Tuesday, May 6, 2014


RELEASE DATE: Saturday 20th April 1946

The 1940s were undoubtedly one of the most problematic times for Walt Disney and his animation company, with many different influences seeking to send it spiraling into bankruptcy. World War II closed off almost the entire European region for film distribution. Many of Walt's valued animators got drafted and had to go to war. The government insisted that the company produce propaganda cartoons to rally support in the homeland. And then, on top of it all, the animators' strike robbed Walt of some more of his prized workers. (His response for them striking was, of course, a swift "don't let the door hit you on the way out, and don't come back.")

So the bizarre period of "package films" is really just a response to the pressures of the '40s. There simply wasn't the consistent creative manpower to make the kind of major motion pictures the company had produced from Snow White through to Bambi. There was still a lot of talent though, and a lot of ideas. So Walt put people to work on short films, then packaged them together and released them into cinemas as a whole picture. Case in point: Make Mine Music!
In many ways, Make Mine Music is an extension on the Fantasia idea. There are 10 musical numbers (9 if you have the edited version) and each one is introduced as a concert item. Make Mine Music is eclectic and varied, with no two segments in any way alike.

SEGMENT ONE: The Martins And The Coys ("A Rustic Ballad")
This is an interesting way to start the programme, mainly because if you live in America, it likely won't BE on your programme! This segment of Make Mine Music was removed from the American D.V.D. release, but strangely enough, it is still included in the PAL version! The reason for its removal is likely its violent nature (lots of guns killing people, albeit in a very cartoony way - their ghosts fly up into the clouds) and some domestic violence towards the end. To be honest, it's all very silly and goofy, and while I certainly don't like guns or violence, it seems a bit extreme to remove the whole segment. Anyway.

The story is set in the ol' West, and the music is sung by The King's Men, who were a famous radio singing group in the '40s. We're introduced to two rival families who are always fighting from either side of a valley. When Grandpappy Coy wanders over to the Martins' property and tries to steal some eggs, the guns come out and he is promptly killed. This of course means war, and the two families shoot and shoot until there is only one living soul left from each family: Henry Coy and Grace Martin.

The ghosts of the departed watch from high above, encouraging the two survivors to kill each other, but instead they fall in love and get married.

After a lively wedding dance, the two lovebirds begin their new life together, but the rivalry runs deep in their blood, and soon they're fighting like cat and dog, much to the delight of the ghosts up in the clouds.

IRVYNE: It's a shame that this was removed from the American DVD. For one, I hate the thought of not seeing the complete film, and for another, it's one of the better segments of Make Mine Music. Yeah, it's violent, but no more than an episode of Road Runner. I'm pretty sure kids can tell that this isn't real life, especially since the style of the cartoon is very broad and rubbery. The narrative song reminds me a lot of "The Farmer And The Cowman Should Be Friends" from Rogers & Hammerstein's "Oklahoma!" It's not Disney at its best, but it is an entertaining short that would have fit right in as a standalone Silly Symphony.
SEGMENT TWO: Blue Bayou ("A Tone Poem")
This is another animated short with a backstory. This film was created for Fantasia six years prior, and was supposed to be accompanied by Debussy's beautiful "Clair de Lune" music. However, due to time restraints (Fantasia, you may remember, is a long film) it was cut. Walt decided to resurrect it for Make Mine Music, but since classical music wasn't the style of this film, it was given a new musical backing by the Ken Darby singers.
There isn't much story to speak of. The film is basically a mood piece, with white cranes walking through a bayou and eventually flying away.
IRVYNE: "Blue Bayou" is beautifully animated. I do think though, that the original music (Clair de Lune) suits it so much better than what we get in Make Mine Music. (It was presented in its original form as a bonus feature on the Fantasia DVD)
MICHAEL DARLING: I kept asking "is this going to be just music for the whole movie?"
IRVYNE: It's certainly not the most exciting and kid-friendly pieces.

NALA: I liked the music. It was relaxing.

SEGMENT THREE: All The Cats Join In ("A Jazz Interlude")
As an absolute contrast to the serenity of "Blue Bayou," the third part of Make Mine Music is bright, colourful and energetic. With music by Benny Goodman's orchestra, the swinging jazz melodies accompany the story of a bunch of teenagers getting together to dance at the malt shop. For 1946, this would have been very contemporary and "modern." The design of the animation is very loose and quite un-Disneyish. (Look at the characters' eyes, for example) We are also witness to a rare bit of Disney animated nudity!

Comic book-like words pop up throughout the cartoon, and the best gimmick is that a pencil is drawing the scene as the characters are living through it. This was 7 years before Daffy Duck popularised the concept in "Duck Amuck."

