Thursday, April 14, 2016

"The Magic of Disney Animation" Retrospective - #7-9: 3 Caballeros, Music, Fun/Fancy Free.

With Snow White and Pinocchio making great success critically and commercially, Disney Animation Studios went from carton powerhouse to overall studio powerhouse. However, when World War II began, the studios finances weren't as high, one reason owed to decreasing sales in then Nazi occupied Europe. With animators within the company going on strike at the time, and others being drafted to serve in the war, the government later took hold, and required Walt to focus more on short films for the soldiers to watch, or if not shorts, package films that could be cut down into their individual segments.

Even after the government's hold on the company faded, and the war came to an end, Walt's finances had already been hit so hard that for the next few years, the only thing he had money to produce was more package films, and it wasn't until 1950 when he finally decided to risk it all on one ambitious project returning to the company's fairy tale roots.

The Three Caballeros:
While not a sequel within Disney's official canon, The Three Caballeros serves as a spiritual successor to Saludos Amigos, sharing in the same brand of culture and thematic ties to its predecessor. In fact, it actually makes said previous film an irrelevant film to watch given how much it improves upon what it did... and yet this movie still only briefly shows off greatness.

For one thing, the film is more consistent in its entertainment value and linking material, though still not always very well. Often possessing a much stronger sense of humor from segments like the penguin moving to tropical weather to the randomness that is the aracuan bird, the film also gets some clever dialogue between the titular caballeros, Donald, the returning Jose, and newcomer Panchito Pistoles. Again, the representation of South American and Latin culture is very lovely to experience, both visually and musically, featuring some entertaining dance sequences, as well as some impressive blending of live-action and animated effects at the time.

Also taking a step up was the animation style. It's some of the craziest, most creative, most colorful, and some of the most rapid of all of Disney's animated films. All of it looks impressive, and carries so much infectious personality. However, the film isn't without its serious stumbles in pace, oddly bouncing between story and story-less. These pacing issues particularly become a problem in the last 20-25 minutes of the film, as the film's charms start to wear thin, and the insanity of the last ten minutes become overbearing, with the film ending on a note I couldn't describe even if I tried.

It's an entertaining piece to be certain, but still not without its distracting issues.

***1/2 / *****

Make Mine Music:
One of the earliest examples I can think of when it comes to an in one ear, out the other Disney movie. While not without its commendable merits, and having some genuinely fun moments and impressive animation, I struggle to really offer up any expansive thoughts on Make Mine Music. The sketches throughout are very inconsistent with their general quality, and usually if one doesn't succeed, it's for such wildly different reasons, whether it be the stunningly animated but musically mismatched Blue Bayou, or the overly cutesy and one note Johnny Fedora. That's if they even have anything to do with "music" in the first place, such as the funny, but out of place Casey at the Bat.

In fact, that's just off the top of my head of ones that I can actually remember, with there being some nicely animated, but simply unmemorable or uninspiring sequences. That said, when the film gets it right, it gets it right. Of the two standouts, Peter and the Wolf's interesting experimentation with individual instruments is lovely stuff, even if Sterling Holloway's narration is a bit distracting. Then you have the highlight, the bittersweet finale featuring the operatic whale. Making fabulous use out of Nelson Eddy's heavenly vocal range, and matching it with creative animation, it also manages to hit the viewer on an emotional level, and serves as a fitting conclusion to the film. I just wish the rest of the movie were as inspired.

**1/2 / *****

Fun and Fancy Free:
Unlike previous package films, Fun and Fancy Free is less a showcase for multiple short films combined to theatrical length, instead focusing on two extended storylines. While it offers up better pace in the grand scheme of things, it's still not without its hitches. The film features small bookends and interjections to live action settings to serve as framing devices for the two stories, which are the least interesting elements of the film as we impatiently wait for the film to get into the real meat of the material. On top of that, is it just me, or does that birthday party with the young girl, ventriloquist, and puppets feel really creepy to watch nowadays?

So when we get to the actual segments, that's when things start improving. First up is Bongo, which is certainly cute and at times, actually quite funny, and features some nice musical accompaniment by Dinah Shore. There's not really too much to say about it considering its simplicity, but simplicity is part of the story's great charm. Then we come to Mickey and the Beanstalk, which turns out to be a very fun, and oddly atmopsheric adventure. The animation is a standout here for the creative and gargantuan giant realm, with everything feeling larger than life and making seemingly minuscule sights and sounds feel imposing, and even earns some tension as the trio of characters pull out any and all stops to outwit and escape from the giant, leading to a thrilling climactic chase. I just wish the narration from the live action characters weren't constantly taking me out of it.

A step up from previous package films, but still a bumpy sit.

***1/2 / *****

And it's here where I'm officially looking forward to the package films being over and done with. Join me April 28th where I'll conclude with the last two, and kick off Disney's Silver Age with Cinderella.

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