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September 17

September 17, 1954 – The Special Short Film Once Upon a Wintertime is Released to Theaters

“On the frozen pond folks are swaying, sweetheart, who cares? We’ll have more fun sleighing behind two chestnut mares.”

On September 17, 1954, the special short film Once Upon a Wintertime was released to theaters. The short was originally a segment of the 1948 package film Melody Time; like many of the package film segments, it was shown later as a stand-alone segment to be shown before Disney feature films. The short is narrated in song by singer Frances Langford, with the song written by Bobby Worth and Ray Gilbert.

Set in the 1800s, the short begins with the picture of two lovebirds, transitioning into them sitting in a carriage and traveling through a winter wonderland, with many a pair of animals following their journey, including a pair of rabbits. The pair stop at the nearby pond for skating, and things go well for both the human and rabbit couples. Both males then decide to show off to their mates, but have unintended bad consequences that drive the women away. As the women leave, they wander onto thin ice, and the men race to rescue them from falling down a waterfall on patches of the ice. With help from the carriage horses, some squirrels, and some birds, the women are saved and placed in the arms of their mates. The pairs drive off together, and the short ends back on the portraits of the human couple, with the frame closing as they share a kiss.

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January 20

January 20, 1971 – The Featurette Bongo is Released

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“But mostly, this is a story about Bongo. He was a circus bear: was born in the circus, grew up in the circus, in fact, Bongo was the star of the circus.”

On January 20, 1971, the Bongo segment from the animated feature film Fun and Fancy Free was released as a featurette. Based on the children’s story “Little Bear Bongo” by Sinclair Lewis, first published in 1930, it was originally slated to be a complete feature film, but the production was interrupted by the onset of World War II. In the end, with Bongo and The Legend of Happy Valley (later retitled as Mickey and the Beanstalk) were turned into a package film, as neither one was considered to be sophisticated enough to stand alone as a feature film. Bongo was narrated by musical star Dinah Shore.

The story begins with Dinah explaining that Bongo was the star of the circus, able to do any trick that was asked of him. He performs a tightrope trick while juggling several dozen items before jumping off the tightrope and landing on a wet sponge. However, life isn’t all that glamorous for Bongo, as he is chained and sent into a cage after the performance, “tossed around like an old shoe.” He dreams of living out in the wilderness, away from the circus, trains, and his current life. But every day it’s the same, he’s called out to perform, and then sent back into his gilded cage. One day, having had enough of his life, he decides to follow the call of the wild and escapes from his cage.

Bongo can hardly believe his good fortune that he is finally free

Bongo can hardly believe his good fortune that he is finally free

Free at last, he travels the woods excitedly, stopping to smell the flowers and jumping over tree roots. He meets the other animals of the forest, who laugh at his inability to act like a bear. He doesn’t get easily discouraged, as he is just happy to be free. That night, Bongo attempts to sleep, but is disturbed by the sounds and experiences of the forest before he gets caught in a storm. In the morning, Bongo wakes up to find himself on the ledge of a cliff, is very discouraged at his situation, as he doesn’t know how to act like a bear. He worries that he made a mistake, especially when he can’t catch anything for breakfast. He soon meets a female bear named Lulubelle, and the two proceed to flirt as they frolic through the woods.

Lulubelle and Bongo quickly fall in love, gathering all the attention of the bears in the woods. However, a bear named Lumpjaw, who also has feelings for Lulubelle, soon hears news of Lulubelle’s new beau, and decides to break the happy couple up with the intent of stealing Lulubelle for himself. He starts fighting Bongo, but Lulubelle stops Lumpjaw from beating him up, and then punches Bongo herself. Bongo is heartbroken, thinking that Lulubelle no longer loves him, and when she tries to punch Bongo for a third time, Bongo ducks, and she hits Lumpjaw instead. Bongo was unaware of the bear custom that slapping is a sign of affection, and sadly walks away while everyone else celebrates the “happy” couple of Lulubelle and Lumpjaw. As he looks back at the scene of the bears, he finally understands that bears “say it with a slap,” and goes back to challenge Lumpjaw. The two duke it out, and Bongo emerges victorious, using skills he learned in the circus. Bongo is reunited with Lulubelle, and gives her an affectionate slap, which she returns in kind.

