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Breanna - a lifelong Disney fan - is a writer who lives on a cattle ranch in Alabama. She wants a t-shirt that says, "Where Were You When Mufasa Died?"

Friday, November 5, 2010

“Funny, Nothing Ever Happens Nowadays”

Fun and Fancy Free is an interesting example out of the package films. Saludos Amigos, The Three Caballeros, and Make Mine Music were several shorts (a minimum of four for all films) in the vein of Mickey Mouse and the Silly Symphonies and never intended to be any longer than what they were.  Fun and Fancy Free contains only two segments that were originally pitched as full-length features.  The framework for Saludos Amigos was mostly live action (except for an animated plane and map detailing their journey), whereas the framework for The Three Caballeros was entirely animated with the only live action occurring within the shorts themselves.  There was absolutely no framework at all for Make Mine Music.  The framing device in Fun and Fancy Free is a balanced blend of live action and animation.
            A familiar face links both stories: Mr. Jiminy Cricket himself, with Cliff Edwards reprising his role as Jiminy’s voice.  To go even further with the connection to Disney’s second animated film, Jiminy’s song at the beginning, “Fun and Fancy Free (I’m a Happy-Go-Lucky Fellow)”, had originally been written for Pinocchio.  Thus begins the great Disney tradition of never abandoning an idea, but returning to it when the time was right.  Jiminy is just as lovable as he had been during Pinocchio and was a perfect choice to serve as the bridge connecting the two stories.  Considering that it wasn’t so long ago when they just began blending live action and animation, they actually did an exceptional job this time around.  One effect that stands out is when Jiminy downs a real drink.  Normally when they include scenes featuring live action and animation, filmmakers early on tried to avoid scenes in which the animated character interact with real world object, but here they did it back in ’47 and they did it extremely well.
            Speaking of live action, Edgar Bergen is a delightful celebrity guest.  His narration for “Mickey and the Beanstalk” was just as entertaining as watching the short itself.  I especially love the peanut gallery remarks given to the story by Bergen’s sidekick, Charlie McCarthy.  Some of his one-liners are still funny in today’s comedic climate.  Amazingly, the interplay between Bergen and his comrades only add to the story, as oppose to distracting from it, which could have been a danger.
            As for our other story, we have “Bongo,” the torrid tale of a circus bear.  It is charming, it is sweet, and has some really nice moments of animation.  But what makes it work isn’t Bongo himself, it’s the lady narrating it: Dinah Shore.  Not only is her voice distinctive, soothing, and melodic, she perfectly expresses the emotions behind each scene in her voice.  When she begins to sing a song for the short, the transition is seamless.  She whispers when the scene is quiet, and sounds sad and hopeless when Bongo is sad and hopeless.
            The short is really entertaining and I can see the potential it could have had as a full-length film (I imagine something along the lines of Dumbo if it had ran longer).  But I really am kind of baffled by the whole slapping-as-a-form-of-love angle that drives the latter half of the short.  Admittedly, I’m not well versed on real life bear behavior so I don’t know if they really do slap each other to show affection (I’ve seen them do it when they want to beat the crap out of each other).  But for this… sorry, but I can’t help but make sadomasochism and spousal abuse connections.  I know that it’s supposed to be a light hearted short with nothing like that in mind and I might be reading into it too much, but that’s kind of the whole point of this blog: to read into Disney films and interpret them as they haven’t been before.
            Next up, we have the memorable, famous, and classic, “Mickey and the Beanstalk.”  This short is special for a reason other than being awesome: it marks the final time Walt Disney himself voiced Mickey Mouse.  Adds a bit of a bittersweet note to the proceedings, huh?  But fortunately, the characters are all in top form.  Donald going insane at the very beginning was so beautifully Donald (“I’ll be all right, I’ll be all right”).  The animation of Mickey cutting the “wafer thin” slices of bread was really well done and illustrated the direness of their situation in a classic Disney manner. 
            Originally, there had been yet another Pinocchio allusion planned, in an abandoned idea to have Honest John be the one who sells Mickey the magic beans.  This would have made sense since Honest John was no stranger in selling magic wares to unsuspecting, innocent bystanders (he did persuade Pinocchio and all the other boys into going to Pleasure Island to engage in some literal jackass-ery, after all), but they were a little tight on money and animators around this time, so it’s no surprise that it got cut.  That isn’t to say that the animation suffered in this short.  There’s one piece of animation that makes this short and this film worth a viewing.
            I am speaking, of course, of the scene where the beanstalk literally grows through Mickey and the boys’ house.  It’s so believable and fluid and allows itself for some great visual gags (Goofy in the bed, for example).  The beanstalk imagery would go on to have a life after the film, as a part of the theming of the Magic Kingdom shop, Sir Mickey’s.  Interesting to note that the dragonfly scene was trimmed down for a couple of the VHS releases (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fun_and_Fancy_Free) because of the strong visual connections to World War II, but for the DVD release, the scene was completely in tact.  As for the potential this short had as a full length film, I imagine that there would have been a few more scenes detailing their discovery of the magic beanstalk as well as their trek to the castle, because both of these scenes seemed empty and rushed in the final product.
            For a vicious giant, Willie is pretty cute.  He seems really attached to those pink bunny rabbits, huh?  His other famous role in the Disney canon was as the Ghost of Christmas Present in the fantastic Mickey’s Christmas Carol.  Of all of the package films that I have watched thus far, I have to say that Fun and Fancy Free has come the closest to the quality that Disney is famous for.  Maybe it’s because this film originated as two distinct full-length films that we are given some character development and nuance that the audience has come to expect from a longer film.  Whatever the reason, the film fulfills its promise and leaves its audience full of “fun and fancy free.”


