Week 8: Make Mine Music

Also Known As ‘The One Nobody Remembers’

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Originally Released: 1946

Make Mine Music is another package film from the 1940’s.  If you mention the name of the film to the average person, they likely will say that they have never heard of it.  Even for me, when I saw it was next on the list, I struggled to remember anything about it. However, upon viewing it, I saw that I did in fact recall seeing most of the shorts in this film when I was little, and liking most of them as well.  So perhaps it is unfair to call this film The One Nobody Remembers. People will likely be familiar with at least one or two of the segments.

The film may be described as being modeled somewhat after Fantasia, except it uses mostly contemporary music rather than classical orchestra pieces. It lacks the continuity of Fantasia, though, and simply feels like a bundle of very different shorts. Some tell clear stories, while others are purely abstract. Some of the music is instrumental, while others have singing. Various genres are represented as well, from opera to jazz to hillbilly hoedown. Not that any of these things are bad, necessarily. They are each very creative. They just don’t mesh together as well as they could.

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Make Mine Music is a package of ten shorts. Because there are ten, and ten is a natural list number, I thought that rather than summarize the movie,  it would be fun to instead count down the shorts from the one I least enjoyed to my favorite of the bunch.

Before I begin, though, let me get one thing out of the way. If you happen upon the U.S. dvd version, you will find that one of the segments has been completed edited out of the film. “The Martins and the Coys” was removed apparently because the wacky gun violence was too much for the children to handle. Give me a break. As a movie lover, I can’t stand it when this kind of thing happens. It is like a famous artist going back to his or her painting, after it has been hanging in a museum for years, to tweak something he or she doesn’t like anymore. It just shouldn’t happen. Fortunately, there is this thing called the internet, so finding it wasn’t too difficult a task.

Anyway, on to the list:

10. Blue Bayou.  Other than some pretty cool animation and transitions, this one is just…yawn. It doesn’t really work as the opening piece.  Oh, wait, it isn’t the real opening.  The real one was cut from the dvd.

9.  Two Silhouettes.  This is a dance number with live-action ballet dancers in silhouette form, with their dancing enhanced by Disney animation magic.  Overall it was pretty neat to see some of the effects.

8. Without You. It is a very abstract piece that features some awesome morphing effects with a lot of the color blue.

7. After You’re Gone. Here we are treated to another abstract piece, but this time with some jazzier music.  It includes dancing fingers on a piano.

6. The Whale Who Wanted to Sing at the Met. This is the concluding short to the film, starring a whale who sings the “Shortening bread” song to applauding seals.  And he also dresses up like a clown at the Met. Then he dies.

It's too bad he didn't get a cameo in "The Little Mermaid." Think of the possibilities!

It’s too bad he didn’t get a cameo in “The Little Mermaid.” Think of the possibilities!

5. The Martins and the Coys, Old Southern stereotypes, cartoon gun violence, Mountain Dew drunkenness, and feuding families. It’s a shame that Disney pulled this from the home video release. It is a fun short despite some of its supposedly controversial depictions. 

4. Johnnie Fedora and Alice Bluebonnet. A tale narrated in song about two hats from the department store who fall in love. Alice had beauty which was “sought by the girl she was bought by for $23.94,” and Johnnie and Alice become separated. Johnnie becomes depressed.  However, just as things are going down the gutter and hope is almost lost, fate brings them back together. It is a little-known fact that this short was the inspiration for the modern romantic comedy formula. Except like many things, Disney does it better, even when hats are the protagonists.

3. Casey at the Bat. It is a more traditional story which recites the poem about the mighty baseball star Casey who gets cocky and ultimately strikes out, causing devastation to the home town. This is one cartoon I remember quite vividly from childhood. I can still remember perfectly in my head the singing of the narrator and the lady yelling “Kill him! Kill the umpire!” while she draws a pin from her hat. Don’t ask me why that stuck out.

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2. All the Cats Join In. I am probably in the minority ranking this one so high, but I find this jazzy number to be highly entertaining. The art style is quite different compared to the rest of Disney’s work, and the pencil sketching the scenes and props as the story is told is so much fun to watch.

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1. Peter and the Wolf. Here is another one I can remember well from when I was little. This short has great music, great characters, a scary wolf villain (or волк if you are Russian like the characters), and to top things off, it is narrated by Winnie the Pooh. It is just as enjoyable now as it was back then. One of my favorite parts is the introduction to each of the characters and their respective instruments. It works really well and in this instance the film successfully hearkens back to Fantasia. This is a top-notch short, in my opinion.

