Welcome to Revisiting Disney! Today, we’re looking at the first of the anthology movies that were made after World War II, Make Mine Music! Because the next few films are collections of shorts, the format is a little different (I’ve moved the Plot and Source Material to the Animation section, similar to Fantasia).
Of course, I have labeled each category so if you want to skip to the parts that interest you most, feel free. And, of course, if you have any thoughts, burning or otherwise, please share in the comments!
Make Mine Music, like many of the compilation/package/anthology films, seem to have been largely ignored in the animation histories. This may be because they were created at a time when the studio couldn’t actually afford to make a full length feature. Because of this, they can be seen as an embarrassing reminder of that less than grand time in the Studio’s history. Historian Christopher Finch says that “a true animated feature would have taken too long to make and would have eaten up too much of the reserves at this point, so other solutions had to be found” (Finch 1975: 115).
This is the first of the post-War films that Disney made, around the same time as Song of the South. Make Mine Music, in particular, is just a lot of fun. It reminded me of Fantasia, but a Fantasia that takes itself less seriously. It premiered on August 15th, 1946, a year after the end of the War in the Pacific.
Make Mine Music is made up of segments and uses mostly modern musical pieces. The film itself is what animation historian Bob Thomas called “a pop-music vaudeville show” (Thomas 1992:99). The music for each segment was performed by a different star of the day, The Andrews Sisters, Nelson Eddy, Jerry Colonna, Benny Goodman, Dinah Shore and narration by Sterling Holloway in the “Peter and the Wolf” segment.
For “The Whale Who Wanted to Sing at the Met,” all of the parts were sung by Nelson Eddy. Not only can the whale sing a trio with himself, Eddy performed all the parts using his home recording equipment and creating a layered sound; this short reminded me of the artist Owl City and their vocal layering. I don’t know much about music history, particularly things like this, but this seems to be fairly ahead of its time. I could be wrong, and anyone with more information, please let me know! I did some hunting (but was unable to find anything conclusive).
The way Make Mine Music is set up, with music and segments, reminds me of Fantasia. The major difference is that Make Mine Music uses music with lyrics. The use of popular music made it more popular at the time of its release, and I’m sure that the shorter run time helped boost its popularity as well. The film opens like you are at a theater with the title as the marquee. The credits are designed to look like the posters hanging up in front, and a program is used in both the opening and to assist in the transitions.
Unfortunately, photos were a bit tricky to track down for this one. Sorry guys! Bob Thomas mentions that, other than “Peter and the Wolf,” Disney felt that the animation was less challenging to the animators (Thomas 1992:99). Looking at the wide variety of styles, however, I think that despite that it was good practice for the animators and it looks like they had a great time making it.
IMDB tells me that the runtime of Make Mine Music is 75 minutes, while my DVD says it’s 67 minutes long. Trying to figure this out, I learned that between the August 1946 original release and the DVD release in the early 2000s, a segment was removed, “The Martins and the Coys.” I was unable to find it in English, but it is available on YouTube in several other languages. It appears to be based on the Hatfields and the McCoys, and according to the IMDB it was removed because of the gunplay. This probably wasn’t helped by the fact that a large portion of characters die within the first three minutes and it ends with a newly married couple beating each other up. The music is still fun (it’s performed by the Kingston Singers) and the animation is typical Disney.
“A Tone Poem-Blue Bayou”
Sung by the Ken Darby Chorus, this piece reminds me a lot of Bambi. It’s very focused on the nature of the bayou and making things look as realistic as possible. While watching, I believe the landscape, and though there are few animals, they are also realistic looking. The animation was recycled from a deleted sequence in Fantasia, “Clair de Lune,” but the animation and the song still fit together. It’s a lovely, soothing piece that doesn’t drag on too long. The animators clearly did their homework, and I’m glad that they were able to use this piece.
“A Jazz Interlude-All the Cats Join In”
This piece is performed by Benny Goodman and his Orchestra and I first want to express my sadness that actual cats were not used. The animation opens with a cat, who is then erased and replaced with a bobby-soxer (to the dismay of both myself and the cat). This is a unique piece in that there is a pencil that travels along through the scene, both erasing and expanding details. The main focus is a series of young people going dancing at the malt shop. There are a few incidences of almost nudity in the scene where the girl is getting ready to go out (I heard somewhere that Disney actually made some edits to maintain the modern low rating). The other thing that I found interesting is that during the scene at the dance, a girl is drawn for one of the boys, but the animator gives her a larger rear than he prefers, so he is annoyed (as is she, until the pencil makes everything better). I found it an interesting commentary about standards of beauty in the late 1940s/early 1950s.
