Movie 10: Melody Time

melody time movie poster

After 4 bumpy rides on the package film track I am delighted to tell you my friends that the last 2, which I watched today, are delightful.

Melody Time is the last of the package films with more than 2 stories and it might as well have been called Make Mine Music 2 but it is not as odd as it’s predecessor and the quality of animation and writing is significantly better.  This does not feel like the scrap heap projects that MMM did.

Melody Time was released in 1948.  Like MMM it is stories put to modern music like Fantasia had been classical music.

The war was over by that point and Disney was hard at work on their triumphant return to fairy tale stories in 1950 with Cinderella.  In the meantime we get Melody Time and Ichabod and Mr Toad.

The Segments

The project is introduced and narrated by Buddy Clark who sounds a lot like Bing Crosby.   The entry is a little bit strange with masks

Once Upon a Wintertime-

Christmas song with images that look like a  Currier and Ives printmelody1a1flWe learn it is about young love.  Then we see a couple in a sleigh and then on the ice.  A rabbit is skating much like in Bambi.  But unfortunately the ice becomes cracked and quickly the fair maiden is taken down stream towards a waterfall (don’t ask how a rushing river can be completely frozen over that close to a waterfall…)

wintertimeEventually all is saved and we are back to our Christmas song which I liked.

Bumble Boogie-


A very strong segment about a bee confronting the music of the Flight of the Bumble Bee.  You see a Dali influence in this one for sure.

Legend of Johnny Appleseed

If you aren’t Christian I don’t know if you’d enjoy this as much as some of the rest of us that are.  The music is a nice spiritual song called The Lord is Good to Me.

In a world where Christianity is basically abhorred by the media and kept out of anything mainstream it is nice to hear a little shout out on a Disney film.

The artistry in Johnny Appleseed reminds me a lot of Grandma Moses folk art.  With the clouds merging with the apple trees it is beautiful.

cloudsThis isn’t breaking huge new ground but it is very sincere and sweet and I liked it.

Johnny is inspired to spread happiness around the world in the form of apple trees where ever he goes.

I also thought it was funny whenever they talk about an apple feast they say ‘apple pickles’ first.  I had never heard of pickling apples but I guess it’s a real thing.  Who knew?

It does drag in a few sections but overall I enjoyed it.  The kind of short you could play in Sunday School.  Nothing wrong with that!

Little Toot

This is very similar to the Pedro story from Saludos Amigos.  Basically the little tug boat is treated poorly.  Then his size saves the day- another Rudolph story.

It’s sweet and clips along so I didn’t mind it.

little toot


The Arrangement of Trees

Our Dali friend is out again.  The story of a tree told with a surrealist touch.  Actually it’s not even a story.  It’s just a piece about the majesty of a tree and an oddly shaped one at that.

dali tree


Kind of a surrealist tree.

The only thing I didn’t like in this piece is that all of the sudden the tree is the cross which seemed to come out of nowhere.

cross tree

That caught me off guard because nothing in the piece really spoke to religion and there it was.

Blame it on Samba

This feels like an extra from The Three Cabelleros.  We get our troupe back including Jose, Donald and Panchito.  We also get a latin singer similar to Aurora Miranda but I don’t think it is her.

They dance, they sing and it is all very tame but enjoyable.  Nice to see Jose for the last time.


Pecos Bill

A very sweet story.  Pecos has been raised by coyotes in the wild.  Eventually he cleans up and falls in love.

Unfortunately for Bill his love wants to wear a bustle at their wedding and it becomes a bustle trampoline (you will have to trust me on that).

In the end we find out why coyotes are crying to the moon.  There’s no happy ending which for Disney is a big step.  I enjoyed it.

pecos bill

Pecos sings one song about the west and how the colors of the Native Americans made the rocks red, orange, gold and even purple.  Some could find that a little bit racist but it isn’t so bad.

Movie Review-

I really liked Melody Time.  It is much better than Make Mine Music which was entertaining in a  so bad it’s good way but Melody Time I genuinely like.

It is appropriate for all ages.  Each set is around 8 minutes and it is narrated by Roy Rogers and his wranglers (we meet them in a live action scene).  The music is uniformly good and the colors and artistry looks like real effort went into them not an afterthought.   There is also a pretty good variety; although I think the Pecos Bill story goes on a little bit too long.  Still, it’s sweet and well done so I enjoyed it.

Overall Grade B+


Movie 9: Fun Fancy Free

Phew!  These package films are rough going.  2 more after this.  The end is in sight…

I think for the first couple I was a little bit nicer than I should have been.  They really are awful but I figured they had little to work with with the war, but I was thinking today recently I watched the Looney Tunes gold collection boxed sets and their golden era was also during the war and they were much more creative and funny and well done than any of these package films.  My thoughts on Looney Tunes can be found here

So, I’m afraid I’m going to be tougher on Fun and Fancy Free, Ichabod and Mr Toad and Melody Time.  I can tell you one thing I have never looked forward to watching Cinderella more in my life.

fun and fancy free poster

But today we are talking about Fun and Fancy Free.  I don’t know if it is better or worse than the other package films or I’m just getting tired of them but certainly it is very thin gruel and in a way Make Mine Music took more chances so was more entertaining.

First of all, the name Fun and Fancy Free is a misnomer because there is nothing fancy or free.  Fun is a toss up.  It consists of two longer animated stories with Jiminy Cricket narrating and then it changes to a party with Edgar Bergen, Charlie McCarthy and kids.

Released in 1947 Fun and Fancy Free was an attempt by Disney to keep the studio afloat after being basically co-opted by the US Government for propaganda films.   However, as I will show later other studios are still producing good animation at this time period so I am less forgiving of that excuse.

