Fun and Fancy Free (1947) Review
What do I know about the film?
I have a headache from watching it. How’s that for what I know about this…No. I can’t even call it a film. It is not a film. It is a mind fuck. A mind fuck that doesn’t even have the decency to be entertaining.
I miss proper Disney. So much. To think I ever WANTED to watch the War Films! What was I thinking???
Let’s get this over with…
‘Fun and Fancy Free’ was yet another package film. Unlike the slightly overwhelming kaleidoscope of ideas shown in ‘Make Mine Music’ there are only 2 short stories here, one of which includes Mickey Mouse in his first cinematic outing since ‘Fantasia.’ Both stories were conceived as full length features, with preproduction starting as early as 1940 but tragically they were shortened due to the now clearly established problem of the world basically coming apart at the seams.
One story is based off an idea from a Cosmo article (Like all the best works of art) and the other is the Disney version of the very well known fable Jack and the Beanstalk as played out by Goofy, Donald and Lord Mickey of Mouse himself. Then there is the shit that goes on in between the stories. The clumsiest links I ever did see. Why are they there??? No explanation will ever be good enough and none is given. Just as well. We will get to that…Yes. We. Will. Get. To. That.
This is the last time Walt Disney gave his voice to Mickey Mouse. I didn’t even know he did the voice up until recently and while it is a cool piece of trivia I would say…He should have stuck to his day job of humiliating his staff and being grumpy. Voice artistry is not one of the many skills he possessed. Mel Blanc he ain’t.
Also, this is one of the very few Disney films that has never been give a theatrical re-release. I can’t imagine why…
I KNOW EXACTLY WHY!!!!
Did I see it as a child?
One day when I was 8 years old my teacher started to scream at me when I could not answer a simple maths question. I was too scared to respond to her temper so continued to keep quiet. She decided this was insolence as opposed to fear and sent me to the infant class to ask them the same Maths questions, telling me even they would know the answer. So I had to stand in front of a class of 4 and 5 year old’s, trembling and nearly in tears, and ask for help with my Maths homework.
If you said to me right now: ‘In exchange for that experience, we will take that time and give you ‘Fun and Fancy Free’ instead! So instead of that half hour of humiliation that has given you the belief that you are stupid that has lasted your whole life all because one teacher had no patience, you could instead have watching ‘Fun and Fancy Free’ as a memory. What do you say?’
I would be all: No thanks. I will retain that memory to avoid having to inflict that film on my childhood. You are welcome Young Me. You are welcome.
Jiminy Cricket is back! And he…um…yeah…Puts on a record which tells a story of Bongo the Circus Bear who flees the world of showbiz and almost instantly falls in love with a little girl bear named Lulubell (You know she is a girl bear cause she has a pink flower on her head. And her name is fucking Lulubell) everything is going swell until 8 minutes into their love when Lulubell hits him in the face…
After this story Jiminy finds an invitation to a birthday party. The birthday party is live action. It is the birthday party of a little girl. It is just her, a man she calls Mr Bergen and two sentient ventriloquist dummies. Rather than noting that her parents don’t seem to be about and a man is entertaining her by talking to his hand and promptly contacting the correct authorities, Jiminy settles in for some cake and another story.
This story is Mickey and the Beanstalk. Like Jack and the Beanstalk only told with nightmarishly unfunny interruptions from two, and I can’t stress this enough, uncontrolled ventriloquist dummies.
Sound good? On we go then…
Really? Really format? You want me to praise the Disney film with the ventriloquist dummies? Ok, ok. The sooner I do this the sooner we can get back to warm nostalgic rushes and leave behind a film company both firmly in crisis and struggling with the constant Memento Mori of a world war.
If Bongo the Bear had been developed into a full length feature, it might have worked. The original plan was to have it be a sort of sequel to ‘Dumbo’ bringing back some of the supporting characters from that film, as it would have been set in the same circus for a lot of the picture. This appeals to me as they do a good job of not romanticising the circus in Bongo’s story, showing that even though the audience loves his act of riding around on a little unicycle he is kept locked up between performances and treated cruelly.
If we had more time to get to know the little dude and really root for his escape he might have been quite winning as he has some nice character quirks in this short. I love that he keeps his little unicycle even after he gets away and gamely rides around the forest on it. It is a nice little demonstration that he is struggling to adapt to a world without a big top.
