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The Ultimate Disney Classic Animated Film Guide: 1937-1949

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The Ultimate Disney Classic Animated Film Guide
1937-1949 | 1950-1969 | 1970-1979
1980-1989 | 1990-1999 | 2000-2009
2010-2014 | 2015-2019

The Walt Disney Studio has, for over 75 years, dominated the world of animation. In that time the company has released over 50 animated films it has labelled 'Classics', and several others it does not consider to be classics.

Some relatively unknown films such as Fun and Fancy Free and Melody Time are Classics, while some of Disney's most popular films, such as Mary Poppins and The Nightmare Before Christmas, are not. The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh and Winnie the Pooh are both official Classics, The Tigger Movie and Winnie the Pooh's Grandest Adventure of All aren't. Some films containing live action as well as animation, such as Saludos Amigos are, others such as Who Framed Roger Rabbit? are not. So, what makes a classic Disney film gain its Classic status?

What Makes a 'Classic'?

Disney is one of the world's very largest entertainment companies, with many different film-making departments. All the films considered to be Animated Classics were made by the main studio, Walt Disney Productions, now known as Walt Disney Animation Studios. Another studio, DisneyToon Studios, specialised between 1990 and 2007 in making sequels to classic Disney films. For instance, 64 years after the release of Bambi, Bambi II was made. These DisneyToon Studios sequels to Disney Classics are not considered classics.

Other studios owned by Disney that have released animated films include Touchstone Pictures, Skellington Productions and Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment. Disney have also released films co-produced with other film studios, such as ImageMovers Digital. Since 2006 Pixar has been owned by Disney. Neither Pixar animated films, such as Toy Story or Cars, nor their spin offs, such as Buzz Lightyear of Star Command: The Adventure Begins or Planes, are considered Disney classics.

Disney Before Snow White

Walt Disney was born in 1901, his older brother Roy O Disney in 1892. Walt and a cartoonist called Ub Iwerks began making short cartoon comedies in Kansas in the early 1920s. In 1923 Walt moved to Hollywood where Roy lived. There they formed the Disney Brothers Studio, later renamed the Walt Disney Studio. In 1928 Mickey Mouse was created and the third short Mickey Mouse film, Steamboat Willie, featured synchronised sound1. Mickey Mouse became a major success. Experimental cartoon series 'Silly Symphonies' combined music and animation and in 1932 the first full-colour cartoon was produced, entitled Flowers and Trees.

Disney had been the first to introduce both sound and colour to animated films. Not content with these achievements, by the mid-1930s he had ambitions to make the world's first full-length cel-animated film2.

1. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)

DirectorsWilliam Cottrell, David Hand, Wilfred Jackson, Larry Morey, Perce Pearce, Ben Sharpsteen
PlotThe Wicked Queen is told by her mirror that Snow White, her stepdaughter, is more beautiful than she is. Jealous, she sends a huntsman to kill Snow White. Meanwhile Snow White briefly meets a prince, from whom she runs away. Snow White survives the Queen's plot and lives with seven dwarfs in a cottage. Still wishing to be the most beautiful woman in the kingdom, the Queen naturally transforms herself into a hideous old crone. Thus disguised, she gives Snow White a poisonous apple which, when bitten into, sends the girl into a deep sleep. The Queen is then chased by the dwarfs and killed. Fortunately the prince pops by Snow White's tomb and he kisses her, which breaks the curse. He then carries her off to live happily ever after.
Length83 minutes
SettingAn unknown mediæval fantasy kingdom.
Perky PrincessSnow White (Adriana Caselotti)
Wicked WitchQueen Grimhilde (Lucille La Verne)
Other Characters
  • Dwarfs (Seven):
    1. Doc (Roy Atwell)
    2. Happy (Otis Harlan)
    3. Grumpy (Pinto Colvig)
    4. Sleepy (Pinto Colvig)
    5. Sneezy (Billy Gilbert)
    6. Bashful (Scotty Mattraw)
    7. Dopey (Eddie Collins)
  • A Prince (Harry Stockwell)
  • A Mirror, Magic (Moroni Olsen)
  • Humbert the Huntsman (Stuart Buchanan)
WishesSnow White wishes in a wishing well and eats what she is told is a 'wishing apple'.
Book BeginningThe film begins with the opening of a story book that provides a prologue.
Fairytale Castle?Yes, seen at the start and end
SourceThe Brothers Grimm version of the fairytale (1812), a play adaptation of the story by Winthrop Ames (1912) and film written by Jessie Braham White (1916)
Songs:Written by Frank Churchill and Leigh Harline:
  • 'I'm Wishing'
  • 'One Song'
  • 'With a Smile and a Song'
  • 'Whistle While you Work'
  • 'Heigh-Ho'
  • 'Buddle-Uddle-Um-Dum (The Dwarfs' Washing Song)'
  • 'The Dwarfs' Yodel Song (The Silly Song)'
  • 'Some Day My Prince Will Come'

