After starting to dig into the classic animated Disney movies earlier this year with Make Mine Music (1946), I’m back for a look at another one! This time, it’s the 1948 package feature Melody Time, featuring the talents of Roy Rogers and his horse Trigger, Dennis Day, the Andrews Sisters, Fred Waring and his Pennsylvanians, Freddie Martin, Ethel Smith and Frances Langford, with Buddy Clark filling in as the Master of Ceremonies for the whole shebang! Of course, we once again have a table of contents to help you navigate the whole thing, if you so choose!
Table Of Contents
- Theatrical Shorts
- The Main Feature
- My Overall Impression
Coming Up Shorts! with… Free Eats (1932)
(available on Blu-ray as part of The Little Rascals: The ClassicFlix Restorations, Volume 3 (1932-1933) from ClassicFlix)
(Length: 19 minutes, 14 seconds)
A society lady whose husband is running for office throws a special dinner for the poor kids in the area, so the Gang all decide to go. In the process, they help foil a “family” of thieves, with two midgets posing as little babies. This short’s main claim to fame is that it was George McFarland’s series debut as “Spanky,” a role he would play for another decade. Stymie (Matthew Beard) still provides most of the laughs with his quips, as well as him being the only one to realize that the “babies” are midgets (or, as he puts it, “fidgets”). Overall, it’s an entertaining short, and worth seeing again!
Coming Up Shorts! with… Casey Bats Again (1954)
(Available as an extra on the Melody Time Blu-ray from Disney)
(Length: 7 minutes, 42 seconds)
A sequel short to the original Casey At The Bat (part of Make Mine Music from 1946), this short takes up where the earlier one left off. After his fateful loss, Casey is greeted by his wife with the news of an impending pregnancy. He hopes for a son, but he winds up with nine daughters over several attempts (and a baseball team of his own). I think it’s a fun (albeit dated) short, since it gives us a little more Casey. It’s admittedly a far cry from the original, especially with a different narrator (instead of the very fun Jerry Colonna), and it’s rather sexist treatment of the girls (even if it does allow them to play baseball). There is some humor to be found (in between Casey himself fighting to get into the game after being locked out and him essentially repeating his almost miss from the previous story), but that is the most to be said about this inferior sequel to a classic short.
Coming Up Shorts! with… Donald Applecore (1952)
(Available as an extra on the Melody Time Blu-ray from Disney)
(Length: 6 minutes, 44 seconds)
Apple farmer Donald Duck has to contend with Chip ‘n’ Dale when they start taking his crop. Donald Duck vs. Chip ‘n’ Dale. For me, that alone says all I need to know, as Chip ‘n’ Dale are among my favorite Disney characters, and them squaring off against Donald Duck is always entertaining. The basic structure of the plot may be similar to a number of the other Donald vs. the chipmunks cartoons, but the gags are fun here, with the two chipmunks generally getting the upper hand over Donald. I’ve seen this one many a time, and it’s one I have no problem coming back to again and again for a good laugh!
Coming Up Shorts! with… Lambert, The Sheepish Lion (1952)
(Available as an extra on the Melody Time Blu-ray from Disney)
(Length: 8 minutes, 15 seconds)
The stork has a mix-up in his delivery, and a lion cub named Lambert ends up being adopted by an ewe in a flock of sheep. The other sheep make fun of him for being so different, but when a wolf comes around, will he be able to help save his mother? Another fun short, with Sterling Holloway providing the narration (and also voicing the stork). In some respects, another variation on the “Ugly Duckling” story, which adds some heart as we see Lambert trying to fit in. It’s hard not to cheer for the big guy when he has to help his mother out and prove himself in the process. I certainly find this one very entertaining, and like to see it every now and again!
And Now For The Main Feature…
Following in the footsteps of Make Mine Music, Melody Time was a package film, consisting of several shorter stories (in this case, seven), which were put together to help make a feature film. One of them, “Pecos Bill,” was initially planned to be paired with their version of “The Wind In The Willows” and the story of “Casey Jones.” Of course, “The Wind In The Willows” ended up being paired off with “The Legend Of Sleepy Hollow” for The Adventures Of Ichabod And Mr. Toad (1949), “Casey Jones” wasn’t produced, and “Pecos Bill” was paired up with the story of Johnny Appleseed. Melody Time did well enough at the box office, but, like Make Mine Music, it was not reissued to theatres. Instead, some segments were given individual releases, and about five of them were later paired with four segments from Make Mine Music into another feature called Music Land (1955).
Due to the nature of this film, with its shorter sections, I will in some respects be treating them like my normal Coming Up Shorts! comments on theatrical shorts (like I did with Make Mine Music).
Once Upon A Wintertime
In this segment, Frances Langford sings the song “Once Upon A Wintertime” over a story of two couples (one human couple and one rabbit couple) who go out for an afternoon of ice skating. Things start to go sour when the two males try to show off for their lady friends (only to make them angry instead). Then the ice cracks, and the men, with the aid of some other animal friends, must save the ladies. I’ve seen this one many times in my life (through this movie and various Disney Christmas programs that include the short, plus clips used as background for the song “Jingle Bells” on an old Disney Christmas Sing-a-long VHS), and it’s one that I still enjoy seeing! I admit, with age comes experience, and I can see that it’s treatment of the female characters is a bit sexist, with them getting into trouble (which, to be fair, was at least partly caused by one of the males) and fainting. Still, it’s a beautiful song, with equally beautiful animation and an entertaining story that keeps me coming back, even if I have seen it many, many times before!