IRVYNE: This is a really great short, and like The Martins and the Coys, would have made a great stand-alone Silly Symphony. Its style is very different to the usual Disney-of-the-day, and the abstract nature and simple line theme was surely an inspiration to the animators of "Rhapsody In Blue" in Fantasia 2000. There's definitely a similarity there.

JOHN DARLING: Where were the cats?

IRVYNE: That was what they called cool people back in the '40s.

NALA: It was clever how the pencil was changing everything. I laughed when the eraser made the girl's butt smaller.

MICHAEL DARLING: It was funny when the car stopped and threw them all into the malt shop.

NALA: The teenagers didn't want the old fashioned music, so they just threw the singer out the window. They wanted the new stuff!... which is old stuff now.

IRVYNE: That's true, but back in 1946, this music would have been the coolest of the cool, and all the kids would have been dancing to it.

SEGMENT FOUR: Without You ("A Ballad In Blue")

This section begins with a note on a desk by a window. It is raining outside. The note is addressed to "Sweetheart," but the rest isn't readable. (Perhaps if this film finally gets a Blu Ray release one day we'll be able to read the whole note!) The lyrics of the song (sung by Andy Russell) sing "I'm so lonely and blue when I'm without you." As the camera goes through the window we see abstract images accompany the music: trees, stars and what looks like a church window in the sky. Then at the song's conclusion we are back in the room, looking out of the window once again.

IRVYNE: I'm kind of baffled that this was included as part of an official Disney movie. It's very much a mood piece like Blue Bayou, except in this cartoon, nothing really happens. It's just about shapes, colours and static images. There are some interesting water effects, but to be honest, this part is just boring. I suppose one thing in its favour, is that it's short.

SEGMENT FIVE: Casey At The Bat ("A Musical Recitation")
Ah, baseball. The great American pastime. In this cartoon a local baseball team is struggling to get any home runs. Their players are all eccentric and not particularly skilled in baseball. But the team has a secret weapon: Casey! He is the most talented and popular player of them all. Surely Casey can save the day... Can't he...?

Casey At The Bat is a recitation of a poem written by Ernest Thayer, and it's told by Jerry Colonna.

IRVYNE: This is the third part that feels like a Silly Symphony to me. Its style is very funny and overtly cartoony.

NALA: I don't think Casey is a very good sportsman. He wasn't even concentrating! He was reading a magazine in the middle of the game!

MUSHU: I think he was just a little bit arrogant.

NALA: It was funny how the guy kept getting the bat caught in his mustache.

IRVYNE: The animation was very loose and stretchy. It reminded me of a Looney Tunes cartoon.

MICHAEL DARLING: I thought it was really cool and funny.

SEGMENT SIX: Two Silhouettes ("Ballade Ballet")

Another mood piece with experimental animation. (You might now realise that this is true of every second segment in Make Mine Music!) This time the animators used real footage of ballet dancers and superimposed their silhouettes against a number of different backdrops, and put it against a song sung by Dinah Shore.

IRVYNE: This is full of creativity. I loved the juxtoposition of the animated cherubs with the real people.

NALA: That one was pretty weird. Just two people dancing together, looking like they're in love, with weird music playing.

IRVYNE: Yeah, I can't really say much about the Dinah Shore song. It's just a run-of-the-mill schmaltzy love song. It'd be great if they could put some nicer classical music over the top of the animation, like they did with Clair de Lune!

MUSHU: I don't know if you could really call that one a cartoon, since the dancers were obviously real people. I suppose the cherubs were cartoons.

IRVYNE: And everything else around them. I do really like the designs in this one. Even though this segment is kind of nothingy and forgettable, it's very nicely designed.

SEGMENT SEVEN: Peter And The Wolf ("A Fairy Tale With Music")

With music from the 1936 composition by Sergei Prokofiev, this is probably the most memorable segment of Make Mine Music. It has a very definite story about a young Russian boy named Peter who, in an act of ludicrous bravery, decides to go and hunt a menacing wolf armed only with a pop-gun. He is soon joined by Sasha the bird, Sonia the duck and Ivan the cat. Before the story begins, we are introduced to the different instruments that represent the different characters in the story. The story is narrated by Sterling Holloway, who many might recognise as the stork in Dumbo, or Winnie The Pooh himself.

IRVYNE: This is a Disney classic, and definitely my favourite part of Make Mine Music. In fact, I feel that it's the only one that could possibly have a place in peoples' memories after seeing it. It's great how the instruments are introduced at the start so that kids can listen for them as the story progresses. It's wonderfully animated and entertaining as well.