  1. I remember both of the segments very well from their separate video releases as a kid. The "Mickey and the Beanstalk" on it's individual video release was reframed with Professor Ludwig Von Drake replacing Edgar Bergen. Most of the silly lines are intact in some way, and it's a funny alternative if it's still out there somewhere. Though there's one very odd moment where the little girl's "OH!" is left in, and you have no idea who said it.

    I like both parts, but I prefer Beanstalk over Bongo. Not that Bongo is bad. I don't think it would have lasted as a feature; I'm not sure there was enough material. And the slapping thing never bothered me.

    The use of Jiminy also is one of the first times a character from a proper "narrative" feature is used elsewhere. Certainly Mickey, Donald and Goofy have recurred in a few features, but none of the ones from other existing worlds had. Re-introducing Jiminy Cricket outside the world of Pinocchio is interesting. First, it's not too far a stretch since he served as a present-day narrator for us in that film. And next, it began the grand tradition of that sort of cameo appearance on television, with his appearances on "The Mickey Mouse Club" or TinkerBell's constant use as a sort of mascot for "Disneyland" et al.

    There are so many 1940s references in this film that would just seem normal to that audience but need explanation now. Like the fact that Bongo is told on a record. While there's a sort of framework here, there's not much to connect the two stories thematically. Bongo is to cheer up some toys (which strangely works), and Beanstalk is a party story for a little girl.

    Walt did end up voicing Mickey a bit more for "The Mickey Mouse Club", but for the most part, yes this was his last performance.

    I like Edgar Bergen, and all the humor of the sequence, but I feel I must point out that he's not a great ventriloquist. You can see his mouth moving. I suppose it's easier being a ventriloquist by radio. But film is a good medium for him because it allows cuts to the puppets, giving them more individual life. They feel more like party guests. The illusion even carries further when in a few scenes they seem to have switched heads on Charlie, allowing him different expressions.

    Now for the bit that makes me feel weirdly uncomfortable. I know it was the 1940s, and I know he was a celebrity, but look at this... The basic framework is that the little girl from Song of the South is invited to a party at Mr. Bergen's house. Then we go there, and it's just him and her and some puppets. No parents, no other guests. In what universe is it okay for a middle-aged celebrity to sit around in a party hat at night with a little girl and no other adults, offering her cake? "It's okay; we're not alone, I have my puppets with me!" SKETCHY!!

  2. So I really enjoyed watching this. It's been awhile since I've seen it.

    Dinah Shore's voice sounds really great. There's such a mellow voice. As for the slapping thing, it didn't really bother me. In fact, I hadn't even though about it til reading the blog. But then again I like to attack my own friends with "violent love" so I can't really say much.

    Mickey and the Beanstalk is my favorite as well. I feel like the harp reminds me of Cinderella in some ways though. I think it's her hairstyle. Charlie's comments about killing the cow were quite funny.

    I have to agree with jonTK, when I was watching this, I was thinking about the fact Edger Bergen wasn't a very great ventriloquist either.

    As for Jiminy, his song at the beginning is great! Though I almost feel like his message of "Don't worry til it's here," seems a little out of character from the conscience we saw in Pinocchio. But I think it's just that he never had to really tell Pinocchio not to worry.

  3. Mickey and the Beanstalk stands out in my memory from this film. I first saw it on TV sometime in the late '80s or early '90s as part of a television triple feature along with Dumbo and Elmer the Elephant. Willie was a rather endearing giant, I feel. That scene where Donald goes insane is just hilarious, and the pink bunny rabbit still makes me laugh.