After the trash-fire that was Fun and Fancy Free, hopes were not high for this penultimate entry in Disney’s decade of package movies. To be honest, when I realised it was this and not Ichabod and Mr Toad I sighed a fair bit. Then again, Melody Time is the last new film I am going to see for this Disney challenge for a good long time (31 films in fact), so that’s something to consider.
I don’t know whether this is because of me coming in with lower expectations or because of reality, but Melody Time might just have ended up being my favourite of the package films (apart from Fantasia, but I don’t really count that) of this era. I think what really helps is that they really leaned into the idea of being a contemporary Fantasia but one where they’ve gotten the story-telling down pat and have learned how to edit.
They also found the sense of humour that was inconsistent in their other attempt at a contemporary Fantasia: Make Mine Music. Over the course of seven segments we see a variety of animation types including some beautiful pieces of nature in ‘Trees’ and scenes in two segments where they’ve finally gotten the hang of integrating animated characters into a live action setting.
The moment I realised that this might be the best package film was during the second segment: ‘Bumble Boogie’. This is one of the shorter parts and it depicts a bee fighting a weird and surreal battle against the elements of music – set to a jazzy improvisation of Flight of the Bumblebee. It was so good to see the Disney animators being so creative again on their own terms, in a sequence that reminded me of the pink elephants of Dumbo.
If there was one criticism to be levied at Melody Time it would be that it is so much of it’s time in terms of societal norms. For example, it was jarring to have Native Americans dancing around with the white settlers at the conclusion of the ‘Johnny Appleseed’ segment. Then again, this isn’t at the level of casual racism that I’m going to be seeing in Peter Pan – so I’ll save any further discussion until then.
I’m getting so close to Cinderella that I can almost taste the pumpkin coach. Just one more package film to go and then I’ll never have to see one again… until Fantasia 2000 that is.