Reaching Deep into the Grab-Bag
Originally Released: 1948
Continuing on with the package films is Melody Time, Disney’s 10th animated feature film. It is another collection of musical shorts much in the same vein of Make Mine Music. Included are seven segments, widely ranging in theme and style. Unfortunately, though, I found that the quality from one segment to the next varied as much as the style and themes varied. All have something good to boast, whether it be the music, imagery, or animation, but when each segment is taken as a whole, some end up great while others are rather forgettable.
Take “Trees,” for example. The somewhat abstract segment is about the poem of the same name which is sung to music, and the animation consists of nature scenes involving…trees. Don’t get me wrong, there are some beautiful images and inspired transitional shots (not to mention neat black-and-white lightning effects), but as I watched the segment I couldn’t help but think that most of what I was seeing could already be found in Bambi or the great short The Old Mill. Perhaps I just wasn’t in enough of an artistic mood to enjoy it as I should. Maybe, like most good poems, it takes a few viewings to truly understand. But for the average viewer, despite some nice elements, perhaps there could be more.
“Bumble Boogie,” on the other hand, is still on the abstract side, but it works better. It features a poor little bee getting harassed by music notes, trumpets, and piano keys. Some of the neat ideas and effects are flower petals that are in the form of the aforementioned piano keys, which morph into a cobra-like creature. “Bumble Boogie” reminds me a lot of Fantasia because it uses some very effective mickey-mousing techniques to supplement the great music.
In addition to “Trees” and “Bumble Boogie”, the other segments in the film include “Once upon a Wintertime,” about a romantic young couple who enjoy ice skating with forest critters, “The Legend of Johnny Appleseed,” and “Little Toot,” a nice story about a mischievous little tugboat who learns responsibility. Finally, Melody Time wraps up with two more segments: “Blame it on the Samba,” with Donald Duck, Jose Carioca and everybody’s favorite Aracuan (the link isn’t from this film, but the infinite loop is hilarious!), and “Pecos Bill.” Again, these are fairly hit-and-miss, but depending on who is viewing them and what kind of a mood they are in, opinions may differ on which are the hits and which are the misses.
My personal favorite would have to be the Pecos Bill segment. Pecos Bill is the roughest, toughest, rootin’est, tootin’est, shootin’est cowboy in the wild wild west. Chuck Norris has got nothing on ol’ Bill. Before Chuck Norris was blowing bubbles with beef jerky, Bill was using rattlesnakes to lasso rainclouds. Sadly, though, for the DVD release Disney deemed Bill’s smoking habits so offensive that they edited out any evidence of a cigarette, including the entire part where he subdued a raging tornado. So, for now, we are left with a Pecos Bill who could only shoot out stars and dig out the Rio Grande with his bare hands, but didn’t want to mess with the tornado.
So while the digital removal of cigarettes leaves Pecos with some weird-looking facial expressions, and while I wish Disney would keep their films in their original state, that doesn’t mean the segment is not great. I enjoyed the silly nature of it. The background art is beautiful and reminds me of the West. It was also interesting to see the Texas love by the animators. Texas residents would be very pleased I’m sure.
A question that arose while watching was “why don’t we hear about these stories anymore?” I thought of this during both Pecos Bill and also Johnny Appleseed. Do American children these days know who either of them are? Have they heard of Paul Bunyan, John Henry, and the other fixtures of American folklore? Watching this film has made me more curious to learn more about some of these stories, how they originated, and whether they are still told. My gut feeling is that these stories either have already or soon will be supplanted by Wolverine and Spider-Man.
But that is one of the benefits of doing this Disney movie year. I get to re-familiarize myself with some classic tales (or, you could say I’ve been rediscovering the magic) and in this regard Melody Time does not fail. From Johnny Appleseed to Little Toot to Pecos Bill, there are great stories to be told, even though there is more filler found between them this time around.