Melody Time is a mixture of several kinds of short subjects, as we discussed yesterday. They basically break down into two types, though. On the one hand, there are shorts that tell a story and have a narrative flow and those that are designed to interpret the music and rely on imagery and visuals. The film opens with a more story based short, Once Upon a Wintertime.
As the opening song makes clear, this film will touch on romance a bit. That bit is Once Upon a Wintertime, as the opening shots make clear that this will be a short about the courtship of two young lovers as they are ice skating. This short is a throwback to the Silly Symphonies, as the characters don’t speak, and the tale is told through the music and the motions. The looser body style of the characters and the ability to bend, squash and stretch them plays very well. It allows the characters to express emotion with their movements as well as their faces, and that serves the short well.
Completely shifting gears in the second short, Bumble Boogie, Disney revisited a piece that was originally intended for Fantasia. The Flight of the Bumblebee gets updated from its classical roots and reworked as a jazz piece. This short is much more in the Fantasia mode, as the bumblebee that serves as the main character is attempting to escape the surrealist impressions of the music. It’s a fun concept and executed quite well, which I really loved.
The Legend of Johnny Appleseed follows, and it’s a complete 180 from the previous two shorts. While it’s still set to music, this piece is a story, told with a narrator and musical background. Dennis Day narrates and does the voices, except an angel voiced by Dallas McKennon of Big Thunder Mountain fame. It’s a quintessential American tale, and the animation doesn’t work too hard to be flashy or showy, but instead focuses on storytelling and emotion. That’s the right choice, because this is probably the most sincere and beautiful piece in the film.
By coming directly after Johnny Appleseed, Little Toot is ill served, in my opinion. The story of a small tugboat that overcomes the odds, very similar to The Little Engine That Could, is a much simpler story. It pales in comparison to the emotional resonance of Johnny Appleseed, but it’s not to meant to serve that purpose. This is a fable that imparts a lesson, and does so well. If it had come second, after Once Upon a Wintertime, it might have flowed better in the film and gotten more recognition.
Trees is the next piece, a recitation of the Alfred Joyce Kilmer poem set to music, with interpretations on screen. It just doesn’t click for me. While the poem and the imagery are beautiful, there’s nothing to latch onto and draw the viewer into the animation. It’s pretty to look at, but has very little to offer beyond that.
The next piece redeems the film, though, as Blame It On the Samba is inspired. Donald Duck and Jose Carioca are inspired by the aracuan bird to get out of their funk and begin dancing. It’s a simple premise, but the manic energy of the aracuan, the character involvement of Donald and Jose and the fun, frantic scene transitions make this a fast paced and enjoyable short. It makes things happy and exciting after the slow moment of Trees. This is the last vestige of the South American Goodwill Tour shorts, and it does a great job of infusing the culture but making it accessible.
The final piece of this film is Pecos Bill, a short that has served the Disney company extremely well through the years. Telling the tall tale legends of Pecos Bill, the short takes up a significant portion of the film, and it resonates not as an artistic statement or a masterpiece of animation, but an amazing tale that is very well told. It’s not the emotional or heartwarming example of Johnny Appleseed, but an exaggerated and over the top tale of amazing deeds.
Pecos himself is charming and fun, his actions make the viewer laugh and smile, and his ultimate fate is sad, yet fitting. It establishes Bill as a character, and though the ending makes sure Disney could not revisit him, using him in the theme parks and other areas made a ton of sense.
As a film, Melody Time holds up extremely well. With the exception of Trees, every piece is vibrant, exciting and evokes the proper emotions. Johnny Appleseed and Pecos Bill are distinctly Disney tales that have been reused over and again. The other pieces, like Blame It On the Samba or Bumble Boogie, are in the mold of earlier films, but still manage to break free and create something new. It’s a great overall film that all Disney fans can still enjoy today.