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: Trail Mix-Up (1993)

Also known as: Roger Rabbit: Trail Mix-Up (alternative title)
Release Date: March 12th, 1993
Directed by: Barry Cook
Written by: Rob Minkoff, Barry Cook, Mark Kausler, Patrick A. Ventura
Music by: Bruce Broughton
Cast: Charles Fleischer, Kathleen Turner, Lou Hirsch, April Winchell, Corey Burton, Frank Welker

Amblin Entertainment, Walt Disney Pictures, Buena Vista Pictures, 8 Minutes

Review:

“Jeepers Baby Herman, you had me worried. I almost dropped a log back there.” – Roger Rabbit

Like the two Roger Rabbit shorts before this one, Trail Mix-Up was paired with a theatrically released Disney film. In the case of this short, it played before 1993’s A Far Off Place, which was a safari movie starring a young Reese Witherspoon and Maximilian Schell, who I know best from his role as the villainous Dr. Hans Reinhardt from 1979’s The Black Hole.

This short feels like a step up from the previous one, as the art looks better with more emphasis on shadows and shading and it felt a bit more fluid.

Additionally, I liked the setting and the gags in this one better, as it sees Roger chasing Baby Herman through the woods and ultimately ends up in a dangerous lumber mill.

However, this one was probably cheaper to produce as it doesn’t feature live-action elements like the previous two and the 1988 feature film. They try to play that off with some art trickery at the end, where it sort of breaks the fourth wall but it does so without actual human actors.

Overall, this was more of the same but when “the same” is a good formula, why change it too much?

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: other Roger Rabbit shorts, as well as the fill-length Who Framed Roger Rabbit.

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: Gus (1976)

Release Date: July 7th, 1976
Directed by: Vincent McEveety
Written by: Arthur Alsberg, Don Nelson, Ted Key
Music by: Robert F. Brunner
Cast: Don Knotts, Edward Asner, Gary Grimes, Tim Conway, Harold Gould, Ronnie Schell, Tom Bosley, Louise Williams, Dick Butkus, Dick Van Patten, Bob Crane, Johnny Unitas, Richard Kiel, Stu Nahan

Walt Disney Productions, 96 Minutes

Review:

“Ready, Gus. Oich!” – Andy Petrovic

I was an avid viewer of just about every live-action Disney film put out from the ’50s up through the early ’90s. I had the Disney Channel, in its original subscription form, back in the late ’80s and a bit beyond. So stuff like this was on my television all the time. It’s also hard not to be an old school Disney nut when raised in Florida.

Still, this movie remained unknown to me until I got Disney+ and saw it available on there. Since I had never seen it and since I love Don Knotts, I had to check it out.

Unfortunately, Don Knotts isn’t in the movie anywhere near enough. He plays the wacky coach of a loser football team but most of the film focuses on Andy and his field goal kicking mule.

This is one of many Disney animal movies, as well as one of many Disney sports films. It’s cool seeing the two things come together though, as the concept, at least by this point, hadn’t been done to death courtesy of the Air Bud franchise and it’s 97 sequels and spinoffs.

At its core, this film is lighthearted and positive. It’s also got a lot of slapstick humor and some seriously good physical gags. My favorite sequence in the film features Tom Bosley and his buddy trying to capture Gus, the mule, in a supermarket. It plays like a live-action Road Runner cartoon, as the bumbling goofs continue to get upstaged and made into fools.

I can’t really say much on the sports elements of the film other than you have to turn your brain off because this is, after all, a movie about a mule playing in the National Football League.

While the team in the movie is fictitious, I liked that this was made with help from the NFL and featured some of the iconic teams, as well as former players and legends in various roles.

Gus isn’t a bad movie but it’s far from great. It’s one of the more enjoyable Disney animal comedies of the ’70s but for most people, this will probably come across as a very dated relic that will just be dismissed as stupid schlock.

And it could’ve used a lot more Don Knotts.

Rating: 5.5/10
Pairs well with: other wacky live-action Disney movies featuring animals.

