Film Review: Melody Time (1948)

Also known as: All In Fun (working title)
Release Date: May 27th, 1948
Directed by: Jack Kinney, Clyde Geronimi, Hamilton Luske, Wilfred Jackson
Written by: Winston Hibler, Harry Reeves, Ken Anderson, Erdman Penner, Homer Brightman, Ted Sears, Joe Rinaldi, Bill Cottrell, Jesse Marsh, Art Scott, Bob Moore, John Walbridge
Music by: Eliot Daniel, Paul J. Smith, Ken Darby
Cast: Roy Rogers, Trigger, Dennis Day, The Andrews Sisters, Fred Waring and the Pennsylvanians, Freddy Martin, Ethel Smith, Frances Langford, Buddy Clark, Bob Nolan, Sons of the Pioneers, The Dinning Sisters, Bobby Driscoll, Luana Patten

Walt Disney Animation Studios, RKO Radio Pictures, 72 Minutes

Review:

“In the state of Texas, USA, life still goes on in the same old way.” – Roy Rogers

Melody Time is the fifth of the six Walt Disney anthology/package films of the 1940s. This one is also a lot like Make Mine Music in that it mostly focuses on a series of musical numbers.

I’d say that this one is a bit better than Make Mine Music, as it features some live-action actors interacting with animated characters. Although, I don’t think that it’s as groundbreaking as The Three Caballeros in that regard.

While I appreciate these films, I much prefer the anthologies that feature stories or educational bits like Fun and Fancy Free, Saludos Amigos and The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad.

The animation is really good, the voice acting is solid and overall, this is an energetic and amusing film with great music. But I think, by this point, the animated anthologies were starting to get redundant and tiresome.

Luckily, Disney fans in 1948 were only two years away from the second great era of Disney animation with 1950’s Cinderella being just around the corner.

Rating: 6.25/10
Pairs well with: Disney’s other 1940s package/anthology films.

Film Review: Fun and Fancy Free (1947)

Also known as: Fun and Fancy Free, Featuring Mickey and the Beanstalk (VHS title)
Release Date: September 27th, 1947 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Jack Kinney, Bill Roberts, Hamilton Luske, William Morgan (live-action)
Written by: Homer Brightman, Eldon Dedini, Lance Nolley, Tom Oreb, Harry Reeves, Ted Sears
Based on: Little Bear Bongo by Sinclair Lewis, Jack and the Beanstalk
Music by: Oliver Wallace, Paul Smith, Eliot Daniel, Charles Wolcott
Cast: Cliff Edwards, Edgar Bergen, Luana Patten, Walt Disney, Clarence Nash, Pinto Colvig, Billy Gilbert, Anita Gordon

Walt Disney Animation Studios, RKO Radio Pictures, 73 Minutes

Review:

“Once upon a time, long long ago…” – Edgar Bergen, “Funny, nothing ever happens nowadays.” – Charlie McCarthy

The fourth of six films in Disney’s 1940s package/anthology series is a return to form of what the first two were. It actually plays very similarly to Saludos Amigos and The Three Caballeros, except it’s not pushing Latin American tourism as its main objective.

This one is an anthology film that features a few short animation tales that come together with a series of live-action bits featuring a guy and his ventriloquist dummy telling the tales to kids. The guy and his dummy also narrate the short films.

Honestly, my only real issue with Fun and Fancy Free was the narration. It’s not bad but the guy talking to his dummy gets tiresome after awhile and it felt like more of a distraction by the time you reach the great Mickey and the Beanstalk story.

That Beanstalk cartoon is the most memorable bit to come out of this film and it has lived on beyond this movie as a whole. I think most kids, even today, have seen or at least heard of Mickey and the Beanstalk but not a lot of people would know what Fun and Fancy Free is. That’s probably due to that short film appearing on its own over the years in a variety of places.

In the end, this is mostly okay but it’s not up to the level of what Walt Disney Studios was capable of at their best.

Rating: 6.75/10
Pairs well with: Disney’s other 1940s package/anthology films.

