Sunday, October 2, 2011

DATE Night: Make Mine Music

Well, this poster is pretty boring. 

So first off, let me apologize that I had to postpone our DATE Night. I was sick as a dog. Maybe I accidentally drank the water in Mexico last week. Mea culpa and I promise to not let it happen too often, but I am human after all. I told you that this week we would go to another concert. We did. And. Well. So, OK. Make Mine Music wasn't the best experience that I've ever had, but, honestly, Disney can't hit it out of the ballpark every time, right? The evening wasn't a complete waste and things will get better I swear. Just give it a few weeks. Promise me.

The Background:

The World War II years had proven hard for the studio. Rations, strikes, use of talent to create works for the government just to stay afloat. Creatively, it is pretty much accepted that the animated feature was not at its apex. The "package films" of the forties were a way to try to keep the animators creatively active without giving them too long of a time commitment. The results in every case (as we've seen for the past two weeks with the Latin American package films) are spotty at best, with some jewels that sparkle side by side with dull, grey rocks. This time, instead of centering around classical pieces or foreign cultures, the film attempts to give a cross-section of musical forms, each introduced by title cards (that seem to have the Mary Blair touch about them) which tell us the form- such as tone poem (yawn...) and jazz interlude (yay!)- the performer (Oh, how I heart thee, Andrews Sisters), as well as the name of the piece.

Very punny, title card. Very punny. 
The result is more lighthearted than Fantasia, but also less coherent in its vision. The most exciting parts are the ones that incorporate really modern (jazz, for that time) sounds. At times like this, it makes me want Disney to collaborate with great pop artists of now and create a package film of really awesome shorts set to their songs. Can you imagine a film made up of animated shorts based on Adele's "Rolling in the Deep" or Lady Gaga's "Bad Romance"? It makes me all tingly just to think about it. Just an idea... 

The First Impression:

This is actually one of the films that I wasn't able to rustle up previously for my Disney Project. These are my first impressions of watching all of the film in one sitting!

The Art: 

5/10. Once again, there are some lovely effects animation in "Blue Bayou" and "Without You". Pieces like "Casey at the Bat" and "The Whale Who Wanted to Sing at the Met" employ the same skill and technique that most of the shorts from that time do, if not as much of the charm. "Peter and the Wolf" fares better and has some truly outstanding moments like the instruments morphing into the characters at the top of the segment. "Two Silhouettes" bleeds artfulness into preciousness, despite some lovely moments.

But the three best segments artistically (and all around, actually) are "Johnny Fedora and Alice Blue Bonnet", "All the Cats Join In", and "After You've Gone". "Johnny/Alice" is pretty traditional looking, but they took what could have been rather twee, anamorphic hats, and infused it with charm (Johnny's excitedness), emotion (Alice's tears) and cleverness (a palace made of hatboxes and baby bonnets as children). It's full of wonderful details and styling.

I'll have whatever they're having.
"Cats" and "After" are both artistically exciting because they look so new and fresh, which matched the modern music they were set to. They are filled with bold choices (solid backgrounds in "Cats" and the abstraction of "After") and concepts (the pencil filling in the scenes in "Cats" and the battling instruments in "After"). Both feel like they were pushing the form into new and exciting territory.

The Story:

4/10. Some of these shorts have no real story to speak of. Of those that do, I am most impressed by "Johnny/Alice", which made me feel a real emotional pull for two "inanimate" objects because "True love will coming smiling through" (awwwwww!) and "Peter", which is the definitive version of this tale as far as I am concerned, and is aided beautifully by Sterling (Winnie the Pooh and the Cheshire Cat) Holloway's narration. It never ceases to amaze me how his voice can be so distinctive and yet so versatile at the same time. How much of my affection can be attributed to the fact that I grew up with this cartoon is unclear, but I think that it is a very effective telling of a familiar story that adds the right amount of Disney touches while staying true to the intentions of the musical piece and tale.

I. Hate. Clowns. Terrifying...
I'm not a fan of the "Casey" poem and this film did little to sway me. Maybe it's because I'm not into sports, but a story about a full of himself athlete who has a breakdown because he fails once? I was bored by that sentence alone after the word athlete, though Disney did fill it chock full of sight gags like the weird finger braid. And I am not as impressed as many seem to be with "Whale". Spoiler Alert! The ending is a real downer. We're supposed to feel better about Willie getting murdered because he sells out a concert in heaven? Bogus. Plus, it feels very pretentious and indsider-y. If you're an opera buff, which I admittedly am not, maybe it has more of an impact.  

The Characters:

That's right. They deserve
their own poster.
5/10. Johnny and Alice are fantastic creations. They found a way to keep them looking completely like hats and yet feel human enough to elicit an emotional impact from there separation and reunion. It feels similar in spirit to "The Little House", which is another one of my favorite Disney shorts of all time. 

