Melody Time is a 1948 American hybrid musical film and the tenth theatrically released animated feature produced by Walt Disney. It was released to theatres by RKO Radio Pictures on May 27, 1948. Made up of seven segments set to popular music and folk music, the film is, like Make Mine Music before it, the popular music version of Fantasia. Melody Time, while not meeting the artistic accomplishments of Fantasia, was mildly successful. It is the fifth Disney package film following Saludos Amigos, The Three Caballeros, Make Mine Music, and Fun and Fancy Free.
|Directed by||Jack Kinney|
|Produced by||Walt Disney|
|Written by||Winston Hibler|
The Andrews Sisters
Fred Waring and the Pennsylvanians
Sons of the Pioneers
The Dinning Sisters
|Music by||Eliot Daniel|
Paul J. Smith
|Edited by||Donald Halliday|
|Distributed by||RKO Radio Pictures, Inc.|
|May 27, 1948|
|Budget||$1.5 million |
|Box office||$2,560,000 (worldwide rentals) |
Plot and background information of film segmentsEdit
According to Disney, the film's plot is as follows: "In the grand tradition of Disney's greatest musical classics, such as FANTASIA, MELODY TIME features seven classic stories, each enhanced with high-spirited music and unforgettale characters...[A] feast for the eyes and ears [full of] wit and charm...a delightful Disney classic with something for everyone". Rose Pelswick, in a 1948 review for The News-Sentinel, described the film as an 'adventure into the intriguing make-believe world peopled by Walt Disney's Cartoon characters". It also explains that "with the off-screen voice of Buddy Clark doing the introductions, the...episodes include fantasy, folklore, South American rhythms, poetry, and slapstick". A 1948 review by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette described it as a "mixture of fantasy, abstraction, parable, music, color, and movement".
The seven "mini-musical" stories outlined:
This "Mansley" segment features Frances Langford singing the title song about two romantic young lovers on a winter day in December, during the late 19th century. The lovers are named Jenny and Joe (unlike most Disney cartoons, Jenny and Joe do not have spoken dialogue in this cartoon). Joe shows off on the ice for his lover, Jenny, and near-tragedy and a timely rescue ensues. This is intertwined with a similar rabbit couple. Like several other segments of these package films, Once Upon a Wintertime was later released theatrically as an individual short, in this case on September 17, 1954. Clips from the beginning and end of this short showing a horse-drawn sleigh (along with the Carfaces and their blue horses) are featured in Disney's Very Merry Christmas Songs, which is part of Disney's Sing Along Songs, as a background movie for the song "Jingle Bells" (also belonged to the Carfaces and their blue horses).
This segment presents a surrealistic battle for a solitary bumble bee as he tries to ward off a visual and musical frenzy. The music is courtesy of Freddy Martin And His Orchestra (with Jack Fina playing the piano) and is a swing-jazz variation of Rimsky-Korsakov's Flight of the Bumblebee, which was one of the many pieces considered for inclusion in Fantasia.
The Legend of Johnny AppleseedEdit
This segment is a retelling of the story of John Chapman, who spent most of his life roaming the Midwestern United States (mainly Ohio and Indiana) in the pioneer days, and planting apple trees, thus earning his famous nickname. He also spread Christianity. Dennis Day narrates (as an "old settler who knew Johnny well") and provides the voices of both Johnny and his guardian angel. This segment was released independently on December 25, 1955 as Johnny Appleseed. The piece has a running time of "17 minutes [making it] the film's second-longest piece". Before being adapted as a segment in Melody Time, the story of Johnny Appleseed was "first immortalized around campfires", then later turned into "storybook form".
This segment is based on the story of Little Toot by Hardie Gramatky, in which the title protagonist, a small tugboat, wanted to be just like his father Big Toot, but could not seem to stay out of trouble. The Andrews Sisters provide the vocals. A clip from Little Toot features briefly in the "Friendship" song on Disney Sing Along Songs volume Friend Like Me. It was also featured in Sing Me a Story with Belle.
This segment featured a recitation of the 1913 poem "Trees" by Joyce Kilmer and music by Oscar Rasbach performed by Fred Waring and the Pennsylvanians with the lyrical setting accompanying animation of bucolic scenes seen through the changing of the seasons.