Film Review: Make Mine Music (1946)

Also known as: Swing Street (working title)
Release Date: April 20th, 1946 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Jack Kinney, Clyde Geronimi, Hamilton, Luske, Joshua Meador, Robert Cormack
Written by: James Bordrero, Homer Brightman, Erwin Graham, Eric Gurney, T. Hee, Sylvia Holland, Dick Huemer, Dick Kelsey, Dick Kinney, Jesse Marsh, Tom Oreb, Cap Palmer, Erdman Penner, Harry Reeves, Dick Shaw, John Walbridge, Roy Williams
Music by: Eliot Daniel, Ken Darby, Charles Wolcott, Oliver Wallace, Edward Plumb
Cast: Nelson Eddy, Dinah Shore, Benny Goodman, The Andrews Sisters, Jerry Colonna, Sterling Holloway, Andy Russell, David Lichine, Tania Riabouchinskaya, The Pied Pipers, The King’s Men, The Ken Darby Chorus

Walt Disney Animation Studios, RKO Radio Pictures, 75 Minutes, 68 Minutes (DVD cut)

Review:

“And you, faithful little friend, don’t be too sad, because miracles never really die. And somewhere in wherever heaven is reserved for creatures of the deep, Willie is still singing, in a hundred voices, each more golden than before, and he’ll go on singing in a voice so cheery forever.” – Narrator

Overall, this is probably the weakest of the Disney package/anthology films. That’s also probably why it’s the only one not on Disney+. I was able to find all the segments (and in order) on a YouTube playlist.

This one is comprised of more than a half dozen musical numbers of varying lengths and done in varying animation styles with different genres of music.

This isn’t bad and it’s fairly entertaining but it lacks any sort of cohesion and just feels more like what watching an hour or so of MTV could’ve been like in the 1940s had music video channels existed that far back.

The animation is good and this is a nice looking production but comparing it to something as glorious and perfect as Fantasia really exposes its flaws and lack of production value.

To be fair, however, Disney was stretched thin in the ’40s between making World War II propaganda films while also trying to put out stuff like this to keep the studio from completely moving away from entertainment during wartime.

Make Mine Music is interesting more for what it is and its place in history than it is for its actual content. By the time this did come out, World War II was over but while it was being made, the war was still a reality.

Rating: 6/10
Pairs well with: Disney’s other 1940s package/anthology films.

Film Review: The Three Caballeros (1944)

Also known as: Surprise Package (working title), A Present for Donald (TV title)
Release Date: December 21st, 1944 (Mexico City premiere)
Directed by: Norman Ferguson (supervising director), Clyde Geronimi, Jack Kinney, Bill Roberts, Harold Young (sequence director)
Written by: Homer Brightman, Ernest Terrazas, Ted Sears, Bill Peet, Ralph Wright, Elmer Plummer, Roy Williams, William Cottrell, Del Connell, James Bodrero
Music by: Edward H. Plumb, Paul J. Smith, Charles Wolcott
Cast: Clarence Nash, Jose Oliveira, Joaquin Garay, Aurora Miranda

Walt Disney Productions, RKO Radio Pictures, 71 Minutes

Review:

“Ah, Baia. It is like a song in my heart. A song with love and beautiful memories. Que saudades que eu tenho. Ah, Baia. I close my eyes, and I can see it now. I can see the beautiful twilight in the sky. I can feel the breeze from the bay. And I can hear the music, the music of Baia.” – José Carioca

The second of Disney’s package/anthology films, The Three Caballeros isn’t too dissimilar from the first one, Saludos Amigos, as it takes the same subject matter and expands on it more.

Beyond just that, this is a much more impressive film, as it spends a big portion of its time mixing animated characters with live-action. This plays like a proto-Who Framed Roger Rabbit over forty years before that film came out. And the execution of it is damn impressive, proving just how great the Disney animators and live-action directors were at this sort of thing. This is a film that is certainly far ahead of its time.

This pairs extremely well with Saludos Amigos, though, as it takes the audience back down to Latin America and showcases the region’s culture from style, fashion, music and their way of life. This focuses less on trying to be educational and more on the music, dancing and showing how fun these once exotic places were three-quarters of a century ago.