Other dwarfs considered included Scrappy, Cranky, Dirty, Awful, Blabby, Silly, Daffy, Flabby, Jaunty, Biggo Ego, Chesty, Jumpy, Baldy, Hickey the hiccoughing dwarf, Gabby, Shorty, Nifty, Wheezy, Sniffy, Burpy, Lazy, Puffy, Dizzy, Stuffy and Tubby. In early versions of the script the Prince played a larger role and was imprisoned by the Queen in the castle's dungeon.

The film not only was the first full-length cel-animated film, it was one of the first animations to make extensive use of a multiplane camera, creating the illusion of depth. The film was tremendously successful and was famously specially awarded an honorary Oscar accompanied by seven smaller Oscars.

After Snow White

Snow White was a phenomenal worldwide success, and with the profits Disney built a new purpose-built studio. He also began planning a whole series of feature films, spending much of 1938 buying the film rights to several books, including AA Milne's Winnie-the-Pooh, Kenneth Grahame's The Wind in the Willows, Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland and JM Barrie's Peter Pan. Unable to decide which film to make next, Disney soon had multiple films underway at the same time, including Pinocchio, Bambi and the project initially called The Concert Feature that was later to become Fantasia. Yet Snow White would be followed by five flops3 which came close to ending Walt Disney Studios.

2. Pinocchio (1940)

DirectorsHamilton Luske, Ben Sharpsteen
PlotWoodcarver Geppetto, who desperately wants a son, makes a wooden puppet, Pinocchio, which is brought to life by the Blue Fairy and placed under the guidance of Jiminy Cricket. Overjoyed, Geppetto promptly tells Pinocchio to make his own way to school, despite him never even having been outside the house before. Pinocchio, naively trusting those who wish to take advantage of him, makes some poor decisions including wanting to be an actor, telling lies and heading to Pleasure Island. Will he bravely rescue Geppetto from a whale and become a real boy?
Length88 minutes
SettingEarly industrial Italy
Principal CharacterPinocchio, a wooden puppet who wishes to be a real boy (Dickie Jones)
Airy FairyBlue Fairy (Evelyn Venable)
Animated Animals
  • Jiminy Cricket, cricket and conscience (Cliff Edwards)
  • Honest John Foulfellow, a fox (Walter Catlett)
  • Gideon, a cat
  • Monstro, a whale
  • Figaro, a cat
  • Cleo, a goldfish
Other Characters
  • Geppetto, a woodcarver (Christian Rub)
  • Stromboli, a puppet-master (Charles Judels)
  • Lampwick, an urchin and jackass (Frankie Darro)
  • Owner of Pleasure Island (Charles Judels)
WishesGeppetto wishes that Pinocchio was a real boy on a wishing star.
Book BeginningJiminy Cricket introduces us to a book of Pinocchio. Other visible books behind him include Peter Pan and Alice in Wonderland, a statement of Disney's intent.
SourceCarlo Collodi's novel The Adventures of Pinocchio (1883)
Songs:Music by Leigh Harline, lyrics by Ned Washington
  • 'When You Wish Upon a Star'
  • 'Little Wooden Head'
  • 'Give a Little Whistle'
  • 'Hi-Diddle-Dee-Dee (An Actor's Life for Me)'
  • 'I've Got No Strings'

In Collodi's novel, the cricket is stamped to death. He has a much larger role in the film, giving Pinocchio a way of telling right from wrong and making Pinocchio a more sympathetic character. 'Pleasure Island' was originally named 'Boobyland' in original drafts of the story4. The song 'When You Wish Upon A Star' quickly became Disney's anthem.