October 5

October 5, 1949 – The 11th Disney Animated Feature Film, The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad, is Released to Theaters

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“If you were asked to choose the most fabulous character in English literature, who would it be?”

On October 5, 1949, the 11th Disney animated feature film, The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad, was released to theaters. This was the sixth and final package film released by the studios, until 1977’s The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh. The two stories featured in this film were based on The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving, and The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame; the former was narrated by Bing Crosby, while the latter was narrated by Basil Rathbone. Due to the studios financial situation at the time, expenses were kept down on the film by reusing animation from earlier shorts and films, including the 1937 Silly Symphony The Old Mill. The two parts of the film were originally released separately when released on home video, but were finally combined into the complete feature once again starting with the laserdisc release in 1992. The film was directed by Jack Kinney, Clyde Geronimi, and James Algar, with story by Erdman Penner, Winston Hibler, Joe Rinaldi, Ted Sears, Homer Brightman, and Harry Reeves.

The film opens in a library, with the Basil Rathbone taking the audience through a list of fabulous characters in English literature, before introducing his choice: J. Thaddeus Toad, Esquire. Toad was an incurable adventurer, who only had three friends looking out for him: MacBadger, Mole, and Rat. This certain story begins with Mole being late for tea with Rat, when there is a knock at the door for Rat. He receives a special letter from MacBadger, who requests their presence at Toad Hall. Believing that Toad is once again up to trouble, they arrive to find a frazzled MacBadger, who had been working to put Toad’s affairs in order, as his adventures are driving Toad close to bankruptcy. MacBadger convinces the two of them to stop Toad from his new folly: parading around the countryside with a yellow gypsy cart and a horse named Cyril. When Rat and Mole try to convince Toad to give up his reckless behavior, Toad attempts to flee, when he comes across his new mania: a motor car.

After a drastic attempt to feed his new mania, Toad is found and arrested for driving a stolen car

After a drastic attempt to feed his new mania, Toad is found and arrested for driving a stolen car

Rat and Mole take Toad back to Toad Hall and lock him in his room, keeping him there until the mania passes. That night, Toad sneaks out of the window and steals a motor car, and is promptly arrested. He is taken to court, where he defends himself. Cyril testifies that Toad headed to his place that night, and the two were walking when they saw the motorcar. It parked at a nearby pub, where the weasels driving the car exit. Toad goes inside the pub to buy the car from the weasels, not knowing that the car has been stolen. To pay for the car, he drew up a paper that signed over the deed to Toad Hall. The bartender arrives, tells the court that Toad tried to sell him a stolen motorcar, and Toad is promptly arrested. Around Christmas, Toad is seen serving his sentence in the Tower of London, and vows never to attempt such reckless behavior again. Cyril arrives to help Toad break out of jail, and soon the alarm sounds that Toad has escaped. The police are sent out all over London to find Toad, who is dressed as an old woman. He then boards a train and steals it, attempting to flee. He then jumps the train and lands in the river, but is weighed down by the ball and chain around his ankle.

Rat and Mole are the only people in England that remember Toad fondly, and are surprised to find Toad at their door. When there’s a knock at Rat’s door, Toad asks Rat to hide him, but they find MacBadger at the door. He tells them that Toad Hall has been taken over by the bartender, named Winkie, and the weasels; Winkie had lied on the stand, and Toad is completely innocent. MacBadger comes up with a plan to get the deed from Winkie to prove Toad’s innocence to the court. The four enter Toad Hall stealthily, and while Mole manages to grab the deed from the sleeping Winkie, their plot is foiled by a weasel watchman. A chase ensues around the hall for the deed, and the four manage to make it out of the Hall with the deed. Toad is exonerated, and he vows to be a new Toad, but this doesn’t last, as he shows off his new mania at the end: the airplane.

