A Disney Tale: Make Mine Music II arrives in the form of another package feature of various animations set to familiar pieces of music, this time with a focus on American folklore.
Disney Hero: As with the previous package features, there are a number of 'heroes' in this film. Principal among them are the two figures of American folklore: Johnny Appleseed and Pecos Bill. Johnny Appleseed (real name John Chapman) is a real figure of American history, famed for introducing apple trees to a number of states in the late 18th/early 19th Century. He was also deeply religious, which is reflected in Melody Time.
Pecos Bill, on the other hand, is more of a myth with a number of supposed legends attributed to him. Whereas Johnny Appleseed is an upstanding Christian man, Pecos Bill is a rooting, tooting cowboy who smokes, chases women and lives a life of chaos. He was brought up by wolves (in scenes reminsicent of The Jungle Book's early scenes) and, until he meets the love of his life, appears to have very little human interaction.
Another hero in Melody Time is Joe who appears in the first segment - Once Upon a Wintertime. He is a young, blond man taking his lady love, Jenny, out on a snowy winter's day for ice-skating and romance. Events conspire to put Jenny in danger and Joe proves his worth by rescuing her.
Melody Time also features brief appearances from Donald Duck and Joe Carioca. They appear in a segment entitled Blame it on the Samba where they are depressed and brought back to vibrancy by a bit of singing and dancing. Neither character speaks.
One more here is the tugboat, Little Toot, who goes on his own adventure to prove his worth in a segment incredibly reminiscent of the Pedro short from Saludos Amigos which features a little plane battling against the odds to prove his worth.
Disney Heroine: With this film's emphasis on figures of American folklore, women get a bit of a raw deal. In Once Upon a Wintertime, Jenny, Joe's love, is a damsel in distress (although with a bit of an edge to her). No female characters of note appear in The Legend of Johnny Appleseed, Little Toot or Trees. In Blame it on the Samba, Donald and Joe are entertained by the musical stylings of Ethel Smith on the organ.
Pecos Bill features Slue-Foot Sue a relatively feisty woman who Bill falls for. For all her daring adventures, however, she is defined mostly by her beauty and coy looks towards Bill. She ends up shot to the moon where she stays.
Disney Villain: Across the various shorts there really aren't any identifiable villains. In Pecos Bill there are some rustlers, adorned with thick black moustaches and gold teeth but beyond these rather stereotypical and undeveloped characters, there are really only the various musical elements which try to attack a bee in the Bumble Boogie segment.
Disney Sidekicks: Melody Time has a selection of sidekicks across its different shorts. In Johnny Appleseed, the eponymous character has a guardian angel who inspires him to plant his apple trees around the USA.
Pecos Bill's sidekick is his horse, Widowmaker. Bill saves Widowmaker from vultures and they spend their days together. When Slue-Foot Sue arrives on the scene, however, Widowmaker becomes intensely jealous. Because of Widowmaker's machinations, Slue-Foot Sue ends up stranded on the Moon.
Another sidekick is the Aracuan Bird, familiar from previous South American-themed package films, who manages to raise Donald and Joe from their doldrums with a bit of Samba.
Disney Creatures: There is a wide selection of animals across the various segments of Melody Time. In Once Upon a Wintertime, a pair of rabbits mirror Joe and Jenny's romantic story. Bumble Boogie concerns a lone bumblebee escaping from a surreal nightmare. Johnny Appleseed seems to have an affinity with the forest animals. Seagulls swirl around Little Toot and Pecos Bill encounters various critters from wolves, to snakes, to vultures. Slue-Foot Sue arrives in the story riding on the back of a catfish!
Disney Magic: There is a reality to Melody Time which doesn't allow for the magical elements common to Disney's more fantastical films. The closest any sequences come is in the surreal experience of Donald and Joe in Blame it on the Samba. The other near-example is in The Legend of Johnny Appleseed which shows Johnny ascending to heaven at the close of the segment. This is a relatively unusual recognition of a Christian afterlife in a Disney film and whilst not 'magical' per se, does indicate the 'supernatural'. What's interesting is that it isn't the cartoon stereotype of winged people sitting on clouds playing harps
Disney Land: The different sequences of this film take place in a variety of places and yet most are based in the USA, in particular the frontier lands which feature significantly in many Disney theme parks.
Disney Songs: Much like Make Mine Music, Melody Time is a 'modern' take on Fantasia. Each segment is accompanied by various songs, singers and music. I can't say I like any of the songs or singers and it perpetuates the problems I had with the music in Make Mine Music. It's the easy listening style which just sets my teeth on edge. The one saving grace is the Bumble Boogie version of Flight of the Bumblebee - a classic, classical piece of music.
Disney Finale: It has taken me months to write up this review of Melody Time. It is easily my least favourite of the Disney canon so far and I has been a struggle to work up the enthusiasm to write anything about it. Of the two 'modern Fantasias', Make Mine Music is my preferred choice and that's mainly due to the inclusion of Peter and the Wolf. The only sequence I really enjoyed in this one was Bumble Boogie and I certainly feel the 'animated music' theme of these two films works much better in the classical context of Fantasia (and indeed Fantasia 2000). I was also disappointed in the fact that in modern versions of the film, it is promoted with images of Donald Duck. Within the film, however, he features in one, short sequence in which he never speaks and just feels like something swept up from the cutting room floor after they made The Three Caballeros. Joe Carioca, a fun character in the South American package films, is similarly wasted here. The package films have been followed a law of diminishing returns. Whilst there was a fun, joyous element to the South American ones, Make Mine Music was a step down, trying to emulate Fantasia with less appealing music. Fun and Fancy Free was effectively just two short films stuck together with only Mickey and the Beanstalk really entertaining me. Melody Time continues the downward trend and leaves me pleased that we will return to full-length features relatively soon, even if we need to stop off at another 'Fun and Fancy Free-style' film beforehand.