“Melody Time” is the 10th Disney film to be released theatrically and yet another anthology feature, collecting a showcase of musical shorts. It’s much in the vein of the previous short compilations, only this time there’s an overall better selection. The subjects differ wildly from short to short, with some as cutesy cartoon narratives and others retelling famous tall tales like Pecos Bill and the more religious Johnny Appleseed.
The music features celebrity talents of the day including Dennis Day, The Andrews Sisters, and even Roy Rogers. The biggest improvement this time around is the reliance on the music to tell the stories (when there is one) as opposed to a stuffy narrator. There’s still the occasional narration, but it’s kept brief and for the most part the lyrics of the songs do most of the storytelling or in a few cases, the animation and music work in perfect harmony.
There are seven shorts in all, and among the best of these would be “Once Upon a Wintertime”, which is a romantic winter tale about a young couple ice skating with animals. Sung by Frances Langford, it’s a fun and sweet little short with a lot of silent film characteristics and humor to it, making good use of color and musical accompaniment to develop the story and set the mood.
Another strong short – and my personal favorite – would have to be “Bumble Boogie”, a popular boogie beat version of Rimsky-Korsakov’s Flight of the Bumblebee. It’s essentially just a little cartoon bee flying around in an abstract world. This one is frantic and energetic, perfectly capturing the speed and hyperactive style of the song. The boogie beat adds a lot of fun flair and piano visuals as well, making this one almost good enough to be included in “Fantasia”.
Other than those two, the only other short truly worth noting is probably “Blame it on the Samba”, a throwback to the “Saludos Amigos” and “The Three Caballeros” films. Like in those movies, Donald Duck and José Carioca make a return appearance here, dancing and mucking about to the rhythmic music. They interact with a live action Ethel Smith, who plays the organ with them. The mix of animation and live action has improved yet again since the last time it was employed, and the animators play around with it here. It’s a fun little segment, despite neither Donald nor José having any lines or even sound effects.
The two tall tales, namely of “Pecos Bill” and “Johnny Appleseed” are decent, if overly long. They lose a lot of their charm as the story drags on and the music doesn’t do a lot to add to it. The same is true for the “Little Toot” short, which is about a child tug boat that causes a tragedy akin to the climax of “Speed 2: Cruise Control”.
“Melody Time” falls into a very similar category as “Make Mine Music”, having a simple array of musical shorts to view and enjoy. It sports a better variety as a whole than the previous collections, but lacks anything to make it truly memorable, such as a strong lead like Donald Duck. It’s an enjoyable flick and you could do worse, but none of these compilations have reached (or even attempted) the heights of “Fantasia”.