I am also so tired of music like this with the choral singing and long swaying loud instrumentals.  It’s so boring and forgettable.  It worked in Bambi because it was used in a few songs that were part of the plot but these 40s choral introductions are the worst. (I guess this is Dinah Shore and I’m not a fan)


The first segment Jiminy introduces us to is called Bongo and it is a strange piece of work but where Make Mine Music did strange for 6 minutes this is 30 so it tried my patience more

Bongo is a circus bear that yearns to live in nature outside of his circus cage.  Eventually he breaks free and struggles with the forest where all the bears are three times bigger than Bongo except for one girl he immeditely falls in love with.  bongo

Disney at this point is big on the instant love but that is so boring.  Even for an animated short it is boring.

bongo finds love2But then it takes an unexpected and perplexing turn when the girl bear slaps Bongo as hard as she can.  He feels sad but then he learns that evidently bears in the forest show love for each other when they slap.  There is even a song about it…

I’m sorry Disney but I can’t endorse your Say it with a Slap song unless it’s a Saturday Night Live parody…

So that’s all of Bongo

Then Jiminy gets invited to a birthday party.  And at this party is a little girl, Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy (and other puppets).  I know that Bergen is practically the father of ventriloquism and a comedic genius in the minds of many.  However, I don’t think this particular movie is a good showcase of that ability.  I hate to say it but I could see his lips moving every time the puppets spoke.  Sometimes very visibly making the words with his mouth. I wish I could find a clip to show you.

FFF - Edgar Bergen and Luana Patten

Like I said, I’m sure he is brilliant but just not in this movie.  It ends up coming off as kind of strange bordering on creepy.

After chit-chat we get to the best but still frustrating part of the film

Mickey and the Beanstalk

In this piece we tell the story of Jack and the Beanstalk but with Mickey as Jack.   Mickey is living as a farmer in Happy Valley.  They are happy and everything is growing because of a magic harp that plays peaceful music.

The harp is stolen and then the town turns to ruin.  This leaves Mickey, Goofy and Donald with basically no food.  The situation is bleak and low.

whole gang

The starvation makes Donald have crazy eyes and do strange things with a hatchet.

crazy donaldThen Mickey goes and trades the last cow for magic beans which of course become our beanstalk leading the giant who in this film is a big duffas.

Fun_and_Fancy_free_Mickey_Mouse_and_Willie_the_GiantIn a strange choice they decide to make fee, fie, foe, fum a magic spell where the giant can change into anything he wants; although why he picks a giant pink bunny is never really explained.  I might pick a dragon or eagle. Just saying

giant-pink-bunnyMickey and the gang find the harp and need to take it from the giant which they do relatively easily.  And seriously it all resolves in like 5 minutes.    The harp is rescued and Happy Valley is back to it’s happy self.


Oh and the giant ends up in Hollywood looking down at Edgar and the little girl’s party. (A little strange to have a man, little girl, and 2 puppets at a child’s party…)

giant peekingMickey and the Beanstalk is fine but not especially memorable.  Aside from the giant having magic there is no attempt to make it different and even those powers aren’t really used in an interesting way.  If there ever was a phoned in fairy tale this was it.   The only thing that makes it of real note is it is the last time Mickey is voiced by Walt Disney.

To see a much funnier and original version of Jack and the Beanstalk watch the Looney Tunes Jack Wabbit and the Beanstalk.

I think most people would agree Looney Tunes for the win.

It’s funnier.  It’s shorter.  It’s stranger.  The iconic characters get more to do.  It’s just more creative and interesting.

So, that’s it for Fun, Fancy Free.  A bear that learns to slap women to show love (great message for kids…) and a 40 minute fairy tale bit that Warner Brothers did better in 7 minutes.


I hate to say it but this is my least favorite Disney so far. It’s not creative, funny, beautiful or unique.  Bland, bland, bland and the live action sections don’t work and are awkward.

I’m giving this my lowest grade yet D-

Movie 8: Make Mine Music

make_mine_music_posterSo after the grant was finished with Saludos Amigos and The Three Caballeros Walt Disney was left with a problem.  The army took many of his artists into it’s service and much of the rest of his staff was busy making training videos and propaganda films for the US Government.

If Walt wanted his feature film division to stay in tact and be functional after the war he would have to do something to keep releasing films.  That is why we get the next 4 short subject or package films.  Anyone can tell these are scrapped projects picked up again, clumsily clobbered together to get as close to an hour of material as they could because that is literally what they are.

In some cases that produced hidden gems.  In others boring segments that should have been kept in the scrap pile, but in many more cases it creates things truly bizarre, which never would have been produced in any other circumstances.  I kind of like bizarre so 2 out of 3 of those outcomes works great for me!

So we get Make Mine Music.  This is sold as a Fantasia with popular music of the 40’s. Released in 1946 some of the music feels dated which is something that will happen with popular music of any era but not as much with classical.  A great symphony in 2014 will probably sound a lot like a great symphony in 1946.

Make Mine Music has 10 sets and like I said- some work, some don’t and some are just strange.  Let’s dive in.

1.  Martins and the Coys-

This was actually not part of my DVD.  It was removed because people felt it was too violent and I can see why.  It is a take on the Hatfield and McCoy feud (which do children even know about that? I didn’t until the miniseries last year…) and has a bluesgrass soundtrack accompanying it.

martins2Basically you have 2 families who hate each other because one stole some chicken eggs.  So they fight. martins-coys-1946And everyone dies…(Great message for kids!)  but one from each family, Alice and Henry.  They actually show the ghosts around the mountain.


So of course, Henry and Alice meet and fall in love so everything is right again, right?  No!  It turns out Alice is a real brute and beats Henry every night.  The End…

Poor Henry beat out of the house...

Ok. I can see why they took that off the DVD.  I can’t say it isn’t entertaining.

To watch it go to

2. Blue Bayou-

This one is interesting because it was filmed originally with Clair de Lune for Fantasia but here it is with the Ken Darby Chorus and has a bayou poem that I couldn’t understand without the closed captions.  Compare these I think you will agree the Clair de Lune is much better.

This one is good especially in original version

3. All the Cats Join In-

This is another strange one.  It has Benny Goodman and his orchestra and is supposed to portray youth in the 40s.  Everything looks like Archie and Veronica from the comics which was popular then so it very well could have been the influence.

all cats2As the music goes the pencil draws the teens.

cats4There’s a surprising mixture of kids like you see a black couple dancing.

cats3But then there is also a segment with a girl coming out of the shower and getting dressed which is strange for a Disney film in the 40s…


I would say this one is mildly entertaining to strange.  I love big band and jazz music but for some reason most of the arrangements in this film just seem kind of boring.

all cats4. Without You-

There must have been an artist at the studio that loved Dali because every once in a while you see his influence creep in but not enough to figure it was a huge influence on the studio.  The elephants in Dumbo, surrealist touches in Fantasia and all the clips moments have something but this is literally bright pink trees and then the scene melts away.  To me that just screams Dali but not in an interesting compelling way.

 without youdali

I like Dali fine but this episode is kind of forgettable.

