Melody Time (Working title: Sing About Something) is the tenth full-length animated feature film in the Disney Animated Canon. It was first released on May 27, 1948, and was released to theaters by RKO Radio Pictures. Made up of several sequences set to popular music and folk music, the film is, like Make Mine Music before it, the contemporary version of Fantasia (an ambitious film that proved to be a commercial disappointment upon its original theatrical release). Melody Time, while not meeting the artistic accomplishments of Fantasia, was a mildly successful film in its own right. It is the fifth package film, following Saludos Amigos, The Three Caballeros, Make Mine Music, and Fun and Fancy Free.
This particular film has seven segments:
- Once Upon a Wintertime features Frances Langford singing the title song about two romantic young lovers in December. The boy shows off for his girl, and near-tragedy and a timely rescue ensue. This short was also featured on the compilation video, A Walt Disney Christmas.
- Bumble Boogie is a surrealistic nightmare for a solitary bee trying to escape from a visual and musical frenzy. The music is courtesy of Freddy Martin and his orchestra (with Jack Fina playing the piano) and is a swing-jazz variation of Rimsky-Korsakov's Flight of the Bumblebee, which was one of the many pieces considered for inclusion in Fantasia.
- The Legend of Johnny Appleseed is a retelling of the story of John Chapman, who spent most of his life roaming America and planting apple trees, thus earning his famous nickname. Dennis Day narrates and provides all the voices.
- Little Toot is based on the poem by Hardie Gramatky, in which the title protagonist, a small tugboat, wants to be just like his father but can't seem to stay out of trouble. The Andrews Sisters provide the vocals. Out of all 7 of these musical segments, this one is the most famous, inspiring Robert D. Cardona (producer of the first two seasons of Thomas & Friends) and David Mitton (director of Thomas & Friends from Series 1 to 7) to create the British children’s television series TUGS, a series about the adventures of two anthropomorphized tugboat fleets, the Star Fleet and the Z-Stacks, who compete against each other for the best job contracts in the Bigg City Port, during the 1920s.
- Trees is a reciting of the famous Alfred Joyce Kilmer poem by Fred Waring and the Pennsylvanians with the lyrical setting seen through the seasons.
- Blame It on the Samba has Donald Duck and José Carioca meeting with the Aracuan Bird who introduces them to the pleasures of the samba. The Dinning Sisters provide the vocals while organist Ethel Smith plays the organ.
- Pecos Bill, as told by Roy Rogers and the Sons of the Pioneers, is the film's finale relating the tale of the famous hero from Texas; the greatest cowboy that ever lived, his horse Widowmaker, and how he was brought back down to earth by a woman named Slue-Foot Sue. This retelling of the story is courtesy of Roy Rogers, Bob Nolan, and the Sons of the Pioneers to Bobby Driscoll and Luana Patten. This segment was later edited on the film's NTSC video release (but not the PAL release) to remove all scenes of Bill smoking a cigarette. The entire scene with Bill rolling the smoke and lighting it with a lightning bolt was cut and all other shots of the offending cigarette hanging from his lips were digitally removed. Likewise, the segment relating how he fought a native tribal warband was edited out as it was perceived to be promoting racist stereotypes.
- Buddy Clark - Master of Ceremonies
- Roy Rogers - Himself; Narrator; Singer (Pecos Bill)
- Trigger, the Smartest Horse in the Movies - Himself
- Dennis Day - Narrator; Singer; Characters (Johnny Appleseed)
- The Andrews Sisters - Singers (Little Toot)
- Fred Waring and the Pennsylvanians - Singers (Trees)
- Ethel Smith - Herself; Organist (Blame It On the Samba)
- Frances Langford - Singer (Once Upon a Wintertime)
- Bob Nolan - Himself; Narrator; Singer (Pecos Bill)
- Bobby Driscoll - Himself (Pecos Bill)
- Luana Patten - Herself (Pecos Bill)
In late 1947, Disney announced he would be releasing a "regrouping of various cartoons at his studio under two titles, 'Melody Time' and 'Two Fabulous Characters'", to be released in August 1948 and 1949, respectively. Melody Time ended up being a released a few months earlier than planned, in May.
