Melody Time

Theatrical Release: May 27, 1948 / Running Time: 75 Minutes / Rating: Not Rated

Directors: Clyde Geronimi, Wilfred Jackson, Hamilton Luske, Jack Kinney

Cast: Roy Rogers, Bobby Driscoll, Luana Patten, Dennis Day (voice of Johnny Appleseed)

Songs: "Melody Time" - Buddy Clark; "Once Upon a Wintertime" - Frances Langford; "Bumble Boogie" - Jack Fina & Freddy Martin; "The Lord is Good to Me", "The Apple Song", "The Pioneer Song" - Dennis Day; "Little Toot" - The Andrews Sisters; "Trees" - Fred Waring; "Blame it on the Samba" - Ethel Smith and the Dinning Sisters; "Blue Shadows on the Trail", "Pecos Bill" - Roy Rogers and The Sons of the Pioneers

 

Melody Time opens with a shot of a blank canvas easel accompanied by a paint brush and a palette of colors. This is a recurring theme, as the brush comes up to paint the title and credits at the start of each piece in this 75-minute collection of shorts. There are 7 shorts altogether, and practically nothing to tie them together.

Released in 1948, Melody Time is generally considered the last of the anthology features, little-known short-film compilations that Disney produced and released as feature films during World War II. The next year would mark the release of the two-storied The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad, which sort of provides a transition between the package features, which were financially (and artistically) lightweight productions meant to bring in profits and ameliorate world relations and the return to fairy tale single-narrative feature form, a formula which brought 5 successful films in the 1950s and which Disney has mostly held to in the decades since.

The seven shorts of Melody Time contrast in length, form, and style, but one prevailing feature is that each short is accompanied by song from musicicans and vocalists of the '40s. The marriage often does not work, and the melodies are not particularly the film's forte, in spite of the title. Fifty-years ago, audiences may have felt better about the music; I don't know. As for the shorts, they are as follows:

"Once Upon a Wintertime" is a physical slapstick about a couple of humans and a couple of rabbits who skate on an ice pond. The visual content of this piece really doesnt quite match the slow, dramatic singing by Frances Langford.

"Bumble Boogie" is a fun but forgettable remix of the familiar "March of the Bumblebees" accompanied by abstract animation of a bee and piano keys.

"Once Upon a Wintertime" "The Legend of Johnny Appleseed"

Next is the legend of the country-traveling apple enthusiast Johnny Appleseed, which at 17 minutes, is the film's second-longest piece. It's second to none in terms of quality, though, as it is the most enjoyable and exists as a narrative within itself.

"Little Toot" is the story of a mischevious young tugboat who finally grows up and saves the day. The anthropromorphic tugboats are odd, the story is rather generic.

In "Trees", Joyce Kilmer's poem is sung and set to some nice imagery.

"Blame it on the Samba" marks, I believe, the final film appearance of Joe Carioca. Joe is accompanied by his Three Caballeros co-stars Donald Duck and Panchito, as they proceed with an existence that seems to involve Latin dancing and nothing more.

Disney's young regulars Bobby Driscoll and Luana Patten, who appeared in films like So Dear to My Heart and Song of the South the same decade, team with Roy Rogers in the live action sequences of "Pecos Bill", which concludes the movie, and at 22 minutes, is the lengthiest piece.

"Trees" "Pecos Bill"

A note is needed here, and while the reaction it produces is sure to vary, I think you'd be hard-pressed to find someone who approves of what Disney has done. In certain shots of "Pecos Bill", the title protagonist has had the cigarette he's smoking digitally removed by the fine folks at the mouse house. One immediately wonders, "Why?" Admittedly, smoking is a really awful habit that if used as directed, can amount to a long-term suicide by lung cancer. And as Daniel Hillard objected in Mrs. Doubtfire, having cartoon characters light up does not set a good example for young ones.

But, seriously, come on, man! We're talking about a film that's older than most parents who would buy this for kids. Disney has gone back and used today's technology to alter 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 who are totally going to be ticked off by such a practice.

What good does it serve? Does it change the narrative? Not really. Is the change going to prevent children from seeing smoking other places in the world? No.

In any event, the good news is that the recently-released Region 2 United Kingdom DVD presents the film unedited - Pecos Bill smokes like he did in 1948. If you have multi-region capability and are cool with PAL, that's presumably the way to go. One would hope that future home video releases of this and Saludos Amigos (which digitally removed Goofy's cigarette) would be unedited, but it's never wise to anticipate logic to Disney's manuevers.


Left: Pecos Bill, presumably on the patch. (Region 1 US DVD)
Right: Pecos smokes some on his noble stead. (Region 2 UK DVD)

 

DVD Details

1.33:1 Original Aspect Ratio
Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English, French, Spanish)
Subtitles: English,
Spanish subtitles for "Trees" segment
Closed Captioned
Release Date: June 6, 2000
Single-sided, single-layered disc (DVD-5)
Suggested Retail Price: $29.99
White Keepcase

 

VIDEO and AUDIO

Melody Time is properly presented in its original aspect ratio, 1.33:1, which fills 4x3 television sets. Video quality is consistently satisfying. Not much to say, except that for a film that's over 50 years old, the transfer is rather pleasing. The entire frame is slightly boxed in on all four sides, presumably to prevent edge of frame credits from getting chopped due to overscan.

The audio has the dated feel of other '40s Disney films, but the Dolby Digital mono soundtrack is not to be faulted for that. The musical numbers are old recordings, so it's not surprising that they don't really leap out of the speakers and make the walls dance.

Melody Time DVD Main Menu


EXTRAS

There's no supplemental content on the film, but there are 3 bonus shorts included. "Casey Bats Again" tells the little-known story of what happened to the famous Mudville slugger after he let down his town by striking out. It's a fun-spirited spinoff about Casey's 9 daughters who appear to grow into women baseball players without him againg at all. "Donald Applecore" contains standard hijinks between Donald and chipmunks Chip and Dale. "Lambert the Sheepish Lion", narrated by the incomparable Sterling Holloway is an enjoyable tale of a lion cub delivered to a sheep. These bonus shorts are not time-coded, but altogether, they run a little over 20 minutes.

"Casey Bats Again" "Lambert the Sheepish Lion"

There are also the standard trailers for the Gold Collection, The Little Mermaid II, and The Tigger Movie that are on just about every 2000 Disney DVD.


CLOSING THOUGHTS

Melody Time is an interesting collection of shorts that may or may not appeal to you. If it does, you'll probably be upset to know that Disney has decided to digitally edit out contents of the 50-plus-year-old frames of animation. If not, then you should be satisfied with this otherwise acceptable DVD presentation. Some extras on the film would be nice, but the chances for a film like this getting a DVD re-release are extremely slim.

Buy the Region 1 DVD from Amazon.com:

Buy the Region 2 DVD (unedited) from Amazon.co.uk

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