Walt Disney Pictures (September 27 1947), Walt Disney Home Video (June 20 2000), single disc, 72 mins plus supplements, 1.33:1 original full frame ratio, Dolby Digital Mono, Rated G, Retail: $19.99
Fun And Fancy Free sees Pinocchio’s Jiminy Cricket playing a phonograph of Dinah Shore’s story of Bongo The Circus Bear, while Jiminy dreams up the images to accompany the recording. Unhappy with circus life, little bear Bongo escapes into the countryside where he learns to fend for himself when he comes up against the threatening Lumpjaw when they both fall in love with the pretty Lulubelle. As the record finishes, Jiminy hops on over to popular radio ventriloquist Edgar Bergen’s house for a party. Once there, he listens in as Bergen re-dresses the story of Jack And The Beanstalk with Disney’s top trio of stars of the day, Mickey, Donald and Goofy, and their hair-raising encounters with a comical giant, Willie, who is so big the films ends with him popping right out of the story and into Bergen’s house!
The Sweatbox Review:
Sandwiched in the middle of Disney’s “Package Features” of the mid 1940s, Fun And Fancy Free originally came to theaters in 1947. Due to the outbreak of the Second World War and the closing of Disney’s markets in foreign territories, the practicalities of creating and releasing a full-length animated feature similar to Snow White were non-existent. Pinocchio and Fantasia had both been flops on their initial releases, and although Dumbo had flown high creatively and commercially, the War put the dampeners on Bambi even though it was critically successful. The idea of the Package Features had been around a while – even before Snow White Disney had released The Academy Award Revue Of Walt Disney Cartoons, a feature compilation of shorts ranging from 1931’s Flowers And Trees to The Old Mill in 1937. The Package possibilities resurfaced when Walt saw the potential in combining relatively cheaper new animated sequences within a themed feature-length movie. The un-official first was Robert Benchley’s tour of the Studio in The Reluctant Dragon, which only featured a couple of shorts as well as the title featurette.
Many of the cartoons that were included in these films went on to be re-issued as stand-alone shorts, but with the LaserDisc and DVD releases of the original theatrical versions of these films, we can finally see them in their intended form. Fun And Fancy Free contains the stories of Mickey And The Beanstalk and Bongo, both re-issued as featurettes later, and in Beanstalk’s case as an episode of The Wonderful World Of Disney with new narration by the animated Ludwig Von Drake. The edition presented here is the original, with ventriloquist Edgar Bergen telling the tale, ably assisted (and disparaged at the same time) by his popular creation Charlie McCarthy!
Fun And Fancy Free begins with Jiminy Cricket (who quickly became a big star after Pinocchio and went on to “host” The Mickey Mouse Club and several other Disney specials), singing I’m A Happy-Go-Lucky Fellow – a song written for, but cut from Pinocchio. Mr Cricket happens upon the phonograph record (I can hear the kids’ now: “What is that?”), which is a recording of Dinah Shore’s telling of Bongo The Circus Bear. Now, for anyone with a bad word to say about Fun And Fancy Free, it’s usually aimed at the Bongo sequence. At times, it does feel like a follow-on from Dumbo, but since that was such a big hit, who can blame Disney from trying to create another classic circus story?
However, Bongo does not stay in the circus for long, and it’s here that the story slides. Unhappy with circus life, the little bear escapes into the countryside where he must fend for himself, coming up against Lumpjaw when he falls in love with another bear, pretty Lulubelle. It’s in the dream and love sequences that Bongo may slug along for today’s audiences, but there are also many fine gags within this segment of the film (catch Lumpjaw’s face when he gets a slap from Lulubelle). Bongo is certainly reminiscent of Dumbo, but it seems the animators may have been tired of the circus environment – you do get the feeling that you’ve visited this big-top before, when it had more variety and color, but there are still some nice touches, the Say It With A Slap song is a hoot, and we get a sweet ending – younger kids will be enthralled.
Hopping over to Bergen’s house (in a wonderful Multiplane Camera moment), where Jiminy has heard that there’s to be a party, he finds Luana Patten, the child-star of Song Of The South and So Dear To My Heart being entertained by ventriloquist Bergen. These live-action sequences would go on to inspire the links in the later Disney TV shows, such as the One Hour In Wonderland special, also featuring Bergen and his puppet friends Charlie McCarthy and Mortimer Snerd. For Disney, who was a friend of Bergen’s, this presented a cheap way of keeping animation costs down and having two recognisable character faces on screen providing the comedy. On the other hand, and despite his reputation as a first-class act, Bergen’s own brand of ventriloquism does not really stand up to big screen analysis – kids may once again ask questions as to why he’s moving his lips when the other characters are speaking!