I really loved the scenes with Aurora Miranda and the other dancers, as it really kicks the second half of the film into high gear and makes it thoroughly enjoyable and lively.

The music in this feature is fantastic and if this picture didn’t get people flocking down to Central and South America in the 1940s, no other tourism marketing would.

The Three Caballeros is enthralling and exhilarating. It took the neat formula of Saludos Amigos, refined it and perfected it as best as could be done with the technology and craftsmanship of the time.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: Disney’s other 1940s package/anthology films.

Film Review: Saludos Amigos (1942)

Also known as: Hello Friends (literal English title)
Release Date: August 24th, 1942 (Rio de Janeiro premiere)
Directed by: Norman Ferguson, Wilfred Jackson, Jack Kinney, Hamilton Luske, Bill Roberts, 
Written by: Homer Brightman, William Cottrell, Richard Huemer, Joe Grant, Harold Reeves, Ted Sears, Webb Smith, Roy Williams, Ralph Wright
Music by: Paul Smith, Edward H. Plumb
Cast: Lee Blair, Mary Blair, Pinto Colvig, Walt Disney, Norman Ferguson, Frank Graham, Clarence Nash, Jose Oliveira, Frank Thomas

Walt Disney Productions, RKO Radio Pictures, 42 Minutes

Review:

“Here’s an unusual expedition: artists, musicians and writers setting out for a trip through Latin America to find new personalities, music and dances for their cartoon films. So, adios, Hollywood, and saludos, amigos.” – Narrator

Following five fantastic animated feature films, Disney, for some reason, decided to switch to a new playbook and started making package/anthology movies. This is the first one of those.

Saludos Amigos is pretty entertaining and kind of serves as Walt Disney’s way of promoting tourism in South America. I’m not sure why but maybe Walt just loved it down there.

This is both an educational film and a fictional one with fantastical elements and cool stories used to teach the audience about South American culture, geography and well, just about everything else.

It’s a mix of animation and live-action footage and is comprised of a few short pieces sewn together in an anthology format.

What’s cool about this is that it features some of Disney’s core animated characters like Donald Duck and Goofy and it also introduces a new one, who was really popular at the time, José Carioca, an anthropomorphic Brazilian parrot known for his dapper style.

This is the shortest of the Disney package films but it still packs in a lot for its running time.

Overall, the animation is good, the stories are quick and enjoyable and it’s a pretty lighthearted short film.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: Disney’s other 1940s package/anthology films.

Film Review: Bambi (1942)

Release Date: August 8th, 1942 (London premiere)
Directed by: David Hand (supervising director), James Algar, Samuel Armstrong, Graham Heid, Bill Roberts, Paul Satterfield, Norman Wright
Written by: Perce Pearce, Larry Morey, Vernon Stallings, Melvin Shaw, Carl Fallberg, Chuck Couch, Ralph Wright
Based on: Bambi, a Life In the Woods by Felix Salten
Music by: Frank Churchill, Edward H. Plumb
Cast: Donnie Dunagan, Hardie Albright, John Sutherland, Sam Edwards, Paula Winslowe, Sterling Holloway, Will Wright, Cammie King, Ann Gillis, Perce Pearce, Thelma Boardman

Walt Disney Animation Studios, RKO Radio Pictures, 70 Minutes

Review:

“What happened, Mother? Why did we all run?” – Young Bambi, “Man was in the forest.” – Bambi’s Mother

In spite of it’s darker moments, Bambi is one of the most peaceful and serene motion pictures ever produced. It’s absolutely beautiful to look at and Disney once again shows a leap in improvement in the fluidity of their animation.

What’s interesting is that not everything in this is hand-drawn. Most of the backgrounds and landscapes are painted but it also blends really well with the traditional animated characters. It has a wonderful, dreamlike symbiosis and even if it looks like the patented Disney style, it also has a real uniqueness to it. Frankly, the picture looks more like a painting come to life than anything they’ve done before this.

