As of my previous Disney Animation Studios post, I planned to sum up Walt Disney’s World War 2 years by only watching the 6th and 10th movie, and I’d later touch on the rest. Well, when I looked deeper into the movies and learned firsthand how short they all are, I changed my mind. So today, we’re going to talk about all 5 Disney Studios animated features from the WW2 years. All 5 of these movies at least began production during World War 2
All five of these movies have several major things in common. One, they’re collections of either skits, music or both. Two – they’re hardly ever talked about anymore by Disney. Three, although they all made the studio a bit of money, they didn’t help Walt Disney recover all that much from Bambi’s financial losses, or Pinocchio and Fantasia’s for that matter. Also, while Disney produced a number of propaganda films and shorts during the Second World War, most notably Victory Through Air Power, they weren’t done by the main Disney Animation studio. As such, I won’t count those. By the same standard, I won’t be talking about any Pixar movies or any secondary or third party studio movies for this series. Maybe down the road I’ll talk about Pixar movies separately, but I’ll most likely do a Star Trek or a James Bond series beforehand. That is if I don’t take a break from talking about movies in general first.
6 – Saludos Amigos (1943)
This, along with the next feature, is half-way between a collection of skits and a propaganda film. Disney Animation Studios created these two features in co-operation with the United States Department of State to help improve relations between the US, Mexico and South America. It was done to prevent any kind of potential war with Mexico (their relationship was very rocky at the time), while encouraging South America to help the allies against the Nazis (which Mexico and several South American countries did). In fact, Costa Rica declared war on Germany before the Pearl Harbor attack happened.
This 40 minute collection contains two Daffy Duck skits, a Goofy skit and a short about a plane, each talking about a different country. There’s also a bit of live action footage taken straight from the Animator’s vacation there. Each of these shorts are alright, but I didn’t find any of them particularly memorable. The narration feels like a pure tourist attraction video, and the stuff about Rio is probably way out of date considering Brazil’s huge financial problems these days. The only reason this made money for Disney is because the State Department paid for the whole thing. Yeah, I don’t recommend this.
7 – The Three Cabelleros (1945)
The Three Cabelleros is basically a more ambitious version of Saludos Amigos. Instead of four completely unrelated skits, there are five shorts. Daffy Duck acts as a framing device to tie the skits together, and sometimes he’s directly inside them too. Like Saludos Amigos, it combines animation with live action footage, but this time it sometimes directly interacts the same way that it does in Who Framed Roger Rabbit years later. From that perspective this is the better movie. That said, the last third of The Three Cabelleros is pretty much one big Mexican party that starts getting old after a while. This is also the longer movie of the two.
To sum up my thoughts on these movies, you should straight up skip Saludos Amigos. The Three Cabelleros is different. If you like either Daffy Duck or Mexican music, you could very much enjoy The Three Cabelleros, and if you like both, you’ll most likely enjoy it. If you don’t care about either of them like me, you’ll probably fall asleep. If you dislike either, this movie will be a torture marathon. I’ll probably never watch either of these again, but I’m still glad that I saw them.
Now I said that The Three Cabelleros is the better feature of the two, but if I had to watch either again, I’d sooner pick Saludos Amigos because it’s shorter.
8 – Make Mine Music (1946)
If Fantasia is a collection of classical music set to artistic animation, then Make Mine Music is the 1940’s pop music version of that. Some of the music is alright, but I found most of it boring. Frankly the only thing I found memorable was the final segment – The Whale who Wanted to Sing at the Met. “The Whale” is basically a story about an opera singing whale, and it’s very creative. There’s some good humour, a bit of action, some genuinely good music and a tragic ending. While I wouldn’t really recommend the rest of Make Mine Music, I highly recommend the story of the Operatic Whale if you like the sound of it.
9 – Fun and Fancy Free (1947)
There are several noteworthy behind the scenes tidbits going on with this movie, but I’ll only mention one of them. Walt Disney himself voiced Mickey Mouse since his inception in 1928, and this is the last time he ever voiced Disney’s most iconic character. This was also by far Disney’s most successful movie released during the Second World War. It didn’t relieve them of their financial troubles at the time, but it provided them enough to work with for the time being.
Anyway, this feature comprises of two half-hour shorts, with Jiminy Cricket connecting them with his narration. The first is a bizarre yet boring story about Bongo the Bear. The most notable part of this short is the dumb song talking about how bears show their romantic love for each other through face slaps. Yeah … skip it. The second is a lot more entertaining than the first. It’s a retelling of Jack and the Beanstalk, starring Mickey Mouse, Goofy and Daffy Duck. By no means is it brilliant, but it’s a fun retelling with a bit of comedy. The intercutting with some dad telling the story to his children and a couple ventriloquist dummies gets old fast though. If you like Mickey, Daffy and Goofy, the second half of this movie might be worth it. Otherwise, skip this altogether.
Interestingly enough, one of the upcoming Disney Animated Features is Gigantic, a full-length retelling of Jack and the Beanstalk. Once that arrives in 2020, Disney will have two feature versions of the tale.
And finally, it’s time to close out the World War 2 years.
10 – Melody Time (1948)
Like The Three Cabelleros is the more ambitious version of Saludos Amigos, Melody Time is a more ambitious Make Mine Music. The music is more varied in style and tone, and the animated skits are more creative. There’s one particular segment that combines live action with an animated Daffy Duck again, with South American music. There’s a heroic quest story about a little tug boat, told through song. The animation is fun and creative like in the movie Dumbo, but that didn’t save it for me. I’m just not a fan of 40’s music, and that’s pretty much all this is. The overly long cowboy song with western music didn’t earn any points either. I like some western movies, but I’m not a fan of western music and I can only take so much. That said, this might be worth checking out if any of this interests you.
I wouldn’t really recommend any of these movies as a whole, save for The Three Cabelleros if you like Mexican music and Daffy Duck. “The Whale who Wanted to Sing at the Met” is definitely worth checking out on its own, and it’s included in newer re-releases of Fantasia, making it easy to find. The Jack and the Beanstalk with Mickey, Daffy and Goofy could be worth checking out too. There is a reason why hardly anyone talks about these movies anymore though. That said, I’m much more worried about the stretch of failures Disney suffered in the 70’s, and the string of blunders in the 2000’s than I was about the WW2 years. I’m glad these movies are out of the way, and that the first long string of hits is coming up fast.
The next Disney Animation Studios movie is The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad. I remember seeing advertisements for this one as a kid, but I never watched it. I don’t even know anything about it besides the title and that there’s a toad in it. It’s generally a respected movie though, so I’m looking forward to seeing what this one is about.