5.  Casey at Bat-

This is another strange choice.  First of all, the music is minimal but I remember it completely differently than it is .  I thought Casey was a sympathetic guy.  Turns out he is actually a pompous jerk.  You are glad when he strikes out but the artists act like we should feel sad and that the whole town is sad.  It’s a very strange message.

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6. Two Silhouettes-

This is a simple short that has real live action ballet dancers as silhouettes with images and music. It’s not terrible but kind of blah.  I think in an age when we didn’t have a million opportunities to watch dancing everyday on TV this must have felt more special.


7. Peter and the Wolf-

Probably the most memorable episode from this movie.  As written by Sergei Prokofiev each animal in the story has a different instrument so the symphony gets to literally tell a story as it plays.

It is an enjoyable set.  The only odd thing is the wolf seems to be out of another movie.  It is so ferocious and mean and all the other characters like Sonia the Duck and Peter are all so cutesy and sweet.

I mean seriously look at these cute characters:

peter and the wolf2And then look at this wolf

peter and the wolf peter-and-sonya-25tiswf

I mean give us a fair fight Disney!  But that said it is a good number.

8. After You’ve Gone-

The Goodman Quartet plays while musical instruments dance across the screen. At one point they are boxing each other which is a strange choice.  I think Mr Dali fan is putting his influence in once again!


 So here’s my little spiel about art.  Art should mean something or tell some kind of a story, even if it tells different stories to different people.  Or it should be beautiful or upsetting or stir some other kind of emotion.  When it is just randomly putting things together it leaves the viewer confused and unless that is a reaction you want than it should be avoided.

There is no reason to have a clarinet and a bass boxing and it doesn’t make any sense or have any kind of obvious deeper meaning to ponder.  When Dali melted clocks there is clear things to ponder about time and life and the infinite.  So, that’s what I think about art…

9.  Johnnie Fedora and Alice Bluebonnet-

This is another strange set.  Johnnie Fedora and Alice Bluebonnet are hats (yes hats) with eyes and a mouth that I guess isn’t visible to humans despite them kissing and starting fights.  They are  separated from each other and Johnnie is devastated and the piece is about him finding Alice and in the end they are both worn by horses which is strange.

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The whole thing is strange.  I can feel for ducks, mice, parrots but hats… The Andrews Sisters sing the story which is kind of fun and nostalgic to hear.

10. The Whale Who Wanted to Sing at the Met-

This is probably my favorite because it is strange but in a ‘I can’t believe that exists’ way.  It is about a whale that sings opera.  He is heard by fisherman and then eventually trapped and sings at the Met with at one point fire coming out of his mouth.

Just having a whale talk in the middle of his body standing up looks so strange.  I laugh whenever I see it.

Is that not one of the oddest images you've seen?
Is that not one of the oddest images you’ve seen?

Why have it in the middle of his body like that?  Whales have mouths at the top of their body.  It looks like a big shoe singing.

willie the whalewillie2And then he dies for no real reason but to teach kids a lesson about whale heaven “Willie’s singing was a miracle and people aren’t used to miracles.  And you faithful friend don’t be too sad because somewhere in whatever heaven is reserved for creatures of the deep Willie is still singing”

wilie the whale singinI find that such a baffling choice.  Why kill him?  Why not leave him singing his heart out to all the fans.  Why end your cartoon with a message about how humanity isn’t used to miracles and silences them but in heaven everything is made better….’.  I mean I guess they were in a time of war but wouldn’t it be better to teach kids about miracles and that humanity has it’s good sides?

The whole episode is just so bizarre I kind of love it.

Conclusion and Movie Review

So, that was a lot of work!  I hope you found it entertaining and go check out Make Mine Music.  It is one of the oddest sets of entertainment I’ve ever viewed.  I really don’t know what to say.  Some of the pieces are forgettable, some are good and most of them are strange or have strange moments.  So on that level I recommend it but if you are looking for normal, easy to absorb family entertainment this is definitely not the one to pick.

A grade is almost impossible but I guess a C- (just on strangeness but if I’m really talking quality it would be lower)

Movie 7: The Three Caballeros

caballerosWhile we are in the latin mood let’s talk about the next feature film from Disney: The Three Caballeros.  This is similar to Saludos Amigos and is more effective in some ways and less in others.  It has a similar history to Saludos Amigos and was part of the Goodwill tour but Walt and animators are not featured in Caballeros like they were in Saludos.  Still, it does feel like a travelogue of Brazil and Mexico.

It starts with Donald opening a bunch of presents with each one leading to a little skit or ‘presentation’ (quite the pun there…)

donald and presents

At first it seems like the shorts are going to be good.  There is a cute piece on a penguin who dreams of an island paradise.


And then one about a donkey that can fly and win sports races that is cute.  Both of these are on the same level as the Pedro the plane short in Saludos Amigos.

flyign donkeyIf they had just provided two more pieces without the live action segments of Saludos it would have been great but sadly the last half of the movie becomes tedious.  We get introduced to Panchito the Mexican Rooster and he sings a manic song with Donald and Jose.   It’s a fine song with a lot of energy but kind of grading and a little bit of Panchito goes a long way! Plus, the lyrics about gay caballeros is a little out of date…

As you can see the animation in the song is quite good but it is just a little too much shouting for my taste.  And I still can never understand what Jose is saying.  Donald is hard enough but Jose is very difficult.


After the song it becomes even stranger. Evidently the merging of live film and animation had just been realized (I believe the same year Gene Kelly danced with Jerry from Tom and Jerry. No doubt Disney was excited about this potential and was eager to use it a lot! We spend a lot of the next 30 minutes watching people dance with the animation and listening to pretty good music but it has no story so it gets a little dull.

Here they are with singer Aurora Miranda
Three Caballeros batshit insane donald 11
In one strange segment there are on a magic carpet with rows of human female legs as the horse. Very odd.
they meet singers and dancers and learn about Brazil and Mexcio through them but it feels so outdated.So strange looking.

Then the last third of the movie is literally Donald chasing human women around Buenos Aires which is strange on a lot of levels.