Now I wouldn’t say that it’s as an incredible as the masterpiece that was 1940’s Fantasia but it’s an impeccable looking animated feature in its own way.

As far as the story goes, this is one of the most heartbreaking films Disney has ever made. It’s effect still holds up and even if you’ve seen Bambi a dozen times over, it’s emotional moments are still a punch in the gut.

At its core, this is really a simple coming of age movie where the characters just happen to be animated animals. But their issues and struggles aren’t all that dissimilar from human beings and it’s not hard to relate to what happens onscreen.

Out of the original five pictures, I’d rank this towards the top.

After this movie, Disney got a bit more experimental and wouldn’t return with a feature length animated story until 1950’s Cinderella.

Rating: 8.75/10
Pairs well with: Disney’s other early animated feature films.

Film Review: Dumbo (1941)

Also known as: Dumbo the Flying Elephant (working title)
Release Date: October 23rd, 1941 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Ben Sharpsteen (supervising director), Norman Ferguson, Wilfred Jackson, Bill Roberts, Jack Kinney, Samuel Armstrong
Written by: Otto Englander, Joe Grant, Dick Huemer
Based on: Dumbo, the Flying Elephant by Helen Aberson, Harold Pearl
Music by: Frank Churchill, Oliver Wallace
Cast: Edward Brophy, Herman Bing, Margaret Wright, Sterling Holloway, Verna Felton, Cliff Edwards, James Baskett, Nick Stewart, Hall Johnson, Jim Carmichael

Walt Disney Animation Studios, RKO Radio Pictures, 64 Minutes

Review:

“[singing] I seen a peanut stand /And heard a rubber band /I’ve seen a needle that winked its eye / But I been done seen about everything / When I see an elephant fly.” – Jim Crow

Coming off of the masterpiece that was Fantasia, Disney had its work cut out for them but this was still a great animated feature film. I’d say that it falls somewhere between Pinocchio and Snow White, which just proves how consistently good Walt Disney Animation Studios were from the get go.

Dumbo is a really short film at just 64 minutes but it tells its story well and also still has time to get in some of the most iconic musical sequences in Disney’s long history.

The tone of the film is very similar to Pinocchio and it also shares some narrative similarities, as it follows a young, newborn character, as he tries to overcome adversity, learn from his experiences and grow into someone better. Like Pinocchio, it’s a film about personal growth but it does it in a fresh way that doesn’t simply retread what Pinocchio already did.

Additionally, where Pinocchio was an improvement in animation over Snow White, this film improves upon its predecessors. The animation is even more fluid here and Disney got really experimental in some sequences. The use of animated shadows is superb for the time and then in the “Elephants On Parade” musical sequence, Disney experimented with animating vibrant colors over a black background. They had to tweak and rework how they produced that sequence and ultimately, their innovation won out, creating one of the coolest moments from any Disney picture.

Dumbo isn’t close to being my favorite motion picture in the larger Walt Disney oeuvre but it’s simple, straight to the point and displays the greatness of the cinematic craftsman behind its production.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: Disney’s other early animated feature films.

Film Review: Fantasia (1940)

Also known as: The Concert Feature, Highbrowski by Stokowski, Bach to Stravinsky and Bach, The Musical Feature (working titles)
Release Date: November 13th, 1940 (New York City – original roadshow version premiere)
Directed by: Samuel Armstrong, James Algar, Bill Roberts, Paul Satterfield, Ben Sharpsteen, David D. Hand, Hamilton Luske, Jim Handley, Ford Beebe, T. Hee, Norman Ferguson, Wilfred Jackson
Written by: Joe Grant, Dick Huemer
Music by: various
Cast: Leopold Stokowski, Deems Taylor (host, narrator)

Walt Disney Animation Studios, RKO Radio Pictures, 125 Minutes, 124 Minutes (2000 roadshow restoration), 80 Minutes (1942 cut), 120 Minutes (1991 VHS cut), 115 Minutes (1946 cut)

Review:

With only their third animated feature film, Walt Disney Animation Studios achieved true perfection and describing Fantasia as anything less than a masterpiece should be criminal.