It seems odd to me that ‘Make Mine Music’ got slated for starting with a cartoon about 2 violent families and yet, from what I can tell, there was no petition to ban ‘Bongo’ despite the most inappropriately cheerful musical number in the history of cartoons. It turns out bears, right, like to demonstrate affection through giving their partner an almighty smack to the face.
As second act romcom misunderstandings go…This one’s a doozy. Bongo doesn’t get why Lulubell keeps punching him. She doesn’t get why he won’t thump her back. She accidentally hits a big burly mentally challenged bear and he proceeds to essentially get her in a head lock and carry her off. Then the song starts…A song that explains that bears fucking love a good belt to the face.
It is not good. None of it is really. But it is at least a kind of surreal comic moment, the kind that highlights how strange old school cartoons can be. So it made it to this ‘things that worked’ section because it made me shake my head in amusement. Rather than later in the film, when I was shaking my head so I couldn’t see what was happening on the screen.
I am NOT saying physical abuse is inherently funny. But in a film full of incredibly dull and lifeless sections, a yodelling woman and a male chorus assuring me bears court through decking each other was a welcome distraction from my thoughts of eating every copy of the film so nobody else would ever have to see it.
‘Mickey and the Beanstalk’ isn’t a bad stand alone cartoon. If you are in fact a fan of cartoons from this era there is a lot to enjoy. There are moments that COULD have been genuinely funny, scary and suspenseful. How they were ruined? We will get to that. But for a clue, check out that photo near the start.
Two bits were too good to be totally wrecked though. One involves Donald Duck, free from the tyranny of Jose the Parrot, snapping after being given only a sliver of bread to eat. His eyes go a bit nuts, he tells the narrator to shut up (If ONLY the narrator had listened) and has a full blown melt down complete with cutlery eating and taking Checkhov’s axe down from the wall. It is not immediately clear what he wants the axe for and it is an unusually raw moment of desperation. I am not kidding. It is rare that a cartoon character goes mad from hunger and then instantly acquires a weapon. It is kind of intense.
As I have said in previous reviews, Donald Duck is not a character I am especially fond of but he is at his best in this short. He reminds me of a character from one my favourite works of literature and cinema: Begbie from ‘Trainspotting.’ Donald Duck has wee man syndrome. He is a danger to himself and others because every person he meets has the capacity to offend him. And you would rather be with him than against him, the unpredictable lunatic.
The other moment that does not make up for the film but nearly made it bearable was when the Giant is revealed to have woken up just as Mickey et co are ready to slip away with the Harp. Mickey has stayed behind to tie his shoe laces together to delay him a bit should be try and chase them. As he pulls them together the feet move slightly and cause him to get tangled. Then the camera quickly zooms up to reveal that the Giant’s feet changed position because he is awake. And he is not happy. And his eyes rapidly change colour with rage. The timing is bang on. Hitchcock couldn’t have nailed it better. But please just take my word for it. Don’t go hunting for this clip. You might accidentally watch the rest of the film…
What Doesn’t Work:
Well let us first cover something obvious because it has been present in all of these package films: Both shorts are spoiled by their narrative devices. ‘Bongo’ is narrated by ‘celebrity’ Dinah Shore as she completely sucks any charm from the story with her patronising and thoroughly grating tone. Stop. Telling. Me. What. I. Am. Supposed. To. Feel. Dinah. You. Bitch. Disney may well have noticed as some versions are narrated by Cliff Edwards (Jiminy Cricket) instead and while I can’t vouch for him I 100% believe he would do a better job.
And then…What did they do to poor Mickey and his story? What they did was they brought in ‘celebrity funny man’ Edgar Bergen and ‘Disney child celebrity’ Luanna Patten to do some kind of weird vaudeville skit with some ‘dolls from hell’. If their contribution had ended with that psychiatrist’s wet dream of a birthday party (the little girl is actually offered candy by the large man who is not her caregiver. This actually happens) I might have accepted it but then…Let me try and explain exactly what goes down during the next bit. I will fail. But I will try:
1) Mr Bergan asks if they want to hear a story
2) One of the wooden dolls has to paint a mental picture to create the cartoon. He strains for a while and the cartoon appears. They can all see the cartoon as they are reacting to what we can see on screen.
3) The imagined characters can hear our narrators and at one point Donald tries to get them to stop talking.
4) Jiminy Cricket is listening to them imagine a story that they can see with characters that can respond to them but he is not seen by the actors nor is he an active part of the narrative. He is just…there.
5) At the end of the story that they have talked all the way through, one of the doll’s is sad that the giant is dead and Mr Bergan points out it is just a story.
