Disney’s final ‘package’ feature length film in a string of five, Melody Time follows 1946's Make Mine Music and 1947's Fun and Fancy Free. Herein we are delivered seven short pieces of varying cringe factor, but among the clutter there are some definite hidden gems. The styles utilised also vary dramatically from one another, creating more of a cinematic smorgasbord than a set meal, as it were.
Directed by four directors, Melody Time is an easier watch than say, Saludos Amigos or The Three Caballeros as there isn’t a great deal of the live action participation within the film. In fact, the temptation may well have been strong here to include more (I’ll explain more about that in a minute), but thankfully animation wins the day and we don’t suffer the lurid colourations of people performing in poorly lit greenscreen settings.
The seven chapters of this 72 minute film are all interesting in their own right, but the highlights for me stand out well atop the rest. Many of these pieces will be familiar to anyone who used to watch Saturday Disney in the early evenings way back when as indeed I did in the first entry Once Upon a Wintertime. This is a love story animated in an elegantly stylised fashion to a song performed by Frances Langford. Naturally it is a bit soppy and a bit too clichéd, but for first timers this holds some interesting moments of animation.
Next is my pick of the film highlight wise. Bumble Boogie features a poor little bee trying desperately to outwit the musical nightmare he has suddenly appeared in. The synch for the day is extraordinary with a clean sound to the musical transfer and the colours and surreality of the piece is very nice. Thankfully, this piece knows when to walk off stage, rather than be carried, so the overall feeling is ‘left wanting more’.
Two rather nauseating tales follow next in Johnny Appleseed and Little Toot. I understand it was the fashion of the day to sing in three part harmonies and tell stories of how great white people were in taming the Native Americans, but today this is embarrassing and trite. However, the animation is cool, so might I suggest turning the sound way down? For fans of The Andrews Sisters (if any are still alive) they vocalise during Toot.
The short Trees follows and this plays a little like a homage Russell Coight might do. It’s music set to the Joyce Kilmer poem of the same name and while the music is irritating, the excellent contrasts and stylised animation are superb.
Blame it on the Samba is the first live action inclusion and this looks like a leftover from The Three Cabelleros. Literally. It’s also pockmarked and artefacty and features Donald Duck and José Cariocca dancing like wild things while a Dr. Seuss-like bird annoys them. Yawn.
Finally, the feature of this film. Roy Rogers and Trigger (The Smartest Horse in the Movies) sit about with a bunch of lonely cowpokes and children singing a song about Pecos Bill. They are all so sotless and their tassles so well trimmed it makes being a cowboy look like clean work. Still, the animation, when it begins, is great with a fairly amusing tall tale the inclusion. This is where the temptation to include Roy and Trigger in the animation may have been huge, but happily averted.
Disney’s first Cinemascope cartoon is still seven years away in 1953's Toot, Whistle, Plunk and Boom, so we are afforded here a classic 4:3 ratio. (That isn’t the first feature in cinemascope either, just a short). The image is fairly clear throughout, although for noticeable moments of film artefacts in both Blame it on the Samba and Pecos Bill. In fact, reel markers are still quite visible and during Pecos there is a very nasty bit of film damage at 71:06.
Otherwise, colours are all vibrant and the film has been cleaned up remarkably well. Blacks are true and of course any shadow detail is deliberate so there aren’t any worries there. For a film of this one’s age, it no doubt looks better than it ever has and that’s pretty darned good.
For the most part the Dolby Digital 5.1 surround package seems to have been taken from a mono master and so does little by way of surround activity. The subwoofer too gets to take a well–earned break for a change. Dialogue is clear enough, although cheesy and cartoony on occasions. At times during Pecos Bill there are hard moments of static behind some random spoken sentences, leading me to believe these have been spliced in at a later time and not too well.
The music gets heavily syruppy, as was the style of the time, and is even a little embarrassing at times. Still, it’s a time capsule of a sort and we must accept that people liked that stuff back then. Or maybe they didn’t like it, it’s just all they had on offer. Either way.
As far as the package films of Disney Studios go, this one is among the better of the collection. This certainly features a wider variety of themes than the Latin American ones and the two-story film of The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad. However, it pales in comparison to that eternal classic Fantasia, but what Disney film can step up to that original masterpiece?
For historians, for film or animation buffs or for the kids, this film has something for everyone and while all pieces won’t necessarily be to everyone’s palate, it’s still plenty of fun with animation just as good today as it ever has been.