Melody Time is considered to be the last anthology feature made by the Walt Disney Animation Studios (the next film to be released was The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad, which featured two stories). These package features were "little-known short-film compilations that Disney produced and released as feature films during World War II". They were "financially (and artistically) lightweight productions meant to bring in profits [to allow the studio to] return to fairy tale single-narrative feature form", an endeavour which they successfully completed two years later with Cinderella. While the shorts "contrast in length, form, and style", a common thread throughout is that each "is accompanied by song[s] from musicians and vocalists of the '40s" - both popular and folk music. This sets it apart from the similarly structured Fantasia, whose segments were set to classical music instead. As opposed to Fun and Fancy Free, whose story was bound to the tales of Bongo and Jack and the Beanstalk, in this film "Walt Disney has let his animators and his color magicians have free rein".
It was made with 35 mm film negatives, through the spherical cinematographic process, in Technicolor, and had an aspect ratio of 1.37:1.
Melody Time was the last film The Andrews Sisters took part in. They sang throughout the 10-minute segment known as Little Toot. Andrews Sisters member Maxine said: "It was quite an experience. On the wall at the studio, they had the whole story in picture form. Two songwriters played the score and Walt Disney explained it to us. It was a new thing for Disney. We sang the narrative. It was very exciting to work with Disney-he was such a gentleman".
The various taglines of the film were: "For Your All-Time Good Time!", "7 Hit Songs! 11 Musical Stars!", and "Walt Disney's Great New Musical Comedy".
Collectible items for the film include books, figures, and posters.
The songs in Melody Time were all "largely based around (then) contemporary music and musical performances".
|Melody Time||George David Weiss and Bennie Benjamin||Buddy Clark|
|Once Upon a Wintertime||Bobby Worth and Ray Gilbert||Frances Langford|
|Bumble Boogie||Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov (arranged by Jack Fina)||Freddy Martin and His Orchestra (with Jack Fina on piano)|
|Johnny Appleseed||Kim Gannon and Walter Kent||Dennis Day|
|Little Toot||Allie Wrubel||The Andrews Sisters|
|Trees||Joyce Kilmer (poem) and Oscar Rasbach (music)||Fred Waring and His Pennsylvanians|
|Blame It on the Samba||Ernesto Nazareth and Ray Gilbert||Ethel Smith and The Dinning Sisters|
|Pecos Bill||Eliot Daniel and Johnny Lange||Roy Rogers and the Sons of the Pioneers|
|Blue Shadows on the Trail||Eliot Daniel and Johnny Lange||Roy Rogers and the Sons of the Pioneers|
The film was originally released in USA, Brazil, and Argentina in 1948, and in 1950 in Mexico. From April of 1949 (UK) to 15 September 1954 (Denmark) the film was released across Europe. The film was known by a variety of names including Време за музика in Bulgaria, Mélodie cocktail in France, Musik, Tanz und Rhythmus in Germany, and Säveltuokio in Finland.
Disney later released a package film entitled Music Land, a nine-segment film which "recycled sequences from both Make Mine Music and Melody Time". Five selections were from Melody Time while another was the short Two For the Record, which consisted of two segments produced under Benny Goodman's direction.
Melody Time was unusual in that, until 1998 (50 years after its initial release), it remained "one of the handful of Disney's animated features yet to be released on videocassette". Some of the segments "have been re-released as featurettes", and Once Upon a Wintertime has "been included on other Disney video cartoon compilations".
At the time of its release, the film received "generally unfavorable reviews". However, Disney Discourse: Producing the Magic Kingdom notes that an article in Time Magazine around that time "celebrated the global scope of the Disney product", and a 1948 review for The News-Sentinel said the "charm and skill" that one had to txpect from Disney is "delightful entertainment" for all children. A 1940 review of the film for The Los Angeles Times said the "acts" Johnny Appleseed and Pecos Bill, which the "new variety show from Walt Disney [gave] special attention to" are "'human' sagas" and as a result "more endearing" than the rest of the segments. The Andrews Sisters: A Biography and Career Record notes that "the public liked the film and it was a box-office success".
