Friday, January 22, 2010
#8: Make Mine Music (1946)
During World War II, the Disney studio was a bit discombobulated. Some of the animators had gotten enlisted, and a lot of those who remained were working for the government on training and propaganda films. As a result, there was a whole lot of unfinished work scattered about; some of them were short subjects, some were left over from 'Fantasia.' Disney, not wanted their feature film division to die, decided to put these ideas to good use. So we got 'Make Mine Music,' a collection of ten shorts, all with emphasis on their musical accompaniment.
In addition to the fantastic Disney animators, the film is also accompanied by some of the great musicians of the time (don't recognize a one, of course). Jazzman Benny Goodman leads two segments, one featuring a parade of jittering instruments, and one of some local teens heading on down to the local sock hop. Both are really great, the former is really fun and manic, while the latter has a neat vintage style (although it of course was current then). It was also kind of strange to see what they could get away with: scenes of a girl showering and getting dressed (with not as much censored as you'd think), and during the dance scene a boy refuses to dance with a girl until the artist erases and redraws her ass to be smaller. Weird, man...
Casey at the Bat is another great one too, the classic poem told with crazy animation, between the crowd going nuts and beating each other up, the insane anticipation of the players on base, and Casey, being the cocky asshole, contrasts all this with his calm, cool reassurances. This only makes his despondent fury at the end so much greater. There's also the 'Peter and the Wolf' segment, which is labeled as a Disney classic, but I didn't find it too interesting, other than it's narrated by the man who would later voice Pooh Bear, and you can hear it in him. There's also a love story between a fedora and a bonnet in a store window... also not too great. Perhaps the jazzier, more upbeat music segments are just naturally more interesting than the most quieter, subtler ones. I appreciate the diversity of the project, but hey, they can't all be gems.
But the absolute gem is the finale, 'The Whale Who Wanted to Sing at the Met,' where an impresario seeks to rescue an opera singer from the belly of a whale, when in fact the whale can indeed sing. It's told through opera, of course, with one man doing all the parts, including the whale as he does a triple-man harmony, thanks to it having three uvulas that reverberate in bass, tenor and baritone. It's just such a wonderfully unique segment, well-executed and arranged. The dream sequences of the whale's success is just amazing, and features the greatest, funniest thing I've seen from Disney so far, the whale performing as Pagliacci, the sad clown. Come on. It doesn't get better than that. And yeah, the whale gets harpooned in the end, but as Bugs Bunny said, "What did you expect from an opera? A happy ending?"
Verdict? A scattered but satisfying collection of music and art, but on the whole the good segments far outweighed the bad. It's like a less "pompous" 'Fantasia,' with classic jazz music. Or current back then, anyway.
Oh, and delightful footnote. The segment that was at the beginning, telling the story of a Hatfield-McCoy-type feud, has been pulled from the home video releases, and I can't find a copy with it intact. Now why is that? Disney justifies its censorship by claiming the segment contained "graphic gunplay not suitable for children." Oh really? So it was a-OK to show in 1946 but not now? I could go off on this forever, but this'd make the entry off-topic, and about ten pages long. These are the same kind of assholes who butchered classic Looney Tunes cartoons because they thought they were too violent. All of a sudden fifty and sixty year old material is considered offensive. It's beyond belief. It's BULLSHIT!! ...okay, okay, calm down. Happy place... happy place...