The teens in "Cats" are all distinctively drawn and have personality enough for the purposes of the film. The same with "Casey", where all of the players are broadly drawn and all have very distinct, though less amiable, personalities. Casey himself is terribly unlikable, which is a hurdle for a title character to scale to make us get involved in a story. Casey does not scale that hurdle. "Peter" has lovely characters. It's hard not to feel truly heartbroken when it is assumed that Sonya has died. Each character is beautifully interpreted.

Willie the whale is a bit more problematic for me. He's sweet and animated very well, but I never really feel drawn to him as a character. There's just something missing. Maybe it comes back to that opera thing. All he does is sing opera. OK. So then what? He feels like more of a gimmick than a character and he kind of was, since the whole short seems set up to showcase how versatile the performer doing all the voices is. Instead of focusing on dimensional characterizations, they focused on what vocals tricks of Nelson Eddy's they could sneak in. Plus those three creepy uvulas don't do Willie any favors. And Willie singing "Mama's lil' baby loves shawtnin' bread" is a bit off-putting nowadays, but is a product of the times. I'm glad they didn't censor it, but it does feel a little ice, regardless of the fact the song was a big hit for Eddy at the time.

The Music:

This poster's a bit better. Very, uh, yellow.
5/10. Like everything else, this is a grab bag. The songs range from snoozers ("Blue", "Without", "Silhouettes"), to classics ("Peter" and pieces of "Whale"), to story songs ("Johnny/Alice", "Casey"), to jazz ("Cats", "After"). The upside is that if you don't much like what you hear, something you'll dig is most likely around the corner. The downside is that there is no continuity. And they didn't really cover enough musical ground to fulfill the concept of each one being something from a different genre. Too many are too similar. They were able to score some big time vocalists (Nelson Eddy and Dinah Shore) and musicians (Benny Goodman) that would have lent more star power back in the day than they do now. Above all others, I will say that I'm the most stoked by the inclusion of The Andrews Sisters on "Johnny/Alice". That musical style, with it's tight harmonies, is easily one of my favorites. 

The Gay Scale:

Just a little off the back, please and thank you.
4/10. Eh. There is very little that is terribly gay here, and it's really reaching to really read gay into that little bit. There's the pretentious artsiness of the ballet ("Silhouettes" gives us a very literal reading of the term "Twinkle toes") and opera elements. There's the tiniest bit of man candy in "Casey", and the title character does some fancy prancing and pinky extension. "Cats" has a cheekiness to it that feels a bit queer, with its back nudity and sock-hopping. Plus what gay wouldn't love to take a pencil and just erase the extra pudge off of some part of their body? There's some talk about hearts being gay in "Johnny/Alice", as well as a vampy pink hat that comes onto Johnny. Plus it's an entire short based on accessories! See. I told you it was stretching. I'll do my best to find at least a little bit o' gay in every film, but Make Mine Music is one of the least queer Disney films in the canon.

The Bottom Line:

This seems much dirtier than it actually is.
Right? Right?!?!?!
5/10. This movie landed with a disappointing thud in our apartment. My roommate wandered off somewhere in the middle to take a shower and my husband was in and out of it while noodling about on his iPad. Honestly, I can't blame either of them. Though none of these segments are offensively bad or embarrassing, they all fall so short of expectations. You hope that an animated feature is something greater than a series of shorts strung together. Some of the package films have been something greater by the sheer force of their ambition (Fantasia) or their weirdness (The Three Caballeros). This falls into the group, with Saludos Amigos, of package films that just sits in the corner, twiddling it's thumbs, and not really contributing much. 

The Miscellanea:

The DVD release of Make Mine Music is actually missing one of its original segments called "The Martins and the Coys". It was apparently taken out because of the gunplay. Now, I've made it pretty apparent how I feel about censorship by now. I'm not a fan at all. As Sister Mary Ignatius would say, "You make me want to blah." That being said, the cartoon violence in this short is so tame (no more explicit than your typical Elmer Fudd cartoon), I can't help but feel like there had to be something else at play here. Were they afraid of offending hillbillies? Southerners? NRA members? Now, don't get me wrong, this segment isn't exactly a masterpiece. It's a mildly funny story with a country/folk twang, which is otherwise missing from this patchwork quilt of musical types. There is no real reason for this to be withheld from video releases. It just seems another symptom of the disease that has plucked poor Sunflower from Fantasia and won't let us see Song of the South. And that's a bummer.

So how did you feel about Make Mine Music? Are you more smitten with these package films than I have been? Did I slight your favorite segment? Did you stay awake through the whole thing? Let me know! To make up for the fact that I made you wait so long for our DATE Night, our next one will be tomorrow! We'll crack into Fun and Fancy Free. Sounds more promising already. I mean it does have the word "fancy" in the title, after all!

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