Make Mine Music (1946) Review
What do I know about the film?
Ah ‘Make Mine Music’ the cornerstone of any Disney childhood right?
Or maybe none of you have even heard of it, let alone seen it. Thinking on it that seems more likely.
My first thought was ‘Make Mine Music’ seemed likely to be made up of the scraps from ‘Fantasia.’ Turns out I was at least partly right. One section was animated with the intent for inclusion in ‘Fantasia’ and various others started life as concepts for Disney’s classical epic.
The studio had so many half baked ideas and no budget to bring them to life in a fully realised fashion that many of the package films have been edited, chopped, swapped and changed over the years as they are not coherent stories meaning most of the segments can be removed and put in another film with very little artistic compromise. As I have made clear in my last two reviews, the results are…mixed at best.
One of the scenes that has been cut from most editions of the film was the original opening story called: ‘The Martins and the Coys’ which was viciously panned by critics for being too violent. An intriguing reputation that meant I was all the more keen to track it down and decide for myself as the version I had didn’t include it. Is it like Sunflower the Black Centaur from ‘Fantasia’? Did Disney have good or uneven reasoning for wanting to tipp-ex over this part of their history?
While some of the write up’s from 1946 liked ‘Make Mine Music,’ history has not been kind to what many a critic refers to as ‘the poor man’s Fantasia.’ So is it just a patchwork quilt of low quality music/animation cross overs or is it a smorgasbord of surrealist art and beautiful songs? Prepare to be amazed…It’s ok. No, no, sit down. I’ll explain.
Did I see it as a child?
No because I had never heard of it before I took that gosh darn ‘name all the Disney films’ quiz. I assumed they were taking the piss with this one. I mean, ‘Make Mine Music’ does not sound like a real thing.
But I did know about one of the shorts ‘Peter and the Wolf’ as it was released as part of the VHS range of ‘Disney Mini Classics’ and was advertised a lot on the Disney VHS’s I used to own. It makes me nostalgic as hell thinking about it, because I never fast forwarded the adverts on Disney videos because they all looked so inciting. Heck, Disney was so keen to get my parents’ money there used to be ads AFTER the film had finished! So if the film was still playing after the credits rolled…MORE TRAILERS! BUY ALL OUR FILMS!
Like ‘Fantasia’ there are a lot of distinct unconnected sections in this film. And they are very open about this. The film begins by explaining that we are about to enjoy ‘a Musical Fantasy in Ten Parts.’ Ooh. Posh sounding. My plan is to review each sequence as an individual piece before summarising how I feel about it as a whole because, after all, that is significant.
WARNING: There is a LOT of crooning in this film. So don’t watch this if you are the type of person to imitate sounds you are exposed to for a prolonged period of time because…then we can’t be friends. Crooning. Not even once.
So without further ado, here is what makes up the music of ‘Make Mine Music’:
1) ‘The Martins and the Coys’ a rustic ballad performed by popular radio group King’s Men about two families who can’t stop fighting.
2) ‘Blue Bayou,’ originally animated for a Debussy segment in ‘Fantasia,’ is a tone poem crooned by the Ken Darby Singers set to some images of a moonlit lake while two bird fly about.
3) ‘All the Cats Join In.’ Some pencil drawings of some cool kids getting caught up in the 40’s jukebox craze. While the music is all jazzy and that, I was disappointed. I paid to see some kitty-cats jiving. It is what I wanted. Hell, it is what we all wanted.
4) ‘Without You.’ A ballad of lost love performed by crooner Andy Russell. The animation is the view from a sad window.
5) ‘Casey at the Bat.’ The famous American poem by Ernest Thayer about a baseball player who is too arrogant for his own good is brought to life.
6) ‘Two Silhouettes.’ Two ballet dancers dance in silhouette to an animated background and a lot of cherubs. A singer called Dinah Shore croons the title song.
7) ‘Peter and the Wolf’. Yes! Win! Sterling Holloway is back! Narrating the story of a brave little boy and his buddies as they set out to do away with a big bad wolf. It features the music of Sergei Prokofiev. I suspect he is Russian.
8) ‘After You’ve Gone.’ Some musical instruments…come to life and do stuff. Play music mostly actually. You would think that they would want to do more with their new found anthropomorphised freedom.
9) ‘Johnny Fedora and Alice Bluebonnet’ is a hat love story. A love story. About some hats. Who fall in love. The Andrews Sisters croon this one for us.
