Ah yes, “Mickey and the Beanstalk”, one of my favorite Disney shorts…
What’s that? There’s more?
More shorts in store?
They rhyme all the time,
At the drop of a dime,
And make you feel like a bore?
(Also, for those of you at home,
The people I truly adore,
I’m splitting the parts up,
For you folks keeping score.)
PART ONE: BEGINNING
We start out with a nice song called “Fun and Fancy Free”, a good song, but incredibly sweet, maybe too sweet. We then go to Jiminy Cricket (Cliff Edwards) is rafting on a calm river on a leaf, rowing with his umbrella. We continue with Jiminy, still breaking and entering, into someone’s home. The backgrounds here are really done well, and look a lot like live action, which is incredible. He sings “I’m Just a Happy-Go-Lucky Fellow” which actually was a cut song from Pinocchio, and again, it’s way too simple and sweet, even for Jiminy. Interestingly enough, he sees a fish and a cat, similar to Cleo and Figaro from Pinocchio, and we see him have more issues with being the size of a thumb, such as being chased by the cat, and figuring out how to traverse the room. He talks to the audience, a child’s doll and a bear, which is whimsical for him, and keeps with his interactions with the clocks in Pinocchio. Did I mention that almost every line of his is in rhyme? He then comes across a record of Dinah Shore, and “Bongo” begins.
My RATING for PART ONE: BEGINNING is 17 / 25.
PART TWO: BONGO
Cute story, rough beginning and ending, good middle, and the weirdest moral I’ve seen…
I’m not one to condone fictional violence if not necessary, that is to say, if it is not moral to do so or if it does not elicit a laugh (see Make Mine Music‘s first vignette), there is no reason to cause harm to others. In this segment, bears express love through hitting each other. Yes, that’s confusing, yes I have no right to judge this forest culture, but what is this telling the children watching? That it’s okay to hit someone you love on sight? Not cool, Disney, not cool…
The animation is good enough, really shining during the nighttime scene with flashes of lightning, rain, and interesting insect designs. The backgrounds are gorgeous, and the water effects are insanely good, with dozens of bubbles onscreen at once. The dialogue is all done by Dinah Shore, and she puts emphasis on who is talking, which is appreciated. The characters are all stock characters, without much interest to them, as the plot is pretty predictable. As far as music goes, there is a great song in the middle, but not much else to write home about.
My RATING for PART TWO: BONGO is 15 / 25.
PART THREE: BERGEN
The next segment takes place in the home of Edgar Bergen, with his puppet costars Charlie McCarthy and Mortimer Snerd. Charlie is a sarcastic puppet, and in contrast, Mortimer is ‘slow-witted’. They all are uncomfortable characters to be around, especially Bergen himself. They all don’t fit what Disney should be, to me. Bergen is entertaining a girl (Luana Patten), and they are the only ones in the room, possibly the house. It’s really weird. There’s no indication if he is her father or relative, and it seems like he was hired for just her, with no guests to speak of.
These portions are boring, in a way. Sure, Charlie spices things up with sarcasm, and it’s interesting to see a grown man explain simple concepts to Mortimer, but the real issue is that Bergen’s lips are clearly moving when the puppets are talking, and that is really distracting, and a shame. There isn’t really any music in these segments, and while Jiminy is hanging around the house too, eating live action cake and downing a practical effects drink four times his size, there aren’t that many effects to speak of.
I did get a huge laugh at the very, very end of the whole film, but by then, it’s just too late…
My RATING for PART THREE: BERGEN is 10 / 25.
This film is like seeing the oasis a mile away, and then finding that the sweet, sweet water isn’t that sweet, but still palatable. We have reached that oasis.
PART FOUR: BEANSTALK
This next and final portion is my most remembered.
Mickey (Walt Disney, in his last role as Mickey Mouse), Donald (Clarence Nash) and Goofy (Pinto Colvig) are whisked away into the clouds by a magic beanstalk, and rescue a magical singing harp from an evil giant to bring peace and happiness back to their valley. The plot is solid enough, and actually expands a little farther than the original. The beanstalk growing has a whole sequence to it, “Fe, fi, fo, fum” is actually a magical incantation for transformation, and the harp, unlike the original story, is not allied with the giant and was stolen. It’s a solid plot, and a classic, updating the story for Disney.
Mickey, Donald, and Goofy are all their usual selves, with particular mention of Mickey’s last Walt-voiced role and the guile and cleverness they’ve given the mouse, Donald’s insane hungry cow rant (my go-to whenever I think of Donald losing it), and Goofy’s Funiculì, Funiculà is splendid.
Willie the Giant is a riot. The pink bunny bit is always humorous, and he has an air of menace and true threat when he needs to. A great villain for Mickey and friends. Anita Gordon plays the harp, her voice is beautiful and flows really well.
The dialogue is good, but I wish that the puppets and girl were kept out of it, and the narrator regained focus on the short. There is a version where Sterling Holloway dubs in his narration and I would much prefer that. The characters all have good dialogue that helps move the plot along, and again, Donald ranting is always good.
The effects are also very well done. The backgrounds are awesome, using scale really well, and the transition from Happy Valley to Sad Valley always amazes me. The animation during the beanstalk scene is fantastic, with the individual tendrils reaching for the moonlight, and the climax is breakneck and tense.
The music is infectious, and the opening song, My What a Happy Day is still stuck in my head, hours after watching. Fe Fi Fo Fum is funny, with Willie messing up the lyrics (this is still quoted by my father to this day) and forgetting his place in the song. My Favorite Dream is great, because it’s not just a beautiful song, it’s a plea to whoever is listening to be kinder to one another. It really reminds me of Over the Rainbow in that it’s an escape song for the singer, thinking of a better place to be, and My Favorite Dream now has a haunting side to it that the lyrics belie. A lot of the melodies for these songs are also fitted into the score, tying the music and songs together.
My RATING for PART FOUR: BEANSTALK is 23 / 25.
While this film has it’s good and bad moments, there really is a lot to celebrate here. The ‘Mickey and the Beanstalk’ segment is worth the price of admission, though it is somewhat tainted by the framing device. The Bergen segments are droll and uninteresting, have very few good lines and are kind of creepy now. The Bongo segment has good animation and effects with a good song, yet the message is the one of the worst that Disney has ever put out there. Finally, the opening portion is just happy, light fluff without much substance other than to get Jiminy Cricket back in a film. He’s a good character, but not good enough to save this film.
My OVERALL Rating is 65%.
Next time, it’s Melody Time!