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So there you have it. Most likely your list will be different from mine. That is the great thing about lists, and that is the fun thing about these package films. There is bound to be at least one short that people will like, and it is always interesting to see what people choose.

"Oh, great, where am I now? I KNEW I should have taken that left turn at Bald Mountain!"

“Oh, great, where am I now? I KNEW I should have taken that left turn at Bald Mountain!”

Week 7: The Three Caballeros

Ay Caramba!  Aves Raros and Pretty Girls

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Originally Released: 1944

I easily remember Donald, Joe Carioca, and Panchito singing their catchy “Three Caballeros” tune – probably as easily as any other Disney song. Though I don’t know the words very well, I have still found myself humming the melody at the most random moments over the years. That song alone makes The Three Caballeros worth revisiting from time to time.

Picking up where Saludos Amigos left off, The Three Caballeros continues the theme of goodwill and flattery to Latin America. This time, though, Mexico takes center stage along with Brazil. The film is divided into three segments, represented by three birthday presents given to Donald Duck from his avian friends south of the border.

The first present is a filmstrip with short stories about a penguin who wants to escape the cold of Antarctica, and about a little gaucho boy in Uruguay who discovers a flying donkey, which apparently is part of the bird family. Also included is a short segment which describes some of the more interesting birds of South America, including that meio maluco Aracuan.

"He's meio maluco - a very stupid fellow"

“He’s meio maluco – a very stupid fellow”

Following the first segment, Donald receives a picture book in which Joe Carioca appears and gets Donald to travel with him to Bahia, Brazil. At this stage we begin to enter into some more creative and surreal territory. Also, this is the point where Disney and his team begins to blend the animation with live action. Finally, from here we start to be introduced to a few of the many pretty girls of South America.

After Donald and Joe get their fill of the Bahia, the third present is opened, and out pops the third Caballero, Panchito the red rooster, complete with his sombrero and mariachi gritos. And thus begins what has to be the most surreal and at some points strange sequences in Disney history. It begins normal enough as the three birds hitch a ride on a magic carpet and tour some interesting locales in Mexico, but after a while all the music, dancing, and girls gets to Donald’s brain and the scene evolves into a fantastically strange sequence that trumps even the “pink elephants on parade” from Dumbo.

In the end, I suppose that we can learn from this film that South America has some really lovely locations, great traditional music, lively folk, and last but not least, many beautiful women. Certainly the ideas portrayed in this film would have helped create a feeling of goodwill towards the neighboring American countries back in the 1940’s.

Maybe with all the current events in Rio, Salvador, and many parts of Mexico, Disney could make an action-packed sequel. Perhaps I’ll pitch the idea to them sometime. But until the sequel happens, we can go back in time and enjoy the singing and dancing of yester-year. And pretty girls.

Pretty girl...

Pretty girl…

Pretty girls...this won't end well for Donald

Pretty girls…this won’t end well for Donald

Pretty girls...

Pretty girls…

Pretty girls...

Pretty girls…

Pretty g-- now that's just plain weird!

Pretty g– now that’s just plain weird!

 

Week 6: Saludos Amigos

A Time capsule in the Southern Hemisphere

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Originally Released: 1942

Saludos Amigos is the first of what is essentially a series of packaged short films released by Disney that would dominate the rest of the 1940’s. When I saw that Saludos Amigos was next on the list to watch, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect.  It had been years and years since I have last seen either the film in its entirety or one of the shorts separately. I also didn’t remember which shorts belonged to this film and which belonged to The Three Caballeros. In a way, it was kind of like watching the film for the very first time.

The reason Saludos Amigos exists is because as World War II began to spread across the world, the United States government decided that it should establish good relations with the rest of the American continent before Nazi Germany could spread its influence to these nations. Walt Disney was essentially chosen as an ambassador of goodwill to visit Brazil, Argentina, and other South and Central American countries. As a result of this assignment, Walt was able to take his team of artists, writers, and musicians on a nice tour of the American continent. It helped that the Disney characters were popular south of the border, and it seems that the tour was a success.

