Disney Screen series at my local Cinemark Theatre since last August. I'm thrilled that this week they pulled a really old film out of the Disney vault, FUN AND FANCY FREE (1947).
This was my very first time to see FUN AND FANCY FREE, which is one of Disney's '40s "package" movies along the lines of THE ADVENTURES OF ICHABOD AND MR. TOAD (1949).
The two stories are connected by Jiminy Cricket (voiced by Cliff Edwards). The first half of the film is the story of BONGO, a circus bear, narrated and sung by Dinah Shore. The second section of the film is MICKEY AND THE BEANSTALK, with narration and on screen appearances by Edgar Bergen, Charlie McCarthy, and Mortimer Snerd.
I think my very favorite part of the movie might have been the opening credits! I enjoyed the movie also, but I really appreciated the bright color title designs, looking very much like the bright-hued Fox musicals of the era such as the same year's CARNIVAL IN COSTA RICA (1947).
As the movie begins, Jiminy Cricket slips into a house which happens to have a BONGO LP with Dinah Shore, which he puts on the record player in a particularly wonderful animated moment. At that point Dinah (aka Mrs. George Montgomery!) takes over telling Bongo's story.
Bongo is a circus performer who spends much of his time locked in a train car, where he dreams of living free in the wilderness. One day he gets his chance and escapes. Living in the wild is a challenge at first, but eventually Bongo adjusts and even finds love.
I knew nothing about BONGO going in and found it enjoyable. Some of the animation of the trees and animals seems to have been inspired by Disney's Silly Symphony FLOWERS AND TREES (1932), which was chosen to precede today's film. (More on that below.) The animals also include chipmunks who somewhat resemble Chip and Dale.
I especially enjoyed Dinah singing "Lazy Countryside." The only negative was that I didn't get the bits about how bears show their affection ("Say It With a Slap"), which seemed odd.
When the BONGO record concludes, Jiminy Cricket goes across the street to another house; this time the house is live action, rather than animated! Jiminy finds Edgar Bergen hosting a little party for Charlie McCarthy, Mortimer Snerd, and Luana Patten, who starred in several Disney films of the '40s, including SONG OF THE SOUTH (1946) and SO DEAR TO MY HEART (1948). Incidentally, Bergen's own little girl, Candice, had just been born the previous year.
Bergen tells the animated story of MICKEY AND THE BEANSTALK, and as we watch Mickey Mouse (voiced by Walt Disney!), Donald Duck, and Goofy explore the giant's house, the story is punctuated periodically with comments by Bergen and company on the soundtrack as they react to the cartoon we're watching.
There were some very clever bits in MICKEY AND THE BEANSTALK; my favorite moment was Goofy bouncing around on a plate of jello as he tries to grab his hat.
The movie has some interesting moments mixing the live action and animation, with Jiminy Cricket helping himself to "real" food and the giant lifting the roof off Bergen's house at the end. I wondered if that scene might have led to some small children having nightmares!
FUN AND FANCY FREE was released in a three-film Blu-ray/DVD combination set along with THE ADVENTURES OF ICHABOD AND MR. TOAD (1949) and THE RELUCTANT DRAGON (1941). The FUN AND FANCY FREE DVD in the set includes a 15-minute featurette on the making of the movie.
I have previously reviewed the ICHABOD AND MR. TOAD Blu-ray. I also reviewed the Disney Treasures release of THE RELUCTANT DRAGON. The Blu-ray/DVD three-film set is a great value for Disney fans, and I highly recommend it.
Prior to the Blu-ray/DVD set, FUN AND FANCY FREE was released by Disney in a Gold Edition DVD and on VHS. It can also currently be rented for streaming from Amazon Instant Video.
FUN AND FANCY FREE was preceded today by the Silly Symphony FLOWERS AND TREES (1932), which won the first Oscar for Short Subject Cartoon. It's available in the Silly Symphonies Walt Disney Treasures DVD set. I was very fortunate to see this cartoon with the music performed by a live orchestra at last summer's D23 Expo.
I'm happy to say that my Disney Screen theater currently has the series scheduled through April, which is wonderful news! Here's hoping it continues past that time and that the series will showcase even more of Disney's older and less well-known films.
Previous Disney Screen reviews: OLIVER & COMPANY (1988), EIGHT BELOW (2006), THE LOVE BUG (1968), THE ROCKETEER (1991), ROBIN HOOD (1973), POLLYANNA (1960), and POCAHONTAS (1995).
As a postscript, this is a great place to call attention to a recent post by Jacqueline at Another Old Movie Blog on two more of Disney's "package" films, MAKE MINE MUSIC (1946) and MELODY TIME (1948). A few years ago she also wrote briefly on FUN AND FANCY FREE, calling it "a sweet film."