To preserve the look of the original story sketches, layout artist Ken O'Connor came up with the idea of using frosted cels and rendering the pastel images right onto the cel. Before being photographed each cel was laminated in clear lacquer to protect the pastel. The result was a look that had never been seen in animation before.
Blame It on the SambaEdit
This segment has Donald Duck and José Carioca meeting the Aracuan Bird, who introduces them to the pleasures of the samba. The accompanying music is the 1914 polka Apanhei-te, Cavaquinho by Ernesto Nazareth, fitted with English lyrics. The Dinning Sisters provide the vocals while organist Ethel Smith appears in a live-action role.
The film's final segment is about Texas' famous hero Pecos Bill. He was raised by coyotes (similar to how Mowgli was raised by wolves in The Jungle Book) and later became the biggest and best cowboy that ever lived. It also features his horse Widowmaker, and recounts the ill-fated romance between Bill and a beautiful cowgirl named Slue Foot Sue, whom he falls in love with at first sight. This retelling of the story features Roy Rogers, Bob Nolan, Trigger, and the Sons of the Pioneers telling the story to Bobby Driscoll and Luana Patten in a live-action frame story. This segment was later edited on the film's NTSC video release (except the PAL release) to remove all parts with Bill smoking a cigarette and almost the entire tornado scene with Bill rolling his cigarette and lighting it with a lightning bolt. Both the cigarette and the tornado scene were restored when the film was released on Disney+. With a total running time of "22 minutes, [it] is the lengthiest piece".
The cast is listed below:
- Roy Rogers – Himself; Narrator; Singer (Pecos Bill)
- Trigger, the Smartest Horse in the Movies – Himself
- Dennis Day – Narrator; Singer; Characters (Johnny Appleseed)
- The Andrews Sisters – Singers (Little Toot)
- Fred Waring and the Pennsylvanians – Singers (Trees)
- Freddy Martin – Music composer (Bumble Boogie)
- Ethel Smith – Organist (Blame It On the Samba)
- Frances Langford – Singer (Once Upon a Wintertime)
- Buddy Clark – Singer; Narrator
- Bob Nolan – Himself; Singer; Narrator (Pecos Bill)
- Sons of the Pioneers – Themselves; Singers; Narrators (Pecos Bill)
- The Dinning Sisters – Singers (Blame It On the Samba)
- Bobby Driscoll – Himself (Pecos Bill)
- Luana Patten – Herself (Pecos Bill)
|Once Upon a Wintertime||Bumble Boogie||Johnny Appleseed||Little Toot||Trees||Blame It On the Samba||Pecos Bill|
|Frances Langford (Singer)||Freddy Martin (Music composer)||Dennis Day||The Andrews Sisters (Singers)||Fred Waring and His Pennsylvanians (Singers)||Ethel Smith and the Dinning Sisters (Singers)||Roy Rogers (Singer), Sons of Pioneers (Singers), Bob Nolan (Singer)|
The songs in Melody Time were all "largely based around (then) contemporary music and musical performances". "Blue Shadows on the Trail" was chosen by the Western Writers of America as one of the top 100 Western Songs of all time.
|1.||"Melody Time"||George David Weiss & Bennie Benjamin||Buddy Clark|
|2.||"Once Upon a Wintertime"||Bobby Worth & Ray Gilbert||Frances Langford|
|3.||"Bumble Boogie"||Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov (writer), Jack Fina (arranger)||Freddy Martin and His Orchestra & Jack Fina (piano)|
|4.||"Johnny Appleseed"||Kim Gannon & Walter Kent||Dennis Day|
|5.||"Little Toot"||Allie Wrubel||The Andrews Sisters|
|6.||"Trees"||Joyce Kilmer (poem) & Oscar Rasbach (music)||Fred Waring and His Pennsylvanians|
|7.||"Blame It on the Samba"||Ernesto Nazareth & Ray Gilbert||Ethel Smith & The Dinning Sisters|
|8.||"Pecos Bill"||Eliot Daniel & Johnny Lange||Roy Rogers & The Sons of the Pioneers|
|9.||"Blue Shadows on the Trail"||Eliot Daniel & Johnny Lange||Roy Rogers & The Sons of the Pioneers|
In late 1947, Disney announced he would be releasing a "regrouping of various cartoons at his studio under two titles, Melody Time and Two Fabulous Characters", to be released in August 1948 and 1949, respectively. Melody Time ended up being released a few months earlier than planned, in May.
