Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
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Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Series Report Card: Disney Animated Features (1947-1950)

9. Fun and Fancy Free
Another package film. Oh, well. Jiminy Cricket is horribly underused in the wrap-around segments. The "Bongo the Bear" segment has some nice animation and a couple cute moments, though the Dinah Shore musical numbers really aren’t my thing.

I’ve never been a fan of Mickey Mouse, so "Mickey and the Beanstalk" does absolutely nothing for me. It doesn’t make enough changes to the familiar tale to be interesting and I found the mongoloid giant to be an annoying character. Edgar Bergen narrates the Beanstalk segment and Charlie McCarthy’s snide remarks are easily the most amusing part of the film. As a whole, it’s not bad, but not really all that good either, and is forgettable more then anything else.
[Grade: C]

10. Melody Time
The general reoccurring theme I’ve discovered with this Disney package films is that most of them are forgettable. This film doesn’t really do anything to change that trend. "The Flight of the Bumblebee" sequence is definitely the best part. I dig the jazzy variation on the classical tune and the animation is playful and colorful. "The Samba" is a sort of sequel to “The Three Caballeros” as it features some characters from that film but lacks the energy that maintain that feature.

The "Johnny Appleseed" bit has some catchy songs but is notable for nothing else. Disney's take on "Pasco Bill" is introduced and told by Roy Rogers and Trigger but the skit itself is filled with old-school Disney style slapstick so, you know, it’s boring. The "Wintertime," "Little Toot," and "Trees" segment are all also summed pretty well by “boring.” The latter I can’t even watch without thinking of the Muppet Show. So boredom is the name of the game with “Melody Time.” Only one more left to go before things get interesting again.
[Grade: C]

11. The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad
As the last of the WWII era package film, this stands as the best of the series. There are only two stories being told which works better then a collection of shorter segments that are vaguely connected. The best part is that both segments stand very well on their own.

“Wind in the Willows” works mostly because of its character. They all have very distinct personalities and watching them play off each other is great fun. There’s only one song in this segment, “Merrily on Our Way to Nowhere,” and it is a catchy, memorable tune. There’s some physical comedy but, amazingly, it’s actually funny. In all honesty, “Wind in the Willows” probably could have sustained a feature film but I guess this short will do for now.

Though I like the first one, the “Sleepy Hollow” segment is definitely superior. The whole thing is narrated/voiced/sang by Bing Crosby. This leads to three memorable songs though I think having an actual voice cast would have improved things. There are some funny antics throughout and it maintains everything that was good about the original story. Of course, it’s Icabod’s stroll through the hollow and the chase with the Headless Horseman that follows that everyone remembers. That’s because it’s frikin’ awesome. It effectively combines laughs and chills and rates right up there with “Night on Bald Mountian” as the spookiest thing Disney has ever done. The whole film is worth owning just for those last ten minutes. My only problem with this sketch is that I have difficulty buying somebody that looks like Icabod Crane as a lady’s man, even with Bing Crosby’s singing voice. If all of the collection films featured stories as strong as these two, I would have a much higher opinion of them over all. [Grade: B]

12. Cinderella
Ah, linear story telling. How I've missed you. Probably the best thing about this one is how relatable the title character is. Though Cinderella is about as assertive as the rest of the classic Disney princesses (that is to say, not at all.) she isn’t bland. Unlike Snow White or Princess Aurora, you actually find yourself kind of liking her. Maybe it’s because her situation is just so sad. The Stepmother and Ugly Stepsisters are pretty much the text book definition of evil bitches. Cinderella is portrayed as such a charming character and everybody treats her so badly, you can’t help but want her to succeed. The cute animal antics are a bit too typically Disney, but I found the rogue like quality of the mice endearing.

The music is good and many of the songs have gone on to become standards, with "Bibbidi Bobbidi Boo" and "Cinderell-y" being the stand out tracks. The animation is also up to snuff with Disney standards at the time, so it won't blow you away, but is still solid work by everyone involved. After those years of package films, "Cinderella" comes off as a breath of fresh air, even if just tells a common tale in a fairly standard way. There's something to be said for fairy tales, after all. [Grade: B]

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