The animation is better in Three Cabellos than in Saludos Amigos but the novelty had warn off me and a lot of the dancing and skirt chasing was boring.  They should have done 4 shorts like they did in Saludos but I think they were just so excited about the idea of animation/live action combining that they went a little nuts with it.  It is 30 minutes longer than Saludos and it feels it.

I still find it amazing that with this being a goodwill tour that Mickey never showed up in these films.  I would think Walt would have pulled his alter ego out to help the cause.

From what I read the box office was not as strong for this as Saludos, so probably why they moved away from these Latin films and on to English animated short mashups for the next 4 films.

Movie Review

It’s harmless fluffy entertainment that would feel better as  a blip before a feature film on the Disney channel.  In those small doses it could be very charming but as a movie it is tough.  The Donald chasing women gag isn’t really funny and all the music and dancing leading to nothing in the story gets a little dull.  However, the animation is dizzingly fast and it is entertaining to see the beginning of animation and live action melding together.

So, if you think a tour of animated South America sounds like your cup of tea, check it out.

Overall Grade- D

Movie 6: Saludos Amigos

Now we are up to the feature films of animated shorts from Disney and Saludos Amigos is the first of two aimed at Latin American audiences.

saludos amigosAt the beginning of 1941 before Pearl Harbor and US entry into the war Disney was asked by the state department to do a goodwill tour of South America.  Saludos Amigos and The Three Caballeros were a result of that effort.

The state department was worried the Latin American countries might be sympathetic to the Nazi’s so it was crucial to do something.

While getting the needed grant from the government to make these shorts Disney was also changing strategy.  Instead of the ambitious artpieces of their first 5 films they went with bankable stars like Donald and Goofy and shorts that could be easily put alongside other movies in a theater.  Gone was the Fantasound and other expensive theater strategies.  This was make something fun and charming using the characters everyone loves.  Nothing wrong with that but it has made the movies from 1943-1950 kind of forgettable.

Here’s a trailer

Saludos premiered in August 1942 in Brazil and in 1943 in the US.  Part of the reason Disney agreed to these films is they were part of a federal grant and the loss of the European market in the war had been a huge blow.  Combined with a strike that year they needed the funds.

The movie is kind of like a travelogue of Latin America sometimes in live action and then 4 animated sets.  To a modern day audience it seems out of date and corny but at the time it was very popular.

Film historian Alfred Charles Richard Jr. has commented that Saludo Amigos “did more to cement a community of interest between peoples of the Americas in a few months than the State Department had in fifty years”.

An article I read in Time magazine January 1943 said people in Rio de Janeiro “screamed so loudly for an encore that another feature had to be halted in mid-reel and Saludos Amigos run off again”

I found a review from the New York Times from 1943 and it called Saludos Amigos “charming” and “a gay 40 minute potpourri”

The movie has four segments that are introduced with live action shots:

Lake Titicaca- Donald Duck visits the lake and deals with a llama in the funniest skit

Donald learning about the culture
donald llama
Donald dealing with a llama!

Next we have

Pedro- A story about a small plane in Santiago who must take the mail when Papa Plane and Mama Plane can’t do it.  Pretty much a Rudolph storyline.

pedro the planeEl Gaucho Goofy- Set in Argentina Goofy must learn to be an Argentine Cowboy- or a gaucho.  This is very similar to the other Goofy ‘how to’ videos such as the one on photography.

goofy cowboyThere is also a scene where Goofy and the horse are dancing which looks strange…

Aquarela do Brasil- Set in Rio this short is as if the characters and ideas for the story are being drawn by an artist and those paintings come alive.

We also get introduced to Jose Oliveira who is a Portuguese parrot. He is a cool looking character but tough to understand sometimes.

rioAnd that’s about all there is to it.

The soundtrack sold well and is fun and includes samba and other latin inspired dances.

I couldn’t find the box office results but from what I’ve read it sounds like it did pretty well.

My Review

So how does it hold up?  Not very well I’m afraid.  It’s harmless and kind of fun to see what propaganda films looked like in the 40s.  The music is engaging and some of the cultural attractions are neat to see (some of them also seem way outdated).

The animated sets are cute but nothing mind blowing.  Unlike previous Disney products these are not art but sprightly entertainment.  And it’s only 41 minutes so hard to be too tough on it but it didn’t feel like a feature film.  However, it’s on Disneys list of animated classics so I watched it.

It’s not horrible just not one of my favorites.

Incidentally it seems you could write an interesting screenplay about this goodwill tour Walt and the animators took, these movies, the enthusiastic response and the dealings with the state department.  Just a hunch.

I am a little surprised they didn’t use Mickey since it was a goodwill tour. Still always enjoy seeing Donald and Goofy.  The animated segments hold up better than the live action which feel dated partly from the trappings of 40’s technology and dress (and film).  The whole project kind of feels like an episode of Sesame Street with humans and animation instead of puppets.

Kids will enjoy each of the animated sections especially if you come from a Latino background and the story of the Goodwill mission is interesting. The war would have been much different if South and Central America had gone with the Nazis.

Overall Grade C Generic but pleasant enough.

MOVIE 5: Bambi

That’s right.  Get your tissues out. It is time to talk about Bambi.

Bambi-movie-posterMost of us probably remember this from Bambi:

Yes millions of Americans have been forever traumatized by this sequence and probably even avoid watching Bambi as a result.  If so, that’s a real shame because there is a lot to like about this Walt Disney classic.


Bambi is based on a novel by Felix Salten and it evidently was ‘too grim’ for an audience with children (I can only imagine what horrors must happen!). At first, MGM was planning on adapting it as a live action film, but fter 4 years of attempts they handed it over to Disney.  Disney planned on it being their 2nd feature after Snow White but delays in creating life-like animals made it not really get going until 1939.  Eventually it would be the 5th animated feature by Disney and was released in 1942.

What makes Bambi special is the music and the animation- particularly the colors and backdrops.  Along with most of Disney’s earlier works they can be appreciated more as an art piece than a film.  A modern comparison would be Tree of Life.  It has a thin plot but it is special because of the artistry.  Same with early Disney.

In the last post we spoke about Dumbo’s backgrounds being plain simple colors.  Bambi is the complete opposite.

thumper with backgroundIf we look at this shot of Thumper and his girl rabbit the flowers and grasses closest to the characters have details but then it fades into an impressionist scene of meshing colors together.

