Disney at the Movies – Day 10

  1. Cartoon Shorts    The Wise Little Hen and Donald’s Cousin Gus
  2. Main Feature      Melody Time
  3. Live Action          The Adventures of Bullwhip Griffin         

Melody Time (1948) owes much to Make Mine Music and the Silly Symphony series.  It is a collection of vignettes, each with a distinctive visual and musical style.  Disney engaged some of the most popular music artists of the time to perform the music and narration, most notably for me, The Andrew Sisters.  After the general release, the vignettes were frequently broadcast as individual shorts on television or repackaged with other material for home video.  The subjects are grounded in American folklore, contemporary and historic, but one segment, Blame it on the Samba, is more culturally diverse. This features our friend from Saludos Amigos and The Three Caballeros, Jose Carioca, teaching Donald Duck how to Samba.  While this isn’t the most groundbreaking Disney film, and admittedly the format is getting tired, the stories are gems that should have broad appeal for children and adults with a penchant for nostalgia.

Since Donald Duck is the biggest Disney star in the main feature, I thought it would be fun to infuse our cartoons with a heavy dose of “The Donald.” Donald Duck made his debut in a supporting role in The Wise Little Hen (1934).  This charming fable tells of a hen and her chicks who must plant corn.  It’s a big job so she entreats her neighbors Peter Pig and Donald Duck, self-proclaimed members of the Idle Hour Club, to assist. Peter and Donald feign belly aches to avoid work.  The wise Hen and her chicks are not daunted by their neighbors’ sloth and get to work planting and ultimately harvesting the corn.  The animators do an excellent job creating the plausible engineering process and tools used by the chicks to plant the crop. What a bountiful harvest it is, and the wise Hen wastes no time preparing corn on the cob, corn chowder and corn bread so vivid that you can almost taste it yourself.  The family enjoys the feast and exacts an appropriate revenge on Peter and Donald.  This is a delightful piece in its own right, but it will be forever remembered because it launched the career of Donald Duck, who rapidly moved from bit player to headline star. 

The next short will be Donald’s Cousin Gus (1939).  As Donald sits down to an impressive dinner, he is visited by his cousin Gus Goose who appears to be Harpo Marx in goose form. Gus presents a letter of introduction from Donald’s Aunt Fanny with an ironically prophetic postscript: “He don’t eat much.”  News flash:  he does.  With atypical graciousness, Donald welcomes Gus, who in the most delightfully passive aggressive way, proceeds to literally eat Donald out of house and home.  Note: this is not currently streaming on Disney+, but we’ve enjoyed it for years from The Chronological Donald Volume 1 1934-1941 dvd collection (which also contains The Wise Little Hen).

Both of these were cartoons of the Great Depression and give us a window into life during that time.  In the context of a global pandemic, they may very well resonate with more immediacy then in recent times.

Our live action feature today is The Adventures of Bullwhip Griffin (1967).  My first viewing of this gem was courtesy of Disney +, and I am most grateful to the new streaming service.  At the time of the California Gold Rush, young Jack Flagg flees to San Francisco to save his Boston Brahmin family that has fallen on hard economic times.  Griffin, the loyal family butler, catches up to Jack at Boston harbor to bring him home, but in the first of a series of delightful misadventures, Griffin and Jack inadvertently stowaway to the west coast.  Griffin (played to perfection by Roddy McDowall) is a butler extraordinaire, much in the tradition of P. G. Wodehouse’s marvelous Jeeves.  Griffin meets every obstacle with elegance, dignity, and a preternatural abundance of excellence that will eventually earn the nickname “Bullwhip,” true love, fame, and fortune.  There’s much to like in this film, a good story, fine acting, effective music, but I think what I like best is the care and affection rendered by the artists. George Bruns provides an excellent score and some quality songs written with the Sherman Brothers.  The theme song provides the framework and recurs from time to time to bring the audience along this picaresque adventure. The song is accompanied by outstanding graphics by Disney legend Ward Kimball. Kimball’s sequences firmly place us in the period and are suffused with charm and humor.  Together, song and sequence guide us through the film, like placards at a vaudeville show, or title cards at a silent movie.  Terry Gilliam of Monty Python’s Flying Circus fame, would take this to the next level with his animations that connected the eclectic sketches in each episode.  I have no way of knowing if Gilliam is familiar with Bullwhip Griffin, but I’d like to think he enjoyed Ward Kimball’s work as much as I did.