A 1948 review by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette said the film was a "visual and auditory delight" and added that if Disney were able to reach his audience's other senses, "there's no doubt he'd be able to please them too". It says a "tuneful and functional soundtrack rounds out the Disney art". It said that Bumble Boogie "reverted back to fantasia-like interpretive technique". It also notes that the abstraction ends after Trees, and the final three shorts are "story-sequences". It says the simple story of Johnny Appleseed is done with "touching perception". It said Little Toot "is destined to become a fable of our time" and adds "the Andrew Sisters tell the story in lilting song". The review ended with the author saying "deserving accolades will go to [Walt Disney] and his whole production staff, as well as to the staff whose voices he has used as well".
A 1948 review of the film for The News-Sentinel described Pecos Bill as the best segment, and said it "caused a stir among the small fry in the audience".
Contemporary reviews are more mixed, noting film's faults, but also praising it for various technical achievements.
DVDizzy notes that in regard to the mix of shorts and 1940s music, "the marriage often does not work, and the melodies are not particularly the film's forte", however, it adds that this is a modern day opinion and that paying audiences at the time the film was released probably "felt better about the music". The site then reviewed each segment, in turn, saying: Once Upon a Wintertime is "physical slapstick" that doesn't match the "dramatic singing by Frances Langford", Bumble Boogie is "fun but forgettable", The Legend of Johnny Appleseed is the "most enjoyable" of the segments, Little Toot is "rather generic", Trees features "some nice imagery", Blame it on the Samba "involve[s] Latin dancing and nothing more", and Pecos Bill has "Disney...go[ing] back and us[ing] today's technology to alter [Bill's smoking,] what admittedly is a minor point in one short of a film that's predominantly going to be watched and purchased by animation enthusiasts/historians". It explains the "video quality is consistently satisfying" and that the "audio has the dated feel of other '40s Disney films".
The film received a score of 77.06 out of 100 based on 50 votes, on the site Disney Movies Guide.
In his book The Animated Movie Guide, Jerry Beck gave Melody Time a rating of 2/5 stars, and described the film as "odds and ends from a studio geared up towards revival". He said that by this time the post-war formula of releasing anthologies had become "tired", with only a few of the segments being interesting, and feeling as if the animators kept "pushing for something more creative to do". He commented that the film, a "vast underachievement" for Disney, felt dated like its predecessor Make Mine Music, and added that he found it hard to believe that the artists who made this film had also made Pinocchio eight years before. He praised the "exceptional designs and palettes" by stylist Mary Blair, including the "flat styli[s]ed backgrounds" of Wintertime, and the Impressionist painting/folk art look of The Legend of Johnny Appleseed. He highlighted the "slapstick...impressive montage of Bill's impressive feats" as a "true treat". He described the "manic interpretation" of Flight of the Bumblebee known as Bumble Boogie, in which a bee terrorized by musical instruments and notes "change[s] colors and outlines from one moment to the next as the backgrounds seamlessly dissolve, change or morph around him", as "Disney's best piece of surrealism since the 'Pink Elephant on Parade' sequence in Dumbo". He also spoke about the "stellar special effects" involved in the dynamite exploding Ethel Smith's organ instrument, in the segment Blame it on the Samba. However, he added that the rest of Melody time was "sad[ly]...forgettable".
