We’ve now made it to the tenth of the Disney animated features, Melody Time. I hadn’t seen this one before, and I feel the title is rather too similar to Make Mine Music. This is another package film, made up of seven different shorts.
Once Upon a Wintertime – A couple goes ice skating, and the woman ends up getting caught on thin ice and having to be rescued by a bunch of friendly animals. Of particular note among the animals is a couple of rabbits, who imitate the human couple. I found this one a little slow, but pretty good.
Bumble Boogie – A jazz version of “Flight of the Bumblebee” accompanies a trippy cartoon about a bee trying to escape from a nightmarish world of nasty flowers and piano keys that turn into snakes. As Beth mentioned, Disney got a lot of mileage out of piano keys in their cartoons around this time. Honestly, I found this one rather forgettable, although a few images kind of stuck with me.
The Legend of Johnny Appleseed – Johnny was a real person, the pioneer and missionary John Chapman, but the cartoon owes more to the legends attributed to John than to the actual person. He’s shown here as an exaggerated character, very humble and able to do pretty much anything effortlessly, including taming wild animals. One curious thing about the segment is that they showed Johnny always carrying a Bible, yet I don’t think they ever actually CALLED it a Bible. The introduction just said it was a “holy book,” as if specifying WHICH holy book would cause controversy. It’s like they couldn’t ignore Chapman’s deeply held faith, but wanted to make it more generic for some reason. Chapman was actually a member of the New Church, which taught that both faith and good works would lead to salvation. The song that he sings throughout the feature, “The Lord Is Good to Me,” was apparently one that Chapman really did sing.
Little Toot – Based on a short story, a tiny tugboat causes a lot of trouble, including smashing a ship into a port town. He’s banished from what I guess is boat society, but redeems himself by rescuing an ocean liner. I really didn’t find Little Toot to be a particularly likable character.
Trees – The poem by Alfred Joyce Kilmer is set to music, while a tree is shown throughout the seasons. The animation was good, but I still found this one largely forgettable.
Blame It on the Samba – This one was essentially a callback to Saludos Amigos and The Three Caballeros, featuring Donald Duck, José Carioca, and the Aracuan Bird. Strange that they’d put José in three feature films but then largely forget about him. Anyway, the Aracuan Bird cheers up the other two by getting them to samba, and then starts wreaking his usual brand of havoc. Like Caballeros, this one includes some live action footage mixed in with the animation, this time showing Ethel Smith playing the organ. And like the end of Caballeros, it’s very psychedelic.
Pecos Bill – This final segment is probably my favorite, although it does take a while to get started. It’s framed by Roy Rogers telling the story of the frontier hero to some kids, one of whom is Luana Patten from Fun and Fancy Free. These American tall tales are pretty much always fun, combining great feats of strength and skill with purposely ridiculous origin stories. Pecos Bill also fits into the feral child type, being raised by coyotes. Later Disney animated films would feature two other people of this sort, Mowgli and Tarzan. The cartoon suffers from censorship, with Bill’s cigarette being removed. I guess they thought kids seeing it would say, “I want to smoke cigarettes, just like Pecos Bill!” They presumably weren’t concerned with the fact that he’s constantly firing off his guns (those six-shooters were more like 600-shooters), or the stereotypical portrayal of Native Americans. Oh, those arbitrary censors. In fairness, I doubt the cartoon lost a whole lot from not showing the cigarette, but I’m not so keen on whitewashing animation history.
Overall, I can’t say I liked this as much as the similar Make Mine Music. I think too many of the packaged cartoons didn’t really go anywhere, or were just too slow. It did have its moments, though.