“Here, just look at the morning paper. Turn to any page. You’ll find the whole world worryin’ about some future age. But why get so excited? What’s gonna be is gonna be. The end of the world’s been comin’ since 1903. That’s, uh, B.C., of course.” – Jiminy Cricket
Hey, we’re almost there! The Top 25! The best of the best!
But first, we hit the closest thing to the Top 25, film 26. And it happens to be another great package film, Fun and Fancy Free. Fun and Fancy Free is our first introduction to the “Feature Length Shorts” style of package films, and while this may sound contradictory, it is the best way to describe it. Rather than having a collection of 7 minute shorts, the films of Fun and Fancy Free and The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad feature two 30 minute short films. This allows full stories with characters and arcs. In fact, all four of these shorts were once intended to be feature-length before the start of World War II. This is partly why these package films rank among the elite. Their ability to be longer allows for much more development of the characters and the story, and it relies on the strength of two strong, longer shorts rather than 7 to 10 shorter, good film. A good example of quality over quantity.
Fun and Fancy Free is hosted by our old pal Jiminy Cricket as he explores an empty house, beginning with a song reciting his philosophy of being a “Happy Go Lucky Fellow.” He finds a record that gives the story of Bongo the Circus Bear. Wonderfully narrated by singer Dinah Shore, Bongo tells the story of the titular character, and circus bear who longs to live in the wilderness. Once he gets there, he meets a lovely female bear, and must win her from a jealous lover. Jiminy then finds an invitation to a party across the street, which he happily leaves to attend. At the party, ventriloquist Edgar Bergen and his pals Charlie McCarthy and Mortimer Snerd, narrates the story of Jack and the Beanstalk to the party’s subject, a young girl. However, Jack is replaced in the story with Mickey, Goofy, and Donald.
A quick note before we move on: Fun and Fancy Free is the most re-edited films in Disney history. Both shorts made it onto TV in the 1950s and 1960s, though separated and with different narrators. Jiminy narrated Bongo, and Ludwig von Drake (and later our good buddy Sterling Holloway, though it will not become a part of the count.) narrated Mickey and the Beanstalk. We, as implied above, will be looking at the original 1947 version.
Let’s just start from the beginning. I love the use of Jiminy Cricket as a host. Jiminy is one of the greatest characters in Disney history, and this was a start of his rise through the fifties and sixties. A large part of the educational shorts Jiminy that you may have seen can be seen here, but it’s fantastic. “I’m a Happy Go Luck Fellow,” a song originally written for the character in Pinocchio but later cut, is a great song for the character, and for a film that doesn’t truly star him, it’s great that they have the ability to use the character. At the same time, he never takes over the movie or overstays his welcome. I have my list of Wished Were Used More Characters, but Jiminy is not on that list. A great use of a great character.
Onto the actual segments, Bongo is a near perfection. It’s everything a package film short should be. It’s got an interesting and engaging protagonist in Bongo, a great plot and arc for the characters, classic Disney humor and action, and great tunes. The thirty minute runtime of the segment, from beginning to end, are the best moments of the film far and away. I have a smile all the way through.
I’ll elaborate on the character of Bongo a bit. One of those Disney characters without a voice, he is a great example of the brilliant animation of silent characters in Disney. Bongo is extremely expressive, extremely emotional, and extremely likable. Paired with the fantastic storybook-like narration of Dinah Shore, Bongo becomes a very memorable character. It also helps that the rest of the characters in the short are just as expressive and allow themselves to play off of Bongo well.
On a last note on the Bongo segment, I also really like the plot structure for the short. Of the four films in the “Feature Length Shorts” films, there are two films I would have loved to see expanded in the features, and two that in my mind works better as a short. Bongo is one of those shorts I prefer in my mind as a short. Though Bongo could have worked as the Dumbo sequel/spinoff it was intended to be, the plot structure, again brilliantly accompanied by Dinah Shore’s narration, works very well without the Dumbo characters and as a thirty minutes story.
All this talk about the Brilliance of Bongo may make it seem like I’m short-changing Mickey and the Beanstalk, I’m certainly not trying to. While it is the weaker of the two segments, it still has plenty of good moments. It’s always great to see Mickey, Donald, and Goofy together on-screen, Willie the Giant is first introduced to us here and is a great comedic villain, and the setting is gorgeous, but with the Mickey Mouse style design that separates it from the other beautiful Disney scenery.
As we approach the Top 25, it is imperative that I once again state that it’s getting harder and harder to find true weaknesses in these films. Compared to some of the films lower on this list, the films we are encountering here on up all have relatively minor weaknesses.
I’ll start by mentioning that Bongo has one very minor issue. Some of the segments, including the love song and Bongo’s first night in the woods, can seem like they go maybe 15 to 30 seconds too long. It never becomes crippling, and in my estimation, these segments end right before they become to long. This is very minor, though.
Mickey and the Beanstalk has a bit more issues with it. While the personalities of our three stars are there, I really feel that there needed to be more of their personalities out there in the film. I want more of Goofy’s clumsiness, Donald’s anger, and Mickey’s kindness and leadership with a bit of mischievousness son the side. All of these are present in the film, but there needs to be a bit more of it. That’s why I feel this short would have made a great feature film. The fact that the personalities are there and great is great, but the film and the character would have been a classic, in my opinion, had it been extended.
Finally, while I like Edgar Bergen and most of his narration is great, I feel there are the occasional times he takes over the spotlight. There are times that Edgar gets into his comedy bits with Charlie and Mortimer, and while these are funny and entertaining, they tend to go on for a while, taking away from sharing the story of Mickey and the Beanstalk, the task at hand. I know this was a potential way for Edgar to share his work, but Mickey and the Beanstalk should remain the focus of the segment.
BEST MOMENT AND SONG
Both of our winners today come from Bongo, and we’ll start with the song. While the love song in Bongo is great, I really like “Bears Like to Say it with a Slap.” It’s in the classic bear humor of Disney (Yes, Disney has classic Bear humor throughout its history) and it is a very catchy tune.
The best moment is the scene right after that, the fight for the girl that makes up the final five minutes of Bongo. Great stuff all around in every aspect.
I can’t get over how strong the Disney canon is, and the fact that Fun and Fancy Free just barely misses the Top 25 is a real shame. This is the first package film that truly does things right, featuring one exceptional segment and one very good segment. And it only goes up from here, as we have two more package films to go. And the Top 25 too, I guess.