“A Ballad in Blue-Without You”
Sung by Andy Russell, this piece is a bit more surreal to me. It tells the story of a love who has gone away and begins by showing a dark room with a window. It is raining, and the piece looks outside before turning to various scenes of nature in bright colors, with water or stars being a major motif seen. At the end, we see that it was a sunset and the scene closes back in the room, with a solitary star peering in the window. It’s a tear-jerker, even if there is no technical story, the animation and Russell’s crooning gives you the feeling of sadness and reminds you of those you love that may not be round anymore.
“A Musical Recitation-Casey at the Bat”
Jerry Colonna performs this next piece. The animation sharp, clean and fun; the characters unique and the story is hilarious. I found myself chuckling quite a bit. The characters are just as memorable as you would expect to see in a Disney film, and the ending was, while bittersweet, very satisfying (at least to me). This film also shows how well Disney does rain; it really looks real.
“Ballade Ballet-Two Silhouettes”
This short is a ballet that uses Tania Riabouchinska and David Lichine as the models and features Dinah Shore as the singer. The two dance, and their silhouettes are animated to Dinah Shore’s song. As they dance through a series of magical landscapes, the colors change as well. This is another piece that seems surreal, but is gorgeous music paired with stunning animation.
“A Fairy Tale with Music-Peter and the Wolf”
I have always loved “Peter and the Wolf,” it’s one of the pieces that inspired me to play the French Horn. This particular adaptation has Sterling Holloway (the voice of Winnie the Pooh and Kaa from the Jungle Book) narrating. Composed by Russian Serge Prokofieff, the short pays homage to its Russian origins with the hunters, the costumes of the characters and the dancing at the end. The animation is bright, with just the right level of scary. It’s really a wonderful piece (and, honestly, the reason I wanted to own this particular DVD in the first place). It was also originally going to be part of Fantasia, but was cut because it is narrated (and the film was long enough already). A final thing I want to point out about this piece is the part where the duck faints. She may bend in a way that ducks typically do not, but it’s a really cool piece of animation.
“After You’ve Gone”
Performed by the Goodman Quartet, this is another jazzy number. Instead of teenagers dancing, however, this follows a little clarinet and his musical instrument friends as they journey through a land filled with piano bridges, giant drums and jazzy colors. It’s a fun little segment. There are no words, but the instrument characters are still really fun to watch. At one point the piano discovers he can fly; and it was fun to see the animators make the parts of the actual instruments their arms and legs. Although a very short segment, it’s still a ton of fun.
“A Love Story-Johnnie Fedora and Alice Bluebonnet”
Sung by the Andrews Sisters, this story was so lyrical and well animated that I found myself feeling sorry for two separated hats. I know, they’re hats, but I wanted them to have a happy ending. Johnnie and Alice meet in the department store and fall in love, but when Alice is sold, Johnnie goes into a decline. When he is finally bought, he is determined to find her again. After a series of misadventures, the happy pair are reunited at last, proving that, like the song says, true love wins in the end.
“Opera Pathetique-The Whale Who Wanted to Sing at the Met”
This piece opens by introducing Nelson Eddy, who did every voice for the short. The piece opens with a bang; wind and lightening and the “Ride of the Valkyrie;” before showing newspaper headlines about a operatic whale. The scientific community is divided on whether it was possible or not for a whale to sing opera, and Tetti-Tatti, an opera professional, determines that the whale has swallowed an opera singer. He finds a boat and a crew, and sets out to find Willie the Whale, harpoon him and save the singer. Sadly for Willie, he and his friends don’t know about the harpoon and are excited to share Willie’s talent. This sequence has wonderful opera music and a great dream sequence of Willie singing at the Met before the tragic ending.
Since the other two compilation films, or package films, had done so well (Saludos Amigos and The Three Caballeros were popular in their day), this showed the Studio a way to continue making quality product with limited resources and limited manpower. The strike and the War had taken a toll on the Studio. Adrian Bailey points out that these films, plus the live action/animation hybrid The Song of the South, were more like “mere stepping stones” to Cinderella (Bailey 1982: 179).
Bob Thomas calls the films from this era “the anthology features” and says that “the company was deeply in debt. Unable to finance a new feature like Snow White or Pinocchio, Disney launched a series of economical films that brought little glory but much needed income to the studio” (Thomas 1992:99). Basically, Disney was trying to make money to keep afloat and the result is a series of films that, from what I have seen so far, seem to be seriously underrated.