All faults aside, the trio tell the more exciting tale of Mickey And The Beanstalk. Willie, the comically oafish giant, makes his first appearance in a Disney film here, and it’s also the only time I can recall when he’s actually quite terrifying, as in the climax of the story when he’s chasing Mickey and pals down the beanstalk. This sequence is a masterpiece of pacing, direction, camera angles and editing – still one of the most exciting moments from early Disney features. The rest of the Mouse segment also has some other wonderfully animated and timed bits of “business” – the sharing of a single bean between our leads, Donald suddenly turning mad (what’s new?), and of course, the growing of the beanstalk itself throughout the night as our hapless heroes sleep unawares. This is by far the best stuff in the entire movie and probably the main reason many people might purchase Fun And Fancy Free – it’s certainly with artwork based on this segment that Disney has always marketed theatrical or video re-issues.
In all, Fun And Fancy Free is perhaps most wanted by Disney completists as it was the last time Walt himself performed the task of voicing Mickey Mouse. One of the nice things on the LaserDisc issue (but omitted here) was rare archive film of Walt performing the Mickey role for the Mr Mouse Takes A Trip short, but production on other features (Cinderella, Alice In Wonderland, Peter Pan), the setting up of the live-action unit and the first plans for DisneyLand were to draw him away from being able to continue. James Macdonald stepped in, and you’d never know the difference! Fun And Fancy Free is still the only theatrical feature film to star all four of Walt’s most popular line up of stars: Mickey, Donald, Goofy and Jiminy Cricket, but also features another familiar personality from Disney’s past – Billy Gilbert, who brings Willie The Giant to life, was also the voice behind Sneezy in Snow White!
The Mickey And The Beanstalk sequence was originally intended as a full feature that Walt had envisioned as Mickey’s comeback since the completion of Fantasia. Mickey had starred in the cartoon GiantLand in 1933 and Disney wanted to take the concept further. Eventually, the story became half of this feature, but took on an additional role when it became instrumental in inspiring the next generation of artists to create new featurettes featuring the old gang. Mickey’s Christmas Carol was to follow in 1983, The Prince And The Pauper came ten years later. Recently, a new version of The Three Musketeers, with you-know-who as the epony-mouse (sorry!) heroes, brought the characters back to audiences attention, and it’s all down to one of Disney’s little known films, Fun And Fancy Free!
Is This Thing Loaded?
The extras on this early Gold Collection title are, like the movie, fun and fancy free. The mini-documentary The Story Behind Fun And Fancy Free is what you’ve come to expect from a Disney bolt on behind the scenes feature. Not too involving, but not too light on the facts, it’s an interesting look at the making of the movie. Most of this may be well known to Disney fans, but there are a couple of interesting nuggets in there, and the program also includes a deleted scene reconstructed with the original storyboard art.
Lou Bega’s Mambo #5 music video, remixed to accommodate the Disney characters, has nothing to do with the film whatsoever, so I can only guess it’s there as it features the traditional make-up of Mickey, Donald, Goofy and the gang. However, it’s a fun clip, and probably appreciated by fans that the Studio has made it available. Lastly, there’s the usual read-along for younger kids, this one focusing on the Mickey And The Beanstalk segment. Rounding things off is the Gold Collection staple of a trivia game, while the disc is very fancy free in that there are no DVD-ROM features – not even a link to the website.
A traditional white keepcase holds the disc and a chapter index insert.
Ink And Paint:
Using, from what I can make out, the same remastered transfer as that issued as part of the 50th Anniversary LaserDisc edition in 1997, Fun And Fancy Free looks good and solid, even if it’s not a stellar digital restoration effort. The image is presented in its original 1.33:1 aspect ratio and the disc’s compression renders everything just fine, with colors popping off the screen. Overall, Disney has done its usual great job of preserving another film in their company history.
Despite the standard Dolby Digital logo on the back sleeve, Fun And Fancy Free is presented only in two-track mono, with optional French and Spanish tracks. For a film of this age that hasn’t been given the 5.1 remix treatment (and let’s face it – there are some films that should be left just the way they are), the sound is clean and has high fidelity. Peaks do not over saturate, and bass is pleasing, but it’s never going to blow your house away!
For a chance to own one of the early and more rarely seen Disney features – number nine if you’re counting! – in its original entirety, then this is a must-have disc. The Mickey And The Beanstalk sequences have been a favorite of mine for years, and this restored version brings out all the adventure in the tale once more. There really are some wonderful things in Fun And Fancy Free, although for today’s kids, the live-action might look a little on the “nostalgic” side and the Bongo story will almost certainly drag. As a disc, though, it’s not bad – fun and fancy free, in fact!
Animated Classic or Back To The Drawing Board?