Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Disney's The Legend of Sleepy Hollow

Now for by far my favorite Disney short of all time: The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. I grew up with this story, as I'm sure most of you have. Why is it one of my favorites? Besides being one of my favorite spooky stories, it is also narrated by Bing Cosby, a singer who I could identify even when I was very little. Is it scary? Yes, even now the headless horseman freaks me out, but it's also a bit comical, especially in the scenes preceding the meeting of the horseman and Ichabod. I'm used to seeing only up to the Van Tassel's Halloween party and further, due to that was the section included in Disney's Halloween Treat. If you are able to find a copy of it, get it. It is a classic set of shorts. Our copy is videotaped from TV in 1986. Is the party and the chase the best part? Yes, but it is a great short as a whole. Especially if you like Bing Cosby.

Crosby details the sleepy little town called Sleepy Hollow, but explains that sometimes it can be a bit foreboding. The town has a new schoolmaster in Ichabod Crane, a tall lanky man that is the talk of the town for his odd appearance. Ichabod is the complete opposite of local bully, Brom Bones. Brom is a strong, stubborn man who seeks to torment Crane. Despite his appearance, Ichabod proves to be quite the ladies man, getting the attention of the eligible ladies in the town. Then Ichabod sees Katrina Van Tassel. She is a beautiful and wealthy to boot. Ichabod is in love, though it's not quite clear which part of her he is more in love with, her money or looks. He attempts to court Katrina, but Brom is the supposedly intended mate for her. Brom attempts to foil Ichabod's courting, but to no avail. It's at the Van Tassel Halloween party that Brom sees his chance. He notices that Ichabod is incredibly superstitious and proceeds to tell the story of the Headless Horseman. This of course has Ichabod chomping at the bits. Ichabod leaves the party and has to travel home through the dark woods. The very same woods that the Horseman supposedly haunts. Both him and his horse think they see the horseman, but realize that they are being silly. They start laughing hysterically. That's when the real (?) horseman shows up and gives chase. After a long chase through the woods, sometimes in circles, Ichabod remembers that all he has to do is cross the covered bridge and the horseman will disappear. He does this and turns to see a flaming pumpkin flying right at him. We see the covered bridge the next morning, only seeing the smashed pumpkin and a hat. Brom and Katrina marry shortly after, and many think that the school teacher married a rich woman and had many children in a town down the road. But there are some that believe that the Headless Horseman spirited Ichabod away that Halloween night. I love the ambiguous ending. As the viewer you are not sure if it's the real horseman, or merely Brom trying to scare Ichabod away. Or maybe it was the real Horseman and Ichabod was spirited away. I guess we'll never know.

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow was written by Washington Irving in 1820. Irving is also known for his novel Rip Van Winkle and The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere. The latter, by the way, is completely false. I'll write about it sometime, but Irving gives Revere way too much credit. Anyway, Irving took the legend of the Headless Horseman from it's birthplace in Germany and put it's backdrop in Dutch Post-Revolution New York. There is an actual Sleepy Hollow that was used for the backdrop of the story. At that time, it was called North Tarrytown, the same name as the larger city that Sleepy Hollow inhabits in the story. The town, in real life, decided to change its name to Sleepy Hollow in honor of Washington Irving. The church used in the story is even based on the Old Dutch Church and Burying Ground in Sleepy Hollow, NY. It is said that Irving probably got the names for the characters from locals he knew, though many believe that the name Ichabod Crane came from an army captain that Irving met. Irving even based the main character off of a school teacher he knew that taught in Kinderhook. The Legend of Sleepy Hollow follows the tradition of folklore and poems including a wild supernatural chase.

There is actually very little difference between the two stories. Of the differences, one relates to the story of the Headless Horseman. In the short story, the Headless Horseman was a Hessian (German Mercenary) soldier whose head was knocked off by a stray cannonball during a battle in the American Revolutionary War. Ever since, the Hessian's ghost rides every night in search of a head. The second difference is the loss of ambiguity to the ending. It's said at the end of the short story that when Ichabod is spoken of, Brom Bones is said to look knowing. In other words, he is the assumed Headless Horseman. A lot less mystery, which I think makes the story less interesting. Sure that's the most logical explanation, but the other explanation is so cool!

