Film Theory · Postgraduate Study

Film Overview – Melody Time

Year: 1948
Studio: Walt Disney Productions
Directed by: Jack KinneyClyde GeronimiHamilton LuskeWilfred Jackson
Animated by: Les ClarkOllie JohnstonMilt KahlWard KimballEric LarsonJohn Lounsbery et al.

Summary: Melody Time is an animation feature film that consists of seven segments, or “mini-musicals” (as described by B. Dodge in book “From Screen to Theme”). The segments are Once Upon a Wintertime (a romantic winter-themed story of a young couple), Bumble Boogie (an abstract and fast paced animation inspired by Rimsky’s Korsakov’ Flight of the Bumblebee), The Legend of Johnny Appleseed (an animated poem inspired by life of pioneer John Chapman), Little Toot (animated version of story by Hardie Gramatky), Trees (lyrical animation based on Joyce Kilmer poem), Blame It on the Samba (short musical featuring Donald Duck, Jose Carioca and Aracuan Bird) and Pecos Bill (an animation based on legendary cowboy of the same name).

Review: Released almost 20 years after The Plow Boy, Melody Time is proof of how much more sophisticated and developed animation of Walt Disney studios has become. 75 min long feature of seven short animated musicals is the fifth Disney “package feature” (film consisting of several individual segments) and is essentially similar to other package films released before, like Make Music Mine and Saludos Amigos. While the critical reviews on the film are mixed, most of them agree that Melody Time is entertaining and shows remarkable technical sophistication for its time.

Pecos Bill and Johnny Appleseed are considered to be the most outstanding segments in the film. Both animations are based on American folk stories and show much more complex character development and animation than early Disney shorts like The Plow Boy. While retaining its entertainment value and still using humor to keep audiences amused, Disney showcased the ability to develop film’s characters emotionally and form empathy with the audiences in focusing on the story rather than animating a sequence of slapstick gags as seen in The Plow Boy.

Considering other segments, Little Toot, while considered generic and uninteresting by some critics at the time, proved to be popular amongst the younger audience and similar character design was used later in UK children series TUGS. Critics also appeared to be mostly indifferent about segments Trees and Bumble Boogie, but these abstract animations are an interesting example of more experimental work in Walt Disney Studios and show some new technical and artistic achievements (e.g. in Trees the overall look was achieved due to unique approach by layout artist Ken O’Connor). Finally, Once Upon a Wintertime and Blame It on the Samba are straightforward and plain musical animations that feature charming characters but are otherwise inferior to segments like Pecos Bill and Johnny Appleseed in terms of character and story development.

In summary, Melody Time shows significant development in animation and storytelling in Walt Disney Studios when compared to early monochrome cartoons. While several segments were generally considered mediocre by film critics, the feature includes some exceptional character animation and technical achievements in animation and layout as well as overall being an amusing and visually pleasant animation film.

Why it is interesting: The segment Pecos Bill features horse Widowmaker in one of main roles, that compares to human characters in terms of character complexity and Once Upon a Wintertime involves two nameless mares as background characters.

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