Only one more package film, only one more package film! It’s rough going in the Disney Vault everyone. Next week is the last of the Disney package films, and it cannot come soon enough. Melody Time seems to the example of why these films worked best cut up, and shown on the Disney Channel. Quite a bit of Melody Time is reconstituted shorts from the other package films we’ve reviewed, and in one short here it’s downright the same damn cartoon with a different mode of transportation. Every beat in this movie has been seen somewhere else leaving the hour and twelve-minute runtime to plod along with little originality in sight.
A magical paintbrush works as our makeshift narrator who tries to tie the stories together. Each story is told through popular music, starting with “Once Upon a Wintertime.” From there you have a restructuring of Flight of the Bumblebee called Bumble Boogie. The story of Johnny Appleseed. The tale of a heroic tugboat named Little Toot. A retelling of the Joyce Kilmer poem “Trees.” The return of Jose Carioca and Donald Duck in “Blame It On the Samba.” And finally, the story of Pecos Bill as told by Roy Rogers.
I didn’t care for this film folks for several reasons. One, after seeing so many of these mini-films, I’m ready for one big story with a narrative and a focus. These package films have lessened their grasp on core narrative more and more, culminating in Melody Time where a paintbrush painting the stories is meant to connect them all. Saludos Amigos and The Three Caballeros had narratives; Make Mine Music tried a bit; Fun & Fancy Free had two strong stories, but still tried to make a connection. I’m not sure where in which I review I said it, but I mentioned how these films felt like deleted scenes that didn’t fit anywhere else…well this film proves it. When the film isn’t reusing things from other films, it’s simply shoehorning in stories that couldn’t be shoved into the other films.
The one thing I loved seeing was the storybook opening credits. It’s a nod to Disney’s earlier fairy tale stories, and I’m hoping like with Fun & Fancy Free that it’s a nod to Cinderella which is the first feature-length film they made after these films ran their course. Out of the shorts the best is “Bumble Boogie,” mostly because I like Flight of the Bumblebee, and the surreal world that’s created is fun. Everything in the short is composed of dangerous piano keys and music notes making it creative, fun, and a bit trippy.
After that there wasn’t nearly enough to hold my attention. The paintbrush gimmick is far too similar to the drawing element in “A Jazz Interlude” from Make Mine Music. Here it tenuously holds together all the stories. The most egregious use of this copy-cat style is in the story of Little Toot. It’s a rehash of the “Pedro” segment from Saludos Amigos! Pedro was a little plane wanting to make his parents proud by delivering mail, and almost dies in the attempt. Little Toot is a tugboat wanting to make his father proud by pulling a big boat, and almost dies in the attempt! This recycling continues with “Blame It On the Samba” which looks and feels like a cut scene from Three Caballeros. I’m getting really sick of Donald and Jose Carioca. If I don’t have to see them for the next year I’ll be happy. I have to wonder if it was a deleted sequence since it has live action in it of a woman who suspiciously looks the same as in the Caballeros live action. The last sequence includes a live-action sequence that’s a redressed version of the Edgar Bergen part of Fun & Fancy Free. Only instead of Bergen we have Roy Rogers and his band. It is nice to see a young Bobby Driscoll as the little boy who for some reason is hanging out with these grown men. Driscoll, in case you don’t know, would be the voice of Peter Pan in a few years. I originally thought the little girl in the sequence (making it less creepy I guess) was the same girl from Fun & Fancy Free, but it’s not. It’s actually Disney contract player Luana Patten.
With all the recycling it’s hard to pay attention to this film, particularly if you’ve seen all the other package films already! On top of that, the animation looks the worst I’ve seen. I mean Disney’s animation was obviously suffering during this time period. It’s the entire reason we have the package films in the first place! But here, everything just looks pasted and airbrushed to hide its flaws. I understood the need for paper-esque characters in “Once Upon a Wintertime,” but why during the Johnny Appleseed number did the animation go from regular Disney cartooning to these paper characters towards the end? The “Trees” number also looks like storyboards from Bambi. It’s not that it’s bad, it’s just a distinct step down in detail for Disney.
As I said with Fun & Fancy Free, if you watched the Disney Channel in the 90s then you saw a few of these as stand-alone segments. I remember seeing the Pecos Bill (sans smoking you know), and Johnny Appleseed numbers before. I didn’t remember how religious the Johnny Appleseed number actually was until now. It’s an interesting direction to take, and one I doubt Disney would have the guts to do today. Also, I had to laugh during the segment because what type of colony were they researching that had Indians and white people dancing with each other?
Overall, Melody Time marks the nadir of the package films. It’s apparent in the animation, and the fact that several of these stories are rearranged from other films, that the animators are running on fumes. Thankfully, next week’s film is the final in the package series before returning to feature-length films!
NEXT WEEK: If you didn’t read it during Halloween, it’s time to join The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad
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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.