Thus ends the long line of package films that were released in the 1940's. Onto the bigger, and for the most part, better full length films.

Disney's The Wind in the Willows

The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad released in 1949, is the 11th Disney film and sixth and final package film. It is by far my favorite of the package films having a great mixture of silly and downright spooky. Disney wanted to make The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame into a full length film, but like all his other prospective films, had to be put on the shelf for a while. Like Bongo, and Mickey and the Beanstalk, The Wind and the Willows would be used instead for a short instead of a full length. Many parts of the first draft were dropped to condense the film. Disney had really attempted to make it a full length, attaining the rights in 1938. While trying, his writers kept getting hung up by the Hays Code. I will make a whole post dedicated to the Hays Code, but for now, I will just say that it was basically the moral code of the early days of cinema. In the original story, Toad steals a car and escapes from jail. This wouldn't do for the animated feature. The Hays Code strictly said that the audience wasn't supposed to feel sympathy for a wrong-doer. I know, it was a really dumb code. Finding they couldn't get the movie made while following the original story, they changed it to make Toad framed for stealing the car instead. The Legend of Sleepy Hollow was used, though a dark story in comparison to The Wind in the Willows, Walt Disney liked the idea of pairing a British story with an American story. Sleepy Hollow was put second, as if it was put first, it would make The Wind and the Willows seem darker.

The Wind in the Willows follows the characters of Mr. Toad, Ratty, Moley, MacBadger, and Toad's horse, Cyril J. Proudbottom. The segment is narrated by Basil Rathbone, a famous British actor who was most famous for playing Sherlock Holmes. Toad is described as being an eccentric character, prone to manias. He follows fad after fad. He is very rich and resides in Toad Hall, the biggest and most extravagant house along the river bank. Though he is rich, he has very little true friends. Moley, Ratty, and MacBadger are the only people who support him in both good and bad weather. Ratty is the sensible one, chiding Toad for his eccentric nature. Moley is the gullible and simple character, easily tricked by Toad. MacBadger is a Scottish badger that takes over Toad's finances when Toad runs into money trouble. Toad's horse Cyril is a foolish character, who dons a cockney accent and demeanor. The story follows the life of Toad, who cannot sustain from manias. He has to take part in all the new things. His newest is riding in his carriage with Cyril, who sing the well known song, "Merrily on our Way to Nowhere in Particular." MacBadger tells Moley and Ratty to come quick and try and shake Toad from this new mania. They are unsuccessful in this, and are further stymied when Toad sees an automobile. They attempt to keep him in Toad Hall to keep him from buying a motor car, but he sneaks out and apparently steals a car and is caught. While on trial, he claims that he did not steal the car, but sold Toad Hall for it fair and square. Mr. Winkie, who had been the witness when Toad had sold the manor to a group of weasels, declared that instead Mr. Toad had tried to sell him a stolen car. Toad is locked up.

Mr. Toad swears that he is done with manias and decides to turn over a new leaf. This all changes when Cyril comes to his rescue, disguised as his grandmother, and helps him escape. Toad makes his way to Moley, MacBadger and Ratty. MacBadger reveals that the weasels and Mr. Winkie have taken over Toad Hall and saw the deed in Mr. Winkie's possession. The trio relents at not believing Toad and they go to steal the deed to the house back. They are successful in getting the deed back and Toad's name is cleared. His friends take comfort in knowing that Toad is a changed person and he won't be wrapped up in manias anymore. This comfort leaves them when they see Toad and Cyril flying around in a biplane.

