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.


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