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You can listen to an audio version of this review HERE
Goddamit, No! No, I have had enough. I cannot do another one of these package films. You can’t make me. You want to know about Melody Time? Wikipedia this mother. See that description? “Mildly successful”. I ask you, has anyone ever wanted to read a review of a movie that was “mildly” anything? No! You either want to see me praise a classic to the heavens or grind some misbegotten abomination into the dirt. No one reads three star reviews. No one wants to hear about movies that are “fine”. You want my review of Melody Time? It’s Make Mine Music but not as good. There. Read the Make Mine Music review and induce a mild sense of disappointment. See you next week.
Alright fine. I’m doing this. But you owe me, people. For starters, get me a sandwich.
Okay, okay Melody Time. Melody Time. What can I saw about Melody Time? Specifically, what can I say about Melody Time that I have not already said about the other Never Heard of ‘Ems? I could literally describe the circumstances of its creation and its basic structure and you would not be able to tell whether I was talking about Make Mine Music or this film. Except, this was made in 1948 and most of the good ideas had already gone into Make Mine Music. You see, that’s the problem. You’ll recall I actually quite liked Make Mine Music, but this is just more of the same and it’s pretty forgettable all in all. But, screw it. Let’s get on with it.
We get the opening credits and, I gotta be honest, a pretty weak sauce opening theme song. I only bring up the credits because…well look at the name here on the bottom right…
The first segment is Once upon A Wintertime which begins with an unnamed Boy and Girl riding their sleigh through your typical Christmas card setting.
They pick up a pair of rabbits who hitch a lift on their sleigh and pass a lake with couples skating together.
Boy and Girl skate around and the two rabbits do the same while Frances Langford sings the title song and oh my God this is the whitest thing I have ever seen in my life. I think we may have found the cause of the fifties, people. This is where it all went down. This movie was patient zero.
Anyway, Girl storms off when Boy accidentally sprays her with snow (not going to make a joke and you are an awful person) and the Girl Rabbit does the same to the Boy Rabbit. Boy is understandably upset at this.
But then, the laws of cartoon physics take their brutal toll. As we all know, if cartoon characters are on ice, that ice has to crack, and Girl and Girl Rabbit suddenly find themselves stranded on an ice floe in the middle of a raging river. I mentioned that they were skating on a lake, right? You remember that? Fool! That means you were paying attention! And the penalty is torture!
So not only is the frozen lake now a raging torrent of death but, you must surely have guessed, it’s headed for a waterfall. Ah, not to worry. It’s only around as tall as Angel Falls.
Boy and Boy Rabbit attempt to rescue their other halves but fail rather spectacularly and the two females have to be saved by the two hideously deformed horses and some squirrels and bluebirds and whatnot and what have you. You know, the usual Disney forest detritus. Apparently though, Boy and Boy Rabbit get an A for effort and the two couples reunite and all is well. This didn’t really do much for me, I have to say. Too cutesy, a little bland and some rather irritating continuity errors.
Much better is Bumble Boogie, which features a bumblebee trying to escape your typical run-of-the-mill Disney acid trip.
What lifts this short a level above the rest is the music, an awesome, jazzy rendition of Rimsky-Korsakov’s Flight of the Bumblebee by the Freddy Martin orchestra. But the animation is fine, and it’s well integrated with the music. Thank you Bumble Boogie, you have granted me a brief reprieve from encroaching ennui.
The Legend of Johnny Appleseed. The Legend of Johnny Appleseed. Hmmmmm. John Chapman, the real Johnny Appleseed, was a fascinating individual. He was a pioneer and missionary who won the respect and friendship of many Native American tribes, and who’s planting of apple nurseries throughout the American frontier greatly aided the early settlers. Also, he was a vegetarian, in a time when that was liable to get you burned as a witch.
Disney’s take on Chapman’s life is…worrying. What I mean is, there is a certain perception of Disney movies: Safe, inoffensive, bland, almost aggressively wholesome.
Yeah, in my experience, not so much. But with The Legend of Johnny Appleseed and Once Upon a Wintertime I’m starting to see that side of Disney and I’m really hoping that it’s not indicative of the movies to come. Don’t get me wrong, The Legend of Johnny Appleseed is not bad. It’s a well-animated, professionally done short. It’s just, all the way through this cartoon I kept hearing this sound:
It’s that kind of wholesome.
Next up is Little Toot.
Okay, well we’re off to a good start. It’s a song by the always awesome Andrews Sisters, about a little tug boat named Little Toot who lives with his father Big Toot in a world of sentient anthropomorphic tug boats wait just a damn minute here!
Okay, that picture up there is from an old British children’s TV show called Tugs (American readers might know it as Salty’s Lighthouse). I only saw a few episodes but if I had to sum it up then essentially; “Grim and Gritty Thomas the Tank Engine. With boats.”
It was created in the late eighties by Robert D. Cardona and David Mitton, the creators of Thomas the Tank Engine and in fairness was a far superior show, with some stunning model and set design. And it was also, apparently, the work of filthy, filthy thieves.
Look, usually when I pull out the old “You whore!” running gag I’m pointing out coincidental similarities rather than making an actual accusation of plagiarism. But here? Your Honour I present Exhibit A:
And Exhibit B:
In short, M’lud…
Anyway, back to the short. Little Toot is kinda a hoodlum. He’s always making trouble for the other boats, getting in their way and trolling them. Finally, after a close call with five-oh, he decides to straighten up and fly right and tries to help his dad pull a cruise ship. Unfortunately, he doesn’t really get how boats work (despite, you know, being one) and pushes the rudder which causes the cruise ship to veer out of control. Oh that Little Toot! What shenanigans will he get up to next…JESUS!