This is a great segment, filled with fun characters such as Moley, Toad, and my personal favorite, Cyril. Seriously, he is ridiculous. Moley and Ratty make an appearance as the charity men in Disney's Christmas Carol. Mr. Toad makes a cameo in Who Framed Roger Rabbit, and the weasels in the movie are modeled after the ones in The Wind in the Willows. Mr. Toad can also be seen at Disneyland, having his own ride, Mr. Toad's Wild Ride. This used to be a ride in Disney World, but was replaced a few years ago by a Winnie the Pooh ride. It's too bad, I really liked that ride. The statue of Mr. Toad that adorned the entrance to the ride can now be found on top of one of the gravestones in the pet cemetery outside the Haunted Mansion.

The original Wind in the Willows has a bit of a different story. Like stated before, in the original version, Toad steals a car and later escapes from jail, unlike in the Disney version. Another big difference is his horse does not talk and thus is not used as comic relief. Dang! In the original story, Moley and Ratty go to visit Toad, who has gotten over his obsession with boats and now loves riding in his horse-drawn carriage. While giving Ratty and Moley a ride on his carriage, they are passed by a motor car. Thus starts Toad's obsession with cars. Moley decides to visit Badger deep in the Wild Wood and seek his help. In the original, Badger is not Scottish, and thus does not have a comical accent. Unfortunately Moley goes to seek Badger during the winter and gets lost while trying to find his house. Ratty goes to find Moley, but also becomes lost. They find each other and eventually arrive at Badger's door. They tell him of Toad's problems: he has crashed six motor cars and been hospitalized three times. They wait until Spring comes and all go to Toad Hall to confront Toad. They cannot get him to stop his obsession so they put him under house arrest. He escapes and steals a car, then gets caught and thrown in jail.

Ratty then goes to visit his old friend Otter, whose son, he finds out, is missing. Ratty and Moley set out to find him and call on the god Pan to help them. Pan leads them to the missing child, then wipes their memory of meeting him due to the fact that they would remember it and think everything else sucked in comparison. I wish I could do that to people. They won't meet anyone cooler than me! In jail, Toad gains the sympathy of the Jailor's daughter who helps him escape. Toad makes his way back to Ratty's house and finds out that his manor has been taken over by weasels, stoats and ferrets. I don't know what a stoat is, but I'm sure it's some sort of varmint. Toad is saddened by this but is happy to just have his four friends. The friends declare that they will get the manor back and go through a secret entrance to the manor and drive the intruders out. Toad changes his ways and they all remain friends til the end of their days.

It's funny because this ending is happier than the Disney one. Usually it's the Disney version that is all glossed over and made happier. Nope! Disney wanted Toad to remain a obsessive fool. Disney later would attach their name to another Wind in the Willows, though this one was live action, and was directed by Terry Jones. It starred John Cleese, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, and Michael Palin, all former members of the British comedy troupe Monty Python. I have seen parts of this version and it's quite entertaining, especially if you are a Monty Python fan. Next post is on the second half of the film, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Disney's Melody Time

Released in 1948, Melody Time is the tenth Disney animated film, and fifth package film. Melody Time sought to repeat the success that Make Mine Music hit. Again, this was a much cheaper film to make, with perhaps a big payoff. Though it follows the same format as Make Mine Music, Melody Time is considered to be the better of the two, having better technical and stylistic effects, especially in color styling.

The film has many popular actors and singers to lend a hand, including: Roy Rogers, Dennis Day, The Andrews Sisters, Frances Langford, Buddy Clark, Bob Nolan, Bobby Driscoll, Luana Patten (she was the little girl in Fun and Fancy Free), and Dallas McKennon.