In Aladdin, the Genie briefly wears Pinocchio's face. The character of Pinocchio appears in the Shrek series.

Pinocchio, on initial release, was a financial flop. The film attracted some criticism for being too scary for children, yet too simple for adults. The main reason for the film's failure was that the world was a different place than it had been in 1937; although America was not yet at war, Europe was. A large proportion of Disney's revenue came from Europe and the war effectively meant that Disney's audience was restricted to North America.

3. Fantasia (1940)

DirectorsNorman Ferguson with James Algar, Samuel Armstrong, Ford Beebe Jnr, Jim Handley, T Hee, Wilfred Jackson, Hamilton Luske, Bill Roberts, Paul Satterfield and Ben Sharpsteen
PlotEight pieces of music, each with an accompanying animation.
LengthOriginally 125 minutes, later 84 minutes
Live ActionThe conductor, musicians and introductions
Component Parts
  1. Toccata and Fugue in D Minor by Johann Sebastian Bach
    After being shown silhouettes of the musicians, animated colours and lines appear in time to the music.
  2. Nutcracker Suite by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
    After a visit from Fairies, a forest is magically transformed overnight as winter approaches, with fish, flowers, mushrooms and leaves dancing.
  3. The Sorcerer's Apprentice by Paul Dukas
    Mickey Mouse is the apprentice of sorcerer Yen Sid and, wishing to get out of his work of fetching water, wears Yen Sid's magical hat to get a broom to fetch some water, in an attempt to control the elements. The animation closely follows the original poem by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1797).
  4. The Rite of Spring by Igor Stravinsky
    The creation of Earth and the evolution and extinction of dinosaurs.
  5. The Pastoral Symphony by Ludwig van Beethoven
    Unicorns, flying horses, cherubs, fawns, Centaurs and other Greek mythical creatures gather for a festival to honour Bacchus, Roman god of wine, only to be interrupted by an angry Zeus.
  6. Jazz interlude
  7. Dance of the Hours by Amilcare Ponchielli
    Ostriches, hippopotamuses, elephants and alligators all do some ballet dancing.
  8. Night on Bald Mountain by Modest Mussorgsky
    The demon Chernabog summons spirits and evil souls into the midnight air.
  9. Ave Maria by Franz Schubert
    Monks sing in a ruined Cathedral, and all evil is banished.
  • Conductor: Leopold Stokowski
  • Master of Ceremonies: Deems Taylor
Airy FairyFairies appear in the Nutcracker Suite5
Sequels38. Fantasia 2000 - (2000)

Fantasia, a concert about fairies, sorcerers, evolution, centaurs, demons and monks6, evolved out of an idea in 1938 for a Silly Symphony, to star Mickey Mouse. Walt Disney had long been fascinated with combining music and animation, which is why he had created the Silly Symphonies, and many Mickey Mouse animations were exclusively musical, including the first, Steamboat Willie, as well as others such as The Band Concert. Disney planned to make a Silly Symphony featuring Mickey Mouse, who Disney feared was becoming eclipsed by other characters such as Donald Duck. The idea evolved into a whole film based on a concert, which Disney planned to keep adding extra filmed segments to, remaking it every year. Planned additional sequences included Richard Strauss' Till Eulenspiegel, Brahm's First Symphony, Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue, Respighi's The Pines of Rome, Holst's The Planets, Dvorak's New World Symphony, Wagner's Ride of the Valkyries and Sergei Prokofiev's Peter and the Wolf. The Silly Symphonies series was retired in 1939 in order to make way for the Fantasia film series.