The sequence “All the Cats Join In” shows the bobby-soxer lifestyle has begun. This is a trend and standard of beauty that we will see in the films of the 1950s as well. I also love the wide variety of popular music; whimsical, jazzy and sad. This makes me think that there was a wide variety of emotion at play during this time period as well. Logically, this tracks, since we were in a time of turmoil, following the end of the War.
According to John Dower in his War Without Mercy: Race and Power in the Pacific War, the two sides in the War kept learning newer and more effective ways to kill each other. The atomic bomb was the next logical step; one was dropped on the Japanese city of Hiroshima on August 6th, 1945 and a second was dropped on the city of Nagasaki on the 9th.
Although the Japanese had mentioned their intention to surrender, it was not until the 15th that a cease-fire was reached. Before the official peace treaty could be ironed out, however, many US servicemen who were prisoners of the Japanese were executed, and the United States carried out a bomb raid on Tokyo on the 14th (Dower 1986: 298-9).
This new horror of war is part of the reason that, to me at least, a film that used popular music and had a mixture of uplifting and melancholy pieces was a popular one. For every unjustly killed whale, there is a Peter who triumphs over the Wolf, and a pair of hats, like Johnnie Fedora and Alice Bluebonnet, who live happily ever after.
One lesson I learned was don’t get cocky. In “Casey at the Bat,” Casey thought he could do no wrong, and he struck out. He didn’t even try the first two times, thinking he could win anytime. The same thing happens in “Peter and the Wolf;” Sasha the Bird gets over confident and, were it not for the quick thinking of his friends, would have been eaten.
I also learned the danger of celebrity from “Casey at the Bat.” The angry baseball fans were ready to kill the umpire because they disagreed with his calls toward Casey and only Casey was able to stop them. Do we give our celebrities (theater, film or athlete) too much power, the power to incite or calm a mob? I don’t know, but “Casey at the Bat” showed me that it is possible, and reminded me that baseball is only a game (I know, that’s crazy talk).
“Peter and the Wolf” can teach the importance of being brave, even if it means you’re breaking the rules or doing things in an unorthodox way. Everyone has a wolf to fight, and sometimes those wolves are scary (and try to kill you and your friends). With hard work, determination and a bit of help from your friends, you can triumph.
From “Johnnie Fedora and Alice Bluebonnet,” I learned that true love always wins. Even if you are separated and it seems that there is no hope, there is. True love always wins in the end.
From “The Whale Who Wanted to Sing at the Met,” the lesson seems to be that sometimes there are things that we cannot be explained, like a whale who can not only sing opera but sing three parts at once. Things we can’t explain are not things that we should fear, but things that should be embraced. As the film says, people aren’t used to miracles. I think the take away from this piece is that we should be. Miracles shouldn’t be assumed, but accepted when they do appear.
DOES IT HOLD UP?
When I started this series, I was not looking forward to the1940s films; I saw them as the hurdle I had to jump over to get from Bambi to Cinderella. Now that I’ve started to watch these films, however, I am really enjoying them all. In this one particularly, the stories are clever, the animation is beautiful and the music is great.
As beautiful as it is to watch, it’s also fun to just listen to. At 67 minutes long, it’s a wonderful way to spend an evening. This is a film combining beautiful Disney animation and popular music (with some classical pieces thrown in there). It really is a diamond in the rough.
For next week: Fun and Fancy Free
If you enjoyed this post and the others in the Revisiting Disney series, and have found yourself wishing that you could find them all in one convenient and bound book with eight extra essays, there is an option for you! Check out A Journey Through Disney: My Look Back Through Disney Canon, now available on Amazon as both a Kindle book ($4.99) and a paperback ($11.99).
Bailey, Adrian. Walt Disney’s World of Fantasy. Everest House Publishers. New York, New York. 1982.
Dower, John W. War Without Mercy: Race and Power in the Pacific War. Pantheon Books. New York, New York. 1986.
Finch, Christopher. The Art of Walt Disney: From Mickey Mouse to the Magic Kingdom. Harry N. Abrams, Inc. New York, New York. 1975.
Sale, Roger. Fairy Tales and After: From Snow White to E.B. White. Harvard University Press. Cambridge, MA, 1978.
Tatar, Maria. The Annotated Classic Fairy Tales. W.W. Norton and Company. New York and London, 2002.
Thomas, Bob. Disney’s Art of Animation From Mickey Mouse to Hercules. Hyperion. New York, New York. 1992.
Wright, Gordon. The Ordeal of Total War: 1939-1945. Harper Torchbooks, Harper & Row. New York, Hagerstown, San Francisco, and London, 1968.Pin this article to read later! And make sure to follow us on Pinterest.