The movie is broken up into seven shorts:
The first is "Once upon a Wintertime." The short details two romantic young lovers in December. The boy shows off for the girl on the ice, accidentally hitting her with ice shavings. She storms off and goes into the thin ice area. It's up to the boy to save her! Will he rescue her before she is carried off over the waterfall that just happens to be connected to the ice rink? Find out for yourself! You may remember the movie portion of the segment from the Disney Sing-A-Longs video Very Merry Christmas Songs, as I do. Come on! Someone else had to have had those videos!
Next is "Bumble Boogie." Rimskey-Korsakov's Flight of the Bumblebee is put to a swing-jazz variation and tells the story of an unfortunate bee who has to escape from a visual and musical frenzy. Flight of the Bumblebee was actually one of the many songs that were considered for Fantasia, but were ultimately dropped. This, along with Dumbo's pink elephant scene, goes down as one of the most cohesive and imaginatively executed musical sequences in 1940's Disney films. Trust me, this is a fun one to watch.
"The Legend of Johnny Appleseed, is next, telling the well-known folk story. Johnny Appleseed, better known as John Chapman, goes around and plants apple trees all over the frontier of America. The frontier being the mid-west that is. He finds his calling after an angel sings an apple song to him. That's when he knows that he has to go across the land and plant apple trees. Appleseed is also very kind to animals, even skunks, one of which he treats well, which leads to all animals trusting and helping Johnny Appleseed. I saved a possum once, but you don't see the whole forest helping me mow the lawn! The cartoon follows a positive message throughout and follows Johnny Appleseed all the way to his death, in which he goes to heaven and continues to plant apple trees.

The real John Chapman was a pioneer nurseryman who introduced apple trees to Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois. He became a legend while he was still alive as a generous man and a leader in conservation. He did not in fact grow orchards, but made nurseries. He would leave the nurseries with others to sell the trees and return every two years to tend to them. The nurseries would usually sell on credit or would take used clothes and other goods in payment. Appleseed was known as someone who wouldn't press a payment. He was given his supply of apple seeds from apple orchards who knew that the more apple trees around, the more money that they would eventually make. Appleseed also didn't wear tattered clothes and wear a pot on his head. He did wear used clothing, but not tattered and worn. He would also go without shoes during the summer to save on leather.
"Little Toot," is the fourth segment of the film. The Andrews Sisters sang all the songs for this short, which became the most famous of all the musical segment. When Capitol Records produced a record with the Little Toot song, it was the first children's record to hit the 1,000,000 sales mark on Billboard, according to then-president Alan Livingston. Little Toot just wants to have fun in the harbor and float around. His dad, Big Toot, has the job of pulling the big ships and wishes his son would grow up and act more respectively. Little Toot's antics leads him to crash a liner into the city. Seriously, he basically destroys part of a city. Little Toot is banished from the harbor. In exile he goes up against a storm, which makes everything seem just that much worse. This is similar to the story in Bongo, as he is also tormented by a storm upon his entrance into the forest. Little Toot rescues a liner in the storm however and brings it back safely to the harbor. He is welcomed back by all the other tugboats.

Little Toot is based on a children's story written and illustrated by Hardie Gramatky in 1939. The story is basically the same, except that Little Toot is considered a "sissy" and drifts out to sea. There he discovers the shipwrecked liner and proves his worth by bringing it back. This proved to be a very successful book for Gramatky and spawned several sequels.
"The Trees" is a segment that basically recites the famous Alfred Joyce Kilmer poem. Fred Waring and the Pennsylvanians provide the vocals. The visuals detail the life of a tree through the seasons. This is a very beautiful segment and features amazing artistry and style. Both the music and the visuals are stunning. Kilmer liked more than anything to have his poetry express his love of nature.
"Blame it on the Samba" harkens back to Saludos Amigos and The Three Caballeros. Donald and Jose Carioca meet up with the Aracuan bird form The Three Caballeros, who introduces them to the pleasures of the samba. The accompanying music is the polka, Apanhei-te, Cavaquinho by Ernesto Nazareth fitted with English lyrics. If you enjoyed the last two films that they were featured in, then you will enjoy this segment. The short uses colors to elaborate on the mood.
"The Ballad of Pecos Bill" details the many ways that Pecos Bill shaped what Texas is today. He is a larger than life figure that made the Rio Grande, the Gulf of Mexico, the painted desert, and even the stars over Texas. Besides the references to Native Americans as "redskins," this is a lighthearted look at the legendary tall tale character. Preceding the short is a live action segment featuring Roy Rogers himself, Bob Nolan, the Sons of the Pioneers, Bobby Driscoll, and Luana Patten. They sing a wistful ballad, "Blue Shadows on the Trail" before going into the animated segment. Fun fact about the animated section is that the cigarette that Pecos smokes is edited out in the more recent versions. It was deemed too offensive an image for children who may start smoking and trying to lasso tornadoes. Like Paul Bunyan, the story of Pecos Bill is an example of fakelore, or folklore that was invented in the 20th century. Instead of a legend told by cowboys around the time of westward expansion, the story was thought up by Edward O'Reilly and printed in a magazine in 1917. Not exactly the same thing. Some believe the Pecos Bill name came from Civil War general William Shafter, who was considered a hero in Texas and had legendary poetry written about how tough he was.

