First Theatrical Release: May 27, 1948
First Home Viewing Release: January 25, 1987 (Japan); June 2, 1998 (US)
My Rating: 2/5 stars
Where I Found It: The library’s DVD collection
Bechdel Test Score: Failed. Although this movie, like Make Mine Music and Fantasia, did not have much dialog by which to judge the third prong, it failed for sheer lack of scenes in which two females were together and feasibly could have spoken to one another.
I have to admit, these package films have me rather dreading my Sunday Disney sessions. But there’s only one more to go!
Melody Time could have been named “Make Mine Music 2,” as it follows the same basic structure: a stack of animated shorts accompanied by music that is more modern/popsy than what we hear in Fantasia. It was just as forgettable as “Make Mine Music,” too, with a couple exceptions.
Where Melody Time really shines is in its presentation of two American folk tales: The Legend of Johnny Appleseed and Pecos Bill. Because I like Disney most where it intersects with traditional stories, seeing its take on the American counterparts of the European stories it is so well known for was a treat. The animation in Johnny Appleseed is simple and beautiful, and Johnny is charming as a lad, an elderly man, and even a ghost. The music is fully integrated into the story, “musical” style, which makes it feel more timeless than much of the other music. I love the banter between Johnny and his pioneer guardian angel. (Although the stilted “pioneer-talk” narration is annoying.)
This segment also has a gentle spirituality to it. It opens with Johnny singing about how the Lord provides for him and ends with his journey to heaven, where he continues to plant apple trees, after a life well lived. Johnny’s gentle nature completely charmed me, especially in a scene where a bunch of forest animals notice that this is a man who is “different” because he’s the first one they have encountered who doesn’t carry a gun.
Pecos Bill is a “taller” tale, told with sillier animation. While the Old West setting and exaggeration is fun, this story is also much more problematic than Johnny.
I had traumatic flashbacks to The Three Caballeros in “Blame it on the Samba,” which features the same unholy union of Donald Duck and a live-action Latina woman.
“Pecos Bill” missed an opportunity to present a truly interesting female character. When Bill’s love interest, Sue, first arrives on the scene, she is swinging a lasso and riding a giant fish (strange, but somehow compelling). She seems like a cowgirl who knows how to work hard and look damn good while doing it, and she exudes an aura of strong womanhood despite her need to pause and powder her nose, which seems to be Disney’s shorthand for “female” in this era.
Unfortunately, this potentially interesting female character devolves into one who is marriage obsessed and ultimately is undone by her “bustle.” *face palm*
Also, Pecos Bill is couched between creepy live-action segments of a bunch of cowboys hanging out with an innocent and bright-eyed little girl and little boy.
Almost everything else in this movie is forgettable.
I saved the worst for last!
So far, Disney has not had the greatest track record when it comes to its portrayals of Native Americans. We have Tobacco Row in Pinocchio. “The Legend of Johnny Appleseed” also presents images of stereotypical, generic American Indians, but they are portrayed mostly as positive and friendly.
Not so in “Pecos Bill,” which presents us with lanky, goofy Indians smearing each other with “war paint,” which is referred to as their “makeup.” Pecos Bill rampages into the gathering, firing his guns, frightening the Indians so completely that they’re scared clean out of their war paint — and that is how we got the “painted desert.”
Oh, and did I forget to mention that “Pecos Bill,” though a little wild, is supposed to be a good guy? Apparently it’s all right to just barge in on a perfectly peaceful gathering of Native Americans and start firing without provocation. Perhaps such a thing was entertainment in the 40s, but today we call it a “mass shooting” — and put the shooters, who are pretty much universally despised, behind bars. But Melody Time gives it a sort of wink-nod “Cowboys will be Cowboys” free pass.
I breathed a huge sigh of relief when that little segment was followed by the blessed words, “The End.” One more package film down!