Bing Crosby narrates while introducing the story of the peculiar schoolteacher, Ichabod Crane

Bing Crosby narrates while introducing the story of the peculiar schoolteacher, Ichabod Crane

Bing Crosby then introduces the character of schoolmaster Ichabod Crane, who he describes as a “scarecrow eloped from a cornfield.” A group of men known as the Sleepy Hollow Boys are seen hanging out at the nearby pub, led by Brom Bones, and they notice Ichabod heading into town. Ichabod’s only weakness is food, and treats those students with great cooks for mothers with favor. He also improves his social standing by joining several societies, including the women’s choral society, where he plays the piano. Brom, who liked to cause mischief, decides to play pranks on Ichabod, although Ichabod doesn’t really mind. However, when Ichabod sets his eyes on Katrina van Tassel, daughter of the richest farmer in the county, Brom ups his pranks, seeing him as his rival.

Katrina invites Ichabod personally to a party at her father’s home for Halloween, and he is excited at the prospect of being Katrina’s beau, much to Brom’s annoyance. Brom then comes up with a plan to get Katrina away from dancing with Ichabod, but Ichabod is able to reclaim Katrina. No matter what Brom does, he is unable to best Ichabod for Katrina’s affections. At midnight, the guests begin to tell ghost stories. Brom realizes that this is his chance, as Ichabod is one of the most superstitious people he knows, believing in the existence of ghosts and spirits. Brom then tells the story of the Headless Horseman, which spooks Ichabod terribly. On his way home, he tries to calm himself by whistling, but is scared by the simplest of things in the woods. At one point, he hears the clattering of another horse’s footsteps, but soon realizes it’s just reeds hitting a log. Nearly driven mad with his worries, he and his horse laugh at his folly, until they hear maniacal laughter nearby, and spot the actual Headless Horseman. Ichabod tries to flee to the bridge, which the Horseman is unable to cross; although Ichabod crossed the bridge, the next morning, all that the townspeople could find was Ichabod’s hat near the bridge, and a shattered pumpkin. Soon after, Brom and Katrina were married, and the townspeople had a new legend.

August 15

August 15, 1946 – The 8th Animated Feature, Make Mine Music, is Released to Theaters

“Make mine music and my heart will sing.”

 On August 15, 1946, Disney’s eighth animated feature, Make Mine Music, was released to theaters. This was the first postwar package film released by Disney, as financial problems prevented the studio from creating a full animated feature. The talents in the film include Nelson Eddy, Dinah Shore, Benny Goodman, the Andrews Sisters, Jerry Colonna, Andy Russell, Sterling Holloway, Riabouchinska and Lichine, Pied Pipers, the King’s Men, and the Ken Darby Chorus. The music director was Charles Wolcott, with songs written by Ray Gilbert, Eliot Daniel, Allie Wrubel, and Bobby Worth. The production supervisor was Joe Grant, with sequence directors Jack Kinney, Clyde Geronimi, Hamilton Luske, Robert Cormack, and Joshua Meador. Many segments have been shown as separate entities on television and as short films before theatrical releases; the film has never been released on home video in its entirety.

The first segment is The Martins and the Coys, featuring the popular radio vocal group The King’s Men. The segment, a play on the story of the Hatfields and the McCoys where two members of the rival families meet and fall in love, was cut from the video release due to the gunplay aspect of the segment. It has yet to be released on home video.

The crane in the bayou from the segment Blue Bayou

The next segment is entitled Blue Bayou, sung by the Ken Darby Chorus. It is a slow, artistic piece about a moonlit night in the bayou, and a majestic crane that explores before it flies off into the night with another crane. The artwork was originally meant for Fantasia, to be used with Claude Debussy’s “Clair de Lune.”

Blue Bayou is followed by a jazz interlude called All the Cats Join In, performed by Benny Goodman and his orchestra. A sketchbook opens on a drafting table, and a pencil springs to life and draws a jukebox and a cat, then erases the cat, and draws a teenaged boy. The boy calls his friends to meet him down at the jukebox at the malt shop. Everyone races down to dance at the malt shop, while the pencil continues to draw the story out for the audience.

A ballad in blue follows, with Andy Russell singing Without You. The rain falls outside a window in a dark room, which lightens enough for the audience to see a love letter on a nearby desk. The focus then goes back to the window to show a rather gloomy willow tree at the side of a river. Different scenes appear on the screen to match the lyrics of the scene, including church windows and a starry night. The segment ends back at the window, showing the room once again in darkness, reflecting a lone star in the sky.

