Friday, January 20, 2012

All You Cats Join In and “Make Mine Music”

Disney’s Eighth Animated Feature – 1946
Make Mine Music was Disney’s fourth “package” film, a feature-length film made up of a series of shorts. World War II had just come to an end, but during the war, much of Disney’s staff had been drafted or called upon by the U.S. government to make training and propaganda films. It was difficult for Disney to get anything in the pipeline except short films. And these reasonably popular package films were also a way for Disney to experiment with new techniques and talent.

But Make Mine Music hasn’t aged well. The Fantasia-like “Blue Bayou” sequence is lovely, but an experimental piece combining rotoscoped images of ballet stars Tatiana Riabouchinska and David Lichine seems more than a bit odd, pushed to kitsch with its animated hearts and cupids. The “comic” “Casey at the Bat” sequence is anything but. And the sequence, “Johnny Fedora and Alice Bluebonnet” is a love story between a couple of hats. One of the hats is purchased, breaking up the romance. You can pretty much figure it out from there.

Prokovieff’s “Peter and the Wolf” starts as an enjoyable lesson in music appreciation, but is over-explained with way too much narration. The sequence, “The Whale Who Wanted to Sing at the Met” is a bit more Nelson Eddy than anybody needs. He sings all the parts and provides the narration. It has its charming moments, but the whale is discovered in the ocean delighting his pals by singing (wait for it) “Short’nin’ Bread.” Ummm, check, please.

The only piece that was a flat-out delight without inducing any cringes was Benny Goodman’s “After You’ve Gone,” with dancing musical instruments, a sweet little music video.

I also like the sequence “All the Cats Join In.” It’s got another bouncy Benny Goodman tune, unmistakable styling by Mary Blair, and a peek into teen culture of 1946. The kids gather in a jalopy and head to the malt shop to Lindy hop (How 1946 can you get?). Though I wince at the unnecessary moment when a bespectacled girl with the stack of books at the bus stop gets summarily passed over by the teens as they drive by. But if you’re going to look at work from this era, be prepared to wince.

What WON’T make you wince is the sequence “The Martins and Coys,” because it’s been excised from modern dvd’s, though it’s easily seen on Youtube. Seems this spoof of a hillbilly feud with its gunplay and drinking was a bit embarrassing to Disney, though I admit I thought it was pretty funny the way the hillbillies—both sides of the feud—virtually erased each other only to continue their feud in heaven. Cheap stereotypes aside, it made a profound statement on human nature.

Make Mine Music is an interesting time capsule of 1946. You get a smattering of that era’s style, humor, pop culture, foibles, and of course, music. It’s interesting to see how the “tops of the pops” of 1946 fare today. Benny Goodman? Still a lively presence, respected in today’s pop culture. The music of Nelson Eddy and Andy Russell or the comedy of Jerry Colonna? Not so much. This film holds more fascination for grown-up students of history and culture than today’s kids. Just as the out-of-date, 1920’s style “sheik” teen was escorted to the door by the cool kids in “All the Cats Join In,” I can’t see today’s kids having much interest in this film. Wait until you grow up. Then you might appreciate this kid’s movie.


  1. Nelson Eddy singin Shorin' Bread is the joke. Perhaps if this reviewer did a little research before reviewing this wonderful collection of shorts she would have known that. From wikipedia "Eddy frequently used his radio shows to advance the careers of promising young singers. While his programs often featured "serious" music, they were never straitlaced. It was in a series of comedy routines with Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy on the Chase and Sanborn Hour that Eddy's name became associated with the song "Shortnin' Bread", which was also included in the film Maytime."

  2. That's very interesting to know and gives wonderful context to the choice of song. Nelson Eddy also enjoyed a rich career in cinema, certainly beloved for his series of musicals with Jeanette MacDonald. But in this film, his rendition of that song is—to me—cringe inducing because he uses phrasing and gestures that are at best patronizing and at worst demeaning to people of color. I can only reiterate what I mentioned in my essay--that this film is best understood by grown-ups. Why lead kids of today to believe these slights and insults are okay?