For this short, Freddy Martin and his orchestra play a swing-jazz variation of the song “Flight Of The Bumblebee” by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov. Onscreen, a bee finds himself dealing with various instruments and piano keys chasing him around. This piece was, like the Blue Bayou segment in Make Mine Music, another short that had been considered for use in Fantasia (1940), but abandoned for that film. While there really isn’t a lot of story to this segment, I will readily admit that it is a fun one! The music itself is entertaining, and the action onscreen as we follow the bee works quite well together! It may not be this film’s best short, but it certainly doesn’t detract from the movie itself!
The Legend Of Johnny Appleseed
In this segment, we get the Disneyfied version of the life of John Chapman, better known in legend as Johnny Appleseed. Dennis Day provides the voices for Johnny, his guardian angel, and the old settler telling the story. Around the time that this movie was made, several of the studios were considering film projects about John Chapman (and Groucho Marx was considering a Broadway musical about him), but this segment ended up being the only one of those projects to be produced. Personally, I like this short the best of the seven in this movie. It’s a fun tale, with its memorable moments of humor (particularly when Johnny first deals with some of the forest animals, including a skunk). It’s the music that sticks with me, though, particularly the song “The Lord Is Good To Me.” Obviously, with a song like that, you can easily guess that this one does contain some more religious content, but that works quite well for me (and is, again, part of its appeal). This short alone has brought me back to the movie many, many times over the years!
In this segment (based on the 1939 story by Hardie Gramatky), the Andrews Sisters narrate/sing the story of a tugboat named Little Toot. This little tugboat continually got into trouble, until he was exiled from the city. In the midst of a storm at sea, only he can save a ship in distress. This one has always been a fun short, with a very entertaining story. The Andrews Sisters (in what would be the last movie to involve their whole group) tell the story well, and help add to the fun. I’ve seen this one many times, and it is always fun to come back to!
This segment features a rendition of the 1913 Joyce Kilmer Poem “Trees.” Fred Waring and the Pennsylvanians perform the music (by Oscar Rasbach) and recite the poem. There is no plot to this one, just the scenery in a forest through different weather and seasons. As a result, I would describe this one as the weakest segment in the film. It is by no means terrible, though, as the animation and scenery are absolutely beautiful to see, making it a nice little diversion to sit through.
Blame It On The Samba
Donald Duck and José Carioca are feeling a little blue, until the Aracuan Bird helps perk them up with the rhythms of samba music! This one is very entertaining, with the song (“Apanhei-te, Cavaquinho” by Ernesto Nazareth) played onscreen by organist Ethel Smith, with the Dinning Sisters singing the lyrics. It’s fun to enjoy more of Donald and José, but I really enjoy getting another appearance by the Aracuan bird. His antics are crazy (as he first cheers the other two up and then starts picking on them), which is the source of much of the humor for this section. I know I enjoy watching it every time I see this movie! The only disappointment is that this is one of only three appearances in classic Disney for the Aracuan Bird (preceded by the 1944 movie The Three Caballeros and the 1947 Donald Duck short Clown Of The Jungle), and of the three, it’s the only one that he doesn’t really do his little “song” (which is mainly what I remember the character for). Still, that’s not enough to keep me from coming back to this one!
Luana Patten and Bobby Driscoll are out camping in the desert with Roy Rogers and the Sons Of The Pioneers, when the two kids are scared by some coyotes howling. To allay their fears, Roy and the others tell them the story of the legendary Pecos Bill, his horse Widowmaker and Slue Foot Sue. This segment is another one that I have always found entertaining, from the music to the characters and the outlandish story! Granted, it’s also the most dated, what with its stereotypes of the Native Americans and some of the sexism inherent in the story (and some of the young kids’ comments). But, it’s entertaining, and quite ridiculous, which makes it worthwhile to enjoy this one!
My Overall Impression
This is one of those Disney movies that I’ve seen a number of times over the years, going all the way back to the era of VHS (although I went through a long period of not seeing it between the times I saw it on VHS and the recent Blu-ray). As a result, I’ll readily admit that I have a soft spot for this movie. Apart from the Once Upon A Wintertime segment, I mainly know all of the segments through this movie, so it’s a lot easier for me to have higher opinions of this film overall (compared to Make Mine Music). My opinions of the various sections may differ, but I do enjoy them all, particularly The Legend Of Johnny Appleseed for the reasons I mentioned already. Trees is the weak spot, but the fact that I can still enjoy it is one of the reasons why this film is always such a treat for me to see. I think I may have a higher opinion of a few of the individual shorts in Make Mine Music, but when it comes to the overall film, Melody Time is the better one in my book, and one I would definitely recommend!
This movie is available on Blu-ray and DVD from Disney. The Blu-ray release is available exclusively through the Disney Movie Club (or, for those who can’t become members, it can also be found through other sellers on eBay and other sites). Like their Blu-ray release of Make Mine Music, I think this one looks pretty good (although, to be fair, I have seen complaints against both of these suffering from similar transfer issues to most of Disney’s animated classics, such as DNR and the like, so take that how you will). However, unlike Make Mine Music, this film is completely UNCUT, which should make it more appealing for fans. It also has, as indicated above, three classic Disney shorts included as extras. The only other complaint I’ve seen lodged against this release is the audio, but I’m not sure of the exact problem (since I don’t exactly have the most advanced home theater equipment). As far as I’m concerned, I can understand everything clearly (even without the included subtitles), so this is a release I would still recommend for those who like this movie!
Film Length: 1 hour, 16 minutes
My Rating: 9/10
List Of Actor/Actress Filmographies/Collections
Roy Rogers – Son Of Paleface (1952)
Road To Rio (1947) – The Andrews Sisters
Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942) – Frances Langford
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