10) ‘The Whale Who Wanted to Sing at the Met’ Kind of what it says on the tin. Also, Willie the opera singing Whale is played by acclaimed classical singer Nelson Eddy. Who does not just croon. Which was nice.
Phew! That’s a lot of music!
So ten segments in one film. At least you get your money’s worth. And none of them are too long meaning, unlike ‘Fantasia,’ even the ones that didn’t quite work for me are over fairly quickly. But no film has ever won historical longevity with a review like: ‘It wasn’t so long that I wanted to die!’ So did any of these musicals wunderkinds charm the love from me?
Yes. On an artistic level they save the best for last with ‘The Whale Who Wanted to Sing at the Met’ which is a quirky little tale about a Sperm Whale who can sing opera. He attempts to audition for a showman called Tetti-Tatti, not realising the maestro believes the whale has swallowed an Opera singer and wants him dead.
If operatic gymnastics is a sound that grates on your sensibilities this won’t change your mind exactly. But the WHOLE thing is narrated and sung by a dude called Nelson Eddy. I had not heard of him but he made a lot of musical films in the 1930’s and so was a big catch for Disney. He had his own recording studio at his house and was fascinated by what the technology was capable of and so he liked playing around recording himself singing in various voices. I guess being a movie star in the 30’s didn’t get you as much sex as I thought.
But it was all worth it: Because, amazingly, he could sing as a tenor, a bass, a soprano and a baritone and therefore by the power of recording equipment and his magic tonsils he could create a little Nelson Eddy ensemble for the cartoon. And it is pretty amazing. Like Jane Horrocks in ‘Little Voice’ it almost seems impossibly impressive, meaning they need to declare it in the credits: Yes. He does ALL the voices in the cartoon. The men. The women. The whale. All him.
But this on it’s own wouldn’t be enough to recommend it. Willie the Whale is a charming protagonist who is easy to root for. He is first seen entertaining some seals and seagulls with a gung-ho rendition of ‘Shortnin’ Bread’ which won me over instantly. You know a guy like him. The guy who is effortlessly talented and just likes to make people smile through music. So when Willie thinks he is finally getting his big break and starts to imagine himself playing some of the great operatic leads…it is quite heart breaking.
For a 15 minute cartoon about a show off sperm whale it is filled with theme appropriate pathos: An analogy about the many shattered dreams of talented artists who never get their chance to fill the big venues. If Willie had played it safe and just stuck to performing for his little appreciative buddies, he never would have gotten hurt. But we need to try don’t we? We need to try and climb the ladder even if slipping on a rung and plummeting back to reality is quite a fall…
Before I get too lost in ‘Game of Thrones’ speeches (speaking of which, why does Little Finger sound like Batman now? He didn’t before…) I wanted to emphasise how much better this story telling is compared to so much of ‘Fantasia.’ There is a plot with high stakes, a compelling character, impressive and joyful music, comedy and drama, light and shade, over the top tragedy and relatable loss, you learn something about the style of music and the musicians that bring it to life. If Disney wanted to break my heart, he nailed it. If he wanted me to learn more about a talented singer he nailed that too. Was that so hard?
Apparently yes, because very little else in ‘Make Mine Music’ works as well. ‘Peter and the Wolf’ is an excellent cartoon though, narrated brilliantly by the magnificent Sterling Holloway (He is Winnie the Pooh for goodness sakes!) doing a far, far better job of explaining the musical choices than ‘Fantasia’s’ explainy pants Deems Taylor ever did. Each character is given their own theme song and Peter’s is instantly recognisable with the cheerful bouncy strings representing his youthful pluck. If you are a classical music/classic fairy tale fan, this short will certainly hit the spot.
The animation has some great moments, especially when the wolf shows himself to the little gang of hunters and the peril feels very real and quite scary. While they can’t quite follow through by killing off any of the characters in such a bloodthirsty way they make you THINK they have: Even going as far as to show the unfortunate duck, Sonia, looking gloomy up in Duck Heaven.
There are some great characters that are helped along beautifully by the score and if you want your kid to learn about music and enjoy a good adventure this will do the trick. But be warned: The wolf is actually quite scary. And even though Sonia is revealed to be unharmed at the end it is possible your child will have already hurled themselves through the French windows in grief before realising this…I am not sure who or where I am imagining in this scenario. But if that sounds plausible, maybe wait till they are older and less prone to dramatic acts of vandalism.