So, if you enjoyed the other music filled package films, you will probably enjoy Melody Time. I do think it's a step up from Make Mine Music in the artistic realm of things. I do like the stories in Make Mine Music better though.


Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Disney's Fun and Fancy Free

Released in 1947, Fun and Fancy Free was Disney's ninth feature, and fourth "package film." This film consists of only two shorts, unlike most of the other "package films." The two shorts were actually meant to be two separate full length films, but due to the Second World War, the stories were shortened and put together as one feature film. One of the shorts, Mickey and the Beanstalk, had been an idea of Walt Disney's for a long time and had been hoping to turn the classic story of Jack and the Beanstalk into a full length animated film. Disney had used the story for a few shorts like "The Brave Little Tailor," (lower picture) and "Giantland," so it was obvious that he enjoyed the story. Another story that Disney wanted to adapt into a full length film was "Bongo," the tale of a circus bear who wants to live out in the wild. Think Call of the Wild, but with bears. Written by Sinclair Lewis, it was a short story published in an issue of Cosmopolitan in 1930. Where have you heard the name Sinclair Lewis before? Along with being the first Nobel Prize in Literature, he wrote such notable books as Mainstreet and Babbit. Lewis usually wrote books satirizing American culture and society, or ones speaking out against conformity, so a fluffy tale like Bongo was uncharacteristic for the serious author. Disney purchased the rights to the film in the late 30's and planned on releasing it in the early 40's. What happened to these full length films? World War II happened! In fact, the finished script for Bongo was completed the day after the attack on Pearl Harbor. People were drafted a while later, and most of Disney was being used for the war effort. The military literally marched into the studio after the attack and halted all projects. Disney couldn't do anything unrelated to the war effort. What about Saludos Amigos and The Three Caballeros? They were technically used for a Goodwill tour and thus were OK to be made. So, if you notice, there are no other films released during the war besides those two. Thanks to the war, Mickey and the Beanstalk and Bongo were shelved. Disney didn't want to give up on his movies though. He realized that he could save a lot of money by cutting their lengths and releasing them together as a "package film." Add in a few stars and voila, Disney had Fun and Fancy Free. Though it was released after the war, Disney was nearly broke in 1945, and could only afford to release "package films." He had to keep churning out short subjects until he had enough money to churn out a regular feature. We all should thank these films for doing so well, or else we wouldn't of had Cinderella in 1950, or perhaps any of the other Disney classics we enjoy today.

Disney really wanted to put Mickey, Donald, and Goofy into a feature, but wasn't sure how. In fact, he was downright unsure if they could hold a whole feature. They were well received in shorts, but would they do well for much longer? Mickey and the Beanstalk was the perfect venue for them. Disney knew he wanted Mickey for the part of Jack, and decided to add Donald and Goofy to the mix. This would be the first time seeing all three together in a movie. Disney wanted to build suspense for the return of Mickey, so he decided to put Mickey and the Beanstalk second, after Bongo.

Jiminy Cricket opens the movie, walking through a house and singing "I'm a Happy-Go-Lucky Fellow," a song that was cut from Pinocchio. After singing the song, Jiminy stumbles upon a record player and some records, which he sets up to play the story of "Bongo."