Melody Time is considered to be the last anthology feature made by the Walt Disney Animation Studios (the next film to be released was The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad, which featured two stories). These package features were "little-known short-film compilations that Disney produced and released as feature films during World War II". They were "financially (and artistically) lightweight productions meant to bring in profits [to allow the studio to] return to fairy tale single-narrative feature form", an endeavour which they successfully completed two years later with Cinderella. While the shorts "contrast in length, form, and style", a common thread throughout is that each "is accompanied by song[s] from musicians and vocalists of the '40s" – both popular and folk music. This sets it apart from the similarly structured Fantasia, whose segments were set to classical music instead. As opposed to Fun and Fancy Free, whose story was bound to the tales of Bongo and Mickey and the Beanstalk, in this film "Walt Disney has let his animators and his color magicians have free rein".
Melody Time was the last film The Andrews Sisters took part in. They sang throughout the 10-minute segment known as Little Toot. Andrews Sisters member Maxine said: "It was quite an experience. On the wall at the studio they had the whole story in picture form. Two songwriters played the score and Walt Disney explained it to us. It was a new thing for Disney. We sang the narrative. It was very exciting to work with Disney-he was such a gentleman".
Favourite Disney juvenile actors Bobby Driscoll and Luana Patten, who also starred in Song of the South and So Dear to My Heart, appear in the last sequence as the two children who hear the story of Pecos Bill (.
The film was originally released in USA, Brazil, and Argentina in 1948, in 1949 in Australia and in 1950 in Mexico and Uruguay. From December 1948 (UK) to 15 September 1954 (Denmark) the film was released across Europe. The film was known by a variety of names including Време за музика in Bulgaria, Mélodie cocktail in France, Musik, Tanz und Rhythmus in Germany, and Säveltuokio in Finland.
Disney later released a package film entitled Music Land, a nine-segment film which "recycled sequences from both Make Mine Music and Melody Time". Five selections were from Melody Time while another was the short Two For the Record, which consisted of two segments produced under Benny Goodman's direction.
Melody Time was unusual in that, until 1998 (50 years after its initial release), it remained "one of the handful of Disney's animated features yet to be released on videocassette". Some of the segments "have been re-released as featurettes", and Once Upon a Wintertime has "been included on other Disney video cartoon compilations".
Prior to its 1998 home video debut in the US, Once Upon A Wintertime was featured on the VHS, A Walt Disney Christmas, Little Toot on Storybook Classics, Blame It On The Samba on The Wonderful World of Disney: Music for Everybody and Pecos Bill on the American Heroes VHS paired with Paul Bunyan.
Its latest release was on June 6, 2000, on VHS and DVD as part of the Walt Disney Gold Classic Collection. However, all scenes of smoking were digitally removed in the Pecos Bill segment. This is not the case in the UK Region 2 DVD where it is unaltered. On Disney+, the smoking scenes were left intact for the first time in 80 years.
The various taglines of the film were: "For Your All-Time Good Time!", "7 HIT SONGS! 11 MUSICAL STARS!", and "Walt Disney's GREAT NEW MUSICAL COMEDY".
Collectible items for the film include books, figures, and posters.
At the time of its release, the film received "generally unfavorable reviews". However, Disney Discourse: Producing the Magic Kingdom notes that an article in Time Magazine around that time "celebrated the global scope of the Disney product", and a 1948 review for The News-Sentinel said the "charm and skill" that one had to expect from Disney is "delightful entertainment" for all children. A 1948 review of the film for the Los Angeles Times said the "acts" Johnny Appleseed and Pecos Bill, which the "new variety show from Walt Disney [gave] special attention to" are "'human' sagas" and as a result "more endearing" than the rest of the segments. The Andrews Sisters: A Biography and Career Record notes that "the public liked the film and it was a box-office success".