I’ll share an observation for film nerds.  Early in the story, there is a scene where a portrait of the late patriarch of the Flagg family hovers, stern in judgement, over the family at the reading of his will.  His demeanor in the portrait changes during the scene, suggesting he was such a domineering figure in life, that his essence continues to be felt, even in death.  It’s an amusing conceit that establishes the whimsy of the film early on, but it also reminded me of the Coen brothers’ remake of The Lady Killers.  In that film, there is also a portrait of a stern patriarchal figure that looms over the characters, and throughout the film, his demeanor changes to suit the enfolding action.  As I am a film enthusiast and not a film scholar, I can’t say if this technique was used often or elsewhere, but I will say its application in The Lady Killers is astonishingly similar to Bullwhip Griffin and I’d like to think  a young Joel and Ethan Coen enjoyed this film as much as I did.

The corn is popped, and we are ready to embark on Day 10 of Disney at the Movies.  Hope you enjoy this! #meolodytime #sillysymphony #disneymovienight #thewiselittlehen #gusgoose #theadventuresofbullwhipgriffin #terrygilliam #thecoenbrothers

Sources:

Disney A to Z The Official Encyclopedia Fourth Edition Dave Smith c. 2015 Disney Editions

The Disney Films Leonard Maltin c. 1978 Popular Library

c. Martin Blanco, Kathryn Blanco, and Disney at Home September 29,2020

Disney at the Movies – Day 9

Fun and Fancy Free

                                                  Disney at the Movies – Day 9

  1. Cartoon Shorts    The Practical Pig and The Brave Little Tailor
  2. Main Feature      Fun and Fancy Free
  3. Live Action          The Story of Robin Hood

Fun and Fancy Free (1947) is ostensibly two, short, animated movies tenuously linked together by the meanderings of Jiminy Cricket.  The first is based on Sinclair Lewis’ Bongo, which tells the story of an affable and talented circus bear who finds the courage to escape from the circus, woo a lady bear and conquer the rival for his affections.  The second is Mickey and the Beanstalk, a retelling of Jack and the Beanstalk featuring the Disney Studio’s biggest stars, Mickey, Donald and Goofy. Try though I may, I never enjoy Bongo, but it is pleasant enough with Dinah Shore providing a musical narration (ask your grandmother).  Mickey and the Beanstalk is far more engaging and satisfying.  It has succeeded as a stand-alone film distinct from Fun and Fancy Free, and is popular enough to have a presence in the Walt Disney World Resort.  Next time you’re in Sir Mickey’s in Fantasyland, you’ll notice the store is imaginatively themed to the final gag from Mickey and the Beanstalk (Hollywood Studios fans will also appreciate a brief appearance of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, formerly home to the Great Movie Ride and now home to Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway, and the Hollywood Brown Derby restaurant). In the context of Fun and Fancy Free, Mickey and the Beanstalk is presented as entertainment for a young girl’s birthday party hosted by Edgar Bergen.  Bergen, father to Candice Bergen, was a popular ventriloquist, and he brings his beloved puppets Charlie McCarthy and Mortimer Snerd (ask your grandmother) to the party.  Edgar Bergin and puppets, Dinah Shore, and even Jiminy Cricket added value to the film in its initial release, but for a contemporary audience their appearance feels odd.  Still, they flesh out an otherwise anemic soup of a movie while providing a glimpse into pop culture of the not-too-distant past.

The Three Little Pigs saga continues with The Practical Pig (1939). You know the drill;  the Big Bad Wolf is still looking to capture the pigs (for food and by now for vengeance), but while the two idle pigs remain easy prey, the pig named “Practical” remains vigilant.  In this episode, Practical builds a lie-detecting machine.  When the machine catches you in a lie, it punishes you with a good spanking. Needless to say, the Big Bad Wolf gets his comeuppance.

The next short will feature Mickey Mouse’s first encounter with a giant in The Brave Little Tailor (1938).  Mickey plays the eponymous tailor, who is conscripted into hunting the giant terrorizing the land, when his boasts of eliminating house flies is misconstrued to mean “giants.”  The poor fellow is in over his head, but he is inspired by the Princess Minnie.  Spoiler alert, Mickey triumphs over the giant.