The animators also used color to show emotion throughout the film.  For instance, during the fire sequence we get red, orange, purple and black.

bambi-fireIn this scene we see the leaves  like feathers and the lighting is ephemeral and soft. It practically screams romance.  (At least as much romance as can be appreciated by deer…)

love2The other thing that is incredible about Bambi is the music.  Taking a page from Fantasia Walt Disney decided to move away from sound effects to a complete orchestra and choir.  None of the characters actually sing but there is music accompanying their actions.

Watch this scene and listen for how the music creates the sounds of raindrops, water and the forest.

Bambi was released in 1942 and with the war raging American pocketbooks were tight and the European markets were off limits.  This caused Disney to lose money on Bambi (costing 1.7 million to make and only grossing 1.64).

Immediately some hunters rejected the movie and still do.  I’ve heard park rangers call the over-population of deer the ‘bambi problem’.  Evidently even Walt’s daughter Diane didn’t like Bambi’s mother dieing but Walt said he was only following the book.

This is another early Disney movie where there is no real villain.  ‘Man’ is the villain but we never see them and they don’t have any distinguishing traits like a villain song or plot.

Movie Review

So how does it hold up? This one I am a bit more mixed on.  I own it and enjoy watching it for the imagery and music but certain parts are challenging.

For instance, there really is no central plot.  It is just the story of a deer growing up.  Do deer mature so quickly that Bambi can go from being a baby to having his own baby in the 2 year time frame of the movie? I don’t know if they do  but regardless this doesn’t give us much time to get to know him like we do Simba in Lion King.  We never hear Bambi talk much beyond words like ‘ice’, ‘snow’, ‘meadow’ so it’s hard to feel much of a victory for him in the end.

All the deer are pretty bland and boring.  Thumper, Daisy, Owl are cute but not really that interesting.  The death scene is very sad but it doesn’t hold a candle to what I feel when Mufassa dies- a character we have come to know, who has taught us something, shown some personality.  Bambi’s mother and Faline are basically the same person and not that interesting of partners for Bambi.

Aside from a Mother and various love interests all the rest of the characters are male and kind of blah and the story goes through the motions.  Again, think about the Lion King and how much happens to Simba, the pridelands and everything else.

Even Fox and the Hound, which is a weak Disney offering, still gives you some dialogue between the characters so the emotional scenes have more heft and the plot is more engaging.

But, then there are the visuals and like most of Disney’s early films they should be viewed like one would go into an art museum or symphony.  Every frame is gorgeous and the music gives you each emotion that the story might lack.

Just look at this forest scene.  It is almost 3D with all the layers going all the way back to the waterfall.  Stunning.

backdropSo, do I think Bambi is worth owning? Yes.  Is it one you are going to want to watch every month? No.  It’s a beautiful art piece with great music and enough of a plot and characters to be tolerable, even enjoyable.

Overall Grade B-  (It is also only 70 minutes making the problems less noticeable)

It  is interesting to think of these first 5 Disney feature films.  They all have darker themes, many involving separation or death.  A friend suggested to me that films were made for all ages at that time and animation was not as clearly a child’s medium.  That makes sense in the pre-Disneyland days.

But I wonder if it is also because of the hardships facing many families in the late 30s and 40s.  People losing their homes, waiting in soup kitchens, sending family members off to war. Perhaps Disney wanted to provide a medium where these tough themes could be contemplated but through art, music and storytelling?

Next 6 Movies

Moving forward we get to a section  I am calling the animated short era.  From 1942 to 1950 Walt Disney Studios released groups of animated shorts put together to create a feature length film.  This is partly because their studios were used to help in the war effort.

The 6 film collections are :

1. Saludos Amigos (1942)- on wikipedia it says this was released a week after Bambi

2. The Three Caballeros (1944)

3. Make Mine Music (1946)

4. Fun and Fancy Free (1947)

5.  Melody Time (1948)

6. The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr Toad (1949)

I have not seen any of these except for the last, so it should be a lot of fun.  Have you seen any of them?

What do you guys think of Bambi and the other 4 early films- Snow White, Pinocchio, Fantasia, and Dumbo?


Movie 4: Dumbo

Now we have come to a movie I really love, Dumbo.  It’s one I don’t recall seeing as a child and always dismissed as ‘the sad Disney movie’.  Boy was I missing out.



Dumbo is not only lovely but has an interesting backstory.  Released in 1941 the Disney studios needed a hit after flops of Pinocchio and Fantasia.  War and high production costs had made the budget on both pictures balloon.  Walt told his animators they need a film that would be cheap to produce and box office friendly.

A merchandise director showed him a storyline for a toy called The Roll-a-Book about an elephant who could fly.  Walt Disney loved the idea and they went right to work with budget being the priority.

What’s amazing about that is even with so many restrictions they still managed to produce art and take risks that make Dumbo very special.

At it’s core Dumbo is about overcoming differences and finding true friends.  (and never discounting someone as a friend because of those differences).  Of all the Disney ‘messages’ it is one of my favorites.

Each character is vividly portrayed because the backgrounds and other visuals were simple allowing the eyes and other body parts to be especially expressive.  Outside of Timothy Q Mouse and the crows there is remarkably little dialogue in Dumbo, but we don’t notice it because meanings and emotions are very clear.

There was a strike while Dumbo was in production which was very demoralizing for Walt and Roy Disney.  He had felt like a family to the animators and as a subtle jab in the clown scenes several of the strikers are depicted.

The war also affected Dumbo.  Time magazine was going to name Dumbo ‘mammal of the year’ and have him on the cover but the bombing of Pearl Harbor superseeded it although the article was still listed.  No doubt the new war made a sentimental tale about friendship extra appealing.  Dumbo cost half the price of Snow White and a third of Pinocchio so they succeeded in their budgeting for once.

The Story

The story is pretty simple.

Dumbo is delivered by the stork and he has huge ears! The lady elephants are horrified and call him Dumbo instead of Jumbo Jr as his Mother wants.

female elephants

The matriarch of the elephants is voiced by Verna Felton who is in many Disney films including Fairy Godmother in Cinderella and The Queen of Hearts in Alice and Wonderland.  They are actually quite harsh and say Dumbo is an ‘elephant only a mother could love’

Timothy Q. Mouse hears them making fun of Dumbo and asks the question ‘I don’t see nothing wrong with them (ears).  I think they are cute”

The other elephants are scared of Timothy (elephants really are scared of mice.  Check out the Mythbusters episode if you don’t believe me!)