A 1948 review by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette said the film was a "visual and auditory delight" and added that if Disney were able to reach his audience's other senses, "there's no doubt he'd be able to please them too". It says a "tuneful and functional soundtrack rounds out the Disney art". It said that Bumble Boogie "reverted back to fantasia-like interpretive technique". It also notes that the abstraction ends after Trees, and the final three shorts are "story-sequences". It says the simple story of Johnny Appleseed is done with "touching perception". It said Little Toot "is destined to become a fable of our time" and adds "the Andrew Sisters tell the story in lilting song". The review ended with the author saying "deserving accolades will go to [Walt Disney] and his whole production staff, as well as to the staff whose voices he has used as well".
A 1948 review of the film for The News-Sentinel described Pecos Bill as the best segment, and said it "caused a stir among the small fry in the audience".
Later reviews are more mixed, noting the film's faults, but also praising it for various technical achievements.
DVDizzy notes that in regard to the mix of shorts and 1940s music, "the marriage often does not work, and the melodies are not particularly the film's forte"; however, it adds that this is a modern-day opinion, and that paying audiences at the time the film was released probably "felt better about the music". The site then reviewed each segment in turn, saying: Once Upon a Wintertime is "physical slapstick" that doesn't match the "dramatic singing by Frances Langford", Bumble Boogie is "fun but forgettable", The Legend of Johnny Appleseed is the "most enjoyable" of the segments, Little Toot is "rather generic", Trees features "some nice imagery", Blame it on the Samba "involve[s] Latin dancing and nothing more", and Pecos Bill has "Disney...go[ing] back and us[ing] today's technology to alter [Bill's smoking,] what admittedly is a minor point in one short of a film that's predominantly going to be watched and purchased by animation enthusiasts/historians". It explains the "video quality is consistently satisfying" and that the "audio has the dated feel of other '40s Disney films".
The film received a score of 77.06 out of 100 based on 50 votes, on the site Disney Movies Guide.
In his book The Animated Movie Guide, Jerry Beck gave Melody Time a rating of 2/5 stars, and described the film as "odds and ends from a studio geared up towards revival". He said that by this time the post-war formula of releasing anthologies had become "tired", with only a few of the segments being interesting, and feeling as if the animators kept "pushing for something more creative to do". He commented that the film, a "vast underachievement" for Disney, felt dated like its predecessor Make Mine Music, and added that he found it hard to believe that the artists who made this film had also made Pinocchio eight years before. He praised the "exceptional designs and palettes" by stylist Mary Blair, including the "flat styli[s]ed backgrounds" of Wintertime, and the Impressionist painting/folk art look of The Legend of Johnny Appleseed. He highlighted the "slapstick...impressive montage of Bill's impressive feats" as a "true treat". He described the "manic interpretation" of Flight of the Bumblebee known as Bumble Boogie, in which a bee terrorized by musical instruments and notes "change[s] colors and outlines from one moment to the next as the backgrounds seamlessly dissolve, change or morph around him", as "Disney's best piece of surealism since the 'Pink Elephant on Parade' sequence in Dumbo". He also spoke about the "stellar special effects" involved in the dynamite exploding Ethel Smith's organ instrument, in the segment Blame it on the Samba. However, he added that the rest of Melody Time was "sad[ly]...forgettable".
In The Magic Kingdom: Walt Disney and the American Way of Life, Steven Watts explains that while Pecos Bill "recaptured some of the old magic", the film as a whole, along with the other "halfhearted...pastiche[s] of short subjects", came across as "animated shorts surrounded with considerable filler and stuff into a concocted package". He adds that as a result they "never caught fire" due to their "varying wildly in quality", with moments of creativity being outweighed by the "insipid, mediocre, stale stretches of work".
The authors of The Cartoon Music Book said Melody Time was "much better" than the other post-Fantasia Disney package films of the era, adding that it was "beautifully designed and scored", paving the way for the "'populuxe' style" of Disney's first renaissance (starting with Cinderella in 1950). They stated that Trees and Blame it on the Samba (which they described as a "psychedelic Latin American sequence") are "charming, if still obscure, entries in the Disney pop song catalog[ue]".