One of the key moments is when Mickey Mouse shakes hands with the real life conductor Leopold Stokowski following 'The Sorcerer's Apprentice'. Yet Fantasia was a second expensive flop, aided by Disney's initial insistence that only cinemas equipped with the highly advanced 'Fantasound' surround-sound speaker system be allowed to show the film. Even severely editing the run time down failed to make it popular with audiences. It was not until 2000 that a sequel was made.

After Fantasia

Although Disney had steered through the 1930s Depression era unscathed, the 1940s were a very difficult time for the fledgling studio. Many key animators were lured away by rival studios, such as Leon Schlesinger Studios, who made Warner Brothers' popular Looney Tunes shorts. For all their early success, Walt Disney Studios had stretched themselves financially by making Pinocchio, Fantasia and Bambi, three expensive films at the same time, with many others in development. None of these made back their money on initial release, resulting in extreme financial problems.

Following a three-month strike by the members of Screen Cartoonists Guild in 1941, the animation workforce was halved and the Disney Brothers were forced to sell shares in their company in order to raise money. Many of the projects in development before the strike were put on hold or abandoned partway through until the late 1940s, when these part-made films were finished in a hurry, packaged together and rush-released.

4. Dumbo (1941)

DirectorBen Sharpsteen
PlotMany of the animals who live in a circus train receive babies delivered to them by stork, including Mrs Jumbo, an elephant. She has a son whom she names Jumbo Junior, but the other elephants cruelly nickname him 'Dumbo' because of his extremely large ears. After defending Jumbo Junior from an extremely aggressive child, Mrs Jumbo is locked away. Jumbo Junior fails to provide a successful climax to a circus stunt and as punishment is relegated to being a clown. He has only one friend in the world, Timothy Mouse, before a group of crows persuade him he can use his giant ears to fly.
Length64 minutes
SettingFlorida in the late 1930s/early 1940s
Animated Animals
  • Jumbo Junior, aka 'Dumbo', an elephant
  • Timothy Q Mouse, a mouse (Edward Brophy)
  • Mrs Jumbo, an elephant (Verna Felton)
  • Elephant Matriarch (Verna Felton)
  • Mr Stork (Sterling Holloway)
  • Jim Crow (Cliff Edwards)
Other Characters
  • The Ringmaster (Herman Bing)
  • Casey Junior, a locomotive (Margaret Wright)
  • Clown (Billy Bletcher)
  • Narrator (John McLeish7)
WishesJumbo Junior is given a 'magic feather' which he believes will make him fly.
SourceDumbo the Flying Elephant by Helen Aberson and Harold Pearl (1939)
Songs:Music by Frank Churchill and Oliver Wallace, Lyrics by Ned Washington
  • 'Baby Mine'
  • 'Casey Junior'
  • 'Look Out for Mr Stork'
  • 'Song of the Roustabouts'
  • 'The Clown Song (We're Gonna Hit the Big Boss for a Raise)'
  • 'Pink Elephants on Parade'
  • 'When I See an Elephant Fly'

Dumbo was made at the same time as Bambi. Bambi was the prestigious film made by the established, most talented animators while Dumbo was made as a cheap film by animators considered lesser talents. Yet like the underdog hero of the story, Dumbo soared to become the most successful Disney films of the 1940s, one of the few to make a profit. The 'Pink Elephants on Parade' sequence is one of the more memorable, largely animated by the team who had just finished Fantasia's dancing elephants sequence. The scene in which the clowns plan to demand a raise is a dig at the animators who went on strike.

Jumbo Junior would later appear in Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, where it is revealed that he works for peanuts.

Shortly after Dumbo was released, America entered the Second World War. The influence of that war, and Disney's own beliefs about war, can be glimpsed in the spoof newspaper headline glimpsed at the end of the film, in which Jumbo Junior had patriotically inspired a new type of aircraft, the Dumbomber.

