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Directors: James Algar, Clyde Geronimi, Jack Kinney
Release Date: October 5, 1949
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow © Walt DisneyThe Legend of Sleepy Hollow, told and sung by Bing Crosby, quite faithfully retells the story by Washington Irving.

The story tells us about the skinny schoolmaster Ichabod Crane who tries to court Katrina van Tassel, the most beautiful girl in town, while ignoring his rival Brom Bones. At Halloween Bones tells a spooky story about a headless horseman, scaring the schoolmaster to death. And when on the way home he really encounters a headless horseman, he’s never seen again…

The animation of Ichabod Crane and Katrina van Tassel both show how familiar the animators had become with the human figure. Ichabod Crane is an awkward, slender figure, but human, nonetheless. Katrina both has a sexy, graceful charm, as well as stylized moves, which make her a little abstract, like an all too beautiful woman can be in the hearts of men. Certainly, in the next feature, ‘Cinderella‘ (1950) the animators were confident enough to let human characters star a feature for the first time since ‘Pinocchio‘ (1940).

This film’s highlight, however, are the wonderful backgrounds, which were lacking in the first story, ‘The Wind in the Willows‘. In ‘The legend of Sleepy Hollow’ the backgrounds are stylized, with striking colors, and most of the times clearly inspired by Mary Blair. The background artists’ art reaches its peak in the stunning scary forest scene, an elaboration on the scary forest in ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs’ (1937). This climatic scene, in which Ichabod Crane is confronted with the headless horseman, makes effective use of expressionistic coloring, like the best parts in ‘Fantasia’ (1940) and ‘Bambi‘ (1942).

These positive aspects, however, cannot rescue this film, which is rather slow, and totally devoid of sympathetic characters. In the end one has to conclude that this second part of the feature, like the first, is not particularly interesting or memorable.

Watch ‘The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr Toad’ yourself and tell me what you think:

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Directors: James Algar, Clyde Geronimi, Jack Kinney
Release Date: October 5, 1949
Rating: ★★★
Review:

The Wind in the Willows © Walt Disney‘The Wind in the Willows’ is the first of the two stories that make up the compilation feature ‘The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr Toad‘. 

This story had originally been conceived in 1938 as a possible feature film, before it was shelved in 1942. The 1949 version is clearly truncated, and it shows. This story tells only an episode from ‘The wind in the Willows’ starring the enthusiastic Toad, whose love for chariots and cars causes a lot of trouble for himself and his quiet, all too British friends Water rat, Mole and Badger. The story is quite unfaithful to the book, giving a large role to one Cyril the horse and containing both a long scene at the court and a long sequence in which our four friends try to steal a document from a gang of weasels.

Although the English feel is retained, this version of ‘The Wind in the Willows’ completely lacks the poetry so typical for the book. Sure, Toad’s intoxicating character has been transferred to the screen very well, but the characters beside him never really come off. Moreover, the story is told too unevenly to be either exciting or endearing, and the interplay between animals and humans remains unconvincing. The backgrounds are uninspired, especially when compared to those in ‘The Legend of Sleepy Hollow‘, except for those in the winter train sequence. The weasels, which are animated excellently with broad comedy, anticipate those in ‘Who Framed Roger Rabbit?‘ (1987).

Watch ‘The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr Toad’ yourself and tell me what you think:

Director: ?
Release Date: May 27, 1948
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

Pecos Bill © Walt DisneyThe last sequence of ‘Melody Time‘ is framed by the sentimental ballad ‘Blue Shadows’, sung by country & western singer Roy Rogers and The Sons of the Pioneers.

After a while, we see them sitting in a cartoon-style prairie, accompanied by two children. The boy asks Rogers why the coyotes howl at the moon, which prompts him into telling the tall tale of Pecos Bill, his horse Widowmaker and his love interest Slue Foot Sue.

Although it only becomes funny after several minutes, the story itself is quite good, the highlight being the part where the cowboys sing of the mighty deeds of Pecos Bill, who singlehanded creates the Gulf of Mexico, the Rio Grande, the gold in the hills and the painted desert.

Unfortunately the cartoon is rather slow-paced and accompanied by mostly dull country & western music, preventing it of becoming a real classic. Disney would tell other tall tales from American folklore, in ‘Paul Bunyan‘ (1958) and ‘The Saga of Windwagon Smith‘ (1961).

Watch ‘Pecos Bill’ yourself and tell me what you think:

Director: ?
Release Date: May 27, 1948
Stars: Donald Duck, Joe Carioca, The Aracuan Bird
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

Blame it on the Samba © Walt DisneySung by Ethel Smith and the Dinning Sisters, ‘Blame it on the Samba’ looks like a lost sequence from ‘The Three Caballeros‘ (1944)

The short, the sixth segment from ‘Melody Time‘, reunites Donald Duck, Joe Carioca and the Aracuan bird. The latter serves as the cartoon’s surreal character, who can cross the three dimensions, not unlike the Do-Do in ‘Porky in Wacky Land’ (1938). It’s this feature that makes ‘Blame It On The Samba’ so enjoyable.

