Saturday, January 23, 2010

Fun and Fancy Free

Fun and Fancy Free is one of the package films that Disney made on the cheap in the forties. It is not one of their more distinguished package films, I will tell you that much.

The movie begins with frippin' Jiminy Cricket, floating down a stream on a leaf and singing a relentless barrage of inane bromides at us, to the effect that you should never ever worry about anything ever, because whatareyagonnado? I'll admit, this idea has a certain appeal to me, but Jiminy is clearly aiming at "insane optimism" rather than "cynical despair," so I don't think we're seeing eye-to-eye, quite. Anyway, it's not a good song.

It is revealed that he is actually in someone's house, in some sort of planter thing. He comes upon a doll and a stuffed bear who look downcast, so he decides to cheer them up with a record of Dinah Shore telling and singing a story about a bear named Bongo, and we're off.

It seems this section of the movie is based on a Sinclair Lewis story, of all things. It is not exactly as keenly-observed as Babbitt, is all I'll say about that.

The situation: a trained bear named Bongo gets tired of circus life and escapes into the forest, where he meets a girl bear named Lulubelle. Romance ensues. So does boredom. The thing is, Bongo is not a very dynamic character, so watching him cavorting amongst the wildlife and disporting with Lulubelle is just tedious--made all the more so by Shore's unbearably cutesy narration and non-memorable (with one exception) musical accompaniment. Seriously, listening to a soporific love ballad while the two lovebirds cavort around on clouds with bear angels and shit is pretty excruciating, and you just want the section to END! END! NOW! QUICKLY!

But the fact remains, I don't exactly hate it, and that can be chalked up to the really fucking strange denouement. You see, after the romance has meandered along for a while, Lulubelle slaps Bongo in the face, once and again, and he retreats! Stunned! Hurt! And she is unwillingly thrown into the arms of Bongo's romantic rival (which actually has a really creepy, unintentional, child-molestation vibe, since Bongo and Lulubelle are small, kid-sized bears, while all the others, including the rival, are large, adult-sized bears).

However, then Bongo sees the bears having a dance, accompanied by the one song that stands out, entitled "Say it with a Slap" (with a brief squaredancing interlude in the middle!) which tells us all about how bears show affection for each other by whacking one another in the face. I don't know if it's a good song, per se, but it sticks with me because it's such a warped concept. I can't help but be won over. Also, for some reason that I can't begin to explain, it's merged in my head with Nick Cave's song "The Curse of Millhaven," so now I have the phrase "the last thing she said before the cops pronounced her dead was 'a bear likes to say it with a slap'" endlessly running through my brain. Good stuff! Anyway, Bongo comes back and pwns his rival and slaps his girl (obviously, there are some troubling undertones to all this), and all is well.

Your mileage may vary, but when Disney goes bugnuts crazy like this (see also: the awesome Three Caballeros), I think we all win.

So that's that. We return to the frame narrative, and the doll and stuffed bear now seem happy, so, after looking at a card and seeing that there's a party goin' on across the way, Jiminy hops on over. The party-goers consist of a young girl, ventriloquist Edgar Bergen, and his two dummies, Charley McCarthy and the lesser-known Mortimer Snerd (who embodies those always-hilarious "DURRR"-type mental retardation tropes). If it's not obvious, these are live-action sequences save for Jiminy's appearance. They're mostly pretty dull, although I am amused by the fact that Bergen doesn't seem to be much of a ventriloquist--he throws his voice well enough, but, while I don't know nothin' from nothin' about the art, I'm pretty sure his mouth isn't supposed to be moving as much as it is. Hell, on the promos for the late, unlamented Jeff Dunham Show, Dunham appeared to be more proficient (also, more racist, but hey--gotta take the bad with the good) than Bergen is.

At any rate, eventually Bergen launches into the gripping tale of Mickey and the Beanstalk (note: grippedness may not occur). It's more or less the usual thing, only with Mickey, Donald, and Goofy, and man, there's just not much to say about it. It's pretty darned boring. You may think I say that just because of my feelings about Mickey, but you're wrong--the story's just limp. Okay okay, there's one good part--where the famished Donald, faced with a sandwich consisting of one third of a bean between tissue-thin slices of bread, loses his shit and starts eating the tableware before going out and trying to murder their cow with an axe. Also, I like the little song that Donald and Goofy sing in anticipation of the money that Mickey's going to bring in from selling the cow and the food it'll buy--before they realize that poor, dimwitted Mickey bought some magic beans instead. But those are the only parts that stand out at all.

Blah blah--they go to the giant's castle, and boringness ensues. Or continues, rather. There's an unbelievably tedious, allegedly comic sequence--it can't be more than a few minutes, but it feels endless--where Goofy bounces around in a giant bowl of jello, trying to retrieve his hat. Blah. It IS sort of interesting the way the old "I'll bet you can't turn into something REALLY TINY" trick fails dismally on the giant, but that's all I have to say for that.

So they escape, chop down the beanstalk, giant dies, the end. Except then we switch back to the live-action bit, and HOLY SHIT, the giant lifts the roof of the house! When he sees the people there, he STOMPS THEM FLAT! EVERYBODY DIES! A terrible tale!

...yeah, okay. That's just wishful thinking. The giant DOES appear in the live-action section, but nobody dies. And then, the movie ends. And then you think, okay, I might not mind watching the Bongo section again someday, but this flippin' Beanstalk bit can go hang. But you're happy, because you can check another obscure entry off your list of Disney films to see! Huzzah!


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