Disney Film History: Melody Time

Melody Time

Melody Time was tagged with the phrase “7 Hit Songs! 11 Musical Artists!” If that sounds familiar, it’s because Melody Time was the fifth film of the 1940s to be riddled with song numbers and short cartoons. The film was released in 1948, after World War II, but the film was in development while the war was still going on and the U.S. military was still using the studio as an army base.

The previous films, Saludos Amigos, The Three Caballeros, Make Mine Music, and Fun and Fancy Free seem to have all led to this film. Blending the ideas of Jazz and modern music into shorts was a highly successful idea with Make Mine Music and the studio made lots of money off of formula. On top of that, the studio had also created a market for South America and still wanted to keep their Good Neighbor ideals by incorporating a segment into this film. The result is a blend of jazz, big band, folk, western, samba, and swing music accompanying American and South American stories. Add to the top that Walt Disney had all of his Nine Old Men working on this film and you’ve got yourself a pretty great film in the making.

The film is made up of 7 segments, but only a few really stand out from the pack, notably the longer pieces. “Bumble Boogie” and “Trees” do a great job at combining abstract art and serious animation, but seem misplaced amongst the shorts filled with story and lore. “Once Upon a Wintertime” is the first short in the film and a great introduction. Frances Langford sings the music in this short which blends a love story, beautiful background art, and some very comical animation. A story about a boy who isn’t really a Casa Nova and the girl of his dreams getting into trouble on an icy river, it stands the test of time and, along with it’s Victorian imagery, seems like a great American love story.

Melody 1

For myself, three major segments really stick out in this film. The first is “The Legend of Johnny Appleseed”. Curiously, Johnny Appleseed isn’t a story or folklore, but the story of a real man, John Chapman, who walked the midwest planting apple trees. Though it’s a fictitiously reimagining of the man that really was, the story stands true as a good Christian man who made America a better place thanks to his involvement with planting trees and orchards around Illinois, Ohio, and Indiana. The segment leads us through his whole life as a boy just starting out planting until his death when he is asked by his guardian angel to come plant trees in heaven.

The second segment and probably one of the two particularly infamous segments from Melody Time is the short titled “Little Toot” which is sung by the Andrews Sisters. The Andrews Sisters were one of the most important acts of the WWII era and this segment shows. Little Toot, the story of a small boat that needs to grow up, but gets himself and his father in trouble, became a smash hit with audiences. Based on a children’s story written and illustrated by Hardie Gramatky in 1939, the cartoon went on to outgrow this package film and was even am opening short for another Disney film in 1954. The song “Little Toot” sang by the Andrews Sisters may have become even more popular than the short. It was the first children’s song to ever reach 1 million records being sold and was a large hit for a number of years after the films release.

“Blame It on the Samba” marks the return of Donald Duck and Jose Carioca (my favorite) to the screen as they dance along with Ethel Smith only to be toyed with by the Arucuan Bird. (Also my favorite!) It’s a fun segment that brings us back to the roots of these characters in Saludos Amigos. It’s an enjoyable piece and sticks out in a good way since it is so vibrant and different than the rest of the music in the film. It’s also important for me to say that this is the third film starring Jose Carioca which means he has been in more Disney feature films than Mickey Mouse up to this point. This is also Donald’s fourth film making him the most popular repetitive character in Disney animation feature films.

Pecos Bill

The last segment, and longest segment of the film, is “The Ballad of Pecos Bill”, a truly folk tale of the 20th century about one of the greatest cowboys to live from the great state of Texas. It starts out with Roy Rogers and the Sons of the Pioneers singing “Blue Shadows on the Trail”. Notably in this segment is our good child actor friend Bobby Driscoll who was signed to a contract before filming Song of the South. This film is his second role for the Walt Disney company. Also in this segment is Luana Patten, Driscoll’s costar from Song of the South and the upcoming film So Dear to My Heart. Roy Rogers tells the children the tale of why the coyotes howl at the moon, which is also the tall tale of Pecos Bill and how he grew to be the greatest cowboy that ever lived until he met the love of his life, Slue foot Sue. Another note from this film is that Pecos Bill is a pistol shooting, cigarette smoking cowboy, which has been edited out of later releases of the short to make Pecos seem more politically correct for today’s audiences.

The film was met with mostly positive reviews and was seen to be the best of the package films during the World War II era. It’s fun to watch and listen too. There seems to be something for everyone in this film. I enjoyed Make Mine Music better, but that’s my personal opinion. This film does seem much more accepted by wider audiences and it’s purely Disney magic.

Have you seen Melody Time? What’s your favorite or least favorite segment? Do you prefer this film over others during the package film era, or would you rather watch a different film? Leave your thoughts and comments below!

Josh Taylor
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Posted on July 31, 2013, in Articles, The Whole Picture and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

  1. I like the film, but prefer “Make Mine Music” to it.

  2. Nostalgia-wise, Once Upon a Winter Time really sticks with me, because I owned it as part of the Disney collection of Christmas-y shorts on VHS long before I saw it as part of Melody Time.
    If I had to choose, The Ballad of Pecos Bill would be my least favourite – but that’s not to undermine the short itself!

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