Disney’s next feature installment, Make Mine Music, is another collection of animated shorts set to chart-toppers of the era. For followers of this blog, you know Disney has been crawling at a snail’s pace through the 1940s in terms of quality and it’s not surprising this film is often referred to as “the poor man’s Fantasia.” I’ll save you all a lengthy blog post on why this movie is no better than its two predecessors — seriously, some of the plot points include hats falling in love and a whale with aspirations to sing opera at the Met.
(Indeed, this post is even a little behind because we dread watching these films each week. Cinderella can’t come fast enough!) But I digress … This era in Disney’s animated history often feels like Walt just barely remembered he also ran a studio and should probably put out a film from time to time. It’s kind of sad, even, watching the studio behind such achievements like Snow White, Pinocchio and Bambi continue to produce such drivel.
One thing I did notice while watching was simple pieces of animation that may have become inspiration for sequences or characters later on. For example, the title card for “Without You” features a wilting rose complete with falling petal, which is reminiscent of the magic rose in Beauty and the Beast. As well, the cats in the jazz number “All the Cats Join In” bear some resemblance to the jazz-playing cat band we’ll later see in The Aristocats.
A high point, though, is the inclusion of “Peter and the Wolf” — interestingly the one number with a more classical feel in a mix of contemporary pieces. Both Will and I have childhood memories of this short, but always wondered where we knew it from. Although, researching for this post led me to this delightful clip of “Peter” composer Sergei Prokofiev playing his suite for Walt.
Prokofiev’s “Peter and the Wolf” is a classic piece of story-telling through music and lends itself well to animation, as it is also often used in dance. The reasons for the success of this particular short are similar to the reasons why the music of Bambi and “Night on Bald Mountain” (the closing sequence in Fantasia) were so successful. Amid a flurry of failures, “Peter and the Wolf” is a hint that the studio’s artistry was still bubbling below the surface and ready to come out.
Indeed, at this point in the studio’s history, with the war over and resources returning to the studio through returns on these poorer films, Disney began to work more earnestly on his next projects: Cinderella, Peter Pan and Alice in Wonderland.