Saturday, September 17, 2016

DISNEY'S FUN & FANCY FREE

As I was writing about my 21st Favorite Disney villain, I thought that I might as well perhaps review a Disney film. Only instead of it being one of their famous animated films, I'm going to dive into the obscure corner of the franchise, and review one of their package films that came out during the 40s. This is...

Image result for Disney's Fun and fancy free poster

Unlike package films like "Make Mine Music" or the famous big budgeted "Fantasia" as each film would contain various cartoons centering on music as its theme. This one would only contain two (like the later package film "The Adventures Of Ichabod and Mr.Toad") which are "Bongo" and "Mickey and the Beanstalk". And even though the shorts featured in the film aren't that obscure since they had been shown individually countless times on TV and straight to home video release (especially the short "Mickey and the Beanstalk"), the film that ties them together is. Mainly because it hasn't been re-released as constantly as the other films made during that Era. Do these shorts work better off on their own, or do the work well together; ON WITH THE REVIEW!

Before I start with the first short "Bongo", I just want to let you know that I will also be reviewing the scenes that help tie these shorts together. And the crazy thing about the in-between scenes of the film that combine both shorts is they're not told by one narrator, but two, as Jiminy Cricket just wanders around and stops by to hear the stories that lead into each cartoon. But the crazier part about it all is, just when you think Jiminy is the star and focus of the scenes in between the shorts, the film then suddenly pushes him out of the way to randomly have a different host take the spotlight away from him (will talk about him later), as Jiminy just pretty much sits around doing and saying practically nothing. So instead of me just reviewing the scenes outside the two shorts as a whole, I'm going to divide them into separate reviews since they are both taken over by a different host, as well as them having an almost completely different feel and style. 

 JIMINY CRICKET

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The scenes that serve as bookends for the first short film "Bongo" involve Jiminy Cricket, who waltzes around in a fancy home without a care in the world. He eventually stumbles upon a Doll and a Teddy Bear that look sad, so to make them feel just as happy as he is, he plays a record of the story of "Bongo" that's narrated and sung by Dinah Shore. The first two songs that are featured in the film back to back are the film's title song sung by a choir,  and "I'm A Happy-Go-Lucky Fellow" sung by Jiminy Cricket which are upbeat tunes that bring you into that happy and carefree vibe that almost makes you feel like a kid again. But as welcoming as the two songs are, they’re unfortunately not too memorable or catchy either. Cliff Edwards reprises the role as the famous Cricket who originated in "Pinocchio" and he's just as sweet and enjoyable as he was in his film debut. We also get to see him briefly interact with the fish Cleo, which is a nice little cameo. As for the excuse of why the story of "Bongo" is being told, it does feel very weak, almost as if Disney didn't know how to connect "Bongo" with Jiminy Cricket. But its pretty cute seeing Jiminy try to cheer up sad looking dolls, who then smile when the story is over. Though I do find it kind of creepy that these dolls can change expression, despite that they're not actually alive. But I suppose that's Disney logic for you. And besides that's nothing as creepy compared to what the film has to offer later on.

The bookends to the "Bongo" segment aren't anything special, but it’s still cute to watch Jiminy enjoy himself and roam around in the house as he sings and interacts with the animals and toys around him.

RATING 2/5

"BONGO"

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Our first short is about a circus Bear named Bongo who hates living in the Circus for how poorly he's being treated, despite the praise that he gets from audiences everywhere. Wishing to be out in the wild where no one can tell him what to do, Bongo breaks out of the circus train to live in the forest. At first he has trouble adapting to his new surroundings, but things get better for him when he meets a female bear named Lulubelle. The two instantly fall in love with each other, but Bongo immediately has a romantic rival named Lumpjaw who is the biggest bear in the forest. Things only get worse when Lulubelle slaps Bongo in the face a few times, and runs off with Lumpjaw, which breaks Bongo's heart, until he discovers that a slap in the face is the way of a bear showing their love and affection.

I remember seeing this in Middle School when I was in 6th Grade, and I found it be cute, but nothing great. Looking at it now as an adult, my reaction from when I was a Pr-teen kind of feels the same. I say "kind of" because I remember being bored by it when I first saw it, but watching it again I find it to be fairly entertaining. I don't have much to fault it for because the animation is beautiful and at times imaginative. The gags are fun. The characters and their designs are cute. The story is easy to follow. And Dinah Shore brings a lot of charm to the characters and cartoon through her singing and narration. I guess the reason why I don't find it to be all that special is because it feels pretty standard. Like it doesn't seem to take any risks, or do anything grand with it. It just seems to play itself very safe. As nice as the animation and the visual gags are, they're nothing all that intriguing. While the story is simple to follow, a lot of the scenes in the short feel like filler just to make it longer (especially when Bongo is in the woods trying to adapt). And as adorable as the characters are, they just seem more based around being cutesy, instead of actually having character to them. The songs that Dinah Shore sings do fit each scene fine, and she does have a lovely singing voice, but with that said, they're actually very forgettable. The only song I kind of remember is the song about the bear's slapping each other as a way of love, but I find myself more creeped out by it, than I find myself laughing at it. I know they're wild animals and that this universe is supposed to be cartoony, but something about watching this cute couple of bear's slapping each other when they are aware of kissing just didn't feel right. It just felt odd. As for the climax with Bongo fighting against Lumpjaw a part of me always felt like that this should've been played a bit more on a dramatic level. Like having the woods suddenly go dark, and hearing this loud and exciting music, like you would see in the climaxes of early Disney films. I just felt like it should've been more intense, instead of making it comical. Even that moment when we're supposed to think Bongo's dead doesn't feel sad because we clearly know that he lived after we quickly discover that his arch-nemesis has survived the fall, before the scene can even play itself out as a fake-out death.