Little boys make fun of Dumbo which makes his mother angry and she storms them and is locked up.

The circus owner decides to create a pyramid of elephants with Dumbo at the top as the smallest elephant.  Unfortunately  Dumbo slips and everything comes crashing down.

Dumbo gets sent to work with the clowns as punishment and the elephants decide he is ‘no longer an elephant’.

dumbo clown1

Dumbo cries and takes him to see his mother where she sings to him ‘Baby of Mine’ .

Here’s where things get strange.  After the song Dumbo gets the hiccups and they drink some water not realizing it is actually champagne from the clowns.  This starts a surrealist dream sequence called ‘Pink Elephants on Parade’.

I love that in Disney’s low budget, safe movie they have something that out there as the pink elephants on parade.  It’s like they couldn’t help themselves but be artistic and take risks.

pink elephants

They will channel a similar surrealism in 1968 in The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh when Pooh dreams of Heffalumps and Woozles.

When the 2 wake up they find themselves amazingly on top of a tree high in the air.  How did they get there?  Timothy figures they must have flown.


They meet a band of crows who tease them at first but after Timothy’s intervention they become friends and sing the song- When I see an elephant fly

There are some who claim the crows are racist.  I actually find the song at the beginning called Song of Roustabouts to be more questionable with black men with no facial expressions doing physical labor.

The crows are friendly, happy, characters who in the end help Dumbo.  I don’t see them as any different than the vultures in Jungle Book and nobody complains they are racist?

They do speak in a stereotypical way and use some halting language, but I don’t think it is demeaning or cruel.

Perhaps I am wrong on that but it seems a bit of a nit-pick.

Eventually Dumbo realizes he can fly and he returns to the circus becoming a star along with his true friend Timothy.

As we can see in the picture above most of the backgrounds in Dumbo are solid colors or painted in watercolor.  This is only done in 2 other Disney movies- Snow White and 2002’s Lilo and Stitch.    It is only 64 minutes long so Disney’s shortest theatrical release and it has relatively few characters.  None of the voice talent was even credited at the end of the movie.

Movie Review

I love stories that have a real heart to them and Dumbo certainly has that in spades.  Amazing to have a lead character who doesn’t have one line of dialogue can be that appealing and sweet.  Timothy Q Mouse is the real hero of the movie who doesn’t let the discrimination and hate of other people influence his thoughts and actions.  It probably has more tears than in any other Disney movie but I feel the tears are earned because we see what is happening to a character that is a baby.

I like to think that every person has someone in their life who is their unabashed cheerleader.  We all get tough talk in spades but the people I treasure most are those that love me and think I am a one of a kind.  My Grandfather was that person for me and Timothy Q Mouse is that person for Dumbo.  I love that.

It’s also an interesting depiction of both the joy of maternal love and the pettiness of a sorority mentality.

I love stories about friendship and Dumbo certainly gives us a great one and reminds us friendship can come from the most unexpected sources.  It also teaches what is seen as a drawback to others, is actually what makes us special and unique.  When Dumbo embraces his ears instead of hiding them he is embracing his nature and is happy.  The world recognizes him for that.  If he had stayed in a corner in fear that would have never happened.

And of course I love the fact that in the middle of all this sentiment we get something as jarring and nuts as Pink Elephants on Parade.  These early films from Disney are art that happens to have an audience.  It’s like they couldn’t help themselves but explore new genres and push boundaries.  It’s awesome.

Some are bothered by the crows and I respect that but it is honestly a short segment an could be fast forwarded if you prefer.  I think most kids are likely to just laugh at the crows cheerful goofy antics.  If not, perhaps it can be used a teaching opportunity about the type of stereotypes and caricatures in all eras of art, music and  storytelling.  It seems a shame to throw away a wonderful film about accepting differences and loving all people because of a positive happy song by crows.

Nevertheless, I think Dumbo is great for kids of all ages with perhaps the pink elephants scene skipped for very young children.  Also, talking about Dumbo and Timothy getting drunk may need to take place after the scene is over.

If I were to dock it a little it would be the songs aside from Baby Mine aren’t especially memorable although the score by Oliver Wallace and Frank Churchill is lovely (Oscar winning).  Still, music-wise it would rate fairly low in the Disney cannon.

Other than that,  I really do love Dumbo.  It is a weird, sweet, sad, tender-hearted tale of an elephant with really big ears!

Overall Grade- A

Movie 3: Fantasia

fantasia poster

Production- (If you want to read about the segments skip down to Segments)

In modern movies typically we see a hit followed by a million imitators.  Not the case with Disney.  Even in later, more commercial years they followed Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast with the different feels of Aladdin and Lion King.  However, this was never more true than in the early years.  A mammoth hit of Snow White was followed by 4 films that couldn’t be more different- Pinocchio, Fantasia, Dumbo and Bambi.

Fantasia was the 3rd animated feature film by Walt Disney Studios and it is a bold undertaking to be sure.  Originally Walt was worried the character of Mickey was going to be forgotten by the public and even the studio.  As his master creation Walt didn’t want this to happen and had developed an idea for the Sorcerers Apprentice.  Music had been written and the concept had been drawn.

Unfortunately Disney was left with only a short, so he got the idea to create a series of shorts that would build off of his Silly Symphonies series- pairing animation with classical music.

In the end Fantasia was 8 sections including intermission and 8 pieces of music (the intermission has notes but the last segment has 2 numbers Night on Bald Mountain and Ave Maria)

The music was recorded by the Philadelphia Orchestra which was led by famous conductor Leopold Stokowski.  Evidently he and Disney had met in a restaurant and Walt mentioned his idea of the Sorcerers Apprentice.  Leopold told Walt Disney he ‘liked the music’ and would be willing to conduct the piece at no cost.

Then Disney later ran into Stokowski on a train and they shared ideas for the short.  Disney told him later he was ‘all steamed up over the idea of Stokowski working with us’ and that it would ‘lead to a new style of motion picture presentation’.

So work on the Sorcerers Apprentice began in 1937 but by January 1938 the cost had climbed to 125,000 so Disney realized a short could never make that back. A feature film of a series of shorts was discussed.   Roy Disney wanted to keep the budget low because of the ‘experimental and unprecedented nature’ of the production.

