RELEASE DATE: 27th September 1947
Before World War II and the animators' strike, Walt Disney had put a number of films into pre-production. He was always on the lookout for new ideas for his animated features, and two ideas that he was particularly fond of were "Little Bear Bongo" and "Jack and the Beanstalk." Both of these concepts had been put into action, but through circumstances throughout the 1940s, they were put on ice for a while. Eventually they would be brought back and packaged together in this 1947 film Fun and Fancy Free.
Although Fun and Fancy Free is really just a package of two short movies, there are a number of different "in-between" elements as well, including some live-action scenes featuring famous ventriloquist Edgar Bergen and Luana Patten, who had recently featured as Ginny in Song of the South.
As a point of interest, Walt originally intended the Mickey and the Beanstalk film to be paired up with another short film being made at the same time, Wind In The Willows. Of course, history would end up pairing Mickey with Bongo and Mr. Toad with Ichabod Crane. (More about that in the near future!)
But perhaps the most noteworthy trivia about Fun and Fancy Free, is that it was the last time Mickey Mouse was voiced by Walt himself.
Fun and Fancy free begins with a familiar face... Jiminy Cricket! Due to his popularity as a character in Pinocchio, it was thought that he could make a return to cinema to link the main stories together. He sings a song called "I'm A Happy-Go-Lucky Fellow," which had been written for Pinocchio but not used in that film. He soon meets another familiar face: Cleo. (There's a cat as well, but I'm not sure what happened to Figaro, since this is definitely not him!)
Jiminy has once again invaded someone else's house. He sees books, toys (in particular a creepy-looking doll that I don't think any little girl in her right mind would want to play with) and then he finds a record player. Well, let's play some music then...
This begins the first of the two main stories. Bongo is narrated by singer Dinah Shore. She was a big star of the day, having been a very popular act amongst the U.S. WWII troops.
Through Shore's words and songs, we hear about Bongo the bear, a star of the circus. Note that there is no dialogue in this short movie. The characters don't speak at all. Instead, everything is narrated. Bongo is very popular, but he is a slave and a prisoner. He longs to live in the great outdoors with the rest of his natural kind.
It isn't long however, before Bongo begins to think he might have made a mistake. Living in the wild can be tough! Everything seems lost, when he suddenly sees a vision of loveliness: a pretty young bear called Lulubelle.
It's love at first sight. What follows is an abstract (almost "Pink Elephant-ish") sequence of romance between the two bears.
Things can't run that smoothly though. Bongo is soon competing for Lulubelle's affections with a big brute of a bear called Lumpjaw.
We learn that a bear's way to show affection to another bear is to slap him or her. Bongo, having grown up away from wild bears, doesn't understand this and through his misunderstanding he loses Lulubelle to Lumpjaw. The bears all do a song explaining how to slap the bear that you love.
Once Bongo finally realises what the slapping means, he challenges Lumpjaw to an intense battle over a waterfall. The little circus bear is the victor, of course, and he and his love live happily ever after.
Now that the record is finished, Jiminy Cricket sees a party invitation on the floor. It's from Edgar Bergen! He's invited Luana Patten to his house for a party! Jiminy decides he'll go check it out as well... Okay, I'm going to put my 21st century cap on for a moment here. I hate to be the voice of corruption, but come on... Does no one else find this creepy? "Come over to my place for a party, little girl. We'll dress up and you can have cake. It'll just be you, me and my puppets." What on Earth would her parents think??
Anyway, creep-factor aside, Mr. Bergen tells Luana a story, which brings us to the second short movie in Fun and Fancy Free: Mickey and the Beanstalk. It's set in a beautiful kingdom called "Happy Valley," where a magic harp keeps everyone... well, happy.
However, she is soon kidnapped by a giant, and Happy Valley falls into ruin, poverty and famine. Years later, we meet three poor farmers who are down to their last slices of bread.
With no more alternatives to make money, they decide to sell their cow. Mickey proudly returns from the sale with magic beans. Donald is furious and throws the beans away. That night, the beans grow into an enormous beanstalk.
The three farmers are carried up into the sky, where they find themselves standing before an enormous castle owned by the vicious giant himself!... Only, the giant isn't really that vicious. He's kinda cute. And dumb. His brain size clearly isn't in proportion to his body.
It turns out the giant (whose name is Willie) can transform himself into different animals. (A strange departure from the original story; it was the troll in Puss In Boots who could change shape) Mickey, Donald and Goofy try to outsmart him, but end up imprisoned with the singing harp. After a daring rescue mission, they save the harp, escape the castle and chop down the beanstalk, sending Willie crashing down to the earth.
Back at the party, the puppet Mortimer is sad because the giant died, but Mr. Bergen tells him not to worry; Willie wasn't real. He was just a figment of their imagination. Suddenly the roof of the house is ripped off, and who should be looking down at them?
Turns out Willie's come to Hollywood looking for a mouse...
The in-between stuff is even stranger. It was a cute idea to have Jiminy Cricket return to the screen, but the live-action puppet party seems very out-of-place. I understand Mr. Bergen was a very popular entertainer in 1947, as well as a good friend to Mr. Disney, but it's still an odd concept to have him and his puppets leading this animated film. For me, these parts don't fit well. It would have been better if Jiminy continued to be the narrator. The film has no sense of an overarching plot. It begins with Jiminy as the main character, then morphs into the story of Edgar Bergen and Luana Patten's party, and it ends with Willie rampaging over Hollywood. I think the "in-between" segments needed a bit more time in the writing and development phases.
Like other movies in the "package-film" era of the 1940s, the animation in Fun and Fancy Free is good without being extravagant. The character animation is great, especially the wonderful facial expressions. The limited integration between live-action and animation is effective, although it's a much smaller aspect of the film than in The Three Caballeros.
One segment that is a whole lot of fun is the beanstalk sequence, as the three heroes sleep and the beanstalk literally grows right underneath their noses. There are lots of creative gags in this segment, and the character animation is great. You almost feel like the beanstalk itself is a character.
There are some truly beautiful backgrounds if you take the time to notice them. The use of perspective in Mickey and the Beanstalk is great.
But like the others of its era, Fun and Fancy Free has somewhat of a "budget" feel to it. This is only in comparison to the early films that pushed the artform past its limits, mind you.
As I said, there's nothing really wrong with any of these songs, but they're not timeless Disney classics.