"Bongo" is not a bad short film, but it's not great either. It's just average. If this was released as a separate short I'd be a little more forgiving, but in terms of being part of a feature film it hardly works. But if you want to see something that's cute and harmless, you'll enjoy "Bongo" fine.

RATING 3/5

EDGAR BERGEN AND HIS VENTRILOQUIST DUMMIES CHARLIE MCCARTHY AND MORTIMER SNERD

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So after Jiminy succeeds with making the dolls smile, he sees an invitation to a party hosted by Edgar Bergen and his puppet friends Charlie McCarthy and Mortimer Snerd that's sent to famous Disney child actress of the 40s Luana Patten. Jiminy decides to go the party and join in on the fun. After eating some cake, Bergen decides to tell everyone the story of "Mickey and the Beanstalk". Remember when I said earlier that the film had something more creepy to offer than the two dolls just suddenly smiling, this whole segment is exactly what I am refereeing too. First of all, the setting for these scenes feels incredibly awkward. This is a party hosted by two creepy talking puppets, and a man who does weird sounds with his hand (as the eyes and mouth drawn on to his hand look just as creepy as the puppets are) and shadow puppets (that don't at all look like he's actually making them with his hands) where the only guest at the party is a little girl. This doesn't feel charming, it just feels freaky. The puppets themselves aside from a few cynical comments they make on the story, aren't that funny, they actually look possessed. And some of the things they say and do like talking about murdering a cow, or dressing up as a pirate for no rhyme or reason are more frightening than they are funny.

As for Edgar Bergen, I'm sure he was a nice guy, but looking at him here, I sense a bit of a more pedophile vibe to him than I do as a welcoming host. Watching him making his hand talk, or offering Luana Cake, Ice Cream, and Candy just feels unsettling, especially when given the fact that there are no other guest around or the girl's parents for that matter. The worst part about Edgar's presence in the film is how poor of a ventriloquist he is. Whenever you see him interacting with the puppets, you clearly see his lips move as he makes faces that the dummies would make, instead of trying to hide the fact that he's making their voices. Even when he passes out, you can still see him move his lips as one of his puppet friends tries to comfort him. On top of it, you see other scenes with the puppets when Bergen is not with them to try to create the illusion that they are actually alive, when its clear that they're not since we have to see him move his lips when he talks to them face to face in so many other scenes, which not only kills the illusion, but makes these scenes weirder than they already are. The reason why he sucks as ventriloquist is because he did it on the radio, where no one can see him try not to move his lips, which I don't at all get how that was a thing back in the days when radio was the equivalent of a TV set. Bergen himself was even embarrassed about how obvious his lip movements were in the film. As for the mix of live action and animation (since Jiminy is there) it's nowhere near as convincing as combining live action in Disney films like "Song Of The South" or "The Three Caballeros". I always find myself under the impression that Jiminy has just been added into these scenes, instead of actually being there. Even the surprise appearance of one of the characters in the story that Bergen tells didn't look all that convincing either.

Again I have nothing against Edgar Bergen as a person, and I do respect that he helped inspire Jim Henson to create the Muppets. But with that said, his presence in the film with his dummies is still overly awkward to the point where it’s scary.

RATING 0/5

MICKEY AND THE BEANSTALK

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So the scenes with Edgar Bergen and his puppets throwing a party are scary as hell. What about the cartoon by itself? Well in this Disney re-telling of "Jack and the Beanstalk", in a beautiful land called "Happy Valley" where everybody lives in complete harmony thanks to the singing harp, a strange shadow covers up the Valley, and the magic harp has suddenly disappeared once the shadow had lifted. Without the magic harp's music, the land begins to fall into despair as the residents living there become poor and hungry. The only three remaining residents still living in the land are Mickey, Donald, and Goofy, who are slowly dying of hunger. Mickey goes to sell the cow for food, but instead of bringing food to the table, he buys a box of magic beans, which causes a starving Donald to toss the beans down a hole in the floor. The next morning the three discover that their house (along with them) has been carried away by a Beanstalk from the magic beans high up in the clouds that leads to a giant castle. Even though they're the size of insects, the three are still happy to find food that's bigger than them inside the Castle, as well finding the magic harp herself. The only catch is, the Castle is owned by a Giant named Willie who the stole the harp for his own personal use.

