Movie Review

Road To Disney: The Wartime Era

road to disney 2

Welcome back to Road To Disney. Apologies for the delay. This was supposed to have been posted last month, but I had to go back and watch the Disney films that I haven’t watched yet and do more research. Time wasn’t on my side. It won’t happen again. On to the program. Disney has run into a huge roadblock after Bambi. Their feature-length movies weren’t making profit, World War II was affecting their international market, and some of their animators were drafted into the war, leaving the studio with less manpower to work on their films. So they opted to work on both WWII propaganda and low-budget short films. These “package” films were often a series of animated shorts that sometimes incorporated live-action and have no overarching narrative. I have to admit that I have little to no memory of the films released between Bambi and Cinderella. I haven’t seen most of them in a really long time and a few, I haven’t seen at all. Do they still hold up? Well, let’s find out. These are the package films, starting with…

Saludos Amigos

Release Date: February 6, 1943

The first package film, Saludos Amigos, is a series of four animated sketches sandwiched between live-action footage of the Disney crew traveling to South American countries, looking for inspiration for their cartoons. The first short is an educational piece about Lake Titicaca involving Donald Duck, the second involves an anthropomorphic plane picking up mail from Mendoza and taking it back to Santiago, Chile, the third is about gauchos (which are the Argentinian version of the cowboy) involving Goofy, and the last short is Donald meeting José Carioca, the green parrot in the poster above. This film, along with the next five films, aren’t feature-length and don’t have a central plot. Hell, this film is really short at 42 minutes. So what do I think of it? Well, it’s… okay. Just okay. It is nice to see some culture and learn about what goes down in South American countries and we have some decent animation and music numbers, but it’s not a film that I would watch again. The only time I would is if I was babysitting a niece or nephew and need something that’ll have their eyes glued to the screen. I give it a 6/10.

The Three Caballeros

Release Date: February 3, 1945

The Three Caballeros is a series of segments that combine both animation and live-action and they’re all connected by one thing: Donald Duck receiving presents for his birthday. José Carioca returns and we see the debut of Panchito Pistoles, a rooster from Mexico. Like the previous film, it takes a trip through Latin America in a ploy to expand Disney’s audience. Now I actually like this film more than Saludos Amigos. It’s more energetic, the segments are more entertaining, and the animation has improved. There was more effort put into this than Saludos Amigos. If I do have a complaint, the second half of the film drags, consisting of a lot of dancing, music, and animation exisitng within live action. But giving credit where credit is due, for a series of segments, The Three Caballeros is well-made. I give it a 7/10.

Make Mine Music

Release Date: April 20, 1946

Next up is Make Mine Music, which has ten segments full of unfinished story ideas all connected together to music. It’s funny because with most of these package films, Disney were trying to recreate the formula of Fantasia, but on a smaller scale. Instead of classical music, they went with the music that was popular at the time. It is a lesser version of Fantasia, but that doesn’t mean that it’s bad. There are some really good shorts like Blue Bayou, which was originally supposed to be in Fantasia, Peter The Wolf, and the final short The Whale Who Wanted To Sing At The Met, which is brilliant. There are some shorts that don’t belong in this like Casey At The Bat. It’s a good enough short on its own that has is entertaining moments, but it makes no sense in context with the rest. Still, as a series of shorts go, it’s one that is worth your time if you appreciate animation. I give it a 8/10.

Fun And Fancy Free

Release Date: September 27, 1947

Out of all of these package films, Fun And Fancy Free is the one I remember the most. This film has two shorts, Bongo and Mickey & The Beanstalk, all hosted by Jiminy Cricket. Bongo is based on the story Little Bear Bongo, about a circus bear named Bongo who wishes to live in the wild. He escapes into the forest and finds out it’s not a great as he though it would be. Until he meets a female bear and they fall in love. But a bigger, stronger bear comes between them and Bongo must fight for that love. Mickey & The Beanstalk is just the story of Jack & The Beanstalk, but with Mickey, Donald, and Goofy instead of Jack. These shorts are fine enough entertainment as a standalone, but they’re nothing spectacular, especially compared to Disney’s other material. The stuff with Jiminy Cricket and the middle segment between the shorts are total filler, you could do without them. This is another okay film whose shorts work better on their own than together. You can check them out on YouTube right now if you enjoy them. As for me? They’re a 6/10.

Melody Time

Release Date: May 27, 1948

Melody Time shares a lot of similarities to Make Mine Music, it might as well be a sequel. Both films are a series of animated shorts tied together by popular music (of the time) and are clearly trying to be like Fantasia. But I’m going to judge them as their own individual piece. So how is Melody Time? Just like Make Mine Music, it’s also good for what it is. It has some really good animation, some solid short narratives, and brilliant music numbers. Bumble Boogie is a bee trying to escape dying from a swing music frenzy created by animation. It’s insane and energetic. Trees takes the self-titled poem and adds animation that would fit the words. It’s literally poetry in motion. The short that people remember the most out of this film is the Johnny Appleseed one. They put a lot of effort into this one because it is gorgeous. I’m amazed that they didn’t turn into a feature-length film. The other shorts are either enjoyable enough or forgettable. So, yeah. Melody Time is really good. Check it out if you haven’t. I give it an 8/10.

The Adventures Of Ichabod And Mister Toad

Release Date: October 5, 1949

We’ve reached the last of the package films with The Adventures Of Ichabod And Mister Toad. And they went out on a high note because I really like this film. Just like Fun And Fancy Free, this is two shorts put into one and they’re both adaptations of classic stories, but they actually fit with each other in a strange way. The first is an adaptation of 1908’s The Wind In The Willows and it’s a strange and crazy story that has a lot of laughs and insane moments. The second short is based on The Legend Of Sleepy Hollow and is centered on Ichabod Crane’s interactions with the townsfolk. There’s no dialogue, just narration done by Bing Crosby, but you get a lot of character out of this short, including the main character, Ichabod, being an asshole. And then there’s the Headless Horseman chase scene, which…

It speaks for itself. Out of these package films, The Adventures Of Ichabod And Mister Toad is the best out of all of them. Dark, funny, taking some liberties with the source material and being their own thing, it’s a riot. I give it a 9/10.

Even though these films aren’t as well-known as other Disney films, the package films from the 40s are important for the studio as they helped make up for their financial losses on their more expensive films. Now, the studio is going to gamble their entire careers and future by going back to feature-length films. They went back to the ideas that were put on hold, starting with a fairy tale. And thus, the Silver Age of Disney films began.

TO BE CONTINUED

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