Fun And Fancy Free

1947, Movie, NR, 73 mins

Review

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Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, and Goofy make a rare feature-film appearance together in FUN AND FANCY FREE, a slight, but enjoyable, Disney animated feature comprised of two cartoons linked together by host Jiminy Cricket. The first is "Bongo," about a runaway circus bear, featuring narration and songs by Dinah Shore; and the second is "Mickey and the Beanstalk," with ventriloquist Edgar Bergen relating the famous fable to his dummies Charlie McCarthy and Mortimer Snerd, along with Disney child star Luana Patten.

Jiminy Cricket puts on a record to cheer up a sad-looking doll and bear. Dinah Shore narrates the story of Bongo the Wonder Bear, a circus star who rides a unicycle on a tightrope and juggles, but is treated very badly by his trainers. One day, Bongo decides to run away from the circus, and he hops off the train and goes into the woods. He meets a female bear and falls in love with her, but is bewildered when she keeps slapping him. Unaware that this is how bears express their affection for each other, Bongo leaves her. Eventually, he figures out why she was hitting him, and he returns to successfully fight another bear who's also vying for the female bear's love.

Jiminy then sees an invitation to a birthday party for Luana Patten, which is being given by Edgar Bergen, Charlie McCarthy, and Mortimer Snerd at the house next door. Jiminy secretly watches as Edgar tells them a story about three starving farmers--Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, and Goofy--who are so impoverished that they have to sell their cow. Mickey brings home some magic beans and plants them, and while they're sleeping, a giant beanstalk begins to grow, carrying the three of them up into the clouds. Once there, they come upon a castle and encounter Willie the Giant, who locks them up in a treasure chest. Mickey manages to steal the key from him, and a wild chase ensues. They escape down the beanstalk and then chop it down, killing Willie. Back at the party, Mortimer Snerd is sad because the giant was killed, so Edgar explains to him that he isn't real and it was just a story. At that point, Willie rips off the roof of the house, causing Edgar to faint.

Following the outbreak of WWII, Disney became heavily involved in creating propaganda and military training films, so the bulk of the studio's animated features of the period were multiple segment "package features" (such as MAKE MINE MUSIC and MELODY TIME) which simply involved taking the huge backlog of already completed shorts and stringing them together. FUN AND FANCY FREE differed somewhat from those two abstract features, which were a series of unrelated cartoons set to various types of music (a la FANTASIA), in that it consists of two half-hour cartoons that tell long-form stories. "Bongo" is definitely the weaker of the two, although it is notable for being based on a story by Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Sinclair Lewis! Though pleasantly animated in a manner that's reminiscent of DUMBO (1941), and charmingly narrated and sung by Dinah Shore, the story is maudlin and overlong, and the character of Bongo is too innocuous.

Much more interesting is the second segment, which was originally developed in 1941 to be a feature-length version of "Jack and the Beanstalk" (previously made by Disney as a silent short and adapted for two Mickey Mouse cartoons--"Giant Land" and "The Brave Little Tailor"). Mickey, Donald, and Goofy's battles with the giant are highly amusing, as is character actor Billy Gilbert's characterization of Willie (featuring his trademark sneezing-fit routine) and his rendition of "Fe, Fi, Fo, Fum." The segment is beautifully animated, particularly when the beanstalk grows into the sky and carries the sleeping trio along with it, and in the scene where they try to eat Willie's food and Goofy gets stuck in a giant plate of Jello. The live-action footage with Edgar Bergen and his dummies is sometimes very funny, especially during some of Charlie McCarthy's surprisingly nasty wisecracks (urging Donald to kill the cow; calling Bergen a ham and comparing his storytelling to a sleeping pill), and as always, Cliff "Ukulele Ike" Edwards, is wonderful as the voice of Jiminy. FUN AND FANCY FREE is a relatively minor work in the Disney oeuvre, but it's still quite entertaining, and it also marks the last time that Walt Disney himself would provide the voice of Mickey Mouse. leave a comment

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