We will stay with a Medieval setting for the live action feature.  Long before Disney created an animated version of Robin Hood, they made the live action The Story of Robin Hood in 1952.  Disney mostly adheres to what would become the standard story of Robin Hood, but they infuse the film with their own sense of whimsy coupled with good acting and photography.

The corn is popped, and we are ready to embark on Day 9 of Disney at the Movies.  Hope you enjoy this! #sillysymphony #disneymovienight #mickeymouse #who’safraidofthebig #mickeyandthebeanstalk #funandfancyfree #robinhood #thethreelittlepigs

Sources:

Disney A to Z The Official Encyclopedia Fourth Edition Dave Smith c. 2015 Disney Editions

The Disney Films Leonard Maltin c. 1978 Popular Library

  1. Martin Blanco, Kathryn Blanco, and Disney at Home June 25, 2020

 

Disney at the Movies – Day 8

Make Mine Music

  1. Cartoon Shorts    Three Little Wolves and Mickey’s Amateurs
  2. Main Feature      Make Mine Music
  3. Live Action          The One and Only Genuine Original Family Band

In the aftermath of World War II, the Studio continued to produce compilation animated films as it strove to regain its financial footing.  One such film, Make Mine Music (1946), is a collection of ten distinct stories inspired by  musical themes.  Think of it as Fantasia-lite, not groundbreaking, not phenomenal, but undeniably charming.  Instead of Leopold Stokowski and the Philadelphia Orchestra, you will hear some of the formidable pop music talents of the day including Benny Goodman, the Andrews Sisters and Dinah Shore.  Fans of Mickey’s Philharmagic in Disney World will appreciate the segment titled “The Whale Who Wanted to Sing at the Met,” because the titular whale is featured in one of the humorous lobby posters adorning the queue for the Philharmagic (I Pagliacci performed by Willy the Whale). It is a reminder that Imagineers cleverly decorate the parks with images and references from a wide range of Disney films.  At the time of this writing, Make Mine Music is not streaming on Disney+, Netflix, nor Amazon Prime.  It can, however, be inexpensively purchased on Amazon. We watched on an old videocassette.

Our Silly Symphony selection is Three Little Wolves (1936).  This next installment is loaded with surprises.  It begins with the Big Bad Wolf lecturing his three sons on the finer points of cooking pork (in German no less). Elements of The Boy Who Cried Wolf and Little Bo Peep will be tossed into the mix and before it’s through, the Big Bad Wolf will receive an imaginatively rendered thrashing.

The next short will be Mickey’s Amateurs (1937). Mickey Mouse hosts a radio variety show that features the “talents” of familiar Disney stars such as Donald Duck and Goofy, as well as some lesser known characters such as Clarabelle Cow. The musical offerings are dubious at best, but that’s the fun of it.  No surprise here, only lots of laughs.

We’ll end the evening with another musically themed offering, The One and Only Genuine, Original Family Band.  Leave it to Walt Disney to make an endearing family movie set in the context of the hotly contested presidential election between Grover Cleveland and Benjamin Harrison (and you thought we were a divided nation today).  It centers around the musical Bower family, staunch democrats poised to perform at the Democratic convention. Things get complicated when Alice Bower falls in love with a Republican newspaperman (Heavens!).  Can politics, love and family mix?  Maybe with the help of music. This forgotten gem features music by the Sherman Brothers and an outstanding cast including Walter Brennan, Wally Cox, Buddy Ebsen, Leslie-Anne Warren, John Davidson and Kurt Russel.  Here is a great tidbit of movie trivia:  A young lady named Goldie Jean Hawn had a small role in the film. This is where Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell met, although they wouldn’t begin their storied relationship for almost two decades.

The corn is popped, and we are ready to embark on Day 8 of Disney at the Movies.  Hope you enjoy this! #sillysymphony #disneymovienight #mickeymouse #who’safraidofthebigbadwolf #thethreelittlepigs #makeminemusic #theoneandonlygenuineoriginalfamilyband #goldiehawn #kurtrussell

Sources:

Disney A to Z The Official Encyclopedia Fourth Edition Dave Smith c. 2015 Disney Editions

The Disney Films Leonard Maltin c. 1978 Popular Library

c. Martin Blanco, Kathryn Blanco, and Disney at Home May 22, 2020

 