Okay, hyperbolic speech aside, this is still an amazing motion picture that was, hands down, the best use of the animation medium up to its existence. Frankly, it’s still a hard movie to top and it has aged tremendously well, still being one of the greatest works of motion picture art in history, regardless of its genre or style.

Now I can see why this wouldn’t be some people’s cup of tea. But we can’t all appreciate greatness or understand the artistic and historical significance of something so old in a time where people barely have the attention span to read just a tweet.

Fantasia is an incredible motion picture, regardless of how you may feel about it, as it showcased how versatile the animation medium is while also taking it to a level that people couldn’t have fathomed in 1940.

It’s a beautiful looking film that’s meticulously crafted and executed on every level. It showcases the best animation of its time with some of the greatest musical creations in human history and it all comes together in a perfect, visually stunning, audibly pleasing and fluid composition.

The film is a series of different small films within the larger tapestry. Each one features classical music tunes played with incredible animated visuals that are cued up to the music. It’s a unique and really cool experiment that more than paid off for the studio and it’s gone on to inspire countless other films and animated releases in various formats from film, television, video, live shows and modern concerts that use animation and cued lighting techniques to respond to the music being performed.

Out of all the old school animated Disney pictures, this is the one that I’ve always wanted to see on the big screen. It’s eluded me over the years but hopefully, if we’re ever in a post-pandemic world, I’ll be able to eventually see it how it was truly intended.

Rating: 10/10
Pairs well with: Disney’s other early animated feature films.

Film Review: Pinocchio (1940)

Release Date: February 7th, 1940 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Ben Sharpsteen (supervising director), Hamilton Luske (supervising director), Bill Roberts, Norman Ferguson, Jack Kinney, Wilfred Jackson, T. Hee
Written by: Ted Sears, Otto Englander, Webb Smith, William Cottrell, Joseph Sabo, Erdman Penner, Aurelius Battaglia
Based on: The Adventures of Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi
Music by: Leigh Harline, Paul J. Smith
Cast: Cliff Edwards, Dickie Jones, Christian Rub, Mel Blanc, Walter Catlett, Charles Judels, Evelyn Venable, Frankie Darro, Thurl Ravenscroft

Walt Disney Animation Studios, RKO Radio Pictures, 88 Minutes

Review:

“[after singing “When You Wish Upon a Star”] Pretty, huh? I’ll bet a lot of you folks don’t believe that, about a wish comin’ true, do ya? Well, I didn’t, either. Of course, I’m just a cricket singing my way from hearth to hearth, but let me tell you what made me change my mind.” – Jiminy Cricket

I figured that I’d followup my review of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs with Pinocchio. I’m planning on working my way through all the Disney animated films of the classic hand drawn style. I think I’ll probably just do them in order, as opposed to jumping around.

To start, I’ve always liked this story more than Snow White and the animation is also a step up, as it looks more fluid, more refined and kind of pristine by comparison.

While I know that these movies have been digitally restored and tinkered with, you can still see a difference in the overall craftsmanship between the two films. And that’s not a knock against Snow White, as it is still better than anything that came before it. This is more to illustrate how Walt Disney really jumped forward with this picture.

This is also a main reason as to why I want to review these films in order, as it makes it easier to see the progression of Disney’s artists, as well as the company’s overall execution.

Apart from that, I find this to be a good, amusing and lighthearted film that has stood the test of time. It’s still funny and while it might not seem relevant, it still has lessons within it that are important for kids to learn. In the simplest terms, this movie shows kids that its not cool to lie or to be a crappy person.

The film also does a fantastic job at expressing wonderment. It’s a great adventure where Pinocchio is a fish out of water but also in awe of all the things that seem greater than himself.

It also teaches about stranger danger and how some people shouldn’t be trusted and that there are schemes and scams in the world, waiting to exploit those who aren’t careful.

I love this film. While it’s not my favorite of the classic Disney animated pictures, it is definitely one of the best of the earliest crop.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: Disney’s other early animated feature films.

