Friday, January 22, 2010

#9: Fun and Fancy Free (1947)

'Fun and Fancy Free' continues Disney's series of package films, this time around there's only two, Bongo and Mickey and the Beanstalk. Serving as our wrap-around host is Jiminy Cricket, who ambles about a house, singing of his happy-so-lucky ways. He's a lot better suited in the role as narrator here (and in those to follow in several Disney television specials) than as a conscious, I think.

The first segment Bongo is about a poorly treated circus bear who escapes into the wild. There he learns to appreciate the tranquility of nature, and has to fight a bulky burly bear for the hand of a lovely lady bear. The only thing really working for this one is the sweet narration by Dinah Shore. There's nothing really interesting or new about the short story-wise or artistically, nor is the character of Bongo made entertaining at all, really. Perhaps this would be passable as a 7-minute short subject, but as a thirty minute portion of a film, it just drags on and on and on, until I was thankful it was over.

The second half makes up for the first though, in more ways than one, in a re-telling of Jack and the Beanstalk featuring Mickey, Goofy and Donald. But while the cartoon is enjoyable, the real odd thing is the wrap-around, where Jiminy Cricket finds himself in the live-action home of famed ventriloquist Edgar Bergen, who is regaling the story to a little girl, with the wise-cracking commentary of his puppets. It's all very strange, as you get dueling narration during the cartoon, but I also find puppetry this early to be kind of unsettling. Perhaps it's because it hasn't been refined and smoothed out yet. Plus he's not all that good, as while the puppet talks, you can see him slightly emote and his lips moving. But even so, it's an intriguing sight to see in a Disney film.

As for the cartoon, not much to say, as it's basically a slightly extended Mickey Mouse short. Willie the Giant is a fun character, who is not exactly dumb, but easily impressionable. Plus he keeps a box of snuff in his front pocket. That might be okay then, but I can't get over the scene near the beginning where Donald is going mad from hunger and goes off to kill the farm cow with an axe. It's crazy, I tell you, crazy!

Verdict? Skip Bongo and just watch the second half. Between the off-putting but strangely amusing live-action ventriloquism, and your typical Disney character antics, it's quite a half-hour. A silly cartoon while the narrator argues with a puppet: family entertainment at its finest.

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