Jerry Colonna entertains the audience with the next segment, a reading of the poem Casey at the Bat. Every member of the town of Mudville is heading to the ballpark to see Casey, “the pride of them all.” The game doesn’t look so good for Mudville, as they’re losing 4 to 2. Two players manage to hit the ball when Casey comes up to bat. Casey’s a show-off, always flirting with the ladies, and cockily steps up to the plate. The tension is high in the stadium as Casey ignores two pitches and gets two strikes. Everyone watches carefully as Casey gets ready to hit the ball, but the short ends with the famous line, “…but there is no joy in Mudville – Mighty Casey has struck out,” and Casey comically crying in the rainy baseball stadium.

Dinah Shore sings for a “Ballade Ballet” entitled Two Silhouettes, performed by dancers Tania Riabouchinska and David Lichine. The dancers are seen only in silhouette in an animated world. The theme of the ballet is of a boy meeting and losing his love, only to find her again before the end.

A majority of the cast of Peter and the Wolf, with the town in Russia celebrating the triumphant end

One of the more well-known segments in this film is the Sterling Holloway-narrated version of Sergei Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf. The story, with the characters “speaking” through corresponding musical instruments and themes, is about a young boy named Peter (string quartet), who meets with his friends Sascha the bird (flute), Sonia the duck (oboe), and Ivan the cat (clarinet) to hunt the wolf (French horns) that has been haunting the woods, against the wishes of Peter’s grandfather (bassoon). In this animated retelling of the 1936 composition, the ending has been changed to make it more child-friendly, although Peter and his friends still capture the wolf.

The next segment is entitled After You’re Gone, performed by the Benny Goodman Quartet. Animated musical instruments are seen goofing around in true animation style. This is more of an artistic musical fantasy, rather than an animated tale, as seen with the other segments. It serves as a musical interlude between one story segment and the next.

The Andrews Sisters perform the next segment, the love story of Johnny Fedora and Alice Bluebonnet. The two are hats that sit in the window of a department store, with it being love at first sight. One day, Alice is bought for $23.94, and the lovers are separated. Johnny is soon bought by another patron, and his mood improves, as he is able to look for Alice as he travels around the city of New York. The short ends with Johnny and Alice reuniting as hats for the ice-man’s horses.

The last segment of the film, known as “Opera Pathetique,” is The Whale Who Wanted to Sing At The Met, feaures Nelson Eddy, who performs as all the characters. The segment tells the tragic story of Willie the Whale, who dreams of signing at the Metropolitan Opera. The story of his singing makes front-page news. Impresario Tetti-Tatti declares that Willie must have swallowed an opera singer, and announces that he will go and save the singer. In the end, after an elaborate dream segment of Tetti-Tatti discovering Willie and making him a star, Tetti-Tatti harpoons Willie, killing him. However, Eddy reassures the audience that Willie is now performing in Heaven to a sold-out crowd.

May 27

Posted on

May 27, 1948 – The 10th Animated Feature, Melody Time, is Released to Theaters

“Yes, it’s Melody Time, time to hitch your wagon to a song. Cause a song’s the one and only thing that will take you over the rainbow to the land where music is king.”

On May 27, 1948, the tenth animated feature and sixth package film, Melody Time, was released to theaters. It was directed by Clyde Geronimi, Hamilton Luske, Jack Kinney, and Wilfred Jackson. The stories were written by Winston Hibler, Erdman Penner, Harry Reeves, Homer Brightman, Ken Anderson, Ted Sears, Joe Rinaldi, Bill Cottrell, Art Scott, Jesse Marsh, Bob Moore, and John Walbridge, with “Little Toot” by Hardie Gramatky, and Carl Carmer as the Folklore Consultant. Many famous performers contributed to the film, including Roy Rogers and Trigger, Dennis Day, the Andrews Sisters, Fred Waring and his Pennsylvanians, Freddy Martin, Ethel Smith, Frances Langford, and Buddy Clark as the Master of Ceremonies.

