Make Mine Music (1946)
Anne: Well, after a week during which our usual movie-watching time was pre-empted by work, rehearsal, and performances of a very depressing opera about nuns (that part was just me, James would make a very unusual nun indeed!), we have FINALLY gotten around to watching Make Mine Music, the third out of however many package films. It feels like the bit in Julie and Julia when Julie Powell has to cook her way through all of the aspic recipes in Mastering the Art of French Cooking.
But that said, I really enjoyed Make Mine Music, and I think I can safely say that I enjoyed it a lot more than James did. This is a film that leans heavily on American nostalgia–a baseball game in 1902 (James, on why he didn’t like Casey at the Bat: “Is it because I don’t understand baseball?”), two hats falling in love in a department store window, a whale singing at the Metropolitan Opera. Those last two didn’t necessarily need to be set in an earlier time, but based on the costuming of the characters (and the kinds of hats!), they clearly were taking place before both World Wars.
I think it was deliberate–so much of the film depicted an earlier, simpler time that I can’t imagine there wasn’t some meeting during pre-production when somebody made the decision to tie the longer segments together with nostalgia.
James: I’ll have you know I make an excellent nun. A little more baritone than most, but damn if I don’t look good in a wimple.
I’m not convinced the typically historical settings where deliberate, but they were still probably a result of yearning for easier times during the war. There’s a vibrancy, a sense of fun and a sense of escapism to all the segments that whisks you away completely. That said, I definitely found more misses than hits in this piece.
About half of the 10 segments were brief at around 2 or 3 minutes, and these tended to be emotion pieces, single songs that didn’t try to tell a story so much as evoke a feeling. The longer segments, ranging from 8 minutes to 15 minutes, told complete stories, and it tended to be these that lost me. The longest segment was Peter and the Wolf at the centre of the film, and it kind of bored me. Some combination of having heard the music many times before (even playing it at school), and having seen the character archetypes before, perhaps, meant that the biggest chunk of the film failed to grip me. It doesn’t help that Sterling Holloway is the narrator yet again. He makes a fabulous Kaa, and a lovable Winnie-the-Pooh, but as a narrator I found him grating in The Three Caballeros and grating here. And yet again his narration seems largely unnecessary: the music and the animation tell the story, we don’t need to be told what’s happening alongside it (anyone who’s seen Dexter knows the frustration of being shown something, having it explained in Dexter’s inner monologue and having it discussed with his imagined dead father, thereby telling us the information three times). At times, such as in Bambi, these movies can be beautifully subtle, giving us no more than we need to fully experience the story being told. And then at other times we get it hammered into us, and the mood is lost.
The other segment that lost me was Casey at the Bat, a 9 minute adaptation of the 1888 Ernest Thayer poem of the same name. I don’t think it was the fact that it was baseball that lost me, so much as a failure to connect with the characters. The animators seemed to be playing both teams as terrible players who fortuitously hit home runs or catch each other out depending on the moment, and so it became hard to empathise with either side. There’s no real sense of who most of these characters are; the strongest one is the pitcher, who is constantly nervous and therefore elicits the most empathy… so is he the hero? He doesn’t even have a name. And he’s against the title character! And then you have the surreal moment where it adapts the final stanza of the poem, a stanza that suggests a place where things are happy and the sun is shining, so that the final reveal that Casey struck out undercuts the suggested happy ending. In the animation, we get a very awkward cut into a dreamlike sequence. It’s not enough to suggest happiness, we have to see it, and the abrupt jump doesn’t increase the tension, it only kills the mood. My comment at the time was ‘Did that story finish?’. We then get another awkward cut so it can finish the poem, and it just doesn’t work. Maybe if I knew more about the poem, or about American vaudeville, or baseball or the offside rule or something else, it might have appealed to me more, but as it is it all felt very hard to connect with.
Also, Disney made a sequel. The first ever Disney sequel? I’m not sure, and I’m not going to find out, but you can find it here.
Anne: I have no problem with the end of “Casey at the Bat.” It’s not a happy ending–he strikes out and disappoints all of the fans. Maybe they didn’t need to animate the “somewhere people are happy” bit before that reveal–I’ll grant you that it was a little confusing–but it didn’t bother me. And it was clear to me that we were meant to be rooting for Casey’s team, the motley crew of more carefully-animated underdogs. The other team all looked the same to me.
Also, I had to google the “offside rule,” and I still don’t know what it is, so I’m not sure that that has anything to do with why you didn’t like it. Vive la différence!
Since we’re not going in order, I’m going to go ahead and name “The Whale Who Wanted to Sing at the Met” as my favorite part of this movie. I think it just about negates all of those short, boring pop song segments (the Dinah Shore one was lovely, with the silhouettes of the ballet dancers, but I remember nothing of the others).
First of all, Nelson Eddy.
In splendid voice, singing and acting all of the roles. I particularly love the part when he sings the tenor, baritone and bass parts of the sextet from Lucia di Lammermoor.
(I’m going to resist making fun of Renée Fleming’s hair in this video, mainly because she sounds great and looks terrified.)
Of course, the cartoon does perpetuate some interesting ideas about how voices happen, but since whales can’t actually sing, I’m prepared to give it a pass. Also, a whale singing Pagliacci.
The whole thing was just a rollicking good time, with great singing and lots of laughs. Until the ending, which was surprisingly dark for a Disney film–actually, James pointed out that the end of this segment was the third time we had seen a depiction of heaven in Make Mine Music. The body count of the movie is way out of proportion to its length, especially if you include The Martins and the Coys, which in the interest of completeness, we did.