Yeah, there’s no way the death toll from that is less than three figures. But, okay, let’s not get carried away. I mean, it was an accident, and he meant well. Plus, he’s a minor! Let’s go easy on him…aaaaand they’re exiling him to die on the open sea. And sentencing his father to a life pulling garbage scows. These Tugs have a legal code than makes the Old Testament look namby-pamby.
So Little Toot is left adrift on the great ocean, being menaced by sinister buoys that whisper “Bad Boy” as he passes, which is scary. But they’re whispering “Bad Boy” in the voices of the Andrews Sisters, which is fucking HOT. Then there’s a storm, and it looks like he’s going to sink. But he comes across a cruise liner in distress. He radios an SOS and manages to pull the ship to safety after getting zapped by lightning.
So, since the number of people he saved is probably in the neighbourhood of the number of people he killed, Little Toot is deemed a hero and they all live happily ever after.
Finally! This is a really good short, funny, dark and with a really catchy song by the Andrews Sisters.
Only minor quibble is that they reuse a lot of character models and animation, but otherwise very good.
Next is Trees, which is the Joyce Kilmer poem set to music and animation. It’s another one of those long, slow pieces that I complained about so much in the Make Mine Music review, but honestly this is a gorgeous piece. The animation of the various animals is done in a much more photorealistic style than is usual for Disney and is very, very beautiful.
Then it’s time for Blame it on the Samba. This cartoon begins with Donald Duck and José Carioca wandering through no. No. No.
Not doing it.
I don’t care. No. I’m done. I’m sitting this one out. I’m on break. I don’t want to play anymore. I’m taking my ball and going home. I’m out. I am so done with José Carioca and the Samba and the dancing with the live action women and the surreal bullshit…
NO! Not doing it.
I’m just going to review another movie until this short is over.
Oliver Stone’s JFK is a paradox. On the one hand, it’s a fantastic example of the filmmaker’s craft, beautifully shot, evocatively scored and with a fantastic script filled with quotable dialogue and fascinating characters. It is also an intensely troubling work, replete with falsehoods masquerading as fact and often veering shamelessly into outright slander against real historical figures, not least President Lyndon Johnson who is baldly accused of complicity in the assassination of…and it’s over. Awesome, moving on.
The last segment is Pecos Bill, which retells the story of the legendary Texan hero.
After a brief, animated tour of the desert, we segue into a…live…action…scene…
Um…where’s the cat?
Oh no. You were great. But…um…you can sit this one out.
Yeah. I’m sure. Thanks. Jesus.
So anyway, we have a bunch of live action cowboys singing around a campfire with…oh my God. Luana Patten?
So, you escaped too? Thank God. After the Giant attacked I was sure I was the only one who got out.
Tell me…do you know if Bergen…?
I hope so. And yet…I sense something of his evil still lingering on the wind…
Oh yeah, Bobby Driscoll (Johnny in Song of the South) is here too. The cowboys offer to tell the two children the story of Pecos Bill and his horse Widowmaker, which Luana remarks is “a funny name.”
The cowboys tell them that Bill and Widowmaker were the best of friends until Bill fell in love with Slue Foot Sue, which leads Bobby to complain “Aw shucks, a woman in the story.”
The cowboys draw a map of America on the ground.
And we begin the animated account of Pecos Bill’s life. It’s a much better take than the Johnny Appleseed segment. Bill starts out as an orphan, falling off a wagon and raised by coyotes in the desert. I’m sorry, by Kai-yotes. In the desert he learns how to outrun the antelope, outleap the rabbit and outhiss the rattlesnake.
We see him rescuing Widowmaker as a young foal from vultures, and the two become a legendary crime fighting duo like…um…like…
It seems like there is a really obvious reference I should be making here. Like…
Legendary crimefighting duo…
Oh God, this is going to drive me crazy. Legendary crimefighting duo. Legendary crimefighting duo. Laurel and Hardy? No. Siskel and Ebert? No, that’s not it.
A legendary crimefighting duo like…I’ve got it! The Lone Ranger and Silver!
Pecos Bill is a damn fine short, and a good one to end the movie on. It’s also a rare example of the Disney version having a darker ending than the source material. According to the folktakes, Pecos Bill falls in love with Slue Foot Sue, much to the jealousy of Widowmaker.
Sue asks to ride Widowmaker the day before the wedding. I have to give the cartoon credit, Slue Foot Sue is portrayed here as a total badass, riding Widowmaker with ease. But unfortunately, her bustle gets shaken so much that she bounces off and starts bouncing higher and higher until finally she gets bounced to the moon.
In most of the original versions of the folktale, Pecos manages to rescue Sue, but in the cartoon he fails (due to Widowmaker sabotaging his efforts).
Sue is stranded, and Pecos spends the rest of his days howling at the moon , with the coyotes, sorry, with the kai-yotes joining him in sympathy. Well, maybe she’ll be alright up there on the moon…
You take the good, you take the bad, you take ’em both and there you have…a mediocre package film with wildly varying animation quality.
The Leads: 10/20
Little Toot, Johnny Appleseed, Pecos Bill, Donald Duck, Boy and Girl…it’s a very mixed bag.
The Villain: N/A
Well, obviously the warlock José Carioca, but apparently the Disney Corporation is too blind to see that he is the tool of Satan so I just have to pretend that this movie doesn’t have a villain.
Supporting Characters: 06/20
I can’t think of any. So that can’t be good.
Some very nice pieces; Little Toot and Bumble Boogie stick out as being especially memorable.
FINAL SCORE: 48%
NEXT WEEK: We’re merrily, merrily, merrily on our way to reviewing The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad.
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!