Fun And Fancy Free (1947)
The Plot: Two animated short subjects, combined into one feature-length film. In "Bongo," a circus bear cub learns about life and love in the wild. In "Mickey And The Beanstalk," Mickey Mouse, Goofy, and Donald Duck venture inside a giant’s castle to reclaim their magical harp.
The Songs: "Fun And Fancy Free," "I'm A Happy-Go-Lucky Fellow," "My Favorite Dream," "Too Good To Be True," "Say It With A Slap," "Lazy Countryside," "My, What A Happy Day," "Fee Fi Fo Fum"
A Little History: Walt Disney had already produced "Jack And The Beanstalk" as a Laugh-O-Grams short in 1922, and wanted to expand the story to feature length after the success of Snow White. Development on "Mickey And The Beanstalk began in May of 1940. "Bongo" also started production around this time (based on a story written by Sinclair Lewis), as a sequel to Dumbo. A script draft for "Bongo" was completed on December 8, 1941 – the day after the attack on Pearl Harbor. While both segments were planned as separate releases, the wartime effort sapped Disney of manpower and studio resources, so he shortened each film and combined them instead. Jiminy Cricket's song "I'm A Happy-Go-Lucky Fellow was originally intended for Pinocchio. Foulfellow the fox and Gideon the cat, also from that film, were set to return as the peddlers who sell Mickey his magic beans, but this idea was dropped when Disney tightened the story.
How It Broke New Ground: The first film in Disney's animated canon to give Mickey and Donald actual billing, and one of the first films to credit voice actors for their respective parts. This was also the last time Walt Disney was able to provide the voice of Mickey Mouse, as he became too busy with his ever-expanding empire to continue on in the part. (Sound effects artist Jimmy MacDonald would play Mickey for the next 30 years.)
How It Holds Up Today: A step in the right direction after the yawn-inducing Make Mine Music, with a return appearance from Jiminy Cricket to bridge the gap between subjects. It's a treat, however brief, to see ol' Jiminy back in action (though you have to wonder what mischief Pinocchio could possibly be up to), but even he can't cover the fact that FAFF is still basically two movies passed off as one. (Couldn't there be at least some attempt to tie them together thematically?) Taken separately, each segment is a pleasure; the half- hour running time for both actually allows for some conflict/resolution missing from the last few movies. Bongo the bear is an instantly likeable creation, with his miniature-sized unicycle and fez, and both the narration and songs from Dinah Shore are funnier than you probably expect. And while Mickey, Donald and Goofy have a ball during "Beanstalk," it doesn't help that the live-action framing device with Edgar Bergen and child actress Luana Patten keeps intruding on the fun. (I doubt I'm the only one who finds their "birthday party" just a little too pedophile-creepy for its own good, with those leering ventriloquist puppets as guests.) Still, as "package" movies go, this is as good as we're likely to get.
Hold tight, Disney fans – there's more to come. Need to play catch up? Click on the following for: Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs, Pinocchio, Fantasia, Dumbo, Bambi, Saludos Amigos, The Three Caballeros, and Make Mine Music. Please comment!