Thursday, May 22, 2014


RELEASE DATE: Thursday 27th May 1948

The "package film" era continues with Melody Time, essentially a sequel to Make Mine Music. Once again, the film is made up of a number of contemporary musical numbers. There are no themes holding them together; they all look different, sound different, have different running times and different themes. Once again, the quality of these segments varies from short to short.

Melody Time is the second-last package film. By 1948 Walt Disney was definitely heading back towards the feature length story pictures, but these quick "bitza" movies served to keep the money rolling in while the studio rebuilt itself after World War II and the animation strike.

The film begins with a token introductory song titled "Melody Time," sung by Buddy Clark, a popular singer of the time. We soon realise that his voice is coming from a singing mask and his backup singers. He is the opening narrator of the movie, and he invites us all to join in the fun of Melody Time.

SEGMENT ONE: "Once Upon A Wintertime"
With singing by Frances Langford, the first main segment of Melody Time is a love story between two humans and two rabbits. The boy just wants to impress the girl with a romantic sleigh ride, but things go wrong and it almost ends in tragedy.

IRVYNE: You can definitely see Mary Blair's influence here. This cartoon is just like a moving painting of hers. It's got simple line animation, but lots and lots of character, especially with the bunnies.

MALEFICENT: The horses have no eyes though. That's creepy. But I do love how they used colour to show emotion in this piece.

SHENZI: I like the parallels between the two romantic couples.

MALEFICENT: Typical females, getting themselves into trouble and requiring a male to come and rescue them.

SHENZI: Ahhh, shaddap!

MALEFICENT: It's just a shame that the men in this movie are useless!

WENDY: The main guy in this is REALLY useless! The animals are the ones who end up saving the day!

IRVYNE: The girl is useless as well, she just faints! It's a really cute little short though. I liked it.

MALEFICENT: It is cute. And the song is beautiful.

SEGMENT TWO: "Bumble Boogie"
Next is something completely different. Bumble Boogie is an abstract piece set against the Flight of the Bumblebee music. In it, a poor little bee is constantly on the run from rampaging music!... Perhaps this is the feeling a pianist gets when trying to play this piece live!

IRVYNE: I think this is quite possibly my favourite segment in the whole movie. It's short, but very sweet. It would have fit right into Make Mine Music. It certainly shares elements with the "After You've Gone" segment. In all honesty, it wouldn't seem that out of place in Fantasia either. The musical style is probably a bit too contemporary for Fantasia, but the abstract imagery is right up that alley.

MALEFICENT: It is really short. But so amazing.

IRVYNE: It all flies by so fast, both the music and the images.

WENDY: It would certainly hold childrens' attention spans better than Fantasia. I felt sorry for the poor little bee trying to escape the piano keys.

IRVYNE: Who knew pianos could be so evil? But the bee got his own back. Then he levelled up and changed colour!

SHENZI: You geek.

IRVYNE: I might be completely off-the-mark here, but some of the backgrounds looked quite Salvador Dali-ish. Very abstract. Anyway, it's great. I love this part.

SEGMENT THREE: "The Legend of Johnny Appleseed"

At 17 minutes long, this part of Melody Time is lengthier and more substantial than either of the previous segments, and it tells a clear and complete story: the American legend of Johnny Appleseed (real name John Chapman) who was responsible for planting many, many apple trees in the early 1800s during the pioneering era. The film is narrated by Dennis Day.

IRVYNE: It's interesting that this opens with a book, like the fairy-tale films of old.

MALEFICENT: This is one of my favourites from my childhood. I love the colourful, abstract style. It reminds me a lot of Alice in Wonderland which was released only a few years after this.

IRVYNE: It's well-written too. There's some great rhymes.

MALEFICENT: And it's sad, but it's happy-sad.

WENDY: I don't think it's sad. Johnny has all of his cute little animal friends...

IRVYNE: That's right. And I'm sure after he died the animals would have eaten his body.

WENDY: You're awful.

IRVYNE: It's the circle of life! "Ingonyama nengw'enamabala..."

MALEFICENT: I love the bit where there's the funny little old man who kicks up the dust and sings really fast.