Disney at the Movies – Day 7

                                    Disney at the Movies – Day 7

  1. Cartoon Shorts    TheBig Bad Wolf and Mickey’s Parrot
  2. Main Feature      The Three Caballeros
  3. Live Action          The Sign of Zorro
    3 Caballeros Day 7

The Disney Studio continued its celebration of Latin American culture with The Three Caballeros. While it’s similar to Saludos Amigos, it is substantially longer, includes more animation, and showcases several exotic birds. Donald Duck is the star and Jose Carioca returns as Donald’s cultural ambassador.  There is a terrific dance sequence between Aurora Miranda (yes, Carmen’s sister) and Donald Duck.  Disney historian Dave Smith notes this is the Studio’s first venture with combining live action with animated films since the Alice films from the 1920’s.  This effect had significantly developed in two decades.  While not one of the most beloved animated films, nor one of the most artistically significant, The Three Caballeros is colorful, lively and fun, and enjoyed a profound boost to its brand in 2010 when it was thematically incorporated in the Mexican boat ride in EPCOT’S World Showcase.

Our Silly Symphony selection is The Big Bad Wolf.  Capitalizing on the success of The Three Little Pigs, Disney continued the story with three more cartoons. This installment introduces Little Red Riding Hood into the mix. We’ll continue the saga in chronological order and hope that the Pigs and Little Red will continue to outwit the Big Bad Wolf.

The next short will be Mickey’s Parrot.  We chose this cartoon because the Parrot reminds us of Jose Carioca, one of the stars of today’s feature. This delightful cartoon features Mickey, Pluto and a Parrot who mimics the voice of a dangerous killer who is on the loose.  No danger here, only laughs.

We’ll end the evening with The Sign of Zorro.  This 1960 release is nominally repackaged episodes from the television show Zorro. No matter, it was released as a feature film in the United States in 1960, and fits in perfectly with today’s theme.  Set in Southern California during the time of 19th century Spanish rule, it is full of action, adventure and Latin American culture showcased in today’s main feature.  The story is familiar to Disney enthusiasts — a skilled nobleman dons a mask and costume to fight corruption incognito — but it is one that the Disney Studios executes exceedingly well.

The corn is popped, and we are ready to embark on Day 7 of Disney at the Movies.  Hope you enjoy this! #sillysymphony #disneymovienight #mickeymouse #who’safraidofthebigbadwolf #thethreelittlepigs #thethreecaballeros #zorro

Sources:

Disney A to Z The Official Encyclopedia Fourth Edition Dave Smith c. 2015 Disney Editions

The Disney Films Leonard Maltin c. 1978 Popular Library

c.Martin Blanco, Kathryn Blanco, and Disney at Home May 21, 2020

Disney at the Movies – Day 6

Saludos A

photo by Martin Blanco

                                          Disney at the Movies – Day 6

  1. Cartoon Shorts    The Three Little Pigs and Mickey’s Trailer
  2. Main Feature      Saludos Amigos
  3. Live Action          Son of Flubber

The Disney Studio was faced with several challenges while the Second World War raged on. The Studio lost considerable revenue with the European market shut down and the US military commandeered much of the physical space.  Even so, output didn’t disappear, but the animated features were significantly scaled back in artistry, scope, and volume.

The next animated film in the canon is Saludos Amigos.  It was released in Brazil in 1942 and in America a few months later in 1943.  It is a blend of animation and live action, but nevertheless has always been regarded as a full-length animated feature.  The film is a broad survey of South American culture and geography.  Four cartoon shorts are linked together with live action film and narration.  You’ll see some familiar faces in the cartoons, such as Donald Duck and Goofy and each segment is engaging.  The film falls short as a comprehensive and authentic travelogue of South America, but like many of Disney’s efforts, it succeeds as an introduction to its subject.  At 42 minutes long, it is perhaps the shortest of Disney’s full-length animated features.

Because the main feature is short in length and pedestrian in its artistry, we are going to load the cartoon shorts with Disney’s finest.  We’ll begin with The Three Little Pigs.  This 1933 Silly Symphony was tremendously successful both for the film and the hit song “Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?” It won an Academy Award for Best Cartoon and “Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?” became the national battle cry against the ravages of the depression. Maybe we could use the song to swell our spirits during the current pandemic.

The next short will be Mickey’s Trailer.  In this 1938 cartoon, Mickey, Donald, and Goofy have a trailer that’s full of mechanical surprises.  Hitched to a car driven by Goofy, the trailer and our pals take a hair-raising journey.  It’s hilariously perilous, and imaginatively dangerous.  Buckle up and hang on tight.