The two couples happily riding in a horse-drawn sleigh

The first segment is Once Upon a Wintertime, sung by Frances Langford. Two couples – one human, one rabbits – share an adventure on a beautiful winter day. The human couple takes a sleigh ride, and the rabbits hitch on to the cart for a ride. The couples stop near the pond to go ice skating, and both males end up upsetting their mates more than once throughout their trip. When both females end up on a dangerous patch of thin ice near a waterfall, they are saved with the help of the horses from the sleigh and a pair of squirrels, and all is well once again for the couples.

The next segment is a new take on the piece “The Flight of the Bumblebee,” known as Bumble Boogie, by Freddie Martin and his Orchestra. A frightened bumblebee is in a nightmare that involves all sorts of musical instruments, and he tries to escape as best he can while being pursued by harmonies and all sorts of strange musical creations.

Johnny Appleseed (L) and his Angel walk down the path, with the Angel finally convincing him to go west and plant his apples.

This is followed by Dennis Day performing the tale of Johnny Appleseed, a story from “the pages of American Folklore.” Day was the narrator, Johnny, and Johnny’s Angel. This segment opens with Johnny picking apples from his apple trees, when he suddenly sees a wagon trail. Johnny feels the urge to head west, but believes himself to not be enough of a pioneer. His Angel appears, and convinces him to head west if that’s what he wants to do. Johnny decides to go west and plant his apple trees. No matter what dangers he faced, he was able to persevere, and was able to begin planting his trees wherever he found fertile soil. The settlers would honor him well for his gift of apple trees, which provided them with much needed food. Johnny continued planting for forty years, until one day, his Angel appeared to take him to Heaven, needing him to plant apple trees there.

Following that segment is Little Toot, as performed by The Andrews Sisters. Little Toot is a small tugboat who is very enthusiastic about joining the family business – unfortunately, Little Toot always finds himself in trouble, unable to behave, though he tries to be good. After nearly getting caught by a police officer, Little Toot decides to be helpful, but ends up accidentally causing trouble by turning the rudder on the boat his father is tugging and the boat crashes into the city. The police take Little Toot way out to sea as punishment, and his father is now only allowed to tow garbage. Fortunately, Little Toot is able to redeem himself by saving a ship that is in distress in a storm. Proclaimed a hero, Little Toot is able to return home.

One of the beautiful illustrations used for the segment Trees.

Next is Trees, performed by Fred Waring and his Pennsylvanians, and based on the poem by Joyce Kilmer. The short is a simple homage to a tree, with a different style of animation than the rest of the film, looking like a more realistic Bambi than a regular-style Disney cartoon.

Trees is followed by the more upbeat Blame it on the Samba, performed by Ethel Smith and the Dinning Sisters, and stars Donald Duck, Jose Carioca, and the Arucuan Bird. Donald and Jose are walking in a depressing blue scene, when they stop by the Arucan Bird’s restaurant “Café de Samba.” Once the samba begins to play, the two are able to snap out of their funk and begin to dance. The short also combines live action again, where Donald and Jose dance while Ethel Smith plays the organ, and then plays the congas before breaking into her own dance to the samba. She returns to the organ by the end of the short, with everyone dancing happily.

Pecos Bill and Slue-Foot Sue, proclaiming their love under a full moon

The last segment is hosted by Roy Rogers and Trigger, and also features child stars Bobby Driscoll and Luana Patten, telling one of the stories of Pecos Bill. After Bobby asks who Pecos Bill is, Roy begins to tell the story about how the bravest man of the west came to be and why the coyotes howl the way they do. Once, a wagon containing sixteen children and their parents was coming across a mean river in Texas, when a toddler popped out of the back and landed in the river. A coyote was traveling at night, and discovered the child in her den, and took to him, so Pecos Bill grew up with coyotes. One day, a pony was wandering through the desert and was saved by Bill, and this would become Bill’s best friend – Widow-Maker. Bill became the roughest, toughest cowboy in the west, with Widow-Maker by his side. Their partnership is threatened by a woman named Slue-Foot Sue, and the rest of the short tells how Widow-Maker ends their relationship, and why coyotes howl.