5. Bambi (1942)

DirectorsDavid Hand with James Algar, Samuel Armstrong, Graham Heid, Bill Roberts, Paul Satterfield and Norman Wright
PlotBambi, a deer called 'The Prince of the Forest', is born and meets various other forest animals while he grows up.
Length70 minutes
SettingA forest in Austria in the early 20th Century.
Animated Animals
  • Bambi, a young male deer (Donnie Dunagan and Hardie Albright)
  • Thumper, a rabbit (Peter Behn and Sam Edwards)
  • Flower, a skunk (Sterling Holloway)
  • Faline, a doe (Cammie King Conlon and Ann Gillis)
  • Bambi's Mother, a doe (Paula Winslowe)
Perky PrincessIf Bambi is the Prince of the Forest, presumably that makes Faline a princess (although Bambi's father is the Great Prince of the Forest and no-one calls his mother the Great Princess).
SourceFelix Salten's novel Bambi, Eine Lebensgeschichte aus dem Walde (Bambi, A Life in the Woods) (1923).
Songs:Music by Frank Churchill8, lyrics by Larry Morey.
  • 'Love is a Song'
  • 'Little April Shower'
  • 'Let's Sing a Gay Little Spring Song'
  • 'Looking For Romance (I Bring You A Song)'
SequelsBambi II (2006)
Also known as Bambi and the Great Prince of the Forest.

Another flop that lost over $200,000, work on making Bambi had begun in 1938 but was delayed by attempts to make all the animals as realistic as possible, to the extent of having two deer kept at the studio to enable the animators to study them in full detail. The film had originally intended to be just over ten minutes longer, but was rush-released into cinemas and cut short to save money. Other consequences of the rush to finish the film cheaply are that some sequences were not animated to as high a standard as had been originally intended, and Faline sometimes changes colour to grey.

A superior film that explores many of the same points is The Lion King. In a scene deleted from Who Framed Roger Rabbit it would have been revealed that Judge Doom killed Bambi's mother.

6. Saludos Amigos (1943)

DirectorsNorman Ferguson, Wilfred Jackson, Jack Kinney, Hamilton Luske, William Roberts
PlotA team of Disney artists visit South America and create four cartoons, inspired by what they have seen.
Length42 minutes
Live ActionYes, showing home-video footage of Disney artists visiting contemporary South America.
Component Parts
  • Lake Titicaca
    Donald Duck visits Lake Titicaca on the Peru/Bolivia border and tries to ride a llama.
  • Pedro
    Pedro is a young, Chilean aeroplane that flies the treacherous mail route over the Andes.
  • El Gaucho Goofy
    Goofy goes to Argentina and learns about being a Gaucho
  • Aquarela do Brasil
    In Brazil, Donald meets parrot José Carioca, who teaches him to Samba.
SettingSouth America
Animated Animals
  • Donald Duck (Clarence Nash)
  • Goofy, a dog (Pinto Colvig)
  • José Carioca, a parrot (José Oliveira)
  • 'Saludos Amigos' lyrics Ned Washington, music Charles Wolcott
  • '(Aquarela do) Brazil' by Ary Barsaso
SequelsThe Three Caballeros

With Europe still at war, Disney decided to make a series of short films for the South American market, Saludos Amigos, meaning 'Hello Friends', and The Three Caballeros. Later these were packaged together to make feature-length films bonded by a South American theme. This was encouraged by the US State Department's Co-ordinator of Inter-American Affairs to bolster US/South American relations during the Second World War.

Both Saludos Amigos and The Three Caballeros were made cheaply and created a modest profit.