We’ll end the evening with Son of Flubber. This 1963 film is the sequel to The Absent-Minded Professor.  It’s very similar to the original and that’s okay by us.

The corn is popped, and we are ready to embark on Day 6 of Disney at the Movies.  Hope you enjoy this! #sillysymphony #disneymovienight #mickeymouse #who’safraidofthebigbadwolf #thethreelittlepigs

Sources:

Disney A to Z The Official Encyclopedia Fourth Edition Dave Smith c. 2015 Disney Editions

The Disney Films Leonard Maltin c. 1978 Popular Library

c. Martin Blanco, Kathryn Blanco, and Disney at Home May 6, 2020

Disney at the Movies – Day 5

                       

Bambi Day 5

photo by Martin Blanco

                    Disney at the Movies – Day 5

  1. Cartoon Shorts    The Cookie Carnival and The Whoopee Party
  2. Main Feature      Bambi
  3. Live Action          The Love Bug

With the release of Bambi, the Disney studios achieved new milestones in animation.  All the characters are animals, and the artists spent countless hours consulting zoological experts, visiting zoos, and drawing from live animal models  Even though it was released in August 1942, the studios had been working on Bambi since Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was nearing completion.  The efforts and expense paid off.  Bambi achieved a visual richness and beauty that the studios would not repeat for almost a decade.  Of course every Disney fan knows Bambi is famous for more than its outstanding artistry, and the elephant in the room in this film is Bambi’s mother.  Make sure you have a box of tissues and a therapist lined up for your children. You’ve been warned.

Because Bambi is so emotionally charged, we’ll pair it with light and exuberant fare.   The Cookie Carnival (1935) is set in a world of sentient cookies.  During the annual Cookie Queen beauty contest, a poor cookie girl wins the crown with the loving help of a poor cookie boy.  After she is crowned Cookie Queen, the boy cookies compete for her affections and for the title of Cookie King.  True love triumphs, and the imaginative renderings of baked goods will keep you smiling and make you hungry.  Have some Pepperidge Farm at the ready. You’ve been warned.

The next short will be The Whoopee Party.  This 1932 Mickey Mouse cartoon is the perfect remedy for social distancing doldrums.  The music swings, the dancing is exuberant and the food and drink are plentiful.  Minnie Mouse tickles the ivories with infectious glee and you’ll get to meet Goofy in his early incarnation of Dippy Dawg. A note of concern: this is an old cartoon and in at least one instance there is a racial depiction that is clearly out of line. Regrettably, this continues in the early Disney films, for they reflect their time both for good and bad. When we first watched The Whoopee Party with our children, we used it as a teaching moment to explain hurtful practices that are no longer acceptable.  Otherwise this is a jubilant cartoon that may well compel you to kick up your heels.   Keep it down, lest the neighbors call the police. You’ve been warned.

We’ll end the evening with The Love Bug.  If cookies can come to life, why not a race car?  This 1969 movie about is about Herbie, a Volkswagen Beetle, who helps a frustrated auto racer win titles while finding true love.  The cast features Buddy Hackett, whom your children might be delighted to know provides the voice of Scuttle from The Little Mermaid). Buckle up for laughs and thrills. You’ve been warned.

The corn is popped, and we are ready to embark on Day 5 of Disney at the Movies.  Hope you enjoy this!

#bambi #thelovebug #sillysymphony #disneymovienight #mickeymouse

Sources:

Disney A to Z The Official Encyclopedia Fourth Edition Dave Smith c. 2015 Disney Editions

The Disney Films Leonard Maltin c. 1978 Popular Library

c. Martin Blanco, Kathryn Blanco, and Disney at Home May 2, 2020

 

 

 

Disney at the Movies – Day 4

 

Dumbo Day 4

photo by Martin Blanco

                                               Disney at the Movies – Day 4

  1. Cartoon Shorts    Elmer Elephant and Mickey’s Circus
  2. Main Feature      Dumbo
  3. Live Action          Toby Tyler

Today we leave the concert hall behind to join the circus as our main feature is Dumbo.  While Dumbo did not advance cinematic art, and was far less visually sumptuous than its predecessors, it remains a beloved favorite because of its appealing story and emotional potency.  The circus imagery is delightful and Ward Kimball’s animation of Casey Junior, the locomotive that pulls the circus train, foreshadows the strong influence that steam locomotives would have on the aesthetics of the Walt Disney Company. Dumbo premiered in the fall of 1941 and was supposed to be featured on the cover of Time magazine in December, but this was sidelined for a portrait of Admiral Yamamoto in the wake of the attack on Pearl Harbor.  Nevertheless, the movie was a big hit for Disney then and has lost none of its appeal in nearly 80 years.

