Here at MMR, we love obscure Disney films. Well, maybe the less heard of ones at least. Melody Time is one of these. This would be the 10th animated feature to pop out of the Disney cannon, in 1948. It is essentially a mini Fantasia, made up of a series of shorts which are set to music. Several films of its kind were produced by Disney, with this being the fifth; the others were Saludos Amigos, Make Mine Music, The Three Caballeros and Fun and Fancy Free. There are seven short segments knitted together to make Melody Time, but they are all very different.
The first, Once Upon a Wintertime, was styled by Disney artist Mary Blair. Her style was very graphic and modern compared to a lot of the other Disney artists, who achieved a more traditional look to their work. Her work was beautiful, and she did a lot of concept art for Disney films; in the future she would go on to contribute to many features, including Peter Pan and Alice in Wonderland, as well as being key in the designing of It’s a Small World in Disneyland. Unfortunately, in Once Upon a Wintertime, you can see that her characters do not translate as well as her still environments do, as their simplicity limits a lot of their personality through movement and facial expressions. It also seems to lack festive spirit a bit, considering that it is set in winter. It is about a young couple whose fun on the ice swiftly turns into peril; a nice little story, including quite a few animals. I really wanted to like it, but I can’t help but think that it would look better static as a print on a wall rather than an animation. It was later released as a standalone short though, so it must have been loved!
Bumble Boogie is the second segment, which is set to the jazzed-up tune of Flight of the Bumblebee. The style is such that would fit perfectly into Fantasia, with a bumblebee trying to fight off a frenzy of music and musical instruments. In fact, the music was originally considered to be in Fantasia several years earlier. This piece is much more fun and a lot less ‘grown-up’ than Once Upon a Wintertime, which makes you think that maybe Mary Blair’s style would have been more suited to Bumble Boogie! The bee is cute, which helps the audience to feel his frustration in this crazy little number.
The third short, Johnny Appleseed, was also styled by Mary Blair. It is about American legend, John Chapman, who roamed Mid-Western America planting apple trees (hence his nickname). In comparison to Once Upon a Wintertime, the characters seems to flow much better, and the colours of the backgrounds are rather beautiful, with bright green trees and rosy red apples. Considering the subject matter, however, maybe a more traditional style could have been used to tell the story. Johnny is visited early in the short by an angel, who sends him on a mission to plant lots of apple trees. Johnny does so all of his life, wandering fields and meeting animals, and planting hundreds of trees. The characters, particularly the angel, are quite humorous; the angel is a no-nonsense type with a pushy attitude, but also has a streak of kindness in him. The story is quite educational in its own way, and probably one of the best stories in Melody Time.
Little Toot, in my opinion, is the first segment in Melody Time that has a style to match its subject. Little Toot is a tugboat, who wants to be just like Big Toot (presumably his father), but ends up causing chaos instead of helping. It is based on the story by Hardie Gramatky of the same name, and the music is provided by the Andrews Sisters. This one is probably aimed more towards children, as it is a story about proving yourself, and putting right your wrongs.
Trees. Trees, trees and more trees. This one is based on a poem by Alfred Joyce Kilmer, and kind of reminds the audience of Bambi, with the forests and whatnot. Essentially, it is a very slow paced piece, which also looks like it could have fitted nicely into Fantasia.
Things are taken up a notch in this next segment, Blame it on the Samba, which looks like it escaped from The Three Caballeros. Donald Duck and José Carioca are woken by the Aracuan bird, who introduces them to the joys of samba music. Ethel Smith plays the organ while Donald and José dance on top of it, so live action and animation is twinned in this piece. Definitely uplifting compared to Trees, and generally more fun!
Now we come to the last short on Melody Time, Pecos Bill. This also includes live action and animation, but not simultaneously. Roy Rogers and the Sons of the Pioneers tell/sing the story to Bobby Driscoll and Luana Patten, who some of you may remember from Song of the South. Bill fell off a wagon as a baby, and his parents didn’t notice, so he ended up being raised by wolves, almost like Mowgli in The Jungle Book! The turned out to be the best cowboy that ever lived along with his horse, Widowmaker. We are told of all his tall tales, but one day he meets a girl named Slue-Foot Sue, who he intends to marry, essentially taming his wild lifestyle…slightly. She decides that she wants to ride Widowmaker on her wedding day, but Widowmaker does not like Sue, as he is jealous of her relationship with Bill. It just so happens that on this day, Sue is wearing a mighty big bustle, so when she gets on Widowmaker and he starts trying to buck her off, she goes flying up into the air. Nobody, not even Bill, can stop her bouncing, and eventually she bounces all the way onto the Moon. In his depressed state, Bill goes back to live with the wolves, and howls at the moon for his beloved.
The song in Pecos Bill is pretty good, I recommend that everyone goes and listens to it! Apparently, all scenes of Bill’s cigarette were digitally removed on the NTSC versions of the film, and one scene cut entirely, where Bill rolls a cigarette and smokes it. The PAL version still includes these scenes. Also, if anyone has visited Walt Disney World, they will be familiar with the burger restaurant: Pecos Bill Tall Tale Inn and Cafe. Definitely visit if you can, they do out-of-this-world food, and even have ‘props’ on the wall from the film, including Sue’s white gloves. This is without a doubt, the best short on Melody Time, so they saved the best until last!
Overall view? Pretty good. It is hard to give a rating to something with such a diverse selection of segments. I think you can judge how much I liked each one by how much I’ve written about it. Definitely check it out of you get the chance, it is worth it for Pecos Bill alone.
Out of the seven shorts, I really liked 3 of them, and the rest I could leave alone. So for that reason, I give this movie 3 Tinks.