The Andrews Sisters: A Biography and Career Record author H. Arlo Nimmo said "in general, [the Andrew Sisters-sung] Melody Time holds up well, and the story of 'Little Toot' is as appealing to today as when it originally appeared fifty-some years ago". He described the singing as "unremarkable but narrat[ing] the...story cleverly". He adds Variety's quote: "'Little Toot,'...is colorful and engrossing. Andrew Sisters give it popular vocal interpretation", and said that although The New York Times preferred the film to Make Mine Music the magazine added "The Andrew Sisters sing the story...not very excitingly". He also included Metronome's indifferent comment: "The Andrew Sisters sing a silly song about a tugboat". The article The Walt Disney Classics Collection Gets "Twitterpatted" For Spring deemed Little Toot one of Melody Time's highlights.
In a review of the 2004 Disney film Home on the Range, the article Frisky 'Range' doesn't measure up: Disney delivers fun said that the "sendup of the Wild West...has some fitful comic vitality and charm - [but] it can't hold a candle to the 'Pecos Bill' segment of the studio's late-'40s anthology, 'Melody Time'".
Rotten Tomatoes reported that 80% of 10 critics have given the film a positive review, with an average score of 7.08/10. The critical consensus reads, "Melody Time is a charming musical anthology film that's expertly crafted and filled with high-spirited numbers."
A 1998 Chicago Tribute review of the film, in honor of its VHS release, described the film as a "sweet, old-fashioned delight and one of the few Disney animated films that pre-schoolers can watch alone without danger of being traumatized", but also added that the younger generation might be bored by it due to their being "attuned to the faster, hipper rhythms of the post-'Mermaid' era".
Beck considers the segment "Blame It on the Samba" to be the best "Good Neighbor" Disney film there is, stating that "it blows my mind every time I watch it." Film historian J.B. Kaufman has noted that the segment is a cult favorite among Disney fans.
The film returned rentals to RKO by 1951 of $2,560,000 with $1,810,000 being generated in the U.S. and Canada.
Due to the controversy surrounding the smoking in Pecos Bill, the segment was "heavily edited" when the film was released onto VHS in 1998. While the character of Bill is shown "smoking a cigarette in several sequences", the edited version cuts these scenes, "resulting in the removal of almost the entire tornado sequence, and [creating] some odd hand and mouth movements for Bill throughout". In a review at DVDizzy, it is noted that if one has an interest in the shorts, one will "probably be upset to know that Disney has decided to digitally edit out contents of the 50-plus-year-old frames of animation". In the Melody Time section of the Your Guide To Disney's 50 Animated Features feature at Empire Online, the review said of the editing: "at least, it was [done] for the US releases, but not for the rest of the world. Go figure." The scenes are removed on the Gold Collection DVD release although the Japanese laserdisc and the version of the DVD released in the United Kingdom are uncut. For the first time in 80 years, the uncut version with Pecos Bill's cigarette can now be seen on Disney+.
According to a source, upon reviewing the music that Ken Darby had composed for Johnny Appleseed, Walt Disney "scorned the music", describing it as "like New Deal music". Darby was "enraged", and said to Disney "THAT is just a cross-section of one man's opinion!". Darby was only employed at The Walt Disney Company for a short while after this supposed incident.
Jerry Beck, in his book The Animated Movie Guide, comments on a risqué joke in Pecos Bill that somehow made it past the censors, when Bill kisses Sue and his guns rise from their holsters and begin to fire by themselves, simulating ejaculation. He adds jokingly that "perhaps Roy Rogers was covering the eyes of Bobby Driscoll and Luana Patten during this scene".
Many of the seven segments were later released as shorts, and some of them became "more successful than the original film". Bumble Boogie was among the few segments to receive huge popularity upon individual release. The article The Walt Disney Classics Collection Gets "Twitterpatted" For Spring notes that "the Little Toot segment of the film was so popular that it was re-released on its own as a short cartoon in 1954, and was subsequently featured on Walt Disney's popular weekly television series".
There are many references to the Pecos Bill segment in the Frontierland part of Magic Kingdom: there is a sign of Bill outside the Pecos Bill Tall Tale Inn and Cafe, as well as various images of him, the other characters, and their accessories around the cafe. A pair of gloves with the inscription "To Billy, All My Love, Slue Foot Sue" is located in a glass display case. In the World of Disney, Jose Carioca from Blame it on the Samba appears in a mural on the ceiling among many other characters. In a glass case, behind the windows of the All-Star Movies, there is a script for Melody Time.
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