A reappraisal of Disney’s Melody Time – Page 3

Once Upon a Wintertime (Director Hamilton Luske)

This is a stylised story, sung by Frances Langford, of boy and girl romance on the ice, the human lovers echoed by two rabbits who travel to a frozen river on the young couple’s sleigh. The girl and her rabbit counterpart are trapped on an ice floe (one is reminded at once of Paul Grimault’s enchanting Le Petit Soldat (1947)), but the animals go to the rescue and all ends happily.

Once Upon a Wintertime.

This section has been described as being in limited animation but this is not strictly true as all the characters are, though stylised, fully animated. It is the effects animation that is limited – water, ice, landscape and sky – and this makes for some splendidly expressionistic moments. The landscape turns blue, echoing the boy’s misery. Later the scenery becomes ominously black, heavy clouds pursuing the young man as he races to the rescue. The interest of the piece for us lies in the crisp stylisation of animals and landscape, the latter once again inspired by the sketches of Mary Blair. Mary’s work was of great importance in the decade between 1943 and 1953 and she, with Claude Coats and Dick Kelsey, is given credit for the film’s “colour and styling”.

The human figures are as always less successful, too naturalistic to be comic but not sufficiently caricatured or stylised to match the brilliance of their setting. The song is trite.

Bumble Boogie (Director Jack Kinney)

Story sketch from Bumble Boogie.

This is a sustained piece of abstract and surreal animation and comes as a surprise to those accustomed only to “classic” Disney animation. It is not surprising, however, to those familiar with the “After You’ve Gone” jazz interlude in Make Mine Music, for “Bumble Boogie” is in the same genre. Rimsky-Korsakov’s Flight of the Bumble Bee is given a boogie-woogie treatment by Freddy Martin and his orchestra with Jack Fina at the piano. It is the piano especially which features as an opponent to the diminutive bee, who finds the natural world of flowers and leaves turning into an instrumental nightmare.

Bee flying from butterfly notes in Bumble Boogie.

The pace is furious, the imagery changing abruptly from abstract shapes to surreal landscapes – piano keys transmogrifying themselves into flower petals, a moving staircase, a caterpillar, and a towering cobra, while never completely losing their identity. Once again we are reminded of the influences of the abstract artist Oskar Fischinger and of the surrealist Salvador Dali, both of whom worked briefly at the Disney Studio.

Bumble Boogie is a brilliant example of experimental animation, violent, free, febrile. Nothing like it was ever to come out of the Disney Studio again; for animators it repays constant study – the cleverness of current exponents like Svankmajer looks pale by comparison; it lasts barely three minutes.

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