Friday, November 10, 2017

Make Mine Music (1946)

Directors: Jack Kinney, Clyde Geronimi, Hamilton Luske, Joshua Meador, Robert Cormack

With the end of World War II Walt Disney Studios begins the recovery process from the loss of artists, monetary means, and the practice of higher quality storytelling with a handful of package feature films. The first would be Make Mine Music, a collection of original short subjects tied together with the theme of being told with music. The feature proves to be one Disney’s most forgotten works, with only a few short subjects finding any kind of life afterwards, separated from the collective film.

Make Mine Music is a package animated feature film with a collection of musically driven short subjects featuring comedic and artistic pieces, with music performed by notable stars of the day. The shorts feature both known works and newly formed works as each individual number tells a tale or love, beauty, or just comedy. Among the tales featured are: an amusing of a Hatfeld-McCoy style feud with a bit of Romeo and Juliet mix in with a twist ending, a stylized look at teens swinging in to the local malt shop played to the music of Benny Goodman’s band, a few artistic or abstract pieces that feature music of love or beauty, and a tale of two hats in love sung by The Andrew Sisters. The most memorable pieces include a comedic telling of “Casey at the Bat” by Jerry Colonna, a visualized adaptation of “Peter and the Wolf” based on the 1936 music and narrated by Sterling Holloway, and the finale, “The Whale Who Wanted to Sing at the Met,” about the most unlikely gifted creature ever to be discovered.

The film is a fine combination of short subjects that are of good quality, but would fail to impress audiences looking for the standards set by Walt Disney features a decade prior. With a couple of strong segments with its share of easily forgettable ones, the film fails as a collective feature when compared to the overall body of Walt Disney animated features as it lacks the timelessness and repeat enjoyability other Disney films have.

No major Hollywood studio was effected by World War II like Walt Disney Studios. Outside of producing military training films and propaganda shorts on shoestring government budgets, Disney animators leaving the studio, and the loss of income from Disney had lived off shorts about Mickey, Donald, and Goofy line of picture.  In order to keep his studio in practice all Disney could do was commission relatively low cost subjects that played to the audience looking for simple cartoon fun, with only a hint of the extremely high standards Walt kept for his products. With only a loose theme of music Make Mine Music caters to the simple joys of cartoon comedy with select, short artful subjects mixed in. Unlike the Fantasia of only a few years prior, this arrangement of shorts appears hastily pasted together with a minimal budget, unlike the theater experience Fantasia was supposed to be. However, Fantasia was a box office failure. Disney was not making that mistake again.

Here with Make Mine Music, Disney was looking for a simple way to make some money, appealing to the audiences that still looked to Disney’s unique take on animation that stood above all other studios. The feature was low class for Disney standards, but was meant to be a place holder while the studio rediscovered its footing in the period following the war before investing in larger, more timeless features seen in the days of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and Pinocchio.

While the segments “Blue Bayou,” “Two Silhouettes,”and “After You’ve Gone” have hints of low budget Fantasia qualities to it, these portions fall rather flat with audiences. “Blue Bayou” in fact was left over animation for a Fantasia segment featuring the music Clair de Lune that was dropped, and replaced by the song that shares its title with in this segment. These more impressionistic pieces would be far overshadowed by the more brightly colored and story based shorts that accompany them, most notably “Casey at the Bat” and “Peter and the Wolf.”

To aid in the film’s appeal Disney utilized some namely musical figures. With the talents of The King’s Man, The Andrews Sisters, the Ken Darby Singers, Benny Goodman’s band, Dinah Shore, and singer/actor Nelson Eddy, the film features a wide array of established talents with varying styles. “Casey at the Bat,” the most non-musical subject features character actor and familiar Disney voice talent Jerry Colonna to voice the famed Ernest Thayer poem. favored voice performer Sterling Holloway narrates the tale of “Peter and the Wolf,” the 1936 Sergei Prokofiev composition that used instruments to portray characters. Nelson Eddy’s work on “The Whale Who Wanted to Sing at the Met” would prove to be the most work for any performer in the feature as he sang, narrated, and voiced every character in the short to manifest his range in talents.

Make Mine Music would do what the studio intended it to do, turning a good profit, but tended to not see re releases, a favored Disney tick to continue to bank on their work. We also so a hint of the Disney Company’s self-censorship in the history of the picture as in video releases see the segment “The Martins and the Coys” removed for its careless gun-play and stereotypical look at deep Southern men as hillbillies drunk on moonshine and quick to fire rifles.

Make Mine Music as well as its other package features are all but forgotten in the lineage of animated features by the Disney studios. Those short subjects that are best remembered are so due to Disney replaying them in their television shows or on video releases apart from the feature film.

In a way the film was a success. It made money, and a decent profit at that, while keeping the animators working on things other than Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, or Goofy cartoons. This was a difficult period for Walt Disney and his studio as they relied of lesser quality work to make the money for hopefully better products in the future. Meanwhile Walt was beginning to find the business of an animation studio kept him from being as creative as he truly wanted to be. Starting in 1946 with Make Mine Music through 1949, the artistic vision that brought the masterpiece Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was lacking, but it still produced memorable moments while building to a coming rebirth of grand Disney animated feature films.

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