Ranking the Disney Canon – 43: Melody Time

“Well, any story about old Pecos is bound to be right strong medicine, so maybe it’s best to sashay into it kinda gentle-like.” – Master of Ceremonies

Hey, we’re at our first package film! It would be a wise choice to explain what exactly a package film is, so that there is not a ton of confusion surrounding it.

A package film is a film in which a collection of shorts are “packaged” together into a single, feature-length production. The films are loosely connected together, or sometimes not even connected at all. In Disney history, there are six films that are classified as Package Films, and each can be paired together in sets of two. There are the “South America” films (Saludos Amigos and The Three Caballeros), the “Fantasia Cousins” films (Make Mine Music and Melody Time), and the “Feature-Length Shorts” films (Fun and Fancy Free and The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad). These films were made during World War 2 in order to save money and resources while animators and resources were out helping the fight in Europe.

Melody Time, as mentioned above, is a “Fantasia Cousin,” meaning that the film features segments that are set to music. In contrast to Fantasia, which features classical music, Melody Time features contemporary and lyrical music. In Melody Time, the segments are loosely connected by minute long introductions.

Melody Time consists of 7 segments, which are “Once Upon a Wintertime,” which deals with a couple of budding relationships during an ice skating session, “Bumble Boogie” a jazz remix of Flight of the Bumblebee, “The Legend of Johnny Appleseed,” a retelling of the classic folktale, “Little Toot,” the story of a little tugboat trying to prove himself worthy, “Trees,” a recitation of the poem of the same name, “Blame It on the Samba” a Latin America inspired number starring Three Caballeros co-stars Donald Duck and Jose Carioca, and “Pecos Bill,” the tale of the greatest cowboy to ever live.

STRENGTHS

Melody Time has 2 very strong segments and 1 good segment. Let’s start with the good segment. “Little Toot” is entertaining, and the singers, credited to The Andrews Sister, do an excellent job, and give the storm sequence in the middle an almost hypnotic feel that really works, The reason that the segment is only good in my eyes is that the ending is a little quick and a little weak, and isn’t as fulfilling to Little Toot’s character as it could be.

The final two segments of Melody Time are very strong, and reasons enough to at least check out the film. Blame It on the Samba is a perfect extension of the South America films, and is a classic mix of great character animation and wild and crazy transitions and sets, as well as having a dash of fun live action. It also features two of Disney’s underused characters, Jose Carioca and The Aracuan Bird, in some of their best form. The song is catchy, and if you find yourself shaking along, you can truly Blame It on the Samba.

The highlight segment, though, is Pecos Bill. Narrated and sung by a group of Cowboys, lead by the famous Roy Rodgers, Pecos Bill is the film’s longest segment, and is everything that is great about a package film short. It has great character designs, great humor, engaging characters, fantastic animation, and great music. The segment does a very good job at presenting the legend of Pecos Bill and building that legend in a way that only animation can do, and building Pecos as a fun character, so much so that we actually care about the character when he meets Slue-Foot Sue. All of this in 20 mintues. A true credit needs to go to the filmmakers for pulling this off. Excellent work.

WEAKNESSES

The major problem with this film, and unique to this package film in particular, is that the film starts off with bad pacing. In a film where there is not a singular story with characters to follow through the entire film, it is important to start off strong so that the audience keeps interest. Melody Time is the only package film that fails to do this. In fact, it starts off with two slow segments and one that goes by so fast that it ends before it starts to get interesting.

It’s not that the segments are bad. None of the segments in Melody Time are unwatchable or bad. However, I feel that they are placed in an order that doesn’t allow the audience to get engaged with the material. Once Upon a Wintertime, even with it’s drama, goes off at a leisurely pace. After the “awesomely animated segment that happens so quickly you forget it is there” segment, also known as Bumble Boogie, Johnny Appleseed, while featuring the beautiful artwork of Mary Blair (more on her later in the list), is also a very slow segment. by the time Little Toot comes along, there is the potential for the audience to be bored. And even Little Toot, being an OK segment, may not help matters.

In my opinion, the fact that the two strongest and the two most entertaining segments are the final two is a big mistake. Blame it on the Samba should have been moved up in the order, with one of the slower segments after it. Even if Little Toot would have moved to the fist spot, it would have vastly improved the overall feeling of the film. It would have been much better if the slower segments were in the middle, after interest had been established, since interest can remain, and even if it slowed down, the audience’s intrigue is enough where they won’t be completely bored.

BEST MOMENT AND SONG

With the strongest segment being Pecos Bill, no doubt the strongest moment of the film comes from this western themed story. In particular, the segment where the audience is given all the legends of Pecos Bill through song is fantastic. It’s undoubtedly the funniest section of the film, in my opinion.

(This song in this particular segment is a major part of Disney history as well, as it was featured in the legendary Golden Horseshoe Saloon show that starred Wally Boag at Disneyland)

As much as I love the country flavored sounds of Pecos Bill, my favorite song in the film is Blame it on the Samba. As you will see later in this countdown, I love the combination of Disney and South America.

CLOSING COMMENTS

Blame It on the Samba and Pecos Bill give this film so much strength to put it up to 43. The fact that it takes 5 segments to get to these 2 is a very huge issue. Melody Time has a load of good segments, but the film progresses too slowly, especially in comparison to the other package films. Melody Time has a ton of Sweet Melody, but needed a sweeter structure.

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One thought on “Ranking the Disney Canon – 43: Melody Time

  1. I’m not usually a fan of “package” movies, as most of these films are just a pile of already made shorts packed into one feature length feature (Then again, considering the period this and other films were released in, I can understand why). In my opinion, the “Blame It on the Samba” and “Pecos Bill” segments would’ve had the potential to grow from mere short films into feature-length films that would otherwise have gained a huge following, if given the time to expand on the stories, add a few twists in between, and what-not. And while I can honestly say the segments are decent, with decent orchestration and animation, had the pace been slightly faster and had better structure in-between I’m certain it be just as enjoyable. Then again, if it were any faster, they’d have to cut out certain parts and with editing that involves cutting out certain scenes, that’s always a double-edged sword. But still, when films like this has an audience they can expect some great melody from a movie that truly lets us know that it’s “Melody Time” (Though it also sounds more like an afterschool special on kids networks to me).

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