Melody Time (Jack Kinney, Clyde Geronimi, Hamilton Luske and Wilfred Jackson, 1948)

Walt Disney Studios had a glorious start to the production of full-length motion pictures. The first five releases are still considered to be up there with the best animated films ever released: Snow White and the Seven Dwarves (1939), Pinocchio (1940), Fantasia (1940) Dumbo (1941) and Bambi (1942). However, the early 1940s brought a fresh set of problems to the company. First, a union strike led to a mass exodus of staff (around 40% left). Then, when the US and Canada entered World War II, almost all of the animators and production team were either signed up as soldiers or drafted in to produce propaganda cartoons for the war effort. The main production studio was occupied by US military for various reasons. A disinterested public meant that Bambi sold less than expected. 

With a skeleton staff still in place, Disney opted to produce several of what would become known as package films. The first two – Saludos Amigos (1942) and The Three Caballeros (1944) – gave Walt an excuse to leave his normal settings and escape for a few months to South and Central America. Make Mine Music (1946), Fun and Fancy Free (1947), Melody Time (1948) and The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr Toad (1949) followed, though they were approached from a position of compromise. Their sole purpose was to recoup money lost in various venture so, including the production of war propaganda films for cost only. 

Whilst these films have their own merits, they were mainly box-office flops and over the years clearly haven’t been as well regarded as the films released before of after this spell. [1]

The films tended to feature several short films on an associated theme (with the exception of The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr Toad, which was simply two unrelated stories fixed together), often based around some kind of musical accompaniment in the same vain as Fantasia, which was a huge success and is a classic film rich in experimentation and ideas. Melody Time, unfortunately, cannot be classed in the same league.

Melody Time features seven mini-musicals. Of note is the reappearance of The Three Caballeros in the short Blame It On The Samba, which gives us another chance to enjoy some crowd-pleasing characters. Another highlight is Bumble Boogie, which is essentially a cut from Fantasia that never made it near to full production at that point. If you’re a huge fan of both Fantasia and Fantasia 2000 then this is another good place to see similar styles. A personal favourite is Once Upon A Wintertime, which features a classic Disney tale backed by a perfectly chosen piece of music.

This film is a curiosity more than anything. It’s not the best of the package movies but stands alongside the Fables releases as something worth checking out to build up a full picture of the company during the late 1940s and early 1950s.

Melody Time is available on DVD but currently there are no plans to bring it tk Blu-ray.

[1] The five films released after the return to full-length motion pictures were Cinderella (1950), Alice in Wonderland (1951), Peter Pan (1953), Lady and the Tramp (1955) and Sleeping Beauty (1959). Some return to form!

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