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The film has its moments and is still enjoyable overall. It begins in the Andes mountains at Lake Titicaca and follows tourist Donald Duck in his antics there. It then proceeds to Chile and Argentina and we are treated to two more short cartoons. The first is of a little baby cartoon airplane, and the second is a Goofy tale in the mold of some of those classic Goofy “how to” or “documentary” cartoons (click here to see my absolute favorite of the “how to” cartoons – those cheerleaders crack me up every time). Finally, the film finishes off in beautiful Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, where the animation team shows off a very imaginative sequence to the irresistible tune of “Aquarela do Brasil,” featuring samba-dancing pink flamingos and bananas that morph into toucans, to give a couple examples.

They are dancing samba. Trust me on this one.

They are dancing samba. Trust me on this one.

It is really hard to try and compare this movie to the five films which preceded it. It really is a whole different animal. But to be quite frank, for most viewers the comparison will inevitably be made, and it probably won’t stack up to their favorite Disney movies. However, I found myself really enjoying it as I watched it again. Not necessarily because it is a great movie, but because I can personally relate to two of these segments. I lived in Brasil for two years in the southern region where they have their own pampas, gauchos, and carne asada (or churrasco, as the Brazilan gauchos call it). I even have my own pair of bombachas. So during the Goofy clip and also during the Rio de Janeiro segment with Donald and Jose Carioca I couldn’t help but smile and wax nostalgic. It also was fun listening to Jose Carioca babble on to Donald and actually understanding what he was saying. That knowledge made this viewing of the film a whole lot different than when I watched the show as a child.

Churrasco. So, so good.

Churrasco. So, so good.

Finally, I must include that for me, what may be the most interesting part of this film is the live-action video. It is almost like opening a time capsule from South America’s past. The scenes of the Peruvian villagers at the marketplace playing wooden flutes, of the dancing gauchos, and of Carnival in Rio circa 1941 is actually quite fascinating. Times certainly have changed. Getting a glimpse of Disney and his team creating their work and catching even a small glimpse of life of a few groups in the highlighted countries back then makes this film worth watching. It may not be a masterpiece like the films of the first golden age of Disney, but it definitely has its value in the Disney canon.

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Week 5: Bambi

A True Work of Art

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Originally Released: 1942

The way I see things, there are two types of men in this world: those who are too manly for Bambi, and those who are man enough to admit they like it. Apparently, those in the first category only tend to remember the cute bunnies and other lovable creatures of the forest, but I suppose they are not able to look past that and see how much more the film offers.

In reality, Bambi offers a little of everything: drama, suspense, character growth, romance, and even a little action. Above all, it is a tale about life, and particularly learning how to deal with the curve balls life can throw at you. The film shows that life does go on despite tragedy and adversity, and that there is happiness to be found even in the midst of these bad things.

"Your mother can't be with you anymore."

“Your mother can’t be with you anymore.”

Think of some of the things Bambi goes through in just the first year or so of his life. His life starts off well enough, with friends, family, and fun. But eventually the winter comes with its challenges. Just when things start to look up, tragedy strikes and he loses his mother. Later on, Bambi is shot, his home burns down, and he almost loses his love. In the end, though, we see that he is able to overcome these adverse circumstances and have a happy ending, at least for another year.

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It is interesting to note that around the time this film was made, Walt Disney was going through some rough times of his own. Three of his first five films failed to turn a profit, so the company was not doing well financially. In addition to this, many of the animators went on strike during the production of Bambi. Finally, World War II was spreading across the globe at this time. Despite these challenges, Walt was able to get the film completed and his company survived.

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As I watched this film, I thought more about these things and less about the cuteness of it all. Yes, the characters are cute and full of charm, but if we look past this and dig a little deeper, we can find some great takeaways in this film. We all go through periods of fun with friends and family, but we have our winters to deal with as well. However, we can come through hard times and still find happiness, and in the end we will be wiser.

Beyond the story, I must mention that this movie is just plain gorgeous to look at, especially when watching it on Blu-ray. From the very first frame of the forest to the ending sequence showing Bambi and the Great Prince looking down at the valley below, I was stunned by the beauty and style of the backgrounds. I could pause the film at just about any spot and be treated to an image that I would want to hang on my wall.

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Not only this, but the animation of the animals is very impressive. It strikes just a perfect balance between lifelike and cartoony. They don’t feel like cartoon characters; they feel like forest animals. Yet they have been humanized and are able to show a great range of emotion. In this film Disney really succeeded in creating the illusion of life. It is an impressive feat of animation.

Bambi marked the end of Disney’s first “golden age.” Each of the first five feature films was a home run in its own way, and they set the bar incredibly high for all the films which followed. Bambi, like the four films preceding it, is a winner which I would recommend to anyone – even the manly men.

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