This short is the only high point of the movie, as well as being one of the best cartoons to star Mickey and his pals. Mickey is charmingly cute as the brave and daring hero who tries constantly to outwit the giant and rescue the harp. Goofy has his funny moments of slapstick (his best moment is when he's standing on Jell-O). And Donald of course has plenty of scenes of him losing his mind, which come across as humorous, but surprisingly disturbing at the same time (particularly when he's starving). The short has only two new and original characters as opposed to having a whole cast of characters like in “Bongo” which are the harp and Willie the Giant. And as charming as the harp is, and as fun and cute as Mickey, Donald, and Goofy are; the character that steals the show is Willie. While having a good amount of moments where he’ll comes across as threatening, there are plenty of moments where he'll act goofy and have the innocence of a child that are legitimately funny. I actually like that they make the giant this likable goofball who has his moments where he'll flat out get angry and try to murder the characters, as opposed to making him a flat out bad guy. He has just the right balance of humor and intimidation. The only gripe I have with the character is how Disney decides to give him powers that are quickly ignored, just as quickly as they are shown. There was really no point to give him powers, he's a giant for crying out loud, that's more than enough to make him a threat towards Mickey and the gang. And if Disney is going to give him powers, they should in the very least show him using them more often, instead using them as a simple plot device for Goofy and Donald to get captured. Seriously, the film gave him so many opportunities for him to change his form, and yet the film and characters acts as if he never had powers to begin with. It makes no sense what-so-ever, and should have never been added to the story at all.

The animation for the short is a lot more creative looking than it did in "Bongo". Both designs for "Happy Valley" capture the look and feel of the land from being a perfect place to live, to being a desert like wasteland. And the size and scale of the world where the giant lives brings that authentic adventurous feel of being small, that looks cool while at the same time dangerous. The timing for the scenes of slapstick between the characters also moves at a very flowing pace for the scenes to be funny but still provide enough room for them to still come across as either whimsical or dramatic. Speaking of dramatic, remember in "Bongo" how I complained about the climax being less dramatic than it should have been, this short doesn't shy away from the intense stuff. Scenes such as the harp being taken away, or Donald trying to kill a cow both stand-tall as being dark and intense moments. The climax itself also gives you the feeling that Mickey's life is at stake if the giant catches him, when in "Bongo" you knew that the two characters were going to be ok, for how not seriously the climax or its world treats itself. The songs in this short are also more memorable than the songs in "Bongo". Songs like "My, What a Happy Day" sung by the Harp, or "Fee-Fi-Fo-Fum" sung by Willie as short as they are, are still catchier than any of the previous songs featured in the film. Even that slow moving song "My Favorite Dream" comes off as unforgettably enchanting. If I had to pick my favorite scene in the short, it would have to be the scene when the Beanstalk grows as our trio of characters is asleep. Through its animation, gags, and music, it overall creates an enchanting and subtle atmosphere that still successfully comes across as fun and entertaining. My favorite image in that sequence is seeing the house being covered in clouds as its rising up, that looked like something out of a dream.

The film clearly saved the best short for last, because comparing it to "Bongo" its more intriguing because of its timeless story, use of famous Disney characters, having a larger than life giant (both literally and figuratively), catchy songs, and wonderful animation that in the end gives us a fun adventure that I don't mind going back too…that is as long as you don’t have Edgar Bergen and his puppets telling the story.

RATING 5/5

MY OVERALL THOUGHTS ON THE FILM

Aside from the short "Mickey and the Beanstalk" it's an overall forgettable film that's a complete mess. What made the shorts (for the most part) work together in the other Disney package films was that all the shorts were based on a theme. "Fantasia", "Make Mine Music", and "Melody Time" theme was music. "The Three Caballeros" theme was Latin America that was hosted Donald Duck and his two friends to take you into each segment. And "The Adventure's Of Ichabod and Mr. Toad" theme was literature that had a Library with magical books to take you in and out of each story. The theme in this film is pretty much "we're just doing whatever the hell we want just for fun" which is very off-putting since there's nothing that really ties these shorts together, aside from Jiminy who seems to be forgotten midway through the movie. I mean how do you mash a singing Cricket, with a talking bear, a creepy guy with creepy talking puppets, and Mickey and his pals starring in a re-telling of "Jack and the Beanstalk"? They just don't seem to go hand and hand, which is why these two shorts simply work better off on their own, as opposed to being together in one film. And if you decide to see "Mickey and the Beanstalk" as a stand alone short film, make sure you find the version narrated by the famous German Duck Professor Ludwig Von Drake, and his little Beetle friend Herman. They're not only far away from the awkward nightmare fuel that you'll get from Bergen and his puppets from hell, but they're also tons of fun to watch. And why not, it's Ludwig freaking Von Drake, one of the funniest Disney characters out there. The only downside is, bits like the Dragon fly attacking Mickey and the gag, and the Jell-O bit with Goofy are cut short for time, but the scenes with Ludwig being annoyed by Herman, and almost killing him on 1 or 2 occasions do make up for it. I overall don't recommend the film that ties the shorts together, but since the cartoons did originate from the film, and that the film is at least entertaining, I guess I would say it’s kind of worth a look for those reasons. But I still I highly recommend that you see these shorts on their own.

OVERALL RATING FOR THE MOVIE 2/5