WENDY: It's wonderful how the Indians and pioneers are having a lovely time enjoying each others' company.

IRVYNE: It's like in Song of the South, where there's the controversy over "that's probably not how history really was..." You know what I say to that? It's DISNEY!!
Anyway, I like Johnny Appleseed. It's a lovely little self-contained story.

SEGMENT FOUR: "Little Toot"

With music sung by The Andrews Sisters (reprising their narration skills from Make Mine Music) this is the story of an adorable (but naughty) little tug-boat who wants to be a big tug-boat like his father. He always seems to be getting into trouble though.

IRVYNE: This seems like the precursor to Pixar's Cars movies; there hardly seem to be any humans anywhere.

SHENZI: It's very cute.


IRVYNE: You didn't like that one?

MALEFICENT: I didn't DISLIKE it. But I didn't love it.

WENDY: Well I was along for the ride. They had me at "Andrews Sisters."

IRVYNE: I do love them. I think "Johnny Fedora and Alice Blue Bonnet" was a better song though.

MALEFICENT: The singing is beautiful, I'll give them that. The storyline's just a bit "meh."

SHENZI: It's a classic tale. He does something bad, he gets the chance to redeem himself and then people love him again.

IRVYNE: There are definitely story elements ripped straight out of the "Pedro" part of Saludos Amigos: Little anthropomorphic mode-of-transport wants to be like his big father, survives dangers, becomes respected. The water effects, however, are fantastic. I don't think Disney had done water this good since Fantasia. It's not as good as The Sorcerer's Apprentice or Pinocchio, but it's still a beautifully animated ocean.


Back in Make Mine Music, every second segment was an abstract, artistic, experimental piece. In Melody Time, "Trees" is probably the only part that could fit into that category. It doesn't have a story, it doesn't have characters, it's just an artistic study of trees accompanied by a poem written by Joyce Kilmer and sung by Fred Waring and the Pennsylvanians.

MALEFICENT: Artistically, this is beautiful.

WENDY: It's a little bit Lion King, a little bit Fantasia...

MALEFICENT: And the storm scene is very Bambi.

IRVYNE: It is very nice-looking. The colours really convey the moods. I loved the artistic transitions, and the weather effects look great. I've gotta say though, the music's a bit much.

WENDY: I could hardly understand a word they were singing. Their diction was terrible. Since it was based on a poem, you'd think the words should be understandable!

MALEFICENT: "Merbleh beh mehbahbeh TREE..."

IRVYNE: I know that musical styles change over time, but I feel that it would have worked so much better if they'd had some nice backing music and just had someone SAYING the poem. Don't you think that would have been nicer?

MALEFICENT: That would have made it much better.

SEGMENT SIX: "Blame It On The Samba"

Just because, y'know, people might not have got enough of Saludos Amigos or The Three Caballeros, Jose Carioca and the Arucuan bird return to party with Donald Duck once again. They dance to samba music sung by the Dinning Sisters.

IRVYNE: I just have so many questions, but almost all of them begin with "WHY." First of all, why does this segment exist in this movie? Were the South American package films really that popular? (I honestly don't know, perhaps they were...) It just seems excessive, after spending two movies in this style and theme, to return to it AGAIN, in a film that has nothing to do with South America.

MALEFICENT: I'm not a fan.

SHENZI: It's nonsensical.

IRVYNE: It's like the missing piece of The Three Caballeros. Not that that film NEEDED any more pieces, it was already way too long.

MALEFICENT: I loved that movie so much.

IRVYNE: The Three Caballeros...? No you didn't. You slept through the whole thing!

MALEFICENT: That's right. What was it like?

IRVYNE: The whole film was pretty much like what we just saw.

MALEFICENT: I hated that movie so much.

IRVYNE: Look, "Blame It On The Samba" has some clever visual ideas. And the integration of live-action is better than it used to be. Let's discuss the inclusion of the organist, Ethel Smith. 

MALEFICENT: She's creepy.

IRVYNE: One of my favourite aspects of both Saludos Amigos and The Three Caballeros was the music! When the samba first started playing, it was just awesome, and it gave the movies such an energy. In this segment, it's got this organ, and it's just... kinda lame. The music comes across as really, really dated.

