In the early 1940s, with the financial failures of both FANTASIA and BAMBI, the war cutting off European markets for his films and other economic woes weighing heavily upon him, Walt Disney essentially abandoned the production of pure animated features; that is, full-length cartoons that told a single story. Instead, he created several package films which mixed live action with animated segments, such as the Donald Duck vehicles SALUDOS AMIGOS (1942) and THE THREE CABALLEROS (1945), and the FANTASIA-like compilations MAKE MINE MUSIC (1946) and MELODY TIME (1948). Before the desperate but successful gamble of CINDERELLA, the closest Disney had come to making an actual animated feature was FUN AND FANCY FREE and THE ADVENTURES OF ICHABOD AND MR. TOAD, each of which combined two shorter featurettes into a full-length film.
FUN AND FANCY FREE is a slight film, but an entertaining one. The two sections, known popularly as "Bongo" and "Mickey and the Beanstalk", were in the planning stages as possible features in the early '40s, but when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor and America entered World War II, many of Disney's best laid plans went by the wayside. FUN AND FANCY FREE was conceived as a way of salvaging both projects.
"Bongo", based on a short story by Sinclair Lewis, was originally conceived of as a quasi-sequel to DUMBO, this time telling the story of a talented circus bear who longs to be free. As it stands, the half-hour segment of the film shows some potential for being developed into a feature length film, but is fun enough as a three-reeler. There is a good Warner Brothers' gag sense throughout the entire short, showing that Bongo might have been gaggier than most Disney films of the period had it been full length. Dinah Shore narrates and sings and does her typically lovely job doing both.
"Mickey and the Beanstalk" was planned as a followup to Mickey's comeback in FANTASIA. It stars Mickey, Donald Duck and Goofy as three peasants who climb a vine made of magic beans to the kingdom of an evil giant. Again, there is potential there, but the full film was never to be. "Mickey and the Beanstalk" is a fine retelling of Jack and the Beanstalk, and I love Billy Gilbert's take on Willie the Giant, but the entire segment is undercut by famous ventriloquist dummy Charlie McCarthy wisecracking his way throughout the short. Nobody loves Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy more than I do, but while he is amusing in the live action segments, his running commentary distracts from the story itself.
Little more than a stopgap measure, FUN AND FANCY FREE is still, well, fun and fancy free and historically interesting for having Jiminy Cricket, Mickey, Donald and Goofy all in the same film, as well as for featuring Walt Disney himself, uncredited, as the voice of Mickey Mouse. - JB