First Theatrical Release: September 27, 1947
First Home Viewing Release: November, 1982
My Rating: 2/5 stars
Where I Found It: The library’s DVD collection
Bechdel Test Score: Failed. The first segment features two female characters: the narrator, and the girl bear, Lulubelle. The second segment features the singing harp and the cow. None of the female characters talk to each other.
I keep hoping to find an undiscovered gem in these “package films” that I never saw in all my years of being a Disney geek. I even thought Fun and Fancy Free might be the one. “Bongo” started out reminiscent of Dumbo, and “Mickey and the Beanstalk” at least returns to the fairy tale motif that tends to underlie the Disney movies I like best. Alas, it was not to be.
Fun & Fancy Free is comprised of two “shorts” linked by a super-creepy live-action sequence. I’ll look at each individually.
Bongo, oh, Bongo. I never knew ye before last night, and now I see I wasn’t missing much.
This featurette started out so promising. It has a woman’s voice in the authoritative role of narrator. Like Dumbo, its portrayal of the circus eschews romanticization. The piece opens with an adorable bear seemingly happily reveling in his performance — but the moment the curtain goes down, a metal collar is clamped around his neck and he slinks dejectedly to his cell. He watches the world go by outside the circus train’s windows and is overcome with longing to return to nature.
After Bongo escapes, he finds circus life has not prepared him for the wild. He can’t climb trees. Caterpillars frighten him. He has trouble sleeping at night. And he’s miserable at catching his own dinner. All of this happens without dialog, which perhaps makes it even more resonant. Who hasn’t felt the pain of arriving at the next stage in life, only to find you are not prepared for it? Who hasn’t found that the thing they always dreamed about is not quite as satisfying as imagined? We see Bongo struggle as a bear straddling two worlds, not regretting leaving the circus, but also finding that his new life doesn’t quite live up to his expectations, either.
But then he meets Lulubelle: she is adorable and their love-song montage, while a little long, is pretty much too cute to be true.
When Bongo’s rival fur Lulubelle arrives on the scene, she tries to show Bongo that she chooses him by slapping him. This hurts and perplexes Bongo. When she accidentally slaps his rival, the burly bear scoops her up and whisks her away with an attitude of sexual conquest, complete with ogling underlings, that is truly menacing. Considering the difference in their sizes and Lulubelle’s “sweet” personification, it also reeks a bit of pedophilia.
Then a musical number clues us in on what just happened: “Bears say I love you with a slap.”
While lyrics about “love” and “slapping” being intertwined in bear culture play, we watch various bear couples hit one another, sometimes gently, sometimes with more force, often inspiring moony eyes and hearts popping up above their heads.
Please tell me I’m not the only one who finds this a bit uncomfortable.
On the one hand, this could be used as a lesson in cultural sensitivity: “You see, Bongo misunderstood what Lulubelle meant because he was raised in a different culture, but once he learned what it really meant he was happy that she loved him.”
But this would be so much easier to take if this area of “cultural insensitivity” wasn’t also tied to violence in romantic relationships. That makes the metaphor a harder to swallow.
We live in a world where 1 in 4 women will experience domestic violence in her lifetime (and 1 in 10 men). We live in a world where Christian Grey’s abusive proclivities have become the epitome of romance for millions of women. Am I being too extreme to wonder if this little number in “Bongo” could be a prelude to such distortions of romance? Marrying the erotic and the violent in a way that even children can comprehend? Perhaps it’s cutesy and consensual and no one is really getting hurt, but I don’t ever, ever want to see a “family friendly” show equating violence with love.
I did some research afterwards to see if “slapping” really was part of bear mating rituals, willing to forgive an inch if Disney had done this for the sake of “accuracy.” But everything I found said bears use slapping the same way humans do — to intimidate. I am no expert and my Google search was not at all exhaustive, so I welcome input from those who know more.
Still, I’m afraid this number made sweet little Bongo a fail. And may also indicate why Disney has let this movie fade into obscurity.
Then we move into a disconcerting live-action interlude in which a little girl seems to be having a birthday party. But there are no other children at her birthday party. Only a creepy old man and his [almost] creepier marionettes. The little girl is wearing eyeshadow and a pink dress and her voice is high-pitched and innocent. There’s something a little predatory about the whole setup, and I want to warn the little girl not to eat the cake.
WHERE ARE HER PARENTS? WHY IS SHE HAVING A BIRTHDAY PARTY WITH THIS OLD DUDE AND HIS SCARY TOYS RATHER THAN KIDS HER OWN AGE?
I am so worried about this little girl.
The dirty old man starts to tell a story to the little girl, grooming her with praise because her imagination is so much better than that of his puppets. And what is the best kind of story to tell a little girl on her birthday? One in which there are no girls in sight, of course! Which brings us to …
Mickey & the Beanstalk
I mentioned that I was looking forward to this one because of the fairy tale aspect. I liked the backstory about the harp and the famine that swept over the land when she was removed from it. I didn’t like that, in typical Disney fashion, the mother who is integral to the “Jack & the Beanstalk” story was summarily erased here, so that Jack (Mickey) was left instead with two bachelor buddies. The giant is also apparently a bachelor, as the other female character in the story — the giant’s wife who hides and protects Jack — has also disappeared.
The scene where the beanstalk is growing up into the sky is incredibly rich and reminiscent of Disney’s more luscious fairy tale work. Unfortunately, the rest of the story can’t live up to this moment of magic — and with the creepy old man and his puppets providing running commentary throughout to ruin the immersion experience, it seems that it doesn’t even try.
Alas, very little about this movie ends up being either “fun” or “fancy free.”