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.
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.”