A Disney Tale: Jiminy Cricket introduces two tales - Bongo the Bear (a slightly disturbing tale of love in the bear community) and Mickey and the Beanstalk (a Disney version of the well-known fairytale).
Disney Hero: With two 'films' in this package feature we have two main heroes. First up is Bongo. Bongo is a circus bear who runs away to the forest and meets the love of his life. Bongo never speaks in his film. He is dressed in a jacket, bow tie and hat and runs the full gamut of emotions. In the second film, we have three 'heroes' - Mickey, Donald and Goofy who all fulfill the role of Jack in this version of Jack and the Beanstalk.
Disney Heroine: In Bongo, the titular bear falls in love with Lulubelle, a female bear from the forest. She forms part of a love triangle with another bear, Lumpjaw. She is also instrumental in an aspect of this film which I found rather uncomfortable to watch - the slapping courtship. In Doctor Who there was some minor furore surrounding the slapping instigated by the main characters - the Doctor, Rory and Amy. There were cries of domestic abuse in the way Rory was being slapped and how if the roles were reversed (i.e. Rory slapped Amy) there would be a huge outcry. To be honest, the tone of those scenes never really made me worry about what the slapping was implying about the relationships of the characters - although maybe I should have been. On the other hand, I felt very uncomfortable watching the bears of Bongo slapping each other to show that they fancied them. Maybe it is because I was watching this with my two young children.
In a parallel to the Doctor Who example, it is Lulubelle who first slaps Bongo. Bongo misinterprets the slap as Lulubelle not liking him (understandably) and it isn't till the end of the film that he realises what she actually meant - which leads to a bout of vigorous slapping between the two of them.
It's an odd choice for the storytellers to use to show how bears express love and it would, obviously, never happen in a Disney film nowadays. I can put it down to attitudes of the era, but it doesn't change the fact that it gives an unpleasant edge to a seemingly innocent film. The lyrics to the song all about the slapping - 'Say it with a Slap', are scandalous! Here are some sample lines:
Give her a slap, give her a cuff...
...He slapped her once and missed her jaw
And he wound up smackin' his mother-in-law
In Mickey and the Beanstalk there are two characters who could be considered to be 'heroines'. The first, within the animation, is the magic harp. She sings a song to Mickey allowing him to find the key on the giant to free Donald and Goofy. The second is the child actress, Luana Patten. Luana had portrayed Ginny in Song of the South and this film sees her featuring, as herself, in the framing device which introduces Mickey and the Beanstalk. At her birthday party (which only consists of herself, a ventroliquist, Edgar Bergen and two of his puppets!) she is told the story of Mickey and the Beanstalk.
Quite why her birthday party is so poorly attended is never explained.
Disney Villain: With two films, there are of course, two villains. The first is Lumpjaw, the large and aggressive fiance of Lulubelle who is spurned when she expressed an interest in the newly-arrived Bongo. Lumpjaw is described as the meanest, toughest bear in the forest and it seems no one, least of all Lulubelle and Bongo, mourn his death when he falls down a raging waterfall.
Mickey and the Beanstalk's villain is, unsurprisingly, the giant who lives at the top of the plant. In this version of the tale, he is known as Willie. In a variation on the original tale, Willie has stolen the Golden Harp from the land below causing drought and famine to affect. He is able to perform magic, including transforming himself into different creatures. This ability is akin to that seen in the fairy tale Puss in Boots where an ogre is able to transform itself and is tricked into turning into a mouse which is easily killed by Puss. Mickey's attempt to get the giant to turn into an easily squashable fly is a clear echo of that story.
Whilst Willie is the villain of this story, he has a childlike, jolly aspect to him which has lead to his return appearances eschewing the antagonistic traits in favour of a jovial fellow - most obviously in his appearance as the Ghost of Christmas Present in Mickey's Christmas Carol.
Disney Sidekicks: Perhaps Disney's most famous sidekick, Jiminy Cricket, returns in this film to introduce the two stories.
Within the films themselves there are less obvious fulfillers of this role. Bongo does not really contain any sidekicks. Mickey and the Beanstalk sees Donald Duck and Goofy sort of fill this role, although it could also be argued that they are heroes in their own right. That said, they are the ones who are locked up by the giant and need to be freed by Mickey, making them fulfill the oft given sidekick role of being rescued by the hero.
Disney Creatures: In Bongo, we see a large number of other bears living in the forest. At the end of the song 'Say it with a Slap', many of them pair off, so we can assume there are equal numbers of male and female bears. Mickey and the Beanstalk includes the traditional cow that is swopped for magic beans. There is also a gigantic dragonfly (living in the giant's kingdom at the top of the beanstalk) that attacks Mickey, Goofy and Donald.
Disney Magic: Bongo lacks the magical touch associated with Disney but Mickey and the Beanstalk involves both the magic of the giant - whose skills include transformation, flying and invisibility. The aforementioned Golden Harp is a magical being - a living musical instrument. It is her singing which brings happiness and prosperity to the land and when she is stolen by the giant, the land falls into ruin. She also has the ability to sing people to sleep.
Disney Land: Bongo happens in an unidentified forest in what is, presumably, somewhere in the USA. Mickey and the Beanstalk is set in Happy Valley which is ruled over by Queen Minnie and kept happy only by the presence of the Golden Harp - which doesn't say much for the abilities of Queen Minnie as a ruler! Happy Valley has echoes of the indistinct European-style settings of many fairy tales.
Disney Songs: There are quite a few songs in Fun and Fancy Free. None of the songs made a particular impact on me and, even after listening to the playlist a couple of times, I'd be hard pressed to remember any of the tunes. Quite a few of them: the title song, Too Good to be True and Lazy Countryside are of a similar, 'easy-listening' style to those from Make Mine Music. The songs in Mickey and the Beanstalk are closely tied in with the narrative - Donald and Goofy singing about how hungry they are to the tune of Funiculi, Funicala (you'd know it if you heard it); and the harp singing about how Mickey can find the key to release his friends.
Most significantly, though, is Jiminy Cricket's opening song - I'm a Happy-Go-Lucky Fellow. This was a song which was originally written for Pinocchio but was cut (along with quite a few other songs). It's a fun little song and does sound like something which would have suited Pinocchio's vibe quite well. I'm glad it saw the light of day in this film.
Disney Finale: I'm not quite sure what to make of Fun and Fancy Free. Unlike the other package features of this period, it's only made up of two films which, oddly, makes for a slightly less satisfying collection. Bongo is not a favourite of mine, mainly due to the weird use of slapping as a sign of love forming its central 'comedy' element. I quite like the idea of a 'circus' animal returning to the wild (hang on a minute, where I have seen that before...) but generally it's not a story I want to return to any time soon. Mickey and the Beanstalk is better and it will be interesting to see what Disney's upcoming film, Gigantic, will do with the tale of Jack and the Beanstalk which is, after all, a classic of fairy tales. I'm not a huge fan of Mickey, but love a bit of Donald and Goofy and Willie the Giant is a fun villain. It's good to have Jiminy Cricket back even if just as a presenter, but overall this isn't a film I think I'll return to all that often. The litmus test of many of these is whether my children ask to rewatch it and Fun and Fancy Free hasn't yet been asked for so I'm not sure it made a huge impression on them.