Dumbo pairs well with Elmer Elephant.  This 1936 Silly Symphony is strikingly similar to Dumbo and one wonders if this sweet cartoon inspired Disney to pursue the Dumbo project.  Elmer, like Dumbo, is a mute elephant who faces mockery and rejection because of his physical appearance, Dumbo for his enormous ears and Elmer for his trunk. In the end, their physical features that provoked so much derision are the very things that make them heroes.

Mickey’s Circus is also from 1936.  Mickey Mouse is the ringmaster of a traveling circus.  The cartoon features ringmaster Mickey Mouse presenting a free show for dozens of orphan mice, all of whom look like young Mickey (in an adorable baby Yoda way).  Most of the cartoon features the antics of Donald Duck and a quartet of seals, as well as some naughty hijinks perpetrated by the orphans (as orphans are wont to do).

The live action feature is Toby Tyler (1960).  The time is the turn of the century. Toby is an orphan raised by a harsh aunt and uncle.  Toby literally runs away from home to join a circus.  As tantalizing as the circus seems, circus life is rife with exploitation, and there is as much sorrow and cruelty as there is joy.  Toby makes friends and enemies, and there’s just enough goodness in humanity for Toby to find his way.  This is an excellent companion to Dumbo, and if you are missing the Magic Kingdom, the circus parade at the beginning of the film will transport you to Main Street USA. Toby Tyler isn’t currently on Disney+, but it can be rented from Amazon Prime.

The kettle corn is popped, and we are ready to embark on Day 4 of Disney at the Movies.  Hope you enjoy this!

#dumbo #tobytyler # #sillysymphony #disneymovienight #mickeymouse

Sources:

Disney A to Z The Official Encyclopedia Fourth Edition Dave Smith c. 2015 Disney Editions

The Disney Films Leonard Maltin c. 1978 Popular Library

c. Martin Blanco, Kathryn Blanco, and Disney at Home April 29, 2020

Toby Tyler Day 4

TobyTyler2 Day 4

This illustration from the opening credits in TOBY TYLER is evocative of the Magic Kingdom’s Main Street USA. photo by Martin Blanco

 

Disney at the Movies – Day 3

               

Fantasia Day 3

photo by Martin Blanco

                 Disney at the Movies – Day 3

  1. Cartoon Shorts    Music Land and The Band Concert
  2. Main Feature      Fantasia
  3. Live Action          Almost Angels

It’s hard to believe that Disney released Pinocchio and Fantasia in the same year, but indeed they did.  Today’s main feature, Fantasia, had its world premiere on November 13, 1940 in Manhattan.  Not content to rest on any laurels, Disney perfected if not invented the music video, pioneered new achievements in audio technology, and augmented the artistic potential of animated film with its third full-length feature.  Fantasia was ahead of its time, despite the lukewarm initial response, because almost 80 years later, it remains a vital part of cinematic history and Disney culture.  Fantasia presents eight pieces of music from the classical (writ broadly) tradition covering almost four hundred years of music by composers such as Bach, Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, and Stravinsky. The most enduring is “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” segment.  Even if you’re not familiar with Paul Dukas’ music, everyone will recognize Mickey Mouse in his iconic star-adorned blue hat and red wizard cassock. This segment also revealed a new Mickey Mouse, taller and with sclera surrounding his pupils.  This rendering of Mickey remains the standard to this day.

The music is performed by the Philadelphia Orchestra, one of the finest in our country, and conducted by Maestro Leopold Stowkoski. The music is interspersed with brief segments about orchestras, basic music theory, and introductions to the pieces themselves.  These are narrated by Deems Taylor, a celebrated composer and music pundit of the day.

