Make Mine Music is an interesting turn in Disney‘s package films as the series from here would feature music as a connection, and inspiration for the stories presented. In essence, the last round of films in the package series are extensions of the Fantasia formula. It’s a shift away from the travelogue/foreign ally elements seen in Saludos Amigos and The Three Caballeros. It certainly works towards making Make Mine Music light but there’s no connecting story presented like there was with the other two films. Here, what binds all the shorts is that contemporary singers (for the time) perform the music and that’s it. The shorts all vary in quality, and because there’s no overarching binding agent it’s easy to just find the ones you like and watch them on YouTube as opposed to watching the complete 67 minute movie. I’ve heard that Fun & Fancy Free is a better example of what Disney intended with this film, but as it stands now Make Mine Music is simply okay.
Since the story has no connecting I’ll just briefly mention a few of the shorts. In a nutshell, the film presents a series of short cartoons animated to songs performed by contemporary artists. You have the story of “Peter and the Wolf,” “Casey at the Bat,” and “The Whale Who Wanted to Sing at the Met.” In between you have various interludes themed to ballet, jazz, and other musical movements.
What I kept asking myself during Make Mine Music was “Do I like this better than Fantasia?” That’s probably an unfair question considering Fantasia is a longer, better animated film. I would probably say “yes” but only due to its length. The animation is nowhere on par with some of the exquisite beauty on display in Fantasia, and it’s unfair to expect that level in this film considering the reason why the package films existed in the first place. At the same time I’m not sure there’s really anything that makes this better than a standard Disney Silly Symphony. In fact, I’d say this film just felt like a bunch of Silly Symphonies tied together. It’s not bad, it’s just forgettable. I don’t know if anyone remembers but back in the 1990s Disney used to run their version of music videos which took animated stories (oddly enough from these package films) and just replaced the original music with new music. The one that immediately springs to mind was “Mustang Sally.” Essentially, Make Mine Music is this, which is probably why it was easy for Disney to reconstitute segments and simply replace the music. I’m not saying that makes the movie bad, but this interchangeable quality makes it forgettable. If it had different music I’d remember just as much.
In terms of the individual segments I only highlight a few, there’s several that range from several minutes to one or two. “The Blue Bayou” segment, sung by the Ken Darby Chorus, sets the tone of the film. Interestingly, it’s called a “tone poem.” Let me say that aside from a few artists, I’m not well-versed in 1940s bands so a lot of these performers I didn’t know. “The Blue Bayou” has such a lovely watercolor setup that’s complimented, and enhanced, by the music and animation. It’s a beautiful blend of art and music that I would have enjoyed in Fantasia. It’s followed by the lively “All the Cats Joined In” performed by Benny Goodman. I do know who Benny Goodman is, and I love his music (it still stands the test of time). “All the Cats Joined In” follows a group of teens à la Happy Days. The story almost breaks the fourth wall as the character are all being animated by a lively pencil throughout. The characters look like something out of Family Circus, and there’s a lot of fun humor in this specifically from the little sister who wants to dress up and go out. I did have to slap my head during one scene where a girl is animated with a large backside only to take offense and force the pencil to slim her down. That’s what we call Photoshop girls and boys!
From there you’re given one of two shorts this film is famous for, the world-famous “Casey at the Bat.” I casually know this is a poem, but it really doesn’t seem to fit into this movie considering how much of it is spoken word. Again, if there was a connecting theme to tie these together it wouldn’t have felt as out-of-place. As it stands, it sticks out like a sore thumb. The animation is fun although the story feels a tad lengthy. To further show how much it clashes a short entitled “Two Silhouettes” precedes it. “Two Silhouettes” has Dinah Shore singing the story of Riabouchinska & Lichine (thanks IMDb). I thought this was beautiful, and from a technical/animation standpoint it’s my favorite! The two dancers move as if they’re live action characters and not animated at all. I recommend you go look this up on YouTube right now. It’s another short I wouldn’t have minded seeing in Fantasia.
The second legendary short is Prokofiev’s “Peter and the Wolf!” I’ve seen “Peter and the Wolf” performed live (okay I was only six but it made an impression) and always hold a place in my heart for this story. It’s fairly frightening for a small child, especially considering you expect Peter to be killed at any second. I both loved and despised the way Disney presented this version. On the one hand you have the dulcet tones of Sterling Holloway, who we saw last week in The Three Caballeros. Here he introduces the different instruments used in place of the individual characters. Holloway not only introduces the instruments, but explains why they go with each animal; such as the flute being so high it mimics the bird. The problem is that Holloway’s narration continues; having him explain story elements, character thoughts, etc. He spends so much time talking over the music that you can’t hear it. You’re not able to let your mind imagine and connect with the images because Holloway’s narration tells you what to think. It’s distracting and unnecessary to the film. I’m not sure why they added it here, especially considering Fantasia proved a story could be conveyed via images and sound, without the need for dialogue. It ultimately ruins the story which is sad because the animation is beautiful, particularly the wolf with his crazed red and yellow eyes, and the story is timeless.
From there you have the syrupy, sentimental “Johnny Fedora and Alice Blue Bonnet” performed by the Andrews Sisters. It’s a sweet, albeit corny story of love between two hats. All described in the title people. I did love how Johnny’s life goes terribly after losing Alice, and at the end the story just seems to give him Alice as a way to end it. The ending just seems moot after all the trauma this poor fedora goes through. The final short worth mentioning is “The Whale Who Wanted to Sing at the Met” performed by Nelson Eddy. This short tells a complete story that’s creative, and tragic. Seriously, I was incredibly upset by the ending for the poor whale, and while the film tries to lessen it by saying where the whale goes he’ll be able to sing, it’s still a crappy way to end things. This is another short I’d recommend finding on YouTube.
Overall, Make Mine Music is a clip show strung together. The few clips worth watching can be easily acquired online. Really, aside from the pretty animation these are glorified music videos for the 40s-50s. It’s not bad, just plain for Disney.
NEXT WEEK: According to IMDb we might be going back to narratives with a look at Fun & Fancy Free!
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A freelance film critic whose work fuels the Rotten Tomatoes meter. I've been published on The Hollywood Reporter, Remezcla, and The Daily Beast. I've been featured in the L.A. Times. I currently run two podcasts, Citizen Dame and Ticklish Business.