Only three more weeks before we return to the feature-length films and honestly that cannot come soon enough. Don’t let their short runtime fool you, these package films are harder to sit through because of the way they’re created. Fun & Fancy Free tries to interject a narrative, but as with the rest of the films in this time period it’s lacking in cohesion and really serves to pad the runtime. Here especially the narrative device is weak, and the various stories are recycled elements that didn’t fit into other films. Fun & Fancy Free feels like a series of deleted scenes strung together. The only reason to watch is Mickey and the Beanstalk, but if you’re like me then you probably saw it as a standalone cartoon on Disney Channel (when they used to show Mickey Mouse cartoons). If you do decide to check it out I’d recommend seeing the shorts on their own with the excision of the narrative device.
Jiminy Cricket shows up to a house where people are worrying. In an attempt to alleviate their fears he tells the story of a circus bear named Bongo who falls in love with another bear, but doesn’t understand why she slaps him. Later on, Jiminy hears Edgar Bergen tell the story of Mickey and the Beanstalk where Mickey must climb a magic beanstalk to rescue a singing harp.
The package films have always felt crudely assembled, but it seems the later into the decade we get the rougher the assembly of these films becomes. Fun & Fancy Free had four directors and several writers making the whole thing feel, as I said about, like a series of material that just didn’t fit in anywhere. Both Bongo and Mickey and the Beanstalk were originally intended to be full-length films before they were shortened and placed here. While I could have seen Mickey and the Beanstalk being full-length, I can’t fathom how Bongo would have been feature-length; at over thirty minutes, the circus bear overstays his welcome. The film does have stake a place in Disney history as being the last time Walt Disney voiced Mickey Mouse, but again you can simply find the Mickey and the Beanstalk number on its own. This film also marked the first time the voices of the characters were listed in the credits, as well as Mickey and the gang being listed in the featured players section of the opening titles.
The individual cartoons are good, but the narrative device is never fully understood. We’re introduced to Jiminy Cricket again, singing a song that was originally intended for Pinocchio but was deleted. He’s sailing down a river for reasons unknown when he comes upon a house. His apparent Freudian analysis is that everyone is worrying due to all the horrific events in the paper (interesting considering the war had ended by this time). From there he introduces the need for music to cheer people up. Honestly, the usage of music isn’t as focused on as it was in the past films. Jiminy mentions Dinah Shore, and there is a record, but that’s it. The harp singing in Mickey and the Beanstalk is the only song in that story, and it’s embedded in the plot. While I appreciate not using music again, I was getting sick of it, Jiminy just seems to be aimlessly wandering in this story. It doesn’t help that by the 40 minute mark he completely disappears, leaving the story to be told by Edgar Bergen. The film even ends with Jiminy just standing there, not talking. It becomes apparent that either the animators didn’t know how to use him, or they needed a way to recycle the Pinocchio song.
The story of Bongo overstays its welcome, and I found it to be a tad disturbing in its message, but it’s cute. Bongo is labeled a bear who doesn’t know how to be a bear due to his circus upbringing. He escapes to the woods where he meets a female bear. The problem is the bears of this area have a mating ritual by which they slap each other as a way of saying “I like you.” Do you see my problem here? Yes I know both the male bears and the female bears slap each other, but what does that teach children? That as long as you really like the person it’s okay to slap them in the face? And really aside from that, there’s little payoff to the story. Bongo spends a long time in the first half wandering around getting into trouble because he doesn’t know how bears act. Once he meets the girl bear, and discovers another bear is into her, the story focuses on the slapping and the romance. The addition of songs makes this short feel far longer than it should be.
After Bongo lives happily ever after, Jiminy discovers an invitation from Edgar Bergen for the little girl of the house. Jiminy goes to visit and discovers Edgar Bergen, his two puppets Mortimer Snerd and Charlie McCarthy, and a little girl. I get this is 1947, but someone could have maybe included some type of parent or older sibling. Why exactly is this little girl allowed to be over at Edgar Bergen’s house in the middle of the night? And oh my God no one told me there were ventriloquist dolls in this movie?! Those dolls are the Devil and in my top ten things that terrify me! Okay so I had to close my eyes during the live-action, but why is there further reliance on live action? I’ve said this with several of the previous package films, but I really question them being placed in the animated canon.
The Mickey and the Beanstalk story is the highlight of the entire film, although now and then Charlie McCarthy makes a joke that’s pretty funny. The narration can become tiresome, especially considering Bergen is doing three separate voices so it feels like you’re listening to a party line. Once Mickey, Goofy, and Donald get up the beanstalk there’s an allusion to a future Disney film. Mortimer Snerd asks who made the giants’ footprints to which Charlie says “Well it wasn’t Cinderella.” The story is cut and dry, but I have a soft spot for the dynamic trio. It’s classic Disney/Mickey Mouse all the way that includes a fun reference to Mickey’s earlier short The Brave Little Tailor. I mentioned previously that the Disney Channel used to play this separately during the Mickey Mouse block of cartoons and it’s so great as a standalone that all the narrative, and the Bongo story, lessen the impact since you’re waiting so long for it. It’s best to just seek it out on its own.
Fun & Fancy Free isn’t perfect, but it has a classic Mickey cartoon, and a few fun one-liners. I wouldn’t recommend watching the entire hour and ten minutes, it’s better to just watch the Mickey short.
NEXT WEEK: Another series of stories cobbled together through popular music, it’s 1948’s Melody Time.
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A freelance film critic whose work fuels the Rotten Tomatoes meter. I've been published on The Hollywood Reporter, Remezcla, and The Daily Beast. I've been featured in the L.A. Times. I currently run two podcasts, Citizen Dame and Ticklish Business.