I’ve come across criticisms that assert that literature has been debased by the Disney animated film adaptations and similarly, that Fantasia does a disservice to the music it showcases.  I would counter-argue that while the Disney films are wonderful in and of themselves, they are not an alternative to literature and music.  Rather, they are excellent gateways to the joys of reading literature and listening to orchestral music.  The best films from the Disney canon beckon one to read further, to listen more deeply, and to explore.  I feel the same way about the Disney theme parks, which is why we strive to keep the spirit of the parks active in our daily lives.

Fantasia pairs well with Music Land (1931).  This Silly Symphony is set in a magic land of sentient musical instruments. It is a love story reminiscent of Romeo and Juliet where the violin Princess from the Land of Symphony and the saxophone Prince from the Isle of Jazz must bridge the Sea of Discord that is keeping them apart.  The difference in musical styles is what fuels the animosity between the lands. The conceit is imaginatively rendered.  Rest assured there is a happy ending as true love triumphs over the Sea of Discord with a Bridge of Tranquility.  The cartoon opens with a map of Music Land, and if you only glance at it, it looks a little like an early draft of the Magic Kingdom.   It’s not, but you can almost see the Disney wheels turning.

Next, we recommend The Band Concert.  I know we just watched this, but it’s our project and we can do whatever we want.  Besides, it’s so good it deserves a second viewing and it fits in perfectly with the musical theme.

Finally, we’ll end the evening with Almost Angels.  This 1962 gem is a coming of age story set in the world of the famed Vienna Boys Choir.  It’s a sweet story, but the film is all about the music and the scenery.

This evening is also all about the music.  The corn is popped, and we are ready to embark on Day 3 of Disney at the Movies.  Hope you enjoy this!

#Fantasia #TheBandConcert #MusicLand #AlmostAngels #sillysymphony #disneymovienight #MickeyMouse

Sources:

Disney A to Z The Official Encyclopedia Fourth Edition Dave Smith c. 2015 Disney Editions

The Disney Films Leonard Maltin c. 1978 Popular Library

c. Martin Blanco, Kathryn Blanco, and Disney at Home April 25, 2020

Disney at the Movies – Day 2

Pinocchio Day 2

Pinocchio is now 80 years old. photo by Martin Blanco

Disney at the Movies – Day 2

  1. Cartoon Shorts    The Clock Store and The Band Concert
  2. Main Feature      Pinocchio
  3. Live Action          Babes in Toyland

The main feature, Pinocchio, had its world premiere on February 7, 1940 and was released on February 23.  Disney’s second full-length animated feature is every bit as beautiful and emotionally engaging as Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.  80 years after its release, many of the songs are still culturally relevant, especially “When You Wish Upon a Star.”

This pairs well with an early Silly Symphony feature called The Clock Store (1931).  This black and white short’s artistry is simple compared to the later films in the series, but it’s not without substantial charm.  We like it alongside Pinocchio because the animators bring elaborate timepieces to life in imaginative ways that prefigure the more detailed clocks and toys that you’ll see in Gepetto’s workshop.

Next up we recommend The Band Concert.  This exuberant piece from 1935 was the first Mickey Mouse cartoon filmed in color, and it also raised Donald Duck to star status.  Once upon a time, outdoor concert band performances were one of the most popular forms of entertainment, which is beautifully captured in this cartoon.  Mickey Mouse, adorned in a handsome red outfit and possessed with much gravitas, recalls the great composer and band leader John Philip Sousa.  Mickey is determined to conduct the overture to Rossini’s opera William Tell (more familiarly known as the theme from “The Lone Ranger”) despite disruption from a terrible storm conjured by the music itself, and an obnoxious Donald Duck intent on playing “Turkey in the Straw” on a discordant flute.

Finally, we’ll end the evening with Babes in Toyland.  This delightful 1961 film is a liberal adaptation of Victor Herbert’s operetta of the same name.  Some of Herbert’s famous music, most notably “Toyland,” appears alongside new songs composed for the film.  The impressive cast includes Ray Bolger, Annette Funicello and Ed Wynn.  At the center of the film is a toyshop worthy of Pinocchio’s father Gepetto.

This evening is full of toys, clocks, color and fantasy.  The corn is popped, and we are ready to embark on Day 2 of Disney at the Movies.  Hope you enjoy this!