If you had told me in advance that one of my favourite moments in the film would be a hat love story…well…truth be told I might have believed you. Because I know me and I am odd. But I wouldn’t have thought the hat love story would be the most likely candidate. While the Andrews Sisters are crooners to the bone, they harmonise nicely and add a kind of dry wit to their delivery which makes the story somehow even more charming. And even if ‘Johnny Fedora and Alice Bluebonnet’ had been a silent film I am pretty sure I would have been suitably charmed.
Who knows how the animators made me care about the department store hat love story. Was it the moment where they imagined their dream house as a hat box palace? The fact that their children would be baby bonnets? Or was it the moment, I actually gasped out loud in horror, when Alice Bluebonnet is sold leaving a bereft Johnny Fedora alone in the window? (also, £23.94? For a hat? Don’t they know there is a war on?) Man, by this point I was hooked. I have spent years, YEARS, watching TV shows with will they/won’t they relationships where I know the history of the couple and I couldn’t care less about the outcome. 2 minutes of hat flirting and boom: I’m invested.
And I thought I knew where the story was going. I did. I thought that Johnny Fedora would eventually be sold to a guy who would fall in love with the owner of Alice Bluebonnet and they would be reunited. But Disney went one better. Johnny goes on a chaotic mission to find Alice, possibly inspiring Blur’s ‘Coffee and TV’ video, and eventually ends up being cut to fit the head of a horse. He is pretty miserable until he looks to his left and sees the other horse pulling the carriage is wearing an equally mutilated Alice Bluebonnet! Huzzah! But it is better than my version because in this one they get bits of themselves cut up, sliced off, in order to experience love again. So appropriate. So accurate. We all have to suffer before we deserve love right? Right guys? Guys?
The Hat Love Story: proof you can literally give anything a soul.
What Doesn’t Work:
And so three out of ten segments in ‘Make Mine Music’ really caught my fancy. Not a great average is it? It is not that NOTHING else works. But the standard of the three above cartoons is pretty high and none of the others rise to meet it.
I assumed I would enjoy the ballet dancing in ‘Two Silhouettes’. And yet I found that they may as well not have bothered getting professional dancers as all the detail is lost in their choice to have the movement be portrayed as shadows on the back of some truly vomit worthy imagery. Why all the cherubs? Why the hearts? Why the flowers? Oh and the crooning! ‘Twoooo hearts on fire…’ Yuck guys, yuck.
In the awful ‘Wizard of Oz’ re-imagining ‘The Wiz’ there is a sequence where Michael Jackson and Diana Ross as the Scarecrow and Dorothy are singing a song called ‘Ease on Down the Road.’ Two of the greatest entertainers of all time singing a great song telling us a story everyone loves…And how does the director choose to film it? The actors are facing away from the camera. And the camera? Miles away for most of the song. We can barely see them. The first time I saw this scene I refused to believe it was really Michael Jackson. I couldn’t see his face or what he was doing. If it were really him, one of the best show boats of all time, why would the director shoot it like the Bela Lugosi double from ‘Plan 9 from Outer Space’?
Too many pop culture references at once? Sorry. This is my point: Why hire wonderful dancers if you don’t know how to shoot wonderful dancers? It is an insult to an artistic form that can be so brutal and yet so beautiful at the same time. A skill so specialised that if you take some time off to have a meal or a growth spurt you can’t physically summon the strength to do it anymore…and you film them like that???? WHY???
‘Casey at the Bat’ had promise. I went and read the poem after watching the film and I really like it. It is the story of a baseball player who is the hero of the team and he is the guy everyone in the crowd is there to see. He purposely lets two balls whiz past, so confident is he that he will hit the third one. Then he doesn’t. That’s it. But it says a lot about the nature of success and how easy it is to get in your own way.
But none of the words made any kind of impact on me when presented with the cartoon. The animation is ugly. I don’t know how else to describe it…It is too big and rough and larger than life, meaning the tight realism of the text is totally lost. For example there are a lot of subtle character moments in the poem that show how coolly arrogant Casey is. Like when he has both defiance in his eye and a sneer on his lip when he first approaches the plate. How does the cartoon portray this little flash of angry pride? By having Casey’s face expand and change to a hideous visage. I didn’t know a cartoon could mug and chew scenery. Turns out they really can though.
The delivery is dreadful too. Jerry Colonna is no Sterling Holloway. His put on comedy sport commentator voice was a terrible choice for such easy flowing verse. Oh and the cartoon adds some lines that are not in the poem that assures the audience that the women who attended the game did not even know what sport was on. Nice guys. All in all, potential squandered. Strike! You’re out!
A trend I noticed in ‘Make Mine Music’ is either the source material or intention is woefully let down by sub par animation or the animation is pretty and creative but the idea is forgettable. Not everyone will enjoy the same moments as me though.