7. The Three Caballeros (1944)

DirectorNorman Ferguson
PlotDonald Duck receives three presents from his friends in South America, and is magically whisked away to the continent.
Length72 minutes
Live ActionDonald Duck dances with many South American singers and dancers, especially quite a few females that he fancies.
Component Parts
  • Introduction
    Donald receives a large present, including a projector which shows a film about birds, as well as the following two segments:
  • The Cold-blooded Penguin
    Pablo the Penguin decides to migrate from the South Pole to the Galapagos Islands near the Equator.
  • The Flying Guachito
    A little boy in Uruguay meets and trains a winged donkey he names Burrito.
  • Baía
    José Carioca gives Donald a pop-up book about this part of Brazil. Donald and José enter the book, dance the samba and meet singer Aurora Miranda, who Donald lusts after.
  • Mexico
    The longest section of the film deals with Mexico, starting off innocently enough before becoming increasingly surreal and bizarre. Donald learns Mexican traditions, including Mexican children re-enacting the story of Mary and Joseph looking for room at the inn, and the breaking of a piñata. Donald and José are joined by pistol-shooting rooster Panchito Pistoles and find a Mexican sarape or shawl, which transforms into a magic carpet and flies over Mexico. Wherever Donald goes, he chases after any attractive young women he sees, especially a woman who sings 'You Belong to my Heart' and transforms into a flower. Donald dances with cacti, plays Blind Man's Bluff with bikini-clad ladies and there is an explosive climax.
SettingSouth America
Animated Animals
  • Donald Duck (Clarence Nash)
  • José Carioca, a parrot (José Oliveira)
  • Panchito Pistoles (Joaquin Garay)
  • Aracuan Bird (Pinto Colvig)
Other Characters
  • Aurora Miranda (Herself)
  • Carmen Molina (Herself)
  • Dora Luz (Herself)
  • Professor Holloway (Sterling Holloway)
Book BeginningThe 'Baía' segment is introduced with a pop-up book.
Songs:English language versions of popular South American songs
  • 'The Three Caballeros'
  • 'Baía'
  • 'You Belong to my Heart'
  • 'Mexico'

Meaning 'The Three Gentlemen', the second of the South American package films is made of a number of short animated films loosely threaded together combined with footage that Walt Disney had shot when on a goodwill tour of the continent. The Aracuan Bird and José Carioca would return in Melody Time.

While The Three Caballeros was in production, the financial state of the studio had become so serious that they resorted to re-releasing Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs in the cinema in 1944. To the industry's surprise, this re-release was a tremendous success, boosting the studio's finances. It also led to the Disney policy of re-releasing their greatest films every 7-10 years for a new generation of children.

8. Make Mine Music (1946)

DirectorsRobert Cormack, Clyde Geronimi, Jack Kinney, Hamilton Luske and Joshua Meador
PlotTen pieces of music with accompanying animation. The music is in a variety of different styles.
Length76 minutes
Component Parts
  1. 'The Martins and the Coys' sung by The King's Men
    A Rustic Ballad about two feuding families in the west.
  2. 'Blue Bayou' sung by the Ken Darby Chorus
    A tone poem in which birds fly through a forest.
  3. 'All the Cats Join In' by Benny Goodman and his Orchestra
    A jazz interlude in which a group of teens meet at a soda stop with a jukebox.
  4. 'Without You' sung by Andy Russell
    A ballad in blue. Showing stars, trees and the sky outside a window.
  5. 'Casey at the Bat' by Jerry Colonna
    A musical recitation about baseball.
  6. 'Two Silhouettes' sung by Dinah Shore
    A ballade ballet rotoscoping a dance performed by Tania Riabouchinska and David Lichine.
  7. 'Peter and the Wolf' by Sergei Prokofiev, narrated by Sterling Holloway
    A fairy tale about a young boy, his cat, duck and bird who hunt a vicious wolf.
  8. 'After You've Gone' by the Goodman Quartet
    Musical instruments dance in time to the music.
  9. 'Johnnie Fedora and Alice Bluebonnet' by the Andrews Sisters
    A Love Story about two hats with hearts that fall in love in the Department Store window.
  10. 'The Whale who Wanted to Sing at the Met' - all the voices by Nelson Eddy
    A tragic opera about an opera-singing whale and the impresario who believes that the whale has swallowed three opera singers.
Book BeginningYes, in the form of a programme.

Originally titled Swing Street, the film cost a modest $395,000 to make. As the Silly Symphony short series did not make the studio any money any more, and rather than completely abandon the musical short, several were packaged together. This cheap and cheerful compilation made a respectable profit, grossing $2.2 million dollars, and so more films were packaged out of half-finished films and abandoned projects.

One of the film's highlights, 'Peter and the Wolf', had been composed after Prokofiev had visited the Disney Studio. Disney chose to return the favour by animating his masterpiece. The animation for 'Blue Bayou' was based on early plans for a proposed 'Clair de Lune' segment for Fantasia.