However, Walt Disney became energized and “saw this trouble in the form of an opportunity.  This was the birth of a new concept, a group of separate numbers- regardless of their running time- put together in a single presentation”

It’s clear Walt liked the idea of the combined short subject feature film because after Bambi there are 6 such features (a portion of this project I must admit I am not looking forward to but it should be fun)

Each of the shorts in Fantasia involved different techniques.  In Toccata we see an homage to abstract art.  In the Nutcracker Suite professional ballet dancers were brought in, filmed and then sketched.  In the Pastoral Symphony we see almost a watercolor effect.

The music was recorded in 1939 and took 42 days, 33 microphones, and 483,000 feet of film.

Fantasia was also released in Fantasound which was developed by the engineers at Disney and RCA which had 2 projectors rolling- 1 with the sound, another with the film.

Fantasia has one of the most interesting stories at the box office of any Disney film.  Initially Fantasia struggled at the box office because it was rolled out slowly with Fantasound having to be implemented in theaters and the beginning of WWII in 1941

Eventually it was released to the general public with 20 minutes removed and then 45 minutes taken off.  It was then released again in theaters 9 more times, finally making money in 1969 release. In that release 4 scenes from the Pastoral Symphony showing black pegasus waiting on a white one were deemed racially insensitive and removed.

In 1982 a new soundtrack was recorded and in 1990 the live action scenes and original uncut film was released. I saw Fantasia in 1990 and it grossed $25 million.

The Segments

Toccata and Fugue in D Minor by Johann Sebastian Bach

It’s neat but probably not my favorite as there is no story at all.

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Nutcracker Suite by Tchaikovsky

This is my personal favorite probably because it is the music I am the most familiar with. This shows us all the seasons through the eyes of fairies waking the forest up.

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The Sorcerers Apprentice
This is probably the section that is enjoyed by children the most as we see lazy Mickey take the wizards hat so the brooms will get the water from the well. All bedlam breaks out until the Wizard returns.

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The Rite of Spring by Igor Stravinsky
In this piece we see the galaxy, creation of the world, the planets first creatures, and the life and death of the dinosaurs.

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Yes there is an intermission in a Disney film but you kind of need it to absorb all of the beautiful images and music. We do get one brief segment called Meet the Soundtrack where different notes make visual vibrations.

Pastoral Symphony by Beethoven-
I would never have thought to put Greek mythology with Beethoven but Disney does and it is beautiful. We start with introductions to the centaurs, cupids, fauns, pegasus and other figures.
They are falling in love and having a festival for Bacchus, the God of Wine. However, Zeuss decides to rain on the parade and sends a storm and throws lightning at them.

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I really enjoyed watching the Pastoral Symphony. My favorite image was the depiction of night as a woman with a giant cloak covering the sky. Beautiful.
Dance of the Hours by Amilcare Ponchielli
Next to Sorcerer’s Apprentice this is probably the most famous segment. It is a ballet with characters representing all parts of the day. Ostriches are morning, Hippos are afternoon, Elephants are evening and Alligators are night.
This is the routine that will probably entertain small children the most with the comical hippos and strange looking ostriches dancing.

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Night on Bald Mountain by Modest Mussorgsky and Ave Maria by Franz Schubert
The last segment continues Disney’s early trend of embracing darker themes and messages with bald mountain being the home of Satan. We get the Devil and all his bloody minions.
But then we see a light and it gets wider until we see a tree, a forest and a band of people holding lights. It’s a beautiful contrast.

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Movie Review
It should be clear from all the work I put into this post I think Fantasia is pretty spectacular. And yet, I remember seeing it in 1990 and as a 9 year old I was kind of bored. So, is it an animated movie for adults only?
Maybe but I think there is a strategy which could make this work for kids and adults who perhaps don’t love classical music and art as much as lovers of this film do. I’ve noticed with children enjoyment of any activity comes down to timing. Fantasia is not the movie to play when the kids are driving you nuts and you need 2 hours of free time. It is not the film that will entertain kids.
It is a film that can educate kids (and adults) and should be treated like other educational experiences. Find a time when you can sit down and explain what is going to happen the way you might before going to an art museum or a play. Children under 5 are probably not going to enjoy it even then but older kids should be able to understand the difference between art and entertainment.
The film is split into segments so dividing it up may also be a good way to go. There is no reason why all 2 hours must be seen at once. You could learn about each composer and then watch their segment and I bet everyone would enjoy that.
I look at Fantasia kind of the way I saw Tree of Life. They are both art pieces more than movies. In a world of cookie cutter films how great to see something that transcends entertainment. Something that makes you want to be creative- and Fantasia will inspire you in both your ears and eyes.
I admire Walt Disney so much for making such bold films. Fantasia was such a risk and you rarely see such risks. It can be a little slow at times but I still think it is a masterpiece. I hadn’t seen it in a long time and feel inspired after watching it today. I bet you will too.
Overall Grade A+

Movie 2: Pinocchio

pinocchioSo now we get to a terrifying moment of my childhood- watching Pinocchio.  And on a rewatch I have to say I was perfectly valid in being scared!  It’s kind of a nutty movie but in a way I now find quite brilliant.

Bambi was originally meant to be Disney’s second animated film but with delays that honor went to Pinocchio.  It debuted in 1940 and was initially a huge flop.  It wasn’t until a re-release in 1945 that the studio began to make back it’s investment.

It won Oscars for Best Original Score and Best Original Song and is considered by some as Walt’s masterpiece.

It was certainly a bold undertaking.  All the post- Snow White movies were very bold.  I think we have an idea of the 30’s- 50’s as being squeaky clean and polished but that’s definitely not the case with Disney.  Snow White, Bambi and Pinocchio all have darker themes and moments of characters dieing. Dumbo has a baby separated from his mother, which is quite devastating.  To be clear, the darkness is not necessarily a bad thing because it is always paired with lightness and humor.  Still I don’t think Disney takes as many risks these days.

Pinocchio is based on Carlo Collodi’s 1883 novel.  It was purchased by an animator and given to Walt Disney who immediately loved it.  The story of the novel is changed drastically (In the book evidently Pinocchio is cold, rude, and ungrateful).

They also changed Pinocchio from an all wood design to give it more of a fluid feel.  Animators used the puppet  Charlie McCarthey as inspiration for Pinocchio’s appearance.