To bring some mass appeal to the movie, Dinah Shore, an incredibly popular singer at that time, was brought in to narrate the Bongo segment. The story of Bongo was actually changed several times. Originally it was going to be a sequel or prequel to Dumbo and feature some of the characters from that film. That idea was ultimately abandoned. Bongo's love interest's name changed from Suzie to Silver-ear to the current Lulubelle. Extra characters in the story, such as a chimpanzee sidekick for Bongo and two mischievous cubs were cut when the movie was shortened for Fun and Fancy Free. What remained was the story of a circus bear that longed to live out in the wild. Bongo loved performing, but was forced to be shackled afterwards and he longed for freedom. While the circus train sped towards it's next performance, Bongo started to get the jitters. He had to get out of their and get into the wild, no matter what. He is literally hearing the wilderness calling his name and he cannot take it anymore. He breaks out of his car and tumbles into nature, still with his trusty unicycle he used in performances. As we have all found out when trying to rough it, it totally sucks. Bongo is having a terrible time trying to find food and catching some Z's. Bongo realizes that nature is not all it's cracked up to be. Maybe he didn't have it so bad back in the circus. If you look close during the Bongo segment, you'll realize that many of the woodland animals are the same that are used in Bambi. They are far less cartoon-ish than Bongo and you can even see the owl from Bambi for a split second.

This all changes when Bongo sees Lulubelle. He falls in love instantly as she bats her eyes at him. Seriously though, was that a thing in the 40's? Did girls really bat their eyes a bunch when they were into you? Their frolicking and musical interlude is interrupted by Lumpjaw, the meanest bear around. He literally walks through trees like they're nothing. Sensing that Lumpjaw wants to claim her for himself, she proceeds to slap Bongo several times. When she tries for the third time, she misses and smack Lumpjaw instead. Lumpjaw is literally hit with love. Bongo, who doesn't understand that being smacked is a sign of love from a bear, is heartbroken and leaves. It is only after he sees the bears explaining through song, (conveniently!) that smacking another bear is a sign of affection, that Bongo tears back to get Lulubelle on his unicycle. Bongo rides right up to Lulubelle and smacks her right in the face. Geez, this cartoon is sure heavy on relationship violence! Lumpjaw, seeing the two together, goes nuts and starts to annihilate Bongo. Bongo gets mad and uses his unicycle to help him defeat Lumpjaw. Hooray! Everyone rejoices and Bongo and Lulubelle scamper up some trees which meet to form a heart as they kiss. AWWWWW!

Jiminy finds an invitation to a party for Luana Patten to a party being thrown by Edgar Bergen, Charlie McCarthy, and Mortimer Snerd. Jiminy hops on over to the house across the way and watches the party. This is supposed to be Luana's birthday party and she's the only kid there? Wow, she must of been unpopular. Luana Patten is playing herself for the movie, but she was one of those actors that Disney basically owned. She had previously been in Song of the South, and was later in So Dear to My Heart, among other Disney movies. My younger audience will probably never had heard of Edgar Bergen, but he was a very famous performer and ventriloquist. His daughter is Candice Bergen, who was the star of Murphy Brown, and played a role in Boston Legal. Even for my younger audience, you may have seen him and you didn't even know it. His last movie credit was The Muppet Movie, in which he does his schtick with Charlie, his most well known puppet. Bergen and Charlie have also been in a few Disney shorts, so if you see a well dressed man and a funny looking puppet, you know who it is. So, not only did Disney get a well known singer in Dinah Shore, but a famous performer in Edgar Bergen for Fun and Fancy Free.

