Monday, February 27, 2012
There’s No “Me” in “Melody Time” … Oh, Wait …
Disney’s Tenth Animated Feature – 1948
Melody Time is a package film in the style of Make Mine Music: seven different shorts that rely on songs and rhyme to tell their tales. Like the package films before it, the shorts of Melody Time vary in appeal. It’s fair to say that the Disney name brings with it a level of quality, even excellence that’s undeniable. Any complaints or criticisms are more a reflection of changing tastes, attitudes, and cultural shifts. And like other older package films, Melody Time inspires its share of smiles, adoring glances, and quizzical, sidelong looks.
Blame it on the Samba, starring Donald Duck, Joe Carioca, Ethel Smith and the Dinning Sisters is an obvious leftover from The Three Caballeros, but so what? It’s charming and wonderfully bizarre, featuring the very real organist Ethel Smith who plays one mean samba organ, and how many of us can claim that? The scene begins as a cocktail, a concoction created in a snifter, so the scene is (rather absurdly) set underwater. Ethel Smith just plays away, as a few animated bubbles float by. Joe Carioca and Donald Duck dance, then are spirited away to a painted jungle for more surreal imagery as Ethel plays animated congas. It’s a wonderful and wacky interlude, but honestly, nothing you haven’t seen already in The Three Caballeros. In its own way, it’s as politically incorrect by today’s standards as the references to religion in Trees and Johnny Appleseed. Can you imagine Pixar creating a cartoon where characters get drunk and hallucinate? Me neither.
Pecos Bill is narrated by Roy Rogers (and his horse Trigger!) accompanied by the tuneful Sons of the Pioneers. It’s a charming campfire story, creating an all-encompassing origin story that “explains” the old west, from the Painted Desert to the Rio Grande (Pecos Bill is responsible for both, of course!).
At the end of the day, Melody Time is a better time capsule of 1948 than transferable, modern entertainment. There’s nothing particularly wrong with it, but it’s not especially inspired, either. Those moments that soar—like Bumble Boogie and Blame it on the Samba—were better handled in earlier films. Not everything can be a home run. But cheer up. The 1950’s are almost here. They’ll begin with Cinderella, end with Sleeping Beauty, and feature a slate of winners in between; and not a moment too soon.