The story of Pinocchio is what is called a ‘morality tale’.  Morality plays were popular in the Victorian era and usually involved a character having to make choices and fight off temptation.  ( fables, greek myths, etc were popular choices).  These stories also typically had biblical illusions. Masonry and other groups also have morality tales as part of their rituals.

blue fairyWhen the Blue Fairy comes she tells Pinocchio that he ‘must learn to choose between right and wrong’.  I could see illusions to Adam and Eve.  She also tells him ‘the wrong things may seem right at the time’ 

She also tells Pinocchio that in order to turn into a real boy he must learn to be ‘brave, truthful, and unselfish’ so each of the episodes of the movie teach Pinocchio (and the viewers) these lessons.

The Blue Fairy gives Pinocchio some help in Jiminy Cricket who is his conscience and serves as a semi-narrator to the movie.  Evidently Jiminy was added to the story in 1938 because Walt felt it needed to be softened and I think he was right.

jiminySo off Pinocchio goes to school and he meets the first of many villains, Honest Fox and his cat friend Gideon.

honest fox and gideonThe world Pinocchio operates in is very strange.  For instance, we have Gideon the cat anthropomorphized  and yet Gepetto also has a cat named Figero that is a normal cat.

Normal Cat- Figero
Anthropomorphized Cat Gideon.

There is also an acceptance of magic which is interesting but it is used at some points and then other times they have to push through.  For instance, they are able to travel under water for large periods of time and yet another scene shows Pinocchio as having drowned.

pinocchio underwater
Walking under ocean in one scene
pinocchio drowned.
drowning in another?

Unlike most Disney films Pinocchio does not have one evil villain but a series of corrupt people trying to lead Pinocchio astray.  It is almost as if evil itself and sin is the villain.

The ‘Honest Fox’ meet Pinnochio on the way to school and convince him to join them on ‘the easy way’ and they sing Hi Diddle Dee is all about how it is ‘great to be a celebrity’

Honest Fox then sells Pinocchio to the gypsy Stramboli who wants him in his marionette show. At first Pinocchio is dazzled by the bright lights and attention.

Even Jiminy see’s Pinocchio on stage and walks away in despair ‘They like him.  He’s a success.  Maybe I was wrong?  What does an actor need with a conscience anyway”

Then it turns out Stramboli imprisons Pinocchio so he won’t run away.  The Blue Fairy comes to rescue him but not before Pinocchio tries to fudge how he got there.  This causes his nose to grow.

pinocchio noseSo he is sent on his way but he is tricked again by the Honest Fox and meets a boy named Lampwick who promises Pinocchio fun and excitement.  Drawn in he meets The Coachman and goes to Pleasure Island

No wonder I was terrified!

Lampwick introduces Pinochio to many evils.  Pleasure Island has pool, alcohol, cigars, mayhem, and lots of children out of control.

It turns out The Coachman is drawing all these children to Pleasure Island in order to turn them into donkeys for the salt mills.

This is absolutely terrifying idea. There are even donkeys who are half-way turned so they are still talking and The Coachman throws them to the side to ‘deal with them later’… Yikes!  Is this Disney or a horror movie!

salt mills

donkeysSo are we supposed to assume that all the animals are secretly naughty children? What’s amazing is that Pleasure Island is never really resolved.  Pinocchio escapes but that is it.  I guess the hundreds of children we see playing early on are donkeys and The Coachman keeps with his scheme.  Who knew mines needed so many donkeys?

From Pleasure Island Pinocchio has learned to not be selfish.  To think of Jiminy, his father and others and not just doing what is fun.

Jiminy and Pinocchio get back home but Geppetto is gone and the Blue Fairy gives them a clue that he is in the belly of the whale looking for Pinocchio.  It’s kind of funny that the Blue Fairy doesn’t help them any more but I guess Pinocchio wouldn’t have learned to be brave.

So off they go to find Geppetto and defeat the final villain Monstro, the whale.  There is a dazzling scene under the water.  Pinnochio was a pioneer in animation because Disney developed a technique for layering animation on top of animated backgrounds.

Look at how the bubbles and waves are layered around the characters in this scene.

Eventually all are saved and home but Geppetto is grieving because he thinks Pinocchio is dead. The Blue Fairy comes and turns him into a real boy because he has learned what he needed to know.

We also get a reprisal of what became the official anthem of Disney- When You Wish Upon a Star. It is also why the Disney logo is blue for the Blue Fairy.

Movie Review-

I know that was a lot of detail but it’s such an odd movie I couldn’t think of any other way to describe it.

As an adult there is lots to like about Pinocchio.  It is creative and different.  The artistry is often dark and beautiful.  It teaches good lessons and has wonderful music.

On the other hand, it can be heavy-handed in the delivery of those morals, which can be intense for children and annoying for adults.  Modern storytelling has learned to be a bit more nuanced in its messaging.

It also creates a world that doesn’t really make any sense.  It is almost like an anime world of today like in Sprited Away where some animals behave one way, others another.  Sometimes people are magic, sometimes they aren’t. 

The Pleasure Island scene is pretty scary.  I remember being terrified by it.  Also it is unsettling to not know what is going to happen to all the Donkey children. Stramboli is scary and so is Monstro the whale.

But sometimes kids like to be scared.  I don’t’ think it is so much that it will harm or scar a child, so it’s appropriateness depends on the child.

The music by Harline and Washington is wonderful.  In the first scene Geppetto plays a music box and you can hear that influence throughout all the songs. 

Some express concern about When You Wish Upon a Star because dreams do not always come true but I don’t think encouraging children to dream is a bad thing.  They have plenty of time to learn the harsher realities (plus many are presented within the movie) so that doesn’t bother me.

It is interesting that Pinocchio only has one female character in the story- the Blue Fairy.  In Snow White we have 7 male dwarfs, a prince and an evil queen.  In Pinocchio Geppetto, Jiminy, Honest Fox, Stramboli, The Coachman, Lampwick.  I don’t know if that will affect a girls enjoyment of the movie but it is interesting.


Pinocchio is visually gorgeous with good, if heavy-handed moral teachings.  It can be scary for kids and has a grim overall in feel.  I appreciate it but I can’t give it my highest rating because of how I know it affected me as a child.

Overall Grade- B+