Curiously, the full film has not been re-released in America to date, with the first section, 'The Martins and the Coys', considered to be too violent for American children and edited out of all home video releases there. Despite this, the film has been released unedited globally. A short-film sequel was made to the 'Casey at the Bat' section, entitled 'Casey Strikes Again'.

9. Fun and Fancy Free (1947)

DirectorsJack Kinney, Hamilton Luske, William Morgan and Bill Roberts
PlotJiminy Cricket, having somehow survived from early industrial Europe to present day Hollywood, visits the home of Luana Patten. He listens to a record telling the story of Bongo, a circus bear who escapes to the wild and falls in love. Then he sees that Luana has been invited to a birthday party nearby hosted by famous ventriloquist Edgar Bergen. Jiminy gatecrashes the party in time to hear the story of Mickey and the Beanstalk, and at the end the giant walks off into the Hollywood hills.
Length73 minutes
Component Parts
  • Introduction and Bookend Sections with Jiminy Cricket
  • Bongo, the Circus Bear
  • Mickey and the Beanstalk
SettingMid-1940s Hollywood, a circus train and forest in the 1940s and the fictional fantasy kingdom of Happy Valley.
Fairytale CastleTwo, one in Happy Valley and the Giant's Castle
Animated Animals
  • Jiminy Cricket (Cliff Edwards)
  • Bongo, a bear
  • Lulu-Belle, a bear
  • Lumpjaw, a bear
  • Mickey Mouse (Walt Disney & Jimmy MacDonald)
  • Donald Duck (Clarence Nash)
  • Goofy (Pinto Colvig)
Other Characters
  • Edgar Bergen (Himself), ventriloquist and Mickey and the Beanstalk narrator
  • Charlie McCarthy (Edgar Bergen)
  • Mortimer Snerd (Edgar Bergen)
  • Bongo Narrator (Dinah Shore)
  • Willie the Giant (Billy Gilbert)
  • Luanna Patton (Herself)
  • Magical Harp (Anita Gordon)
Book BeginningThe tradition of books opening to reveal the story is spoofed by Jiminy Cricket, who passes by the library before getting to a record player.
SourceLittle Bear Bongo, a short story in Cosmopolitan Magazine by Nobel Prize-winning author Sinclair Lewis (1936)
Jack and the Beanstalk - Benjamin Tabart (1807)
  • '(I'm A) Happy Go Lucky Fellow' by Ned Washington and Eliot Daniel
  • 'Fun and Fancy Free' by Bennie Benjamin and George David Weiss
  • 'Say it With a Slap' by Buddy Kaye and Eliot Daniel
  • 'Lazy Countryside' by Bobby Worth
  • 'Too Good to be True' by Buddy Kaye and Eliot Daniel
  • 'My Favorite Dream' by Bill Walsh and Ray Noble
  • 'My, What a Happy Day' by Bill Walsh and Ray Noble
  • 'Fee Fi Fo Fum' by Paul J Smith and Arthur Quenzer

Another package film that began in the early 1940s but was abandoned for five years following the strike. The film originated with plans to make a film of Bongo and a separate one of Mickey and the Beanstalk, however these stories were combined and the film rushed out for release. Original plans for Bongo included making it as a sequel to Dumbo, set in the same circus and featuring recurring characters such as the elephants. Bongo would have had a monkey best friend who would play a similar role to Timothy Mouse. The film features a pair of chipmunks who are similar to Chip 'n' Dale. The song which inspired the title was one written for, but left out of, Pinocchio.

Mickey and the Beanstalk dated from 1940, with plans to make a whole film starring Disney's most popular characters. Early drafts included scenes in which Mickey was conned into selling his cow for magic beans by Pinocchio's Foulfellow and Gideon, with later versions replacing them with Princess Minnie Mouse, who gives Mickey the beans to say thank you when she believes he has given her the cow for free. Walt Disney recorded some of Mickey's lines in early 1941, but not all of them by the time work on the film halted. When filming resumed in 1947, chain smoking had resulted in Walt no longer being able to do Mickey's voice so Jimmy MacDonald replaced him for the remaining lines.