As part of a series of videos collectively known as Disneycember, internet reviewer Doug Walker, AKA the Nostalgia Critic, reviewed Melody Time, along with the other traditionally animated Disney movies throughout December 2011. He noted its similarities to Make Mine Music (stories mixed with variations of modern songs and some poetry), and said a suitable name to the "almost identical" film would have been Make Mine Music 2. He said that just like the former package film, this one "works pretty good too". He says that some of the narratives are "more forgettable than others", and cites Trees (which he describes as the animators "drawing what they hear when the poem is read") as "especially nice". He compared Bumble Boogie to the Elephant sequence and said it had some "fun imagery". He said The Legend of Johnny Appleseed "st[ood] out the most" with its "really heavy atmosphere and really heavy visuals", and its "incredible" backgrounds. He complimented its "size and scope" although also described it as "corny", and praised the surreal "apple trees becoming...clouds" sequence. He says the short is "gripping" and should have stood on its own as a short rather than being "tucked away in here". He calls Pecos Bill "fun" and "really creative" although questions why it was chosen to finish the film as opposed to the "far superior" Johnny Appleseed short (adding that it ends on a bizarre tone). He said that as a whole, Melody Time has both good shorts, music, and animation, and that there are some points torough the film where the animation hits the "real Disney charm" that was featured throughout Fantasia. His closing statement was that one should "definitely check it out".
In The Magic Kingdom: Walt Disney and the American Way of Life, Steven Watts explains that while some sequences like Pecos Bill "recaptured some of the old magic", the film as a whole, along with the other "halfhearted...pastiche[s] of short subjects", came across as "animated shorts surrounded with considerable filler and stuff into a concocted package". He adds that as a result they "never caught fire" due to their "varying wildly in quality", with moments of creativity being outweighed by the "insipid, mediocre, stale stretches of work".
The authors of The Cartoon Music Book said Melody Time was "much better" than the other post-Fantasia Disney package films of the era, adding that it was "beautifully designed and scored", paving the way for the "'populuxe' style" of Disney's first renaissance (starting with Cinderella in 1950). They stated that Trees and Blame it on the Samba (which they described as a "psychedelic Latin American sequence") are "charming, if still obscure, entries in the Disney pop song catalogue.
The Andrews Sisters: A Biography and Career Record author H. Arlo Nimmo said: "in general, [the Andrew Sisters-sung] Melody Time holds up well, and the story of 'Little Toot' is as appealing to today as when it originally appeared fifty-some years ago". He described the singing as "unremarkable but narrat[ing] the...story cleverly". He adds Variety's quote: "'Little Toot,'...is colorful and engrossing. Andrew Sisters give it popular vocal interpretation", and said that although The New York Times preferred the film to Make Mine Music the magazine added, "The Andrew Sisters sing the story...not very excitingly". He also included Metronome's indifferent comment: "The Andrew Sisters sing a silly song about a tugboat". The article The Walt Disney Classics Collection Gets "Twitterpatted" For Spring deemed Little Toot one of Melody time's highlights.
In a review of the 2004 Disney film Home on the Range, the article Frisky 'Range' doesn't measure up: Disney delivers fun said that the "sendup of the Wild West...has some fitful comic vitality and charm - [but] it can't hold a candle to the 'Pecos Bill' segment of the studio's late-'40s anthology, 'Melody Time'".
A 1998 Chicago Tribute review of the film, in honor of its VHS release, described the film as a "sweet, old-fashioned delight and one of the few Disney animated films that pre-schoolers can watch alone without danger of being traumatized", but also added that the younger generation might be bored by it due to their being "attuned to the faster, hipper rhythms of the post-'Mermaid' era".
Review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes reports that 88% of the critics gave the film a positive review based on 8 reviews.
Censorship and controversy
Due to the controversy surrounding the smoking in Pecos Bill, the segment was "heavily edited" when the film was released onto video in 1998. While the character of Bill is shown "smoking a cigarette in several sequences", the edited version cuts these scenes, "resulting in the removal of almost the entire tornado sequence, and [creating] some odd hand and mouth movements for Bill throughout". In a review at DVDizzy, it is noted that if one has an interest in the shorts, one will "probably be upset to know that Disney has decided to digitally edit out contents of the 50-plus-year-old frames of animation". In the Melody Time section of the Your Guide To Disney's 50 Animated Features feature at Empire Online, the review said of the editing: "at least, it was [done] for the US releases, but not for the rest of the world. Go figure." The scenes are removed on both the 50th Anniversary VHS and the Golden Collection DVD releases, although the earlier Japanese laserdisc (released in 1987) and UK DVD are uncut. The segment's full unedited presentation in the movie was included on Disney+ in 2019 with a disclaimer.