We see Bergen entertaining Luana with a hand puppet, then decides to tell her the story of Jack and the Beanstalk. His two companions, Charlie and Mortimer interacts with the two; Charlie being the smart-aleck and Mortimer the simpleton. Bergen puts on a pretty entertaining show with the two puppets. Think Jeff Dunham, except for entertaining and less racist. Anyway, Bergen tells the story of Jack and the Beanstalk, with Mickey playing Jack and Donald and Goofy as his peasant roommates. They live in Happy Valley, though it isn't too happy anymore, due to the magic harp that brought happiness and bliss to the land being stolen. After that, a severe drought hits the valley. The trio is starving, carving beans up to share between them. Donald goes insane with hunger and tries to kill their only cow. Mickey and Goofy stop him, but they realize that something has to be done. Mickey decides to go sell the beans for some money, so they can actually eat. In the final version, we never see where Mickey gets the magic beans. In the first version of the story though, Mickey got the magic beans from Minnie, who was the queen of sorts of the area. She takes the cow in exchange for a family heirloom; the magic beans. This part was cut due to length issues with the movie.

Mickey returns with the beans and Donald flips out that he wasted their chance on food for three beans. Mickey explains that if they plant them in the moonlight, they'll grow into something fantastic. Donald doesn't want to hear any of this and smacks the beans out of Mickey's hands, making the beans land in a hole in the floor. During the night, the moon shines through a hole in the ceiling to where the beans are under the floor. Out comes a small vine, which quickly grows into a large beanstalk that takes the three and their house all the way up to a castle in the sky. The trio go into the castle and find a huge feast which they begin to chow down on, until a figure bounds into the room. Enter the giant named Willie. Willie the Giant is used later on in Disney's A Christmas Carol as the Ghost of Christmas Present, where he still has trouble saying "pistachios." Billy Gilbert provided the voice for Willie mostly because of his well known comic sneeze. He had been used in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs as Sneezy and Disney thought it made sense to have him come back as the bumbling giant.

The trio notice that Willie has magical powers which he can use to turn himself into anything by just saying "Fe Fi Fo Fum." They also notice that he isn't that bright. He discovers Mickey, who then tries to trick him into turning into a fly so the trio can smack him with a flyswatter. Willie isn't fooled however and he captures Donald and Goofy and locks them up in a cage. Mickey avoids being captured and has to get the key to release his friends. With the help of the magic harp, which had been stolen by the giant, Mickey finds the key and they all escape from the giant's castle. They chop down the beanstalk while the giant is climbing down and he falls to his death. Poor, stupid Willie. The trio return the harp to it's rightful place and happiness comes back to the land!

How is this different from the original Jack and the Beanstalk? Well, for one, Jack doesn't have any friends. He lives with his mom and they are both poor as all get out. Jack falls in love with the Count's daughter but doesn't have the money to impress the Count enough to let him marry her. He attempts to sell their cow for money, but gets tricked into buying magic beans. His mother is furious and throws them out the window. The beans grow however and form a beanstalk. Jack climbs up the beanstalk and finds a large castle. He goes inside and discovers the giant and his wife (pictured). The giant smells Jack and declares that he "smells and Englishman and will grind his bones to make his bread." Jack is saved however by the giant's wife and he escapes with a bag of gold. The gold, for some reason, isn't good enough to impress the Count, so Jack goes back up to the castle. This time he steals a hen which lays golden eggs. Still not good enough. He goes up one more time and a golden harp catches his eye. For some reason, Jack decides that he has to kill the giant to make sure that the Count doesn't hear about him stealing. I'm sure the giant would have filed a complaint to his local government official about a child stealing things from him. Jack kills the giant in a murderous rage and climbs down the beanstalk with the harp. Jack tries to wash the blood off his hands, but cannot since it's giant's blood. The Count apparently doesn't care about the blood and lets Jack marry his daughter. The End. Geez. Fairy tales are weird.