#Pinocchio #TheBandConcert #TheClockStore #BabesinToyland #sillysymphony #disneymovienight #MickeyMouse

Sources:

Disney A to Z The Official Encyclopedia Fourth Edition Dave Smith c. 2015 Disney Editions

The Disney Films Leonard Maltin c. 1978 Popular Library

 

c. Martin Blanco, Kathryn Blanco, and Disney at Home April 23, 2020

Disney At the Movies – Day 1

Snow White Movie Night

photo by Martin Blanco

Since we’re social distancing for the long haul, we thought it would be fun to watch the entire canon of Disney animated films in chronological order.  We’ll begin with Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and work our way to Frozen Two.

I saw many of these films in summer re-releases.  They would often be part of a double feature which included a live action comedy or nature adventure and sometimes they would begin with a Disney cartoon.   We thought it would be fun to recreate the complete movie theatre experience, so with each Disney animated classic, we’re going to make “pairing” suggestions.  We’ll recommend a Mickey Mouse cartoon, a Silly Symphony cartoon and a live action film that we think will pair well with the animated feature.  Of course you don’t have to watch all of them (or any of them), but we’re going to have as much fun crafting the presentations as we are watching them.

Thanks to Disney+, many of you will have unprecedented access to most, if not all, of our suggestions.  So break out your popcorn maker and DVD player or streaming device and join us at the movies.

Let us know what you think.

 

Disney at the Movies – Day 1

  1. Cartoon Shorts    Steamboat Willie and Flowers and Trees
  2. Main Feature       Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
  3. Live Action           The Absent-Minded Professor

 

The main feature, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, was the first full-length animated feature film.  From the moment of its world premiere on December 21, 1937, the film was a triumph.  It established a level of excellence that changed both animated and live action motion pictures. The financial success gave the Walt Disney Company the capital, and Walt Disney himself the clout, to continue to develop projects that would forever change the world (for the better I would argue). I’ve watched this film more than a dozen times, and I never tire of the stunning artwork, the rich details, and the brilliant storytelling.

While Snow White… did not win any Academy Awards by election, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences saw fit to honor it with an award for what they called “significant screen innovation which has charmed millions and pioneered a great new entertainment field.”

But before watching Snow White…, we suggest opening the evening with the black-and-white short Steamboat Willie, another cinematic landmark. It has the distinction of being the first official Mickey Mouse cartoon, and was the first cartoon ever to employ the use of synchronized sound.  This little film is culturally important enough to be on display at the Smithsonian Institute’s Museum of American History.  You’ll meet Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, and my favorite foil of all time, Pete. It premiered at the Colony Theatre in New York City on November 18, 1928.

The next short, Flowers and Trees, is part of Disney’s Silly Symphony series and another landmark cartoon.  It was the first cartoon from that series to be filmed in color.  The color process was created by a company called Technicolor and marked a great improvement on what was the current standard.  Flowers and Trees was released on July 30, 1932 and won the Academy Award for Best Cartoon.  It was a technological bridge to the more substantial Snow White…, particularly a sequence in which the frightened Princess is fleeing for her life in a dark, foreboding forest.  The animators anthropomorphized the fauna to make her escape that much more harrowing.  Similarly, Flowers and Trees anthropomorphized the plants and trees and you’ll see right away that the forest sequence in Snow White. . . owes much to its predecessor.

Finally, we suggest for our live action “pairing” The Absent-Minded Professor.  It was released on March 16, 1961 and it’s hard not to like this endearingly goofy film.  It centers around the follies of Professor Ned Brainard, a brilliant man of science, but a clumsy, naïve simpleton in every other aspect of his life. Brainard is played to perfection by Disney Legend #1, Fred MacMurray. Even though the good Professor can’t remember to attend his own wedding, he accidentally creates a substance that can defy gravity. The film was successful enough to spawn a sequel and a reboot decades later with Robin Williams playing Brainard. Serious Disney fans will appreciate that The Absent-Minded Professor features the first song written by Richard M. and Robert B. Sherman for a Disney film, “The Medfield Fight Song.” While the film is no great work of art, it is as funny as it is earnest.

The corn is popped and we are ready to embark on Day 1 of Disney at the Movies.  Hope you enjoy this!

#Snowwhiteandthesevendwarfs #steamboatwillie #flowersandtrees #theabsentmindedprofessor #sillysymphony #disneymovienight

 

Sources:

Disney A to Z The Official Encyclopedia Fourth Edition Dave Smith c. 2015 Disney Editions

The Disney Films Leonard Maltin c. 1978 Popular Library

 

c. Martin Blanco, Kathryn Blanco,  and Disney at Home

April 21, 2020