Disney’s Fun and Fancy Free is yet another example of the studio’s attempt at making a full-length feature film comprised of shorts. Granted, they’re inching closer and closer to the classic “single-story” arc we’re all so familiar with, having only two shorts in this movie.
The film is bookended by a combination of animated and live action sequences involving Jiminy Cricket and Edgar Bergen (along with Bergen’s disturbing though sometimes funny puppets). Every time Disney uses this particular ploy, I find myself getting annoyed. It’s as though they can’t figure out how to have a standalone film, and must include these extraneous scenes to make sense of the overall story. It’s unnecessary and takes away from the stories themselves. I suppose Disney was still trying to find their footing to some degree, and this was simply another method they tested to tell a story people would want to hear.
This film features two shorts, “Bongo” and “Jack and the Beanstalk”. The former tells the story of a young circus bear who escapes his captivity and frolics in the forest, free for the first time in his life. For the most part the story was fairly benign, cute without a whole lot of substance. None of the characters speak, with the story instead being narrated by Dinah Shore. I spent the majority of this segment thinking it was cute, maybe not the best animated story ever made but innocent enough to be included as a story in a Disney film. That is, until the culminating group song began.
The lead-up to the song is simple: Bongo likes a girl, but a bigger, tougher bear likes her as well. The girl inexplicably starts slapping Bongo. Bongo, confused and hurt, walks away. At this point, all of the other bears in the forest begin singing their song, “Say it With a Slap”, an extremely upbeat tune in which all of the bears explain that slapping is how you say “I love you.”
Okay first off…NO.
NO NO NO.
Watching this with Mistah J, we were equally disturbed by the imagery as well as the message behind this song. The segment is essentially correlating love with violence, a connection that should never be made, especially in a kid’s film. What’s more, Bongo is made to look like the fool for not knowing that you show love by slapping someone. This is an incredibly unsettling concept to include in any film, and the song’s light-hearted nature only adds to the grimness of it all. Disney is not making any sort of subtle, thought-provoking commentary; instead, they’ve created a number that essentially promotes domestic violence. It may not have been their initial intention, but the implications couldn’t be more clear.
I found myself getting more and more infuriated as this song and dance number went on. I’ve already mentioned before how Disney has a propensity for re-writing their own history, and this appears to be the other side of that coin. While I don’t support censorship, nor do I believe Disney should change their films, I cannot help but wonder why it was deemed necessary to heavily edit some earlier films while leaving this number completely intact. What does it say about the Disney corporation (and perhaps society as a whole) when standard violence is wiped from their films, but they leave in this clear indication of domestic abuse? I pondered this question for quite some time, and found it extremely upsetting.
I was happy to see that the “Jack and the Beanstalk” story was less controversial, remaining more or less true to the original tale, but I still had a bad taste in my mouth. The “Jack” segment featured Mickey, Donald, and Goofy (during a time when Disney was still trying to make big-screen stars out of these characters) and was a cute, simple story that many of us are familiar with from our childhoods.
There was nothing profound or ground-breaking within this particular story, but it was enjoyable enough to watch, and certainly feels like the type of segment I would have watched repeatedly as a child.
I still find it odd to see just how much Disney tried to push these characters as big-screen stars. After all, I remember them as television stars from those innumerable cartoons aired over and over again. I never associated them with full-length films, and I still find it surprising that they were used repeatedly in full-length theatrical releases. I can only say that it’s a good thing the studio eventually found its footing and realized the characters’ potential, shifting their focus to the small screen and a series of shorter television segments to highlight the idiosyncrasies of each. I can’t even imagine how Disney would have fared has these characters been kept at the front-lines of the movies.
Once again, the Walt Disney Animation Studio has churned out a film that leaves me torn. The “Say it With a Slap” sequence still gets me riled, but the “Jack” segment was fun enough to keep me entertained. As Disney sought to find their voice, their stories became hit or miss, and seriously make me question how the entire studio could have stayed afloat on these films alone. Was it simply the novelty of animation? Each film shows a progression of combining animation with live-action sequences, a union which would culminate with the classics Mary Poppins and Bedknobs and Broomsticks (and years later, Who Framed Roger Rabbit?). Either way, I’m glad that Disney eventually found their path and learned how to create beautifully animated full-length films. I’m anxious to return to those familiar movies and that comforting form of story-telling that Disney has mastered so well.