10. Melody Time (1948)

DirectorsClyde Geronimi, Wilfred Jackson, Jack Kinney, Hamilton Luske
PlotEight animated songs and pieces of music
Length75 minutes
Live ActionDonald, José and the Aracuan Bird watch a woman playing an organ in the samba section, and the story of Pecos Bill is introduced by people around a campfire.
Component Parts
  1. 'Once Upon a Wintertime' sung by Frances Langford
    A young wooing couple, followed by a similarly-in-love male and female rabbit, enjoy ice skating.

  2. 'Bumble Boogie' performed by Freddy Martin and his Orchestra
    A bee is chased around by musical instruments in a jazz version of Rimsky-Korsakov's 'Flight of the Bumblebee'.

  3. 'The Legend of Johnny Appleseed' by Dennis Day
    The life of John Chapman, nicknamed 'Johnny Appleseed' after his mission to plant apple orchards all across America.

  4. 'Little Toot', sung by the Andrews Sisters
    A little tugboat causes mischief, but also bravely faces danger to rescue a liner.

  5. 'Trees', music by Fred Waring and His Pennsylvanians
    A recitation of Alfred Joyce Kilmer's poem against a background of changing seasons.

  6. 'Blame it on the Samba', organ by Ethel Smith, vocals by the Dinning Sisters
    Donald Duck and José Carioca feel blue until the Aracuan Bird from The Three Caballeros introduces them to the Samba.

  7. 'Pecos Bill', sung by Roy Rogers and the Sons of the Pioneers
    Around a campfire, Roy Rogers and Bob Nolan tell Disney children Bobby Driscoll and Luana Patten the tale of Pecos Bill, the wild cowboy raised by coyotes.

Animated Animals
  • Donald Duck
  • José Carioca, a parrot
  • Aracuan Bird (Pinto Colvig)
  • Trigger, Pecos Bill's horse
Other Characters
  • Organist (Ethel Smith)
  • Johnny Appleseed and Narrator (Dennis Day)
  • Luana Patten (Herself)
  • Bobby Driscoll (Himself)
  • Master of Ceremonies (Buddy Clark)
Book BeginningYes, in the form of a programme.

The original idea was to make a package film themed around American frontier heroes, such as Pecos Bill, Johnny Appleseed and possibly even the Ichabod Crane segment later attached to The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr Toad. Although this changed, the result is perhaps the most pleasing musical package film of the late 1940s. Despite this, although the film cost over $2 million to make, it only made $1.3 million, possibly as a result of a nation-wide polio epidemic affecting America, resulting in children avoiding public places such as cinemas.

11. The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr Toad (1949)

Directors James Algar, Clyde Geronimi, Jack Kinney
PlotIn the first half, the wealthy but reckless Toad is wrongly accused of theft. In the second half, Ichabod Crane and Brom Bones compete for the hand of Katrina van Tassel, a beautiful and wealthy heiress.
Length68 minutes
Component Parts
  • The Wind in the Willows
  • Ichabod Crane, or The Legend of Sleepy Hollow
  • Part I: Toad Hall and London, 1906
  • Part II: Tarry Town, New York, 1790
Fairytale CastleThe Tower of London, where Toad is jailed. Toad Hall, though impressive, is not quite a castle.
Animated Animals
  • J Thaddeus Toad, Esquire, a toad (Eric Blore)
  • Angus MacBadger, a badger (Campbell Grant)
  • Ratty, a water rat (Claud Allister)
  • Moley (Colin Campbell)
  • Cyril Proudbottom, a horse (Pat O'Malley)
  • Weasels
Other Characters
  • Narrator: The Wind in the Willows: Basil Rathbone
  • Mr Winky, a pub landlord (Alec Harford)
  • Narrator: Ichabod Crane, or The Legend of Sleepy Hollow: Bing Crosby
  • Ichabod Crane, a schoolteacher (Bing Crosby)
  • Brom Bones, a bully (Bing Crosby)
  • Katrina van Tassel, a beautiful heiress
  • Baltus van Tassel, a