MICHAEL DARLING: The duck got eaten by the wolf! But then it came back to life!

JOHN DARLING: No, he didn't actually get eaten in the first place. I knew he was going to be safe. The duck was definitely my favourite character.

NALA: The bird was funny. He can't live without his hat!

JOHN DARLING: He's a brave bird. He punched the wolf in the nose just to get his hat back!

MUSHU: It's just as well that the wolf is incredibly patient when he's preparing to eat them. I mean, if he'd just gone chomp, it wouldn't have had a happy ending!

SEGMENT EIGHT: After You've Gone
Another abstract one, After You've Gone features the music of Benny Goodman and is a visual exploration of music.

IRVYNE: This is really clever and well designed. I love how the instruments on screen match what's being played. When the clarinet is the featured instrument, the little clarinet character is on screen. Then when the double bass joins in, we see that character as well. It's all fantastically abstract, and the music is up-tempo and fun.

JOHN DARLING: That was the most Fantasia-ish part of the movie.

MICHAEL DARLING: I loved that one. All the instruments were funny.

SEGMENT NINE: Johnny Fedora And Alice Blue Bonnet ("A Love Story")

Sung by The Andrews Sisters, this is another highlight in the programme. It's a classic love story... between hats. When the lovers are separated, they vow to find each other again, but it seems that the relationship is doomed. Will the soul-mates ever reunite to live happily ever after...? (Just a reminder that this is Disney you're watching...)

IRVYNE: We had a copy of this on V.H.S. as a child (I assume we must have recorded it off "The Wonderful World of Disney" one time) and my sister and I used to love it. I think I could probably recite the entire thing.

MICHAEL DARLING: The two hats fell in love, and they started making out!

JOHN DARLING: They ended up as horse hats. I don't know why horses need hats...

SEGMENT TEN: The Whale Who Wanted To Sing At The Met ("Opera Pathetique")

The final piece of Make Mine Music is also the longest. Opera singer Nelson Eddy provided the voices of all the characters as well as narrating the story of a whale named Willy who has the fortunate talent of being able to sing opera! Believing that the whale must have swallowed some opera singers, an impresario named Tetti-Tatti hunts down Willy and kills him by harpoon. (I'm not kidding)

MICHAEL DARLING: They thought he'd swallowed three opera singers, but he could really sing in three voices.

IRVYNE: At the end it says, "Don't be too harsh on the man who harpooned him." But you know what? Yeah, I WILL be harsh on the man who harpooned him! Killing whales is wrong, wrong, wrong, and it makes me very angry!

MUSHU: It was probably just standard practice in the 1040s.

IRVYNE: I don't know about that. It's bizarre that they would remove The Martins and the Coys for being too violent, but keep in a story about a talented whale being mercilessly slaughtered!

NALA: I think it was really sad how he died. He never did anything wrong.

IRVYNE: Not a very Disney-ish ending, is it? At least he performs sold-out concerts in Heaven.

It almost seems impossible to judge Make Mine Music on its story and characters. There isn't really much of either to make note of, but there are a few golden moments. Peter and the Wolf is undoubtedly the highlight of the film, with both an entertaining story and great characters. The segments were very deliberately spaced out so that they alternated between funny story-driven pieces and more abstract, experimental pieces.

Again, the ten segments are so varied it's hard to give a rating to the artwork in Make Mine Music. Some of it is really creative and beautifully designed. (After You've Gone, for example) Some of it is just serviceable. (Casey At The Bat) Some of it is wildly inventive. (All The Cats Join In) Overall though, it's certainly nowhere near the level of animated mastery that we saw in Fantasia.

I hate to sound like a broken record, but once again it's really a mixed bag. The Benny Goodman jazz sounds great. Peter and the Wolf would sound fantastic even without the narration. But the dull songs in Blue Bayou, Without You and Two Silhouettes drag the soundtrack down. Maybe they were super-popular back in the '40s, but they seem dated and dull now.

There are segments of Make Mine Music that stand up really well. My picks would be Peter and the Wolf, All The Cats Join In, After You've Gone and Johnny Fedora. As individual standalone movies, those four are still very entertaining. The others, not so much. But there is still some fun to be found. When you look at ten Silly Symphonies pasted together like this, it doesn't rank up there with Disney's best.

JOHN DARLING: I think I prefer Make Mine Music over Fantasia. I reckon there were probably seven of those segments that I liked, and the others were boring. In Fantasia there's more parts I don't like.

IRVYNE: Do you think it's still entertaining even though it doesn't really have a story?

MICHAEL DARLING: Yeah. Because it's music!

IRVYNE: Well said.

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