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There is an audio version of this review HERE.
Ah Make Mine Music. Well, what can be said about this, the most famous, the most beloved, and arguably the greatest Disney movie of all time that has not already been said a million times, by a million different critics?
Yeah, fine, I’d never heard of it either. This may in fact be the most obscure Disney move in the entire classic canon, at least for a European. I actually had to get a Region 1 DVD that came in this weird little white case with clasps. Goddamn clasps!
Oh yeah, and then when I tried to play it on my PC I get this…
See that? That’s my PC saying that, “Why yes, I can play you this American DVD. But you will only be able to play Region 1 until you decide to set me back to Region 2. And, oh yes, you can only do this three times. Then, I will be stuck forever on the last region you set me on. So you must choose whether you wish to continue being able to watch Make Mine Music, (which in my infinite evil I must remind you, you will not be able to play on any other device you own) OR whether you want to watch any of your other DVDs on me. Your move, meatsack.”
Okay, first things first.
Why would you do that? What possible reason could you have? You don’t have a problem with me WATCHING media from different regions, otherwise why even make it possible for me to do that? So if you don’t have a problem with me watching DVDs from other regions, why would you limit the amount of times I can watch a DVD I purchased legally with my own money? WHY, IN A TIME WHEN PIRACY IS SUPPOSEDLY KILLING OFF PHYSICAL MEDIA AND MAKING IT “NECESSARY” TO TRY AND FORCE THROUGH DRACONIAN LEGISLATION THAT EFFECTIVELY GIVES MOVIE STUDIOS CONTROL OVER ALL CONTENT ON THE INTERNET, WHY AM I BEING PUNISHED FOR PLAYING THE GAME FAIRLY?!
WHY CAN I ONLY USE THIS FUNCTION THREE TIMES?! WHAT IS THIS DEMON MONKEY PAW BULLSHIT?! I REPEAT! WHY WOULD YOU DO THAT?!
Well. You know what happened next, don’t you? That’s right. I fell in love with the movie. I fell in love with the movie that I can only watch by giving up my ability to watch every other movie I own on my PC.
So, let’s take a look at Make Mine Music. This was the last of the canon Disney classics animated during the second world war, when most of the studios animators had either been drafted or were working on propaganda shorts for the war effort. So Make Mine Music is basically a load of leftover ideas shoved together into one movie to turn a quick buck during the lean years. It’s a hodge podge, yeah, and it’s certainly uneven but I have to say it really works. If I had to describe it in one sentence it would be: Fantasia, but for all music. There is classical music, sure, but during the ten (!) different segments you get bluegrass, swing, jazz, ballet, spoken word and opera.
So let’s dive in.
The first segment is called Blue Bayou…
No. No it’s not. Apparently the first segment in Make Mine Music is something called The Martins and the Coys. I didn’t knows this, because it’s been cut from my version because of “comic gunplay.”
Had to import it in from the states. Can’t watch it without relinquishing my ability to watch other DVDs. And they cut 10% of the content.
Excuse me for a moment.
Okay, screw it. It’s up on You Tube. Let’s watch it together: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XtyUycHvYls
Holy shit! Is everyone okay? Well, no wonder they cut it! Had that segment ever seen the light of day, that much comic gunplay…well, I shudder to think! Fortunately it was cut, thereby obviating the need for some kind of gun control legislation.
All controversy aside, this short is…okay. The King’s Men (the singers) are in good voice and it’s pretty funny but, I dunno. I thought it was kind of blah. (Have I mentioned how much I hate reviewing shorts? There’s just so little to get your teeth into.)
Next is Blue Bayou. This was originally going to be part of Fantasia, set to Debussy’s Clair de Lune but it was cut for time. Instead, the animation is set to the title song, a lullaby of sorts sung by the Ken Darby chorus. If you’re interested in seeing what the original Debussy version would have been like, you can see it here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IpuXeynA4VM
Actually, speaking of Fantasia, a good friend of mine told me after the review went up that the reason he loved the movie was that he was deaf from birth and that Fantasia was the first movie in the cinema that he saw (and heard) after his hearing had been restored. Which…I can’t even imagine what that must have been like. I doubt any of us can who haven’t lived through that.
Hearing stories like this, of people’s first experiences with these movies, is one of the reasons I love doing this. Anyway, Blue Bayou is one of those long, slow languid sequences that I can’t really engage with. But you know what? Maybe it’s me. Maybe I’ve just got too short an attention span. Maybe I’ve lost the ability to just sit back and let something beautiful take its time and just…be beautiful. And make no mistake, Blue Bayou is must certainly that. The animation, of a pair of storks flying over a gorgeously painted wetland is almost Bambi good. I’d be lying if I said my interest didn’t start to flag fairly early, but I’m inclined not to hold that against it.
All the Cats Join In is something entirely different. Set to a jazz score by the Benny Goodman orchestra, it’s all about teenagers meeting up at the local diner to dance while the animator’s pencil desperately tries to keep up with the action as it happens. It’s fun, bursting with energy and even a little racy. The character designs are simpler than is usual with Disney, but they’re very appealing and that simplicity really allows them to flow and dance in a way that more sophisticated models couldn’t. If Blue Bayou almost puts you to sleep, this one wakes you right back up.
