Wednesday, February 8, 2012
My Funny Valentine: Disney’s “Fun and Fancy Free”
Disney’s Ninth Animated Feature – 1947
Fun and Fancy Free is another post-war package film, made up of two short narrative films—Bongo and Mickey and the Beanstalk—that were originally planned as separate feature films. Bongo, based on an original short story by Sinclair Lewis (of all people) follows a circus bear who wants to live free in the wild. Mickey and the Beanstalk is (big surprise) based on Jack and the Beanstalk, and stars Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, and Goofy as peasants who discover temperamental Willie the Giant’s castle in the sky through the use of some magic beans. This Mickey represents the last time Walt Disney would voice the character. He was getting a little busy, what with being Walt Disney and all.
Not to gush, but this film is wonderful. Both segments are filled with many adorable and thought-provoking moments and most importantly, virtually nothing that a modern parent needs to qualify, excuse, or explain before sharing it with their child. I even love the bouncy theme song to the film that transitions nicely to Jiminy Cricket singing the adorable, “I’m a Happy-Go-Lucky Fellow,” the framing device used for the Bongo sequence. (I want to learn that song by heart.) Yes, this film brings back the supporting cast of Pinocchio: Jiminy, Cleo the goldfish, and Figaro the cat. Jiminy is always a welcome sight. You can hear the opening theme and Jiminy's song in this clip:
Jiminy strolls across a bookshelf, looking for a story to share with the viewer. I like the way he pauses for a moment at a book titled, “Misery for the Masses,” and takes a pass, rubbing his forehead at the very idea. Jiminy happens upon a doll, a teddy bear, a record player, and a set of records titled, “Bongo, a musical story sung by Dinah Shore.” (Guess it sure beats the “boring” music of Beethoven and Bach seen on the shelf, as Disney realized after the failure of Fantasia.) Jiminy puts on the record and we’re off.
He experiments with growling and tree climbing, causing hilarity among the woodland creatures. He makes friends with the animals, much like Snow White and Sleeping Beauty. As he hunkers down to sleep for the night, he can’t believe how noisy nature can be. He’s menaced by mosquitoes, bats, and a thunderstorm. He wakes up discouraged and realizes he can’t fish, either.
Bongo takes out his press clippings as way of introduction as Lockjaw stomps him. At this key moment, Lulabelle slaps Bongo, who doesn’t seem to understand that this is wild bears’ love ritual. When she accidentally slaps Lockjaw when Bongo ducks, it’s too late. Lockjaw readily accepts her proposal. A very funny song and dance number among the bears, “A Bear Likes To Say It With a Slap,” is surreal and hilarious. You can see it here:
The male bears give their ladies a gentle tap on the cheek and the ladies counter with a full-on slug to the jaw. Eventually, Bongo catches on and he’s able to use his circus skills to defeat Lockjaw and wins the gal and the respect of his bear peers, and that’s a great little story.
A lot of the jokes still hold up. It’s easy to understand why Bergen/McCarthy/Snerd were such huge stars. Bergen’s talent—that of ventriloquism—seems quaint, but that man was a mega-talent and this footage testifies to that. But unless you’re a fan of vintage radio and cinema, you might not appreciate the significance of Edgar Bergen and his creations. And Bergen was an “old school” ventriloquist. When he passed away, his puppets did as well.
The Beanstalk story begins as a golden harp sings a merry tune,“My What a Happy Day,” and at this point I’m thinking that this score contains the most “up,” singable, chirpy tunes of any Disney film. The giant steals the harp, and desolation covers the land. Three poor farmers you’ll surely recognize suffer through it all: Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, and Goofy.
This film doesn’t exactly pass for a modern piece of cinema, but it doesn’t have whiskers, either. It would fit very nicely on your dvd shelf.