Critically ‘After You’ve Gone’ is seriously acclaimed despite the fact by the time I came to write this enough time had passed between my initial viewing of the film that I had forgotten it completely. It is the bit that has musical instruments playing some swing as they construct a sort of musical theme park with the notes. It is cool, yes. But largely without a point.
In fact both the Benny Goodman segments, the other being ‘All The Cats Join In,’ are kind of dull to me. None of the ideas presented are original enough to peak my interest and the music is not my thing at all. Hell, the ‘All the Cats Join In’ animation technique is very similar to the ‘Brazil’ song from ‘Saludos Amigos’ and Amigos did it better. There is something I never thought I would say. Plus both of these shorts feel like they are building to something that never arrives. But then, that’s jazz.
Plus I mostly hate warbling crooners. Have I made that clear yet? Both ‘Blue Bayou’ and ‘Without You’ are very pretty to look at but lost their appeal as soon as the singers began crooning. So about three seconds after they began.
Have I covered everyone yet? Ah no. Still have not talked about the infamous rustic ballad that is omitted from many a version of ‘Make Mine Music.’ It is easy to see why it is considered controversial. It is kind of classist: It turns a mocking eye on some hillbillies who literally murder each other with their guns over…You know I can’t remember. Something to do with stolen apples maybe? I am going with apples. Wait no: Eggs. Eggs from the hen house. Cause they are hill type folks y’all!
So yeah, the two families end up fighting in the clouds. Cause they are all dead. Fair enough. By the way, there are three scenes in ‘Make Mine Music’ that show dead characters in heaven. Really not wanting kids to deal with the finality of death were you? You big animated babysitter!
But two respective family members, Grace Martin and Henry Coy, remain alive and they fall in love before they can kill each other. Which is nice. So it seems the message of the story is no matter how fierce a family feud love conquers all. But no. Because after the honeymoon is over the couple start kicking the crap out of each other. While their relatives roar with approval from heaven. Cause their families are just meant to hate each other. Lovely. Charming. Oh wait no. Gross and inappropriate. And not funny, which might be what they were going for.
While it is standard to look at banned art and go: ‘Censorship! boo!’ I get why Disney quietly removed this from the animated history books. It is not that I am easily shocked and it is not particularly stomach churning as the domestic abuse isn’t too graphic…Wow. There is a sentence I never thought I would type while reviewing Disney films. Anyways, it is not that I think the cartoon should be banned. I just think it shouldn’t have been made in the first place. Some controversial art or cartoon stereotypes are worth it due to their high quality. This is not one of those. Yee Haw.
So the highs are high, the lows are low and the meh’s are…meh. ‘Make Mine Music’ is the very definition of a mixed bag. Despite finding it frustrating viewing for the most part, I think the fact it has sank into obscurity is unfair. It is as worthy of a place in your DVD collection as ‘Fantasia’ and there is enough moments of true joy that it earns the right to call itself a Disney Classic.
Disney Nightmare Inducer Count: 8
The message of the Martins and Coys, Humans with no pupils, eyes appearing in trees, the wolf reveal (he has scary yellow eyes!), Sonia the Duck’s grizzly fate despite the fact it is revealed to be a hoax, Finger legs playing the piano, the hats have eyes and the end of Willie’s story.
This is the hardest choice I have had to make yet while writing these reviews. The impact of Willie singing ‘Shortnin’ Bread’ when we see him for the first time has yet to wear off on me. I know the song itself has a controversial history but man, when he sings it, it makes me smile. But then there is the hat love story (hat love story!) which I enjoyed so much and was such a pleasant surprise. Both of these sections are under fifteen minutes long and yet I really care about the characters and enjoy the music.
Gah. I am going to go watch them both again…It is a hard life.
So which one should I single out as the best ‘Make Mine Music’ has to offer? It has to be Willie. While the Johnny Fadora and Alice Bluebonnet story is a lot of fun to watch, I really feel like I want to pay tribute to the talent of Nelson Eddy by sharing this…(If you don’t have 15 minutes to spare just cut to 3.30 for ‘Shortnin’ Bread’. Frickin’ magic.)
EDIT: Yet again the Disney lawyers have ruined my fun and removed the cartoon I just wanted to share with people. However after much hunting I have found the Shortin’ Bread clip although who knows how long that will last:
Domestic abuse is once again mined for comedy courtesy of some bears and we attend the most disturbing birthday party of all time…Won’t somebody save me? Fun and Fancy Free (1947)