6) Only then the fabric of time rips and the Giant lifts up the roof of the house. Mr Bergan collapses, presumably dead as it is the last we see of him, and the little girl is left at the mercy of the demonic puppets
7) The Giant wanders off into the real world and the film ends.
Who’d have thought the cartoon with the slap-happy bears would make the most sense of the two stories?
Have you ever accidentally selected a commentary option on a film you are trying to watch? After a couple of minutes you realise that the voices yapping awkwardly all over the main feature could not possibly be intentional and find a way to stop it. This is like a commentary you can’t switch off. A criminally unfunny, pointless, poorly scripted commentary. Courtesy of some of the worst characters I have ever seen. Did anyone ever find ventriloquism charming??? And why couldn’t they have just played the dam cartoon without any of this brain weakening nonsense? Because the live action people are famous! Even the dummies were famous!
The decision to use famous people to bring in ticket sales in more understandable then than it is now (The overuse of random insignificant celebrities in the latest Muppet movie kept me largely unmoved by the film as a whole to be honest) as it was getting so hard for Disney to even survive. I get it. But man, is it terrible. Yes. Yes it is. So awful.
I remember a month or so ago when I thought ‘Saludos Amigos’ was hard to sit through. Compared to the shtick of Shirley Temple’s less talented sister, the creepiest baby sitter of all time and those glorified bits of firewood, ‘Slaudos Amigos’ is as compelling a documentary as ‘Grizzly Man.’ I would gladly watch ‘Saludos Amigos’ every single day while saluting it than watch Charlie and Mortimer’s comedy routine. Those are the names of the dolls by the way. I didn’t bring it up before because…WHY IN THE NAME OF MICKEY MOTHER FUCKING MOUSE ARE THERE VENTRILOQUIST DUMMIES IN MY DISNEY FILM??? Watching this bit of ‘Fun and Fancy Free’ was a nightmare. A nightmare I could have chosen to wake up from at any moment. But I stayed. For all of you. To bring you this nonsensical ranting about evil dummies. Welcome.
So what else sucks about this film? I am so glad you asked! The bear love story thing is icky not just because of the terrible message about slapping your loved one but because of the dreadful love song. All about how love is too good to be true and then there are bear cupids (why are there always cherubs in Disney love? They are creepy, even in bear form) and as usual the act of falling in love is portrayed as instant and all rosy and magical and boring. The relationship is largely forgettable and it is awful that it needed a bit of slapping to liven it up.
The film brings back Jiminy Cricket and then doesn’t bother using him. He kicks off the picture with an overly happy song that was originally in ‘Pinocchio’ called ‘Happy Go Lucky Fellow.’ While I like Edwards’ singing voice the sentiment of the film seems widely unsuitable for the era in which the film was released. Sure I understand that escapism was important but there is something so desperate about lines like: ‘The end of the world’s been comin’ since 1903…Don’t cross a bridge or peek round the corner until you’re there…Just learn to smile and in a while you’ll find trouble’s a bubble of air…’ Like he is saying: don’t be sad guys! We MIGHT not die! Isn’t that super???
After this, the most depressing of happy songs, Jiminy puts on a record that tells the Bongo story and when it cuts back to him he is rearranging some dolls. Not even he can pay attention. And he is in the movie. Then he goes to the ‘party’ and is forgotten about. If Jiminy Cricket was an actor this would have been a proper sell out moment, beneath his dignity, going from the sublime ‘Pinocchio’ to this…this…It is not even a film. Not really. It is like nobody involved had any creative spark at all. So all they could do was crank out sad happy songs and sad happy jokes and wait for the war to end.
Easily the worst film so far, ‘Fun and Fancy Free’ is anything but. Watching it I felt miserable and trapped. This war had better end soon so I can get back to decent story telling!
Disney Nightmare Inducer Count: 10
Sudden doll, trees with faces, abusive bears having an S&M party in the woods, the living dummies, the whole birthday party in general, the scarecrow feet, the shadow thief, Donald losing his shit, The Giant’s eyes changing colour, the fabric rip at the end which makes no sense.
I am going to go for ‘Say it with a Slap’ not because it is a good song but because it at least has the decency to be entertainingly weird rather than just straight up confusingly awful. If you are going to watch any of ‘Fun and Fancy Free’ (and how you could resist after my ringing endorsement?) it might as well be this:
A cock blocking horse and a shit ton of apples… it is Melody Time (1948)