The movie actually did pretty well for being a package film, probably because of the introduction of the trio of Mickey, Donald and Goofy to the silver screen. The film was also well received by critics and it, along with the next two movies, helped bring Disney out of the hole. One final note about Fun and Fancy Free is that it is the last time that Walt Disney himself did Mickey's voice. He was needed for too many projects and wasn't able to handle voicing Mickey anymore. Here is a video of Walt doing Mickey's voice:

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Disney's Make Mine Music

Released in 1946, Make Mine Music was the third of the "package films" that Disney released during the 40's. If Saludos Amigos and The Three Caballeros were made as a goodwill gesture to Latin American countries, then whats with these next couple of "package films?" If you are familiar with the draft, it does not discriminate (for the most part) on who it drags into service. This was particularly true for the Disney artists. During World War II, many of the Disney artists were drafted, and the ones that weren't were commissioned by the government to make propaganda cartoons for the war effort. If you haven't seen one of Disney's propaganda cartoons then you are missing out. Entertaining but racist! I think I'll dedicate a whole post to those as they are incredibly interesting by themselves. Regardless, Disney, as you could imagine, was basically out of their main artists and had a bunch of unfinished ideas laying around. So, they decided to just make "package films" and just put music to cartoons, though not as elaborately as they did in Fantasia. All six of the "package films" are done that way except for The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad, which has songs, but they don't accompany most of the film.

So, Make Mine Music was purely a group of shorts that had music throughout. If you've seen any of the shorts, it's probably because they've been shown outside of the movie on TV at one time or another. Many artists and musicians lent a hand in this movie including King's Men, The Ken Darby Singers, the "King of Swing" Benny Goodman, Andy Russell, Jerry Colonna, and The Andrew Sisters. I know what you're thinking. Who?! These were big names however, back in the 40's.

There are three notable shorts in this movie that you've probably seen at some time or another: Casey at the Bat, The Martins and the Coys, and Peter and the Wolf. I know I saw all these a bunch of times on separate occasions in my childhood. In my opinion, these are the standouts in the movie, therefore I'm just going to mention them only.

Casey at the Bat:

Just watching this again brings back great memories. It tells the story of the overconfident Casey who has the chance to win it for the team at the bottom of the ninth with two outs. This is worth watching just for the 40's lingo you pick up on. While parts of the short are dated in terms of baseball, there are still a few things that will make you chuckle about how certain parts of baseball have not really changed at all in 70 years. SEXISM ALERT! Just listen to the opening song of the short. In all it's a classic short that still makes you laugh.

The Martins and the Coys:

A musical interlude detailing the classic tale of the Hatfields and the McCoys. Though they change the names of the families, the tale plays out the same. You have two families feuding, shooting each other, and generally not being nice to each other. It doesn't go into the stolen pig that started the feud in real life, but you really don't need a reason to see hillbillies fight each other. After all the Martins and Coys kill each other, a Romeo and Juliet story starts up. The two from the different families fall in love and get married, but lets just say that the feud lives on through them. This is another one of my old favorites from my childhood. Unfortunately, if you ever decide to buy the DVD of Make Mine Music, you will notice that this short is missing. Why you ask? Too much gun violence and such. Can't let the kids see cartoons with guns (I'm looking at you Elmer Fudd)! So, if you really want to see the short, you have to resort to YouTube. I took the liberty of posting the link above.

Peter and the Wolf:

Peter and the Wolf is one of the more interesting segments. There is no dialog by the characters; instead they are represented by certain instruments like strings, flutes, clarinets, and oboes. Any movie aficionado will recognize the music for the wolf as being the same used in The Christmas Story, in the parts where Scut Farkus (Farkus being Hungarian for wolf) bullies Ralphie and his brother. This segment is the highlight of the movie and tells the Russian fairy tale of Peter and the Wolf. Peter, accompanied by a cat, a duck, and a bird, take on the wolf. This is essential if only for the music by Sergei Prokofiev. Another fun fact about this short is the narrator, who is voiced by Sterling Holloway, best known for voicing the first incarnation of Winnie the Pooh. Holloway voiced many other classic Disney characters and his voice is unmistakable.

A last fun fact about the whole movie is that it was submitted to the Cannes Film Festival in 1946 and received best Animation Design. Check out the whole movie if you want some classic Disney musical shorts.