This month would appear to be a somewhat repetitive one. Not to be boring, but it just so happens that a five of these are under-the-radar anthologies, often musical and/or educational, dated, and met completely in the middle with my opinion. This one tries to play a little more on the 'Fantasia'-like anthology, featuring the music and lyrics of a select group of high-ranking artists for the time. With that, it's fascinating, but like it is with a lot of Disney stuff from way-back-when, there's some dated stuff here.
For the most part, the film is totally passable and enjoyable, but it's nothing at all that particularly sticks out in Disney's library. In fact, this might be the one title I've mentioned to other people that no one at all seems to recognize. Even the segments within it are pretty obscure; the most famous probably being 'Peter and the Wolf', or 'Casey at Bat' (which, by the way, has the dated comment that really stands out). More than anything, it's the musicians we're here for, and it's pretty interesting going back to hear some of the music of the time.
'The Martins and the Coys': The King's Men, a popular vocal group, sing the 'Hatfields and McCoys' story about a wild west family feud in which two characters from opposing sides fall in love. Eventually, the segment was censored from the film's video release for its gun-use, so apparently nowadays it's a bit of a rarity. But it's not entirely special nowadays when we're familiar with too many similar stories, and the concept of a vocal group is kinda dated. It's fine for its time, but not as timeless as a lot of Disney material is. 3/5
'Blue Bayou': Another fascinating one, featuring animation originally intended for 'Fantasia', using 'Clair de Lune' from Claude Debussy. The segment is quite lovely, featuring two egrets flying around on a beautiful, moonlit night. It would have fit 'Fantasia' so well, and for my money, is probably the classiest segment of the film. It's now featured with the song 'Blue Bayou' by the Ken Darby singers. Apparently, the original cut can still be found, but this is the official version, and it's a shame it didn't make it into 'Fantasia'. 3/5
'All the Cats Join In': Benny Goodman and his Orchestra play for this segment, probably my favorite in the film. It's a really neat take on animation that I've always enjoyed, where a pencil is drawing out the art as the animation is happening - some of the earliest examples of fourth wall breaking. The segment portrays the swinging youth of the 1940's with a very catchy tune, and even once featured female nudity that has since been edited - and yeah, you can tell where it was. But that's more just an interesting fact. The real takeaway from this is the ever-moving dance animation, and a tune that will have you tapping your feet, providing you with a cool little 1940's time capsule. 5/5
'Without You': A song about lost love by Andy Russell. Though it's punctuated by some beautiful animation, it's all in all depressing, and it feels like a huge drop from the catchy rhythms of the previous segment. I wasn't a fan. 2/5
'Casey at the Bat': While the 1888 poem is a solid classic, the segment opens up with a pretty rough song that states "the ladies don't understand baseball a bit, they don't know a strike from a ball or a hit". It otherwise hits a home run for giving us the comedy we so desperately needed after the last segment, and other than the song in the beginning, provides us with the timeless poem about how cockiness can lead to disappointment. It even got a sequel with 1954's 'Casey Bats Again'. 3/5
'Two Silhouettes': I'm not sure whether or not this was another one originally meant for 'Fantasia', with a different song, but it looks like it might be. This segment features a simple and pleasant love song, sang by Dina Shore, as two silhouetted ballet dancers, David Lichine and Tania Riabouchinskaya dance against a beautifully rendered, ever-changing background. If I'm honest with myself, I can certainly appreciate it. It sets a very pleasant mood, and for as much as I dislike ballet, I appreciate dream-like sequences a lot. If you do like ballet, go look it up on YouTube and check it out. 3/5
'Peter and the Wolf': Sergei Prokofiev's musical composition comes from 1936, and ten years later was made into a classic segment for Disney. I seem to faintly remember having a "read-along" book of this as a kid (a book that came with a tape you could read along with), but it really hit me as something bigger than I thought when 'Tiny Toons' parodied it, almost more as though it was a modern remake. Sterling Holloway (who popped up in the last review) narrates for Prokofiev's piece, and it tells of a boy named Peter who hunts a wolf with the help of his animal friends - Sascha the bid, Sonia the duck and Ivan the cat. Each character is represented by different instruments - Peter, the string quartet; Sascha, the flute; Sonia, the Oboe; Ivan, the Clarinet; an the Wolf, horns and cymbals. It gets kinda dark, but it does have a happy ending, and it still holds up as a classic piece of Disney work. 4/5
'After You've Gone': Benny Goodman comes back for this one, along with his quartet. I really enjoy this one in its creativity, as it features six anthropomorphic instruments, including a piano, bass, drums, cymbal and clarinet somehow putting on a sort of dance number. Between this and 'All the Cats Join In', this film has given me a whole new appreciation for Benny Goodman. They are both easily two of the most entertaining segments in the film. 4/5
'Johnny Fedora and Alice Blue Bonnet': The romantic tale of two department store hats falling for each other. But when Alice is sold, Johnny devotes himself to finding her. All the while, The Andrews Sisters sing the story. As far as any love story goes in this film, the only one that really stuck out was 'Two Silhouettes'. This one was cute, but if I'm honest, I wasn't a fan of the song, and the whole thing felt a bit "mushy". Perhaps just not for me, once again. 2/5
'The Whale Who Wanted to Sing at the Met': It's such a solid choice to make an operatic number the finale, but the problem here is that I really do not like opera at all. I have lots of respect for what they can do, but that's kinda like saying I have respect for anyone whose voice is sharp enough to break glass - it's cool, but the sound of it is a bit much. Nelson Eddy narrates, sings and voices everything here, as we hear the story of a whale named Willie (decades before 'Free Willy') who has an incredible singing talent, and dreams of singing grand opera. Soon, though, his voice is mistaken for being three opera singers he probably ate, and the hunt is on. It ends very bittersweet, and all in all isn't bad, but the operatic singing started taking me out of it just because that's about the one form of music I just can't deal with. The film ended, and I just kinda thought to myself that something like 'Peter and the Wolf' may have made for a better finale. Oh, and the whale sings 'Shortnin' Bread' (an old plantation song) at one point, and that may make one cringe a bit. Maybe it's just me, but I was disappointed by the wrap-up. 2/5
Perhaps most interesting about this movie is how it came to be. During World War II, a lot of the Disney staff was drafted, and several who stayed behind were asked to make US propaganda films (and we all know how well that stands nowadays). The studio was then full of unfinished ideas, and in order for Disney to keep going, six "package films" were created. These began with 'Saludos Amigos' and 'The Three Cabelleros', and after this would eventually be capped with 'Fun and Fancy Free', 'Melody Time' and 'The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad' (to be reviewed in the October Edition of this series). I actually didn't realize the history until I dug into this one.
That made for a very lengthy review, and if you're still here, congratulations, you made it. My closing thoughts are just that I'm glad I finally got a chance to check this out. Just bear in mind that while the segments are easy enough to find, the full-length feature is not; even D+ doesn't have it, and that's where I watched the last two films I reviewed for this month. I'm not gonna consider this one underrated, but I will say that it's worth a sit-down, as I think the good actually does outweigh the bad. I keep handing out 3/5, but I recommend going by segments, because some are very well done.