Ranking the Disney Canon – 26: Fun and Fancy Free

“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.

STRENGTHS

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.

WEAKNESSES

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.

CLOSING COMMENTS

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.

Advertisements

4 thoughts on “Ranking the Disney Canon – 26: Fun and Fancy Free

  1. I sort of figured that “Fun and Fancy Free” would be #26. When I looked at the remaining films it was one of two that I felt arguably shouldn’t make the top 25. I am still glad it got as high as it did, because people don’t know enough about the package films and they really are brilliant works.

    I’m very glad you have the cinematic tastes to appropriately rank these. It has been very enjoyable predicting the next film and I am very pleased that my top 10 are all still in the running (as are 21 of my top 25). Keep it up!

    • Thanks for the positive response! I’m glad you are interested in the blog!

      I’m kind of curious as to your Top 10 prediction, The 4 films that missed the Top 25 in your list, and the one film that you think doesn’t deserve Top 25 status. Would you mind sharing?

      • Gladly I’ll share:

        The three (I know I said four, but I looked at my list and I guesstimated wrongly) that made my top 25 that you have listed were: “The Hunchback of Notre Dame”, “Saludos Amigos”, and “the Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh”. “Hunchback” and “Saludos Amigos” were within the 20-25 range, but “Many Adventures” was my #12. I shall defiantly be re-watching it soon to see if I concur with your opinion that the sketches don’t mesh.

        As for the films that conversely did not make my top 25 that clearly have made yours: “Fantasia 2000”, “The Sword in the Stone”, and “Lilo and Stitch.” “Lilo and Stitch” is the one I felt most strongly should not have made the 25. It is ranked as my 33 and a recent re-watch made me like it only slightly better. I look forward to seeing it ranked with your opinion.

        Finally, my top 10. I feel slightly confident most of these will be top 15, but some of your rankings catch me off guard.
        10. Peter Pan
        9. The Jungle Book
        8. The Lion King
        7. Cinderella
        6. Pinocchio
        5. Bambi
        4. Beauty and the Beast
        3. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
        2. Sleeping Beauty
        1. Fantasia

        Films I would totally be unfazed by if you put them in the top ten: Dumbo, One Hundred and One Dalmatians, The Rescuers, Aladdin. Upset: The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad!

        I’m probably killing my prediction streak by posting this, but I’m currently anticipating seeing “Lilo and Stitch”, “The Three Caballeros”, “The Sword in the Stone”, “Fantasia 2000”, and either “Mulan” or “Tarzan” as the next five to go.

        Sorry for the long post. I’m a Disney nut as well, so I too have given thought to what makes a Disney film work.

  2. This is one of those package short films that I watched often as a kid, and not just because one of those shorts features the famous trio: Mickey, Donald & Goofy. As a whole, I feel both of these segments would make for great singles films, each for a different reason than the other, in ways because of how fun the shorts are. Rather than seeing the story of ‘Bongo’ as a Dumbo spinoff, I feel it does fine as a fish-out-of-water story and while the length of the short is fine as it is this is that kind of story that has me rooting for the silent character to find his place in the world in addition to fighting for his true love. While so much could’ve been done to make ‘Mickey and the Beanstalk’ more satisfying, with an extended length and all, there have been talks of yet another ‘Jack and the Beanstalk’ movie for the Animated Classics list that won’t be out for another couple years. It may not be the story you hoped for with Mickey & his pals, but should the rumors be true then I for one will at least be willing to give it a chance.

    In addition for what these shorts could offer, I was satisfied from start to finish. The music is catchy with Jiminy’s solo being among one of my favorites. And while I would agree that Edgar Burgen takes up a majority of his appearance while narrating the ‘Beanstalk’ story, I see this film as a way of introducing a class act like Burgen featuring his famous ventriloquist dummies. So all and all, I find this one of my favorite package films on the Disney list because while it may not impact on storytelling as full-length movies they provide enough to prove why these movies are ‘Fun & Fancy Free’.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s