Suspended Animation #316
F. Maurice Speed, a British film critic, contacted Walt Disney to write about Disney’s latest animated feature film for his 1948-1949 annual volume about films. Speed was a British film critic who decided that “What the ordinary moviegoer lacks is a more or less complete annual record, in picture and story, of his year’s filmgoing.”
So, in 1944, he created the book Film Review for primarily U.K. film fans, which still continued on after his death in 1998. The book was not just composed of reviews but short articles, celebrity profiles and more all related to film.
Many articles in magazines and books, like this one, featured the byline of Walt and it is doubtful whether Walt himself actually wrote most of them. However, he did have to approve anything that went out under his name that it reflected his perspective about the topic, even if it was crafted by Joe Reddy and his publicity department at the Disney Studio.
Often, they would use Walt’s actual words but formatted in a more formal context.
James Bacon, a columnist for the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner, wrote frequently about Disneyland and said, “I once asked Eddie Meck, Disneyland’s longtime publicity director, what made Disneyland the greatest man-made tourist attraction of all time. I fully expected him to give me a long spiel. Instead, he said: ‘I can give it to you in two words: Walt Disney. We don’t even mail a postcard out of here without his OK’.”
Here is that essay from that volume of Film Review on Walt’s thoughts about the compilation films:
As this particular section of Film Review goes to press (and, rather unfortunately in the circumstances, it happens to be one of the earliest) neither Walt Disney nor distributors R.K.O. Radio have any idea whether the maestro’s only new full-length effort “Melody Time”, is likely to be released, or even premiered, in England his year, or whether we shall have to wait until early 1949 to see it.
Some Facts About Melody Time by Walt Disney
In any case, no stills or pictorial matter of any kind are available at this moment to give you a preview of the kind of picture it is. So I thought, in the circumstances, the only alternative—other than ignoring an important cinematic event—was to ask Disney to himself describe his production. And this is what he has done for you on this page. Should later news come in about the release of “Melody Time” before the last section of this volume goes to press. I shall give in somewhere in the Stop Press pages at the end. — The Editor
An important period in the history of Disney product will be marked by the release of our new feature-length fantasy Melody Time, and, since it may seem to signalize a departure from such productions as Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Pinocchio, Dumbo and Bambi and other similar features already announced for our forthcoming program, our new film musical prompts an explanation as to its origin and technique.
In the first place I want to stress that the multiple-episode cartoon fantasy will not replace the classic fable picture on the Disney schedule. From our standpoint the Melody Time formula is as essentially “Disney” as any other kind of screen entertainment associated with our name, the one type merely offering a change of pace from the other, and keeping our products from crystallizing around a set specification.
The literary archives of the world are filled with screenable riches, with tale and anecdote, fable and fantastic folklore. Wonderfully amusing and dramatically potent, they are often so concentrated in form as to be entirely unsuited for feature-length film treatment.
After the war, when once again we could think about entertainment films, we had in mind a number of these titles such as “Peter and the Wolf” and “The Whale Who Wanted to Sing at the Met” which we were eager to make, but which didn’t seem to fit into the usual screen pattern. Urged on by the times and circumstances we decided to assemble several of these in a novel presentation, and Make Mine Music, the finished product of our initial experiment, showed us we had discovered something very important for our bill of fare.By all the evidence we were convinced that we had enlisted a new segment of habitual movie-goers, and we now know that the variety of important names from screen, radio and the realms of music who have enthusiastically adapted their gifts to our cartoons have proved a definite asset in enlarging our younger audience.
We followed up with Fun and Fancy Free, a combination of two distinct tales, and our latest feature along these lines has seven episodes woven around the core of American mythology.
Take, for example, the legendary figures of Pecos Bill, tall-tale hero of the cowboys, and Johnny Appleseed, the more modest but nevertheless colorful frontiersman, central characters in Melody Time. These two mighty men of folklore are a compound of anecdotes and prodigious deeds, but neither of them has more than the most sketchy “life story” with which to occupy the full seventy minutes of the feature picture.
Yet, by letting them share time and honors with other cartoon performers, together with the living actors who sing and speak through the animations, we are able to keep them vividly alive for all kinds of audiences each and every moment they are on the screen.
On the basis of advance tests and polls for this our “myth-musical” we are confidently proceeding with another combinations of fantasy in Two Fabulous Characters, wherein Ichabod Crane from The Legend of Sleepy Hollow will cavort with Mr. Toad from Kenneth Grahame’s Wind in the Willows.
Again, I want to emphasize that the effective use of material otherwise denied to the motion picture is what appeals to me chiefly in making the kind of entertainment represented by Melody Time.
Ordinarily, changes in form and material come slowly in popular diversion, this applying to screen and stage alike, but occasionally there are circumstances which dictate swift innovation, and then we discover, to our amazement, that the public has been ready and waiting for some recipe we have been too timid to propose.
It pleases and encourages me to learn that ‘Disney’ style is not so fixed and limited in the public mind as to preclude further exploration in the field of entertainment.