Fun and Fancy Free

Theatrical Release: September 27, 1947 / Running Time: 73 Minutes / Rating: G

Directors: Bill Roberts, Hamilton Luske, Jack Kinney

Cast: Edgar Bergen (Himself), Dinah Shore (Herself/"Bongo" Narrator), Walt Disney (voice of Mickey Mouse), Cliff Edwards (voice of Jiminy Cricket), Billy Gilbert (voice of Willie the Giant), Anita Gordon (voice of Singing Harp), Clarence Nash (voice of Donald Duck), Luana Patten (Herself)

Songs: "My Favorite Dream", "Too Good to be True", "Say it with a Slap", "Lazy Countryside", "Fun and Fancy Free"

 

Disney's "package features", the five films (or six if you want to include The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad) created in the mid-to-late 1940s, blended several narratives into a feature film. These films have gone unseen by many casual Disney fans and the general movie-viewing public. That's not entirely without reason - Disney sacrificed quality when they sought to make profits during World War II, after having created five well-received (but financially mixed) productions in Snow White, Pinocchio, Fantasia, Dumbo, and Bambi.

 

Disney has never attempted to play up these anthology films; although they reside on the official "Animated Classics" list, they've gotten little in the way of theatrical re-releases (something Disney valued very much over the years), TV airings, or publicity. Some of them - Saludos Amigos and Melody Time - hadn't even been released to home video until their 2000 Gold Collection debuts.

While I didn't think too much of Saludos Amigos and The Three Caballeros when I finally saw them earlier this year, I did enjoy Fun and Fancy Free. Maybe it's because I had a very clear expectation going in (which it surpassed) or maybe just because it seems less like a hodgepodge of culture and abstractions and more like a film, or rather two half-films with some content in between.

Jiminy Cricket, the endearing conscious and host of Pinocchio, returns here and assumes host position. After an introduction number, Jiminy pops on a record narrated and sung by Dinah Shore. The record tells the story of "Bongo", written by the Nobel-winning author Sinclair Lewis. Bongo is a circus bear who dreams of escaping and one day, finally does. But, Bongo soon learns that it is not so easy to make up for lost time, and he feels out of place in the wild. As we're told in the introduction to the story, "Bongo" is about three bears and our protagonist soon comes across a female bear who catches his eye and a big vicious male bear who angrily chases Bongo. All in all, "Bongo" is a fairly entertaining short and it's on par or above the short sequences in Caballeros and Saludos.

From here, we move onto a live action setting, where ventriloquist Edgar Bergen (father of Candice Bergen) is entertaining a young girl (Luana Patten) and his two dummy sidekicks, Mortimer Snerd and Charlie McCarthy. This feels dated, naturally, but maintaining a 'fun and fancy free' attitude, you won't mind, particularly when Edgar begins to tell the story of Happy Valley, a land filled with joy and happiness. As you might expect, Happy Valley becomes not so happy and this leads into the familiar tale of "Jack and the Beanstalk." Only, this time it's "Mickey and the Beanstalk" and besides Disney's star mouse, Donald Duck and Goofy are featured.

The basis of the story is that Mickey and his two roommates (Donald and Goofy) are impoverished and starving. The only viable solution is to sell their beloved cow - so Mickey goes off to town to do so. When he returns, though, Donald is upset to learn that all Mickey got in exchange for the cow was a few beans, "magic" beans, but beans no less. As you know, the beans really are magic, a giant beanstalk grows, and the three stars go searching to see what's going on. Traveling by peapod canoe, they arrive at a house and discover a giant named Willie. Comic adventure ensues, and the Willie character is a lot of fun.

As far as post-Bambi '40s animated films go, I'd rank Fun and Fancy Free a distant second to the excellent Ichabod & Mr. Toad, significantly above Saludos and Three Caballeros. It's certainly not as refined as the first five classics, or the successful adaptations of the 1950s, but it is wholeheartedly enjoyable.

 

Buy Fun and Fancy Free from Amazon.com DVD Details

1.33:1 Original Aspect Ratio
Dolby Digital 1.0 (English, French, Spanish)
Subtitles: English
Closed Captioned
Release Date: June 20, 2000
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (DVD-9)
Suggested Retail Price: $19.99
White Keepcase

 

VIDEO and AUDIO

Video quality far surpassed my expectations, when considering that this seems to be on the surface a nonchalant Gold Collection release. While the animation, over fifty years old, does exhibit a few flaws, it's satisfyingly crisp and clean for the most part. The live action sequences look strikingly sharp, and free of flaws. It's tough to believe they were filmed over half a century ago. These scenes with Edgar Bergen and his dummies are far more vibrant and detailed than I anticipated.

The audio presentation isn't quite as shocking, but the Dolby Digital mono track is certainly above adequate. There's very little distortion or problems with this dated soundtrack. One can deduce that the original prints were kept in good condition.

EXTRAS

The Gold Collection DVDs were never known for an abundance of extras, but I was pleased with what was here on Fun and Fancy Free. The standard Read-Along (with standard options of Read to Yourself or Have it Read to You) is included, which reiterates the story of Mickey and the Beanstalk. And there's a simple 16-question trivia game, which are always fun to do once. Trailers at the start of the disc are for the Gold Collection, Little Mermaid II, The Tigger Movie, and Toy Story 2. Unfortunately, no Fun and Fancy Free trailer is included.

A music video for Lou Bega's "Disney Mambo #5", which takes the catchy tune from his momentarily popular "Mambo #5" song and replaces suggestive womanizing lyrics with "family-friendly" rhymes about traditional Disney characters (apparently with some pronunciation trouble). "Liquor store" becomes "candy store" and so on, and Bega is accompanied by kids playing brass instruments. It's kind of fun, though I'm not entirely sure why it's included.

The real bonus feature of substance is "The Story Behind Fun and Fancy Free", which runs a fast 15 minutes, but is entirely insightful and revelatory. The nature of the wartime package films is discussed by Leonard Maltin and animators, including . The film was actually mostly worked on in the early 1940s, although it wasn't released until 1947. Abandoned concepts include incorporating Foulfellow and Gideon from Pinocchio, the circus settings from Dumbo, and an appearance by Minnie Mouse as the one who trades the magic beans to Mickey for the cow. The featurette also covers the cast, including Walt Disney himself, who provided the voice of Mickey Mouse through this film. This is apparently a carry-over from the laserdisc release, and it's an excellent inclusion, enhancing one's appreciation and knowledge of the film in a quick and entertaining fashion. It's worth noting that all of the features are closed-captioned, and the featurette is subtitled, as well.

 

CLOSING THOUGHTS

While some may consider the 5 package features only worth tracking down for those seeking a complete collection of Disney's so-called Animated Classics (and I feel that way about Saludos and Caballeros), Fun and Fancy Free is entertaining enough to warrant repeat viewings and with its $19.99 SRP, it's more affordable and easier to recommend. The DVD's presentation of the film exhibits quality video and audio, and the making-of featurette is quite insightful. Fans of Disney's 9th animated classic should be pleased.

More on the DVD

Ultimate Guide to Disney DVD Home
Animated Classics Home
DVD Review Index