Continuing our trip through Disney’s era of “packaged films”, the next feature leaves the continent of South America and returns to the United States for a lesson in music. Make Mine Music was a semi-continuation of Fantasia‘s musical exploration, only instead of animating to classical music, Disney decided to give us a brief history in contemporary and popular music of the day. Shown to mixed-to-positive reviews, Make Mine Music lacked the longevity and the power of Fantasia, but endured through its simpler, more whimsical shorts. An interesting note about the film: it was submitted for the first annual Cannes Film Festival in 1946, and was given the award of Best Animated Design.
From The Martins and the Coys, to Peter and the Wolf, to The Whale Who Wanted to Sing at the Met, Make Mine Music was a quick film that came out of the Disney factory – all the animators were at the top of their game, and they had virtually mastered all levels of animated storytelling by this point. From the process of animation itself, to dynamic storyboarding, to writing, Disney was making glorified Silly Symphony-type shorts with great ease. Blue Bayou was a short originally intended for Fantasia, its animation and story was originally set to the classical composition Clair de Lune, but was eventually replaced by the more contemporary Blue Bayou piece. All the Cats Join In and After You’ve Gone were possibly the most contemporary of all the shorts, featuring soundtracks by Benny Goodman and his famed orchestra. The Whale Who Wanted to Sing at the Opera proved to be a challenging – but greatly rewarding – short that showcased the studio’s strength in storytelling via dynamic staging. Using the massive girth of Willy the Whale to each frame’s advantage, Disney pushed the envelope in terms of storyboarding to emphasize the massive nature of Willy, compared to the theater and its audience.
Peter and the Wolf may have been Make Mine Music‘s most prominent short. Walt Disney recalled a meeting with composer Sergio Prokofiev in an episode of The Wonderful World of Color, and their enthusiastic exchange about the film’s melodies. Indeed, Peter and the Wolf bears the distinction of including some of cinema’s very first compositional leitmotifs, with each character represented by a different instrument and a different melody.
Make Mine Music stood at an interesting place in the Golden Age of Hollywood. Made towards the end of World War II, it was one of the first films to represent America’s longing for light-hearted comedies, shifting away from the war dramas and the film noirs of earlier years. Featuring popular music and songs, it was an important step to America’s eventual embrace of the musical genre by the 50s and 60s, and its tagline of “HAPPY COMEDY MUSICAL” an accurate description of how America chose to react to the end of the Second World War.