Again, the Mary Blair-inspired backgrounds are highly stylized, even almost abstract, and extremely colorful. It also features some live action footage of Ethel Smith dancing and playing the organ and a pair of conga’s. Unfortunately, the music seems to be more about samba than being it, and it never becomes really hot.

Nevertheless, ‘Blame It On The Samba’ is a welcome diversion after Melody Time’s three tiresome episodes ‘The Legend of Johnny Appleseed‘,  ‘Little Toot‘ and ‘Trees‘.

Watch ‘Blame it on the Samba’ yourself and tell me what you think:

Director: ?
Release Date: May 27, 1948
Rating: ★★
Review:

Trees © Walt Disney‘Trees’, the fifth segment from ‘Melody Time‘, is a mood piece, like ‘Night‘ (1930) and ‘The Old Mill’ (1937).

However, this religious poem about trees is easily the least interesting example of its kind, despite its rather beautiful images of trees and wildlife. Neither the music nor the poem (with its moral “only God can create a tree”) is remotely interesting, rendering this short sequence dull and forgettable.

Watch ‘Trees’ yourself and tell me what you think:

Director: ?
Release Date: May 27, 1948
Rating: ★★
Review:

Little Toot © Walt DisneyThe fourth segment of ‘Melody Time‘ is based on a children’s book by former Disney animator Hardie Gramatky

In ‘Little Toot’ the Andrews Sisters sing the story of the humanized tugboat Little Toot who’s expelled first, but who becomes a hero by saving an ocean liner from a terrible storm. This storm, which contains some very spectacular animation of water, is the most interesting part of this otherwise dull and sugary story.

‘Little Toot’ is very similar to ‘Pedro the airplane’ sequence from ‘Saludos Amigos‘ (1942), but much less successful.

Watch ‘Little Toot’ yourself and tell me what you think:

Director: ?
Release Date: May 27, 1948
Rating: ★
Review:

The Legend of Johnny Appleseed © Walt DisneyThe third segment of ‘Melody Time‘ tells about American folk legendary hero John Chapman (1774-1845), a.k.a. Johnny Appleseed.

In the legendary version he’s a apple tree planting youth, who’s visited by a guardian angel, who resembles a mustached pioneer and who tells him to go west. Somewhere in the west Johnny finds a spot where he plants his apple trees, befriends the local animals and facilitates the coming of more pioneers. At the end of the cartoon we watch an aged Johnny Appleseed die and following his guardian angel once more to plant apple trees in heaven.

However appealing this cartoon may be to Americans, its slow and annoyingly religious story probably fails to impress the rest of the world. Johnny Appleseed is one of the most boring characters Disney ever put to screen. His animator Milt Kahl, quoted in John Canemaker’s book ‘Walt Disney’s Nine Old Men & the Art of Animation’, sums up the character’s flaws perfectly:

“There’s nothing harder to do in animation than nothing. Appleseed was such a mild character. He never got mad. He was never elated about anything. Everything was kind of in the middle. He was a weak character. Insipid.”

The only interesting features of this feature sequence are its extraordinarily beautiful backgrounds, which are based on designs by Mary Blair, who used bright and unusual colors and designs.

Watch ‘The Legend of Johnny Appleseed’ yourself and tell me what you think:

Director: ?
Release Date: May 27, 1948
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

Bumble Boogie © Walt DisneyFreddy Martin and his orchestra play their jazzy variation of Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s ‘Flight of the Bumblebee’ in this second segment from ‘Melody Time‘.

This music is accompanied by images of a little bumblebee fleeing from all kinds of things, in their designs loosely based on piano keys and music notes. The setting is semi-abstract and resembles the ‘After You’ve Gone’-sequence of ‘Make Mine Music’ (1946) a lot.

‘Bumble Boogie’ is far more colorful, however, with bright colors sometimes changing within semi-seconds. At one point, the little bumblebee is even rendered only in lines, anticipating the graphic style of the fifties, and of UPA in particular.

Watch ‘Bumble Boogie’ yourself and tell me what you think:

Director: ?
Release Date: May 27, 1948
Rating: ★★★★★
Review:

Once Upon a Wintertime © Walt DisneyOnce Upon a Winter Time’ is the first and easily the best sequence from ‘Melody Time‘.

In this film, sung by Frances Langford, we follow a young romantic couple on a sleigh ride. They go skating and are joined by an equally romantic couple of rabbits. After a short break-up the two females are caught in drifting ice and heading for a waterfall. Surprisingly, they are rescued by the couple’s two horses, who get help from a pair of birds and a pair of squirrels. They return the ladies in distress to their male counterparts, restoring love.

This sweet story is particularly interesting for its highly stylized backgrounds based on designs by Mary Blair and featuring unnatural colors, like a yellow sky. The story looks back to ‘On Ice‘ (1935) and even ‘The Ugly Duckling‘ (1931), which both feature a rescue from a waterfall, too.

Watch ‘Once upon a Wintertime’ yourself and tell me what you think:

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