According to a source, upon reviewing the music that Ken Darby had composed for "Johnny Appleseed", Walt Disney "scorned the music", describing it as "like New Deal music". Darby was "enraged", and said to Disney "THAT is just a cross-section of one man's opinion!". Darby was only employed at The Walt Disney Company Darby for a short while after this supposed incident.
Jerry Beck, in his book The Animated Movie Guide, comments on a risqué joke in Pecos Bill that somehow made it past the censors, when Bill kisses Sue and his guns rise from their holsters and begin to fire by themselves, simulating ejaculation. He adds jokingly that "perhaps Roy Rogers was covering the eyes of Bobby Driscoll and Luana Patten during this scene".
Many of the seven segments were later released as shorts, and some of them became "more successful than the original film". "Bumble Boogie" was among the few segments to receive huge popularity upon individual release. The article The Walt Disney Classics Collection Gets "Twitterpatted" For Spring notes that "the 'Little Toot' segment of the film was so popular that it was re-released on its own as a short cartoon in 1954, and was subsequently featured on Walt Disney's popular weekly television series".
There are many references to the Pecos Bill segment in the Frontierland part of Magic Kingdom: there is a sign of Bill outside the Pecos Bill Tall Tale Inn and Cafe, as well as various images of him, the other characters, and their accessories around the cafe. A pair of gloves with the inscription "To Billy, All My Love, Slue Foot Sue" is located in a glass display case. In the World of Disney, Jose Carioca from Blame it on the Samba appears in a mural on the ceiling among many other characters. In a glass case, behind the windows of the All-Star Movies, there is a script for Melody Time.
The scene of Joe skating and drawing a pair of hearts with a single arrow through them on the ice from "Once Upon a Wintertime" represented Melody Time in the "Back to the Past" segment of "Wonderful World of Animation".
In the queue for Roger Rabbit's Car Toon Spin, there is a bulletin board which displays a message for an audition for Toons at the Disney Studio to appear in this movie, which is in production. According to the message, Toons are invited to bring a two-minute song, plus any specialties. Ironically, the message ends by reading "Toons only, no live actors need apply."
- Main article: Melody Time (video)
Melody Time was first released on January 25, 1987, in Japan, on laserdisc. It was later released on VHS on June 2, 1998, under the Walt Disney Masterpiece Collection title. The 1998 VHS release is edited to remove all instances of Pecos Bill smoking cigarettes from the film's Pecos Bill segment.
Its latest release was on June 6, 2000, on VHS and DVD under the Walt Disney Gold Classic Collection, released by Buena Vista Home Entertainment. The DVD has bonus features in the form of the following 3 cartoons: "Casey Bats Again", "Lambert the Sheepish Lion", and "Donald Applecore". In addition, the NTSC DVD release contains the exact same edits as for the 1998 VHS, though the PAL DVD version of the film is uncut. The film was finally released uncut and uncensored in the US, as an exclusive Disney Movie Club Blu-ray release on November 2, 2021.
Though the film has not been released on DVD in the United States since the 2000 DVD's discontinuation, it was however later released on DVD again in the UK and Brazil in 2014, and in Italy and Mexico in 2015, and in Sweden in 2018.
Worldwide release dates
- UK: April 14, 1949
- Australia: May 21, 1949
- Ireland: November 9, 1949
- Mexico: May 4, 1950
- Argentina: July 4, 1950
- Uruguay: July 5, 1950 (Montevideo)
- Brazil: July 26, 1950
- France: February 28, 1951
- Sweden: April 16, 1951
- Italy: June 6, 1951
- Portugal: April 12, 1952
- West Germany: August 9, 1952
- Finland: April 17, 1953
- Norway: March 16, 1954
- Denmark: September 15, 1954
- The film's copyright was renewed on May 9, 1975.
- The previews from this VHS are the same previews as Dumbo, Alice in Wonderland, The Sword in the Stone, Robin Hood, Mary Poppins, and Pete's Dragon 1999 VHS.