So, on the one hand, happy relaxed nostalgia of a simpler time…on the other hand, death?
James: Whale was perhaps my second favourite piece of the film, and it was wonderful almost from start to finish. The imagination and the joy in there is astonishing. A delightful story brimming over with silly sights and sounds (and a soundtrack laced with evocative classical music). While watching this film, I posited that the main difference between Looney Tunes shorts and Disney shorts of the same era is that Looney Tunes fits stories around brilliant characters, whereas Disney fits characters into brilliant stories. This short is about as close to Looney Tunes as I’ve seen Disney get (One Froggy Evening springs to mind) and yet this still feels like a stronger story than Looney Tunes could manage. There is an arc, there are hopes and dreams, and the main character is innocent and, ultimately, hurt. This is Disney. (One Froggy Evening is still one of the finest cartoons of all time, and yet it came 9 years later… I wonder how much Whale inspired it…)
If you need to see a strong Disney story that Looney Tunes could never get near, look to the cut short The Martins and the Coys. Originally the first segment in the film, it has been cut from UK and USA DVD releases, allegedly due to the violence. Well…
Yeah, it’s kinda violent. But it’s also a whole heap of fun! Terrific music and some fabulous plot twists, all in the space of 7 minutes. The vibrancy I mentioned earlier is all over this piece, and everyone involved seems to have had tremendous fun throughout. It’s a shame to leave it off the DVDs; even as a special feature with a disclaimer for violence, it’s a great piece of Disney silliness that deserves to be preserved. And it’s a much better opening than Blue Bayou, which is pleasant enough, but doesn’t kick start the film in the same way.
Anne: I thought “Blue Bayou” was pretty and atmospheric, and the animation of the water was really exceptional (as someone with no talent whatsoever in visual art, I’m always astounded by what the animators are able to do, especially in the pre-digital era). But at the same time, had it been any longer I would have been bored. When we were watching, you suggested that the short segments might serve as “palate cleansers” before and after each of the longer ones that contained complete stories. I think you’re probably right about that, but I also didn’t think they were especially interesting overall.
I did very much enjoy “All the Cats Join In”–though maybe a little disappointed that it wasn’t actually about cats! But with all of the nostalgia for the 19-aughts, it was fun to see an animated view of teenagers in the mid-1940s. Of course it was highly-stylized and cartoonish, but I thought that suited the “gotta dance” attitude of the characters.
(AND they’re patriotic! Check out the American flag on that banana split.)
“Without You” I found both boring and sad. I didn’t even like the song. Lots of tears and rain and boo hoo hoo. Moving on.
“Ballade Ballet” was very beautiful. I’m curious as to what technique the animators used to create those two silhouettes, because they were unbelievably realistic. I have to think that they filmed two ballet dancers in a pas de deux and then made them into silhouettes–but such is the magic of Disney that I’m really not sure.
I really liked “After You’ve Gone,” with music by Benny Goodman and the Goodman Octet (who also scored “All the Cats Join In”). The Disney animators have an amazing eye for ways to turn objects into other objects–piano-playing hands into can-can dancers, for example–and the segues between visual ideas are always so innovative and surprising. I’m also consistently impressed by the movements of normally inanimate objects: rather than giving the clarinet legs, they imagine how a clarinet would walk if a clarinet could walk.
And the same goes for hats. Over to you!
James: Indeed, I commented that ‘After You’ve Gone’ with its animation of musical instruments felt like a more fun version of a Fantasia segment. The way the animators bring to life ideas and concepts and suggested links in physicality is amazing.
Johnnie Fedora and Alice Bluebonnet was probably my favourite segment (Whale threatened to knock it off its top spot, but I’m a sucker for a happy ending), and it immediately showed the fun the animators were having with the design. The shape of the hats is perfect for their make and yet also look so human. No mean feat. The piece was longer than I expected, but was brimming with fun and inventive scenes showing Johnnie’s conflict while trying to reunite with his love. The story takes the surprising turns that (as I mentioned earlier) only Disney could come up with, and yet it feels so natural and makes so much sense, and the ending is genuinely surprising and completely satisfying. The story is brought to life musically by the Andrews Sisters, who imbue it with a sense of fun and a sense of purpose, as a story that’s fictional and yet still meaningful, perfectly married to the animation. I haven’t seen Pixar’s latest short, The Blue Umbrella, but everything I’ve seen of it seems to have a similar story, and I can only hope it’s as fun and filled with beautiful twists as Johnnie.
Overall, though, I’d give Make Mine Music 5/10. There are some great segments in there, and even the weakest segments have beautiful aspects, but there are only two or three segments I’d watch again, not the whole movie. I’m starting to miss the momentum of a feature length story, as it can get kind of tiring to change gears so often within a film. Still, I’ve now seen a whale singing Mephistopheles. I couldn’t say that last week.
Anne: I’ll give it a 6/10. I enjoyed watching it, but as a package film it’s not as cohesive as The Three Caballeros or Saludos Amigos. To be honest, I’m not sure I’ll revisit any of the package films in the future, but time works wonders, so who knows?
Up next we’ve got Song of the South. This one wasn’t on our original list of 52 animated films, but when we realized that because we are both very busy and important people (*wink*), we weren’t going to make it through all of them by Thanksgiving, we decided we could include some in-betweeners. James grew up with Song of the South, but I’ve never seen it, since it was never released on commercial video in the States. It will be an experience!