Without You follows. This piece was the least popular item with critics. Virginia Wright in the Los Angeles Daily News called it “completely uninspired” and David Rider thought it “glutinous.”
With music by Osvaldo Farres and English lyrics by Ray Gilbert it is subtitled “a Ballad in Blue” and is, at three and three quarter minutes, almost the shortest piece in the film. Like Blue Bayou it is melancholy, but the sentimentality of the music and the lyrics is matched by a lushness in visualisation. Weeping willow trees, gothic windows, the moon and stars, clouds, shadows and flowers in turn dissolve and metamorphose. The colours are mauve, pink, emerald and cerise, and the studio blurb announces: “The rise and fall of the voice, and its characteristic colour are completely welded to the image of scenes in sunshine and rain that the audience sees… a way will be found to determine colour schemes for voices, and in time people will refer to mauve whispers, taupe groans, orange yells.”
There is a real attempt here, however lacking in taste, to break new ground, to explore new ways of using the medium, to avoid “personality” or “character” animation, to do away with comic effects and even any kind of storyline. Disney has not been credited enough for his determination to get away from successful formulae. Well, he tried here and failed.
The Latin-American composer, as well as the colour-styling of Without You, suggests that it may have been intended as part of the Latin- American films; certainly it has echoes of the triste Baja section from The Three Caballeros (beautifully interpreting Mary Blair’s designs). At all events, the outlines and forms of Without You mirror popular art deco of the period and it is a pity that the item is never seen today, as it would repay study for its technical effects alone.
The next piece Casey at the Bat, subtitled “A Musical Recitation”, was warmly received by contemporary critics, but it wears badly. Sung, or rather bellowed by Jerry Colonna the item pails, in spite of its pace. The animation is coarse and lacks continuity, and characterisation (which is similar to that in ‘The Martins and the Coys’) seems skimped for reasons of economy. At eight and a half minutes it does seem long.
Two Silhouettes “a Ballade Ballet” is the sixth item in the film. It combines live-action (in silhouette) of two ballet dancers, with animation. The latter is mostly special effects — gauzy mist, stars, Disneydust and so on, as well as two cupids who have crept out from Fantasia to plague us. And they emerge from a single heart.
But let the Studio publicity of the day speak for itself:
“Two Silhouettes is a unique blending of the arts expressed in animated paintings and combining the persuasive power of song with the rhythmic grace of the ballet. Dinah Shore will sing the title ballad for this sequence, with the ballet designed and interpreted by David Lichine and Riabouchinska (of the Ballets Russes). Charles Wolcott and Ray Gilbert wrote the music and lyrics for the number.”
The incongruity of forms is remarkable; classical ballet is combined with animation; cupids balance on a ballerina’s leg in the form of a see-saw; there are tableaux of curtains, fountains, stardust and gauze; the valentine card and chocolate box are evoked in the colour scheme; the striving for something new in expression is painful. Instead of the satiric mocking ballet so confidently caricatured in “The Dance of the Hours” from Fantasia, we have instead “L’ Homage de Ballet”, dressed up in pretty wrappings to hide the central nullity. Special effects and brilliant camera work, particularly a tracking shot with the cupids carrying the ballerina up into the sky, add little to the impression of banality but the sequence is no worse than any other musical item emanating from Hollywood at the time.
Disney, however, was trying out new ideas and this we now recognise. Much of this work is innovative and courageous though lacking in taste and direction. And there had been lapses in taste in the best work of the golden years – we recall the Blue Fairy in Pinocchio with a shudder.
Walt never wanted to repeat past successes – and he had had his share of them. In the Thirties and up until the failure of Fantasia Walt Disney could do no wrong with the critics. He topped one success with another, culminating in his masterpieces Snow White and Pinocchio. Press comment on all sides was without exception adulatory; when things went wrong, they went wrong quickly. So my contention is that these forgotten years show a courageous attempt to search for new ways of using animation, a determination not to repeat or to cash in on past success. Make Mine Music shows this search; it failed and the Studio returned to the classics. But the experiment was made.
The next item is more comfortably traditional and was conceived for the second concert feature. It has the fully characterised “personality” animation of the best earlier work, set against some of the most delicious snowy backgrounds ever painted for a cartoon film. This piece is Peter and the Wolf, with an adaptation of Prokofiev’s music.
Some perspective animation is also outstanding; we recall the wolf s attempts to climb Peter’s tree, claws tearing at the bark. It is a pity that the commentary is obtrusive; this does take away from the visual charm.
After You’ve Gone is the masterpiece of the film. It is worth waiting for. Benny Goodman and his quartet may race away with the music but they are matched by the animation. The swirling and metamorphosed instruments dance in surrealistic skies and seas and leave us, after three minutes “breathless with adoration.” Piano (Teddy Wilson), cymbals (Cozy Cole), double bass (Sid Weiss) and clarinet (Benny Goodman) change shape and pattern, echoing earlier near-abstract Disney work. The piano snaking away into the distance like a switchback reminds us of the abstract patterns in the Bach section of Fantasia. The explosive changes of shape remind us of the Pink Elephants in Dumbo. But After You’ve Gone is wholly original; there is nothing else quite like it. It was also much praised by critics on its first release.