SHENZI: It's just mediocre samba.

IRVYNE: Apart from some clever animation tricks, this segment really has no business being in Melody Time. It doesn't fit the rest of the movie.

WENDY: I think it was just an excuse to put Donald Duck into the movie.


The final segment of Melody Time is by far the longest. Like Johnny Appleseed, it tells the story of an American legend (although unlike Johnny, it's not based on a real person, but comes from a history of tall-tales.) Pecos Bill was allegedly the greatest cowboy that ever lived, and after being raised by coyotes, he and his horse Widowmaker made a name for themselves all over Texas. All goes well until Bill sees the beautiful Slue-Foot Sue, falls in love and plans to settle down. Some dreams are never meant to come true though...

WENDY: So many tall tales! It was really clever.

IRVYNE: I know this one very well from my childhood. I can remember every part of it! It's great. Very funny.

SHENZI: The story was good, but it took a long time to get going. The intro was so long! And BORING!

IRVYNE: Yeah, the film starts with some laid-back singing by The Sons of the Pioneers group, and it's accompanied by big empty shots of the Texas wilderness. And it just keeps going and going and going. Talk about losing your audience's attention!

After an eternity, we cut to some live-action. A couple of kids are listening to the singing cowboys and want to hear a story. And who are these kids? Why, it's Bobby Driscoll and Luana Patten, AKA "Johnny" and "Ginny" from Song of the South!

Bobby is horrified when he hears that there's going to be a girl in the story. He's not into all that sissy stuff! To be honest, I think this live-action segment is completely unnecessary. It would have been much more effective if we'd jumped straight into the story of Pecos Bill. This part of the movie, especially coming straight off the Samba part, just slows to a crawl. Fortunately it picks up again once Bill comes on to the scene.

Once again, we have the troublesome female, who always seems to mess things up for the male heroes! In this film it's Slue-Foot Sue, the beauty who makes all the cowboys weak at the knees. She might have met her match in Widowmaker though!

Melody Time has a lot more character than Make Mine Music, but it suffers from the same fate in that the characters only appear for a very short time and there's only so much development they can have. I love the idea of the narrator, but they could have done so much more with him.

A mixed bag, with each segment looking entirely different from the rest, but overall it's an attractive looking movie with a few striking standouts. You can see that the animators were realising that their cartoons didn't have to be extremely detailed to have a beauty to them. The influence of Mary Blair's style was definitely becoming apparent in this movie.

Like with many of the other package movies, there are some good parts and some bad parts, but none of the music has stuck into the Disney zeitgeist. At least some of it - Pecos Bill's theme comes to mind - is very singable.

Of the six package films of the '40s, Melody Time is one of the more watchable ones. The first half is definitely stronger than the second half, but it still manages to be entertaining in a disjointed kind of way. What did we think of Melody Time, gang?

MALEFICENT: Overall, I liked it. It's very well presented. It was nice to have the paintbrush introducing each segment.

IRVYNE: I'm of two minds there. I think there should have been more of a link between segments. I loved the idea of the mask-narrator in the beginning, and I would have loved for him to make an appearance in between each short, to keep the themes going. Did you notice at the end of the movie there's nothing to close it off? Pecos Bill finishes, and then the entire movie's over. I just feel they could have done so much more to make it feel like one big movie instead of seven completely unrelated ones.

SHENZI: This was definitely more watchable than... Pedros... Salla... Siempres... or whatever.

WENDY: For me, nothing really dropped. It was good, but there was nothing brilliant.

MALEFICENT: I think some of it was brilliant.

IRVYNE: As with all the other package movies, it's kind of hard to judge this as a whole. Some bits are undoubtedly more entertaining than others. I love "Bumble Boogie."

SHENZI: I liked the first one, "Once Upon A Wintertime."

MALEFICENT: My favourite is "Johnny Appleseed."

IRVYNE: In my opinion, this is definitely one of the better Disneys of the 1940s. I prefer this over Make Mine Music, but not exclusively. I'd love to be able to pick the best bits them both and toss out the boring bits of them both. That'd make an amazing classic!

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