Next is Without You, a ballad song by Andy Russell. Hm. I have a friend called Andy Russell. Maybe it’s the same guy? Nah, Andy’s around my age, he wouldn’t have been singing soft, lovelorn ballads in the forties. Unless he’s an immortal from Highlander. Oh my God, that would make perfect sense, because one time I tried to decapitate him and he was all “Dude. No.”
It’s…another slow, pretty, musical sequence. I refer you to my comments on Blue Bayou. One thing that is notable about it is some very impressive rain effects.
Next is Casey at the Bat, an animated version of Ernest Thayer’s 1888 poem that was already popular before Disney took a stab at it.
This is probably the funniest short in the whole movie. If you don’t know it it’s basically an account of a baseball game, where pretty much the entire poem is just buildup to the appearance of Casey, a legendary, Chuck Norris-like figure who’s turn at bat is anticipated and hyped up and hyped up until finally he takes his swing aaaaaaand…strikes out.
The animation, honestly, isn’t fantastic. It’s a little rubbery but it makes up for it with sheer energy and inventiveness and it honestly looks and feels more like a Warner Brothers short than something from Disney. Casey is just the kind of big, lugheaded bully that Bugs Bunny was made for taking apart.
But what really makes the cartoon so funny is the narrator, who recites the poem in this hilarious, sing-songy, sort of pseudo Irish accented wait just a damn minute here…
Nobody? Nobody? Tch. You kids. Okay, those guys up there are Spike Milligan, the young Peter Sellars and Harry Secombe . If you know any of them, you probably know Sellars, who starred in the Pink Panther movies, Being There and Doctor Strangelove. From 1951 to 1960 they were the cast of The Goon Show, a brilliant, surreal and utterly groundbreaking comedy show on the BBC. I literally do not have the space here to fully do justice to the influence these three had on British comedy so let me sum it up in the most succinct way that I can.
No these guys?
No THESE guys.
So, why did I just give Spike Milligan an Unshaved Mouse Shaming? Because as well as writing perhaps as many as two hundred episodes…
…Spike voiced many of the characters. And one of his stock voices was a weird, pseudo Irish warbling that I swear is a dead ringer for the narrator in this short. Did Milligan base the voice on this cartoon? I have no evidence of that, but I do know for a fact that he was a fan of Disney and that his character Eccles was a pretty spot on imitation of Goofy. So…maybe? I was actually so struck by the similarity that I had to check the credits to make sure Milligan hadn’t voiced the narrator, before I remembered that this short was most likely animated during World War 2 and that Milligan was still serving in the British army. You can read about his wartime experiences in his memoir Adolf Hitler: My Part in his Downfall.
So then, clearly worried that we were having too much fun, the movie segues into Two Silhouettes. Over the title song, sung by Dinah Shore, two animated ballet dancers dance in silhouette. Sing it with me now: pretty, slow, beautiful, dull. Moving on.
Next is probably the most famous short from this film, Disney’s animated adaptation of Sergei Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf. It’s narrated by Sterling Holloway…
…and begins with Sterling explaining the different musical motifs and instruments that represent each character, finishing with the wolf snarling menacingly into the camera while his sinister refrain plays.
It’s a good and pretty faithful adaptation of the original tale, although purists might sniff at some of the changes made (in most versions, the duck gets eaten by the wolf, in this one she survives.) However, if I were recommending an animated version of Peter and the Wolf I’d probably recommend the 2006 British/Polish stop motion film over this one.
Next is After You’re Gone, with music by the Benny Goodman orchestra. Jazz plays over anthropomorphized instruments running around and acting all cray-zay. It’s very short and very slight, and feels like they had the basic idea but didn’t really have anywhere to take it.
The penultimate short is Johnny Fedora and Alice Blue Bonnet, a love story sung by the Andrews Sisters. Like many of you I’m sure, I first became a fan of the Andrews Sisters while beating giant green mutants to death in the ruins of post-apocalyptic Washington.
The title characters are two hats that fall in love in a department store window and are then separated when they’re bought by different owners and who then struggle to be reunited. It’s a good short with some real visual flair, (we never see a human character from below the forehead, which gives the impression of an entire world of sentient hats). It’s well animated, and quite sweet, but if there’s one criticism I’d make it’s that while Johnny Fedora is a wonderfully expressive character, Alice Blue Bonnet is a seriously dull design. She looks like she was designed to look pretty and nothing else.
And then lastly we come to The Whale Who Wanted to Sing at the Met. It’s narrated by Nelson Eddy, the movie star/opera singer who probably did more than anyone else to popularise opera in the United States.
As well as narrating the story, Eddy does all the voices. All of them. Like, in the scenes where there are six characters singing together? That’s all Eddy. They just recorded him singing in different registers and he was able to harmonise with himself. It’s one of the most astounding pieces of voices acting I can remember witnessing.
And, oh yeah. This guy can sing. He was the most highly paid singer in the world in his heyday, in a time when being able to sing was actually a prerequisite for success as a singer.
