Time for Melody by Robin Allan
The fortieth anniversary of Melody Time (1948) serves as an opportunity – and much more than an excuse – to reassess one of Walt Disney’s neglected animated feature films; it was not a success either critically or commercially, and like its predecessor Make Mine Music (1946) with which it is often confused, it has never been reissued as a whole, nor has it been given the critical attention it deserves. The film, made up of seven sections, was dismissed by the Daily Telegraph reviewer in one sentence as “just five or six indifferent shorts strung together to make a feature,” while C A Lejeune in The Observer lamented, “to me it is saddening to find an artist who once filled the screen so richly, piling it up with bits of bric-a-brac”. Only The Sunday Dispatch gave it unqualified praise, calling it “charming… and vastly pleasing”.
In an earlier article Make Mine Disney (Animator Issue No. 19 April/June 1987, pp. 28-31) I outlined some of the reasons for the critical and public neglect of Make Mine Music and briefly relate them again here because they apply equally well to Melody Time. The war and the disastrous effects of the Studio strike, both economic and psychological, contributed to Disney’s uncertainty about the future of the full length animated feature film. Of the four films released between 1940 and 1942, Pinocchio, Fantasia, Dumbo and Bambi, only Dumbo made money for the Studio. There were, besides, cartoon ideas that could be used but were too short to be fitted onto the framework of a full length feature; it was a time for experimentation and for hard economic necessity. Walt Disney said:
I want to emphasize that the effective use of material otherwise denied to the motion picture is what appeals to me chiefly in making… Melody Time… it pleases and encourages me to learn that the “Disney” style is not so fixed and limited to the public mind as to preclude further exploration in the field of entertainment.