1947 was a continuation of the strange post war period for the Disney studio, as Walt and his team were trying desperately to find ways to churn out new product that was commercially successful but also artistically appealing. This wasn’t an easy task. After all, the tastes of the public and the Disney artists didn’t always match up. See Fantasia if you want an example.
The development of features in this environment was a tough road. That’s why we ended up with package features taking up much of these years. Fun and Fancy Free, released in September of 1947, continued the formula of these years by taking a couple of shorter stories, combining them into one feature, and tossing in some familiar characters and live action stars to make a combined film.
The two main stories of Fun and Fancy Free, Bongo and Mickey and the Beanstalk, were developed originally as feature films before World War II. Mickey and the Beanstalk was first, as Walt took yet another stab at the Jack and the Beanstalk story. He had visited the story in 3 earlier shorts, once in Kansas City with his Laugh-O-Gram studios and in the Mickey Mouse cartoons Giantland and The Brave Little Tailor.
This time, though, the idea was to further reinvigorate Mickey by bringing a fully realized feature film look to him. Donald and Goofy were incorporated to make this a trio picture, which was very common in the shorts before the war. Work on this film began in 1940, so this was very much in keeping with the cartoons of that time.
Remember, at the time before the war, the studio was growing. Snow White was a huge windfall, and while Pinocchio and Fantasia were disappointments at the box office, they reaffirmed the fact that Disney was in the features market and made good artistic statements. So Walt was buying up stories to be adapted into films from all sorts of places.
One of those was Cosmopolitan Magazine, where a story by Sinclair Lewis caught Walt’s eye. The story was that of Bongo, a circus bear that longs for a life in the world at large. Joe Grant, one of Walt’s story men, told him that the story was not suitable for a feature, but Walt ignored him and bought it anyway. The first treatment for Bongo was turned in on December 8, 1941, one day after the attacks at Pearl Harbor.
The war years postponed both features, and when they were revived in 1946, it was as a combination. The decision was made to bring in famous stars to serve as narrators and attractions for the moviegoer, and add Jiminy Cricket as a bridging device. Dinah Shore was recruited to serve as narrator and songbird for Bongo, and Walt’s friend Edgar Bergen brought his ventriloquist skills to the narration of Mickey and the Beanstalk.
The final product became a mish mash of ideas that was very common to this era. Between the two South American films, the music packages (Make Mine Music and Melody Time) and this film, there were many films of that nature. Fun and Fancy Free was created specifically to provide a lighter, more hopeful tone to the postwar years. Tomorrow, we’ll take a look at how it does with that job.