Make Mine Music (1946)
Directed by Jack Kinney et al (supervisors)
Much like Fantasia before it, this is a collection of shorter animated segments, each inspired by and incorporating a piece of music. This time around, the theme was the popular music of the day instead of classical works (with a couple of exceptions), featuring the vocal talents of artists such as Nelson Eddy, Dinah Shore and the Andrews Sisters, as well as two swing numbers from the Benny Goodman Orchestra.
Back when Fantasia had first been conceived, Walt Disney had the idea of rereleasing it every couple of years with new segments taking the place of older ones. With all of the troubles the studio suffered due to World War II, he was never able to enact that plan. There was still a bunch of left over concept art and one half-finished segment, however, and the two Latin American package films made with the US government’s backing had pretty much been the only bright spots on the ledger for several years. So Disney put a de facto Fantasia sequel into production, this time centered around more popular music, with shorter segments.
In my Fantasia review, I called the movie a mixed bag, and recommended that readers check out all of the segments, but not necessarily all at the same time, as together the whole movie dragged quite a bit. For Make Mine Music, I’m going to make the same recommendation, with an additional caveat: check out all of the segments, but only if you are in need of some sleep aids.
There are nine segments in this movie (more on this in a minute), and a good half of them are boring as hell. “Blue Bayou”, “Without You” and “Two Silhouettes” are all pretty much wasted time. The former two are both songs set to nature animation. “Blue Bayou” was the segment that was originally intended to be in Fantasia, albeit with the more appropriate accompaniment of Clair de Lune. It’s pretty to look at, but doesn’t have much in the way of energy, and placed here at the beginning of the movie it’s kind of an immediate momentum killer.
Of course, it wasn’t originally like that. When first released, there were actually ten segments in Make Mine Music. It opened with a cartoonish take on the Hatfield & McCoy feud called “The Martins and the Coys.” However, it was actually really violent for the time, with over a dozen family members getting shot and killed over the course of the short, and it’s been removed from all US home video and DVD releases. That leaves “Blue Bayou” as the opener instead of being a change of pace palate cleanser, and the consequences are dire.
“Without You” is, as far as I can tell, a love ballad set to shots of the same tree going through different seasons. I couldn’t really make any connection between the images and the music for this one. And “Two Silhouettes” is literally just that: two silhouettes of live action dancers moving on an animated background. So far, that’s a third of the shorts down (40% if you include “The Martins and the Coys”) without anything of substance actually HAPPENING in the movie. That’s not a good average.
So, then, what about the other six shorts? Well, they’re quite a mixed bag. None of them are really bad, per se, though some are more forgettable than others. The two Benny Goodman pieces (“All the Cats Join In” and “After You’re Gone”) and “Johnny Fedora and Alice Blue Bonnet” are mildly interesting shorts, of the type that you might find in front of a Pixar movie – albeit without Pixar’s usual inventiveness in that genre. They’re pleasant enough, but nothing that gives me any sort of lasting impression.
There’s really only three shorts, then, that stand out to me in any way in this collection. Batting first in the order is, ahem, “Casey at the Bat.” Less an actual musical number than a dramatic recitation with some musical accompaniment, this short, for anyone unfamiliar with the poem, dramatizes the bottom of the ninth inning in a late 1800s baseball game, as hometown slugger Casey comes up to bat. It ends in tragedy, however, as Casey strikes out, and the home team loses. The animation that accompanies the poem plays up the already comedic tone of the verses with some zany in-game action, such as a player using his long mustache to touch the base safely. However, Casey himself is portrayed as an arrogant, womanizing asshole, who ends up costing his team the game due to his hubris. The final shot of the short, of Casey trying over and over to hit a tossed ball in the rain after everyone else had gone home, is supposed to be tragic. It’s memorable, all right, but I had a hard time finding any sympathy for him.
Next up is a dramatization of Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf, the only full piece of classical music in the movie. It also happens to be, far and away, the best short of the bunch. The original piece of music is inherently cinematic, as it was designed to teach children about the orchestra by having each character be “played” by a different instrument, with their own distinct themes. Here it translates wonderfully to the screen, with lively animation and characters with loads of personality, especially Sasha, the tiny bird wearing a kubanka that deliberately picks a fight with the wolf. Speaking of, the wolf here is one of the scariest creatures that’s yet appeared in a Disney movie. He’s a real, immediate threat, and seems more a force of nature than a wild animal.
Finally, we come to the final segment, and indeed the final segment of the movie as a whole, “The Whale That Wanted to Sing at the Met.” It’s the tale of an opera-singing sperm whale named Willie, and his quest to become an actual opera singer. Meanwhile, the opera impresario Tetti-Tatti has decided that Willie has actually swallowed an opera singer, Monstro-style, and sets out to “rescue” him. The short is most notably impressive for the fact that every single character, including all the singing (which ranges from “Shortnin’ Bread” to The Barber of Seville) was performed by a single person, Hollywood actor and trained opera singer Nelson Eddy. The short has some fun showing what it might actually be like to have a hundred ton whale singing on stage, with him towering over the audience dressed like Pagliacci.
However, the short ends on an extremely dark note. It’s revealed that all of the sequences of Willie’s fame have been a dream, as Tetti-Tatti harpoons and kills Willie, and is then dragged down to drown like Ahab. Despite the movie’s assurances that Willie is singing in heaven, it’s nevertheless an extremely disturbing and violent way to end both the short and the movie. I really don’t know what they were thinking having this sort of tragic finale for a movie aimed at children (though it’s certainly in keeping with the operatic theme of the short itself). It leaves a bad taste in my mouth on the way out, and might induce younger viewers into tears.
So yeah, overall I think this is rivalling Saludos Amigos for the worst film I’ve watched so far on this project. Only about a third of the running time is worth the price of admission, and only one of the 9/10 shorts is a real home run. I’d say watch the good ones online if you can, and skip the rest.
Animation: C+ (Most of the shorts are decent enough to look at, but were clearly shot on an animated short budget and not a feature one. And what the heck was up with “Two Silhouettes”?)
Main characters: C (If I was judging this just on the three good shorts, it would be much higher. But I have to include the whole thing)
Supporting characters: C (See above)
Villains: C+ (I’m bumping this above the last two a bit for the wolf from “Peter and the Wolf”)
Music: C+ (Again, the music in the “good” shorts and the rest of the music sort of cancel each other out)