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:

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