 

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: Problem Child (1990)

Release Date: July 26th, 1990 (Dallas premiere)
Directed by: Dennis Dugan
Written by: Scott Alexander, Larry Karaszewski
Music by: Miles Goodman
Cast: John Ritter, Michael Oliver, Amy Yasbeck, Michael Richards, Gilbert Gottfried, Jack Warden, Dennis Dugan (cameo)

Imagine Entertainment, Universal Pictures, 81 Minutes, 93 Minutes (extended version)

Review:

“We’ve adopted Satan!” – Little Ben Healy

This is another movie I liked a lot as a kid. However, I didn’t think that I’d enjoy it as an adult. I was wrong.

Problem Child weirdly impressed me, as there is real heart to the story when you look past all the absurdity and goofiness of the picture. Sure, it’s hokey, cheap and what many would consider low brow but it’s also a really human story about a terror of a kid that just never knew love and finds it in the one person that truly doesn’t want to just throw him away.

The film is also infinitely made better by just how good the entire core cast is.

John Ritter was perfect as the all-American guy that just wanted to be a dad and was willing to take this kid in and try to be a good father figure to him in spite of the kid’s antics and terrible track record.

Amy Yasbeck was superb as the mother character, who didn’t really want the kid as much as she wanted the neighborhood status that came with being a middle class suburban mommy.

We also get Jack Warden, as the asshole, selfish grandfather that cares more about his mayoral campaign than his family, and Michael Richards, as a deranged serial killer that the kid idolizes and wants to run away with. Gilbert Gottfried also shows up in a few scenes and he’s perfect, simply playing himself in the most Gilbert Gottfried role of all-time.

I was really impressed by Michael Oliver as the kid, though. He’s just a natural when it comes to comedy, timing and facial expressions. He also has a great, evil laugh that makes his character even better. Most kid actors wouldn’t have been able to do half as well as he did and I’m surprised that he didn’t do much beyond the first two Problem Child movies.

On the surface, this is a cheap comedy that is mostly just a series of gags with a thin narrative holding it all together. However, within that thin narrative, the movie still finds a way to connect with the audience in an emotional way. It’s kind of cool, actually, as it keeps this from being just some outdated, pointless, crude comedy relic.

Rating: 6.25/10
Pairs well with: its sequels, as well as UHF for some great pre-Seinfeld Michael Richards shenanigans.

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: Roller Coaster Rabbit (1990)

Also known as: Roger Rabbit: Roller Coaster Rabbit (alternative title)
Release Date: June 15th, 1990
Directed by: Rob Minkoff, Frank Marshall (live-action part)
Written by: Bill Kopp, Kevin Harkey, Lynne Naylor, Patrick A. Ventura
Music by: Bruce Broughton
Cast: Charles Fleischer, Kathleen Turner, Lou Hirsch, April Winchell, Corey Burton, Frank Welker, Charlie Adler (uncredited)

Amblin Entertainment, Silver Screen Partners IV, Walt Disney Pictures, Buena Vista Pictures, 8 Minutes

Review:

“Save me. Save me.” – Jessica Rabbit

Like Tummy Trouble, this Roger Rabbit animated short was released theatrically and paired with a big live-action Disney movie. In the case of this film, it was originally released in 1990 with Dick Tracy.

I don’t like this one as much as its predecessor but it’s still a quick, amusing animated short that does a pretty good job of using Roger Rabbit, Baby Herman and Jessica Rabbit.

The plot follows Roger, as he once again has to babysit Baby Herman. Except in this cartoon, they find themselves at a theme park with dangerous carnival games, an angry bull, a roller coaster and other obstacles. We also get another Droopy Dog cameo.

Overall, the plot and the gags aren’t as good as Tummy Trouble but it’s still effective and hits the right notes.

From a production standpoint, the animation looks like it’s a bit of a step down. The colors and shadowing look muted and more simplistic but that could also be due to where this takes place. Regardless, I can’t look at this after Tummy Trouble and not feel like this one was rushed out.

It’s still fine for what it is and honestly, I wish Disney would have made more of these than just three.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: other Roger Rabbit shorts, as well as the fill-length Who Framed Roger Rabbit.

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.