loves food, cooking and apples, I love the idea that apples and the things they make can bring people together. This is shown through a party where Caucasian folk and Native Americans are dancing and eating fritters. I don’t know how realistic this is, and any good will the short puts forth in diversity is squashed later by Pecos Bill, but I like it in theory at least.
I was surprised at the amount of religion in this short as the Bible and the Lord are very often referred to. While I’m not religious myself, I loved how refreshing this was. This short was made in a day where it wasn’t mandatory to edit these parts. John Chapman believed in God and it was part of his driving force so I think it’s very important to show that in telling his story, even from an animated perspective.
Eventually, John passes away in his sleep and tells his angel he can’t go because there are still so many apples to be planted. His angel tells him that what they are really missing in heaven are some fresh apples and Johnny goes willingly. I was surprisingly touched. I loved watching Johnny go on to heaven to continue his mission and love for apples and having him pass in his sleep with his animal friends around him was also very sweet. Of all the deaths, and there have been several in these short films, this was the one that I felt was handled the best and really warmed my heart. Ya done did good, Johnny.
‘Little Toot’ is a morality tale to say the least. Based on the short story by Hardie Gramatky, and sung by The Andrews Sisters, ‘Little Toot’ tells the tale of a little tugboat who likes to mess around and have fun all the time until one day he messes everything up, crashing a huge ship and getting his father fired. He is then banished out to the ocean where he is shamed. Literally, the song yells “SHAME!” at him as if we are back in the Season Five finale of ‘Game of Thrones’. It’s intense to say the least.
Eventually though, Little Toot finds a ship in a huge storm and helps it to safety and, as the song claims, he becomes a ‘Big Toot.’ This is basically a story about how kids should stop messing around and just work. I don’t really agree with the message, but the story is cute and I got a good few chuckles out of the words ‘Little Toot’ and ‘Big Toot’ so I guess that makes it worth the price of admission.
Next up is easily my least favorite short of this collection. ‘Trees’ reminds me a lot of the ‘Blue Bayou’ from Make Mine Music. By this I mean, nothing really happens. We hear the recitation of the 1913 poem “Trees” by Joyce Kilmer and we see some nice imagery but that’s about it. There’s no story or funny element or anything memorable at all. While Melody Time was not my favorite film so far, I can actually say that ‘Trees’ was the only point in the film where I was tempted to fast forward.
‘Blame it on the Samba’ could have easily been in Saludos Amigos or The Three Caballeros. We see Donald and Jose Carioca show up to a bar, seeming sad and blue when the Aracuan Bird shows up to get some fun music playing and get them back up and dancing again. Let’s be honest, I’m going to be biased here. If you read my article on The Three Caballeros, you know that I love love love The Aracuan Bird. The noises that come out of him are so infectiously funny to me that I can’t help but love this piece.
We also get a little more of the live-action flair as Ethel Smith (A super Latino name, am I right?) plays the organ and Donald and Joe dance on it. This segment is upbeat and fun and colorful. If I have one complaint it’s that there is no Panchito to be seen. I couldn’t find a reason for him not being in this segment but I definitely missed him, despite getting a ton of Aracuan.
We end with the longest, and also most controversial short of the film. ‘Pecos Bill’ is about the Texas legend by the same name and his exploits from baby to adult. The story is told by real life Roy Rogers to Bobby Driscoll and Luana Patten, who I’m happy to see has escaped the grasp of scary puppet man from Fun and Fancy Free. We start with live action actors in an animated world as they sing us into the story.
Pecos is a very fun character and we see him start as a little baby and grow up to be a the rootinest tootinest cowboy in the West. We see him fight off buzzards to save his faithful horse Widowmaker, and then meet his love interest, Slue-Foot Sue. This film has all sorts of controversies going for it though, and I think those are always fun to talk about.
Let’s start with the silliest one. Apparently, some people at the time were very put off by a scene in which Pecos and Sue kiss, causing Pecos’ guns to jump out of his holsters and shoot all by themselves. Many people said this scene was a gross innuendo. To those people, I say, “Grow up.” It’s just a funny little bit to show that she excites him and we already know that so take it down a notch on the over sensitive scale.
The next couple of complaints, I get. For one, the film was edited in later releases to remove Pecos’ cigarette, which he smokes early and often. This caused later versions to have some odd animation as the cigarette is just not there even though he might motion to grab it from his mouth. My issue here is that when Disney was asked to edit this out, they were not asked to edit out Joe Carioca’s cigar. I don’t understand the difference! You can’t allow one and not the other. It is just so illogical to me.
Finally, we see a scene where Pecos is shooting at Native Americans as they paint each other and as they run away, their paint flies off and paints the Painted Canyon. Yeah, I don’t know what to say. Maybe Johnny Appleseed should have paid a visit to Texas. Maybe this segment is just plain ol’ racist. I’ve got nothing to say to make this one better. To me, it stood out way more than premature gun shooting or a cowboy who smokes.
Eventually all this leads to Sue bouncing her way to the moon on her overly bouncing bustle after trying to ride atop Widowmaker, who doesn’t like her to begin with as he thinks that she has taken Pecos away from him. She lands on the moon after bouncing higher and higher. Afterwards, Pecos howls to the moon every time it is full, out of sadness and this, says Roy Rogers, is why the coyotes howl at the moon.
The easiest comparison to Melody Time is Make Music Mine and while Melody Time wasn’t a super hit for me, I can honestly say that it improved over its predecessor. Almost all of the shorts are watchable and while not as solid or fun as The Three Caballeros or Fun and Fancy Free, it still stands out as one of the better package films. That being said, I’m glad we are starting into the golden age of Disney and some full length features which really deserve the name ‘Classic.’
Next Up: The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad
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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!