Anyway. The short is about Willie, a whale blessed with the voice of three Nelson Eddys, allowing him to harmonise with himself. Willie is a truly loveable character. He just wants to sing and share his voice with the world. So when he’s told that a famous opera impressario named Tetti-Tatti (Eddy, again, doing an Italian accent because there was literally nothing he could not do with his voice) has embarked on a voyage to find this legendary singing whale, he assumes that this is his big break and swims off to meet him. Unfortunately, Tetti-Tatti has gotten it into his head that the reason Willie can sing so well is because he has swallowed a trio of opera singers. Hey, this is the Disney universe. Italians can survive inside whales. It happens.
Willie swims up to Tetti-Tatti’s boat and tries to impress him with a brilliant, witty and lively rendition of Largo al Factotum and my God you could do so much worse as an introduction to opera than this cartoon. Eddy is just unreal. Things then move into an extended fantasy sequence where Willie imagines the glorious future that awaits him, singing at the Met in New York. We see and hear him perform excerpts from Lucia di Lammermoor, Pagliacci, Tristan und Isolde (with Eddy playing both parts, natch) and finally Faust.
These scenes, of a gigantic whale performing onstage to enraptured audiences are both ridiculous and strangely touching. Willie visualises everyone he knows in the audience. The sailors from the boat, the various seals and pelicans that he used to entertain with his singing. It’s a dream that is at once impossible but incredibly simple and pure hearted. But then, the fantasy is cut savagely short as Tetti-Tattit harpoons Willie in the middle of his performance as Mephistopheles, killing him.
Yeah, didn’t see that coming, did ya?
Truth be told, this may be one of the most emotionally devastating pieces to come out of the Disney studio that I can remember seeing. It’s such a bleak, brutal message, totally at odd with the usual Disney “you just have to wish hard enough” mantra. This short basically says “Just because you want it bad enough, just because you’ve earned it, doesn’t mean you’re going to get it. In fact, being exceptional will probably get you more hatred and resentment than if you were just normal.” If the short went with an angry tone after Willie’s death, it could be quite obnoxious, an almost Randian railing against the forces of mediocrity cutting down the superman (whale, whatever). But instead, it’s simply regretful. Eddy’s narrator actually goes as far to say “Don’t be too harsh on Tetti-Tatti. He simply didn’t understand. See, Willie’s singing was a miracle. And people just aren’t used to miracles.”
Eddy then tells us that “In whatever 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, amid the applause and the cheering forever.”
The short ends with Willie singing in heaven, pulling back to show the pearly gates with a sign reading “SOLD OUT”.
The ending may strike you as a cheat. But personally, I found it incredibly moving.
And by the end? I was in tears.
God, grading these package films is a nightmare. In some sequences the animation’s great, in some it’s subpar.
The Leads: 15/20
Since the The Whale Who Wanted to Sing at the Met is the longest segment, I’m going to take Willie as being the main character. And I frickin’ love Willie.
The Villain: 16/20
The combination of Profokiev’s score and some genuinely unsettling character design makes the wolf a pretty scary villain.
Supporting Characters: 11/20
Too many to list, but they average out to be pretty solid.
Again, with ten shorts it’s always going to be hit and miss. But there’s some great pieces here, and Nelson Eddy is the frickin’ man.
FINAL SCORE: 67%
INT/NIGHT/A DINGY BAR IN MARRAKECH
The UNSHAVED MOUSE sits brooding in shadow in the corner of the bar, a COMMUNIST CROW perched on his shoulder. A SWARTHY ARAB STEREOTYPE approaches his table.
A thousand apologies, oh unshaved one.
You have it then?
I had to slit a few throats, but I got it.
The Unshaved Mouse extends his hand but the Arab pulls away.
Ah ah ah. First, my reward.
Patience, my culturally insensitive friend. You’ll get what’s coming to you.
Ark! What’s coming to you, capitalist pig!
What do you mean, I’ll get what’s coming to me? Some kind of karmic retribution?
Um…no. I mean, your payment. You did a great job. Seriously. Well done.
Oh. Thank you.
No buddy, thank you.
The Unshaved Mouse passes a big sack of money to the Arab, who in turn carefully places an old VHS cassette on the table.
I believe our business here is concluded.
Indeed. But tell me. What do you hope to do with that movie? Sell it to the Iranians? The North Koreans, maybe?
I’m not going to sell it. I am going to REVIEW it.
The Arab’s eyes pop in terror.
No! No, you cannot! A terrible fate awaits all who try!
I do not fear death.
It is true what they say. The Three Caballeros drove you mad!
The Unshaved Mouse grabs the Arab by his shirt and screams into his face with manic fervour.
The Three Caballeros showed me the folly of sanity!!! And soon all the world shall know!! Tell me, my friend, HAVE YOU BEEN TO BAHIA?!!
Terrified, the Arab pulls away and races for the door. The Unshaved Mouse watches him go. Finally, he turns and looks at the cassette the Arab left behind.
Neil Sharpson AKA The Unshaved Mouse, is a playwright, comic book writer and blogger living in Dublin. You can follow him on Twitter. The blog updates every Thursday. Thanks for reading!