Film Review: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)

Release Date: December 21st, 1937 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: David Hand (supervising), William Cottrell, Wilfred Jackson, Larry Morey, Perce Pearce, Ben Sharpsteen
Written by: Ted Sears, Richard Creedon, Otto Englander, Dick Rickard, Earl Hurd, Merrill De Maris, Dorothy Ann Blank, Webb Smith
Based on: Snow White by The Brothers Grimm
Music by: Frank Churchill, Paul Smith, Leigh Harline
Cast: Adriana Caselotti, Lucille La Verne, Harry Stockwell, Roy Atwell, Pinto Colvig, Otis Harlan, Scotty Mattraw, Billy Gilbert, Eddie Collins, Moroni Olsen, Stuart Buchanan

Walt Disney Animation Studios, RKO Radio Pictures, 83 Minutes

Review:

“I’m awfully sorry. I didn’t mean to frighten you. But you don’t know what I’ve been through. And all because I was afraid. I’m so ashamed of the fuss I made.” – Snow White

I’ve owned all of the original Disney animated films on DVD for years. I’ve always been a big fan of the classic hand-drawn 2D animation style and I’ve never really gotten into the Pixar CGI stuff. In fact, one of the first things I wanted to be, as a kid, was a Disney animator.

I also figured that reviewing all of these films is long overdue, as I’ve already written nearly 2000 film reviews on this site since its launch in late November of 2016. So why not start at the beginning with Walt Disney’s first full-length animated feature film?

That being said, I’ll probably do one of these per week until I get through the thirty or so that existed before CGI took over and killed the style that made Disney a massive company.

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs wasn’t just Disney’s first animated motion picture, it was also the first one that I saw in the theater. I saw this on the big screen around 1983 or so, when I was four years-old. That experience always stuck with me and it helped fashion a lifelong love of Disney’s classic animation style.

This isn’t my favorite of these movies but it’ll always be special because it was my introduction to them.

I feel like everyone on Earth has seen this film but, as I’m learning as time goes on, the younger generation doesn’t have the attention span to indulge in anything old. To them, classic Disney is Toy Story 2 and films like these are relics that are probably seen as racist or offensive because everything is racist and offensive now.

For Disney’s first big feature, this is really well done. It has some issues with smoothness and how the characters move and flow but it is better than what was the norm in 1937. Also, Disney’s skill would improve with each movie until they really hit their stride around 1950.

I’ve always liked this story, even if it’s overly simplistic and plays more like a series of musical sequences tied together with a paper thin plot but honestly, that’s most musicals. And while I’m not particularly a fan of the musical genre, it has always worked for me in Disney’s animated films. Here, it’s no different and it was cool revisiting this simply because I forgot some of these songs.

This is a fairy-tale and you have to suspend disbelief but on that same token, this isn’t a film that really asks too much from its audience. It’s clear that the film was made in an effort to let its audience kick back and enjoy the feature without having to use a lot of processing power. In that regard, it works.

Granted, if you’re an overactive thinker like myself, there are a lot of questions you might have. Especially, now that you’ve reached adulthood and have a hard time taking things at face value.

For instance, the ending is kind of odd if you want to nitpick it apart. Actually, it’s slightly disturbing.

To give a brief rundown: the girl gets poisoned to death. Then the Dwarfs won’t bury her, so they just keep her corpse around the house as they build an opulent, intricate, gold and glass coffin to display her dead body in like a jewelry counter at Piercing Pagoda. Then a prince hears about this and sets off on a journey to kiss this corpse and bring it back to life like a zombie. I’m assuming all that didn’t happen within an afternoon and would also have to assume that Snow White got pretty rank.

See, there I go overthinking it like an overthinking adult.

The ending actually is fine but it’s pretty dark for a kids’ movie. But that’s also kind of cool, as it’s obvious that people in 1930s America didn’t coddle their damn kids into being complete weaklings. I’m glad that things were still that way when I was a kid in the ’80s: going to the movies at five to watch Gremlins.

Anyway, despite my weird tangent about the ending, this film just tells its story, throws in some tunes and gets it all over with in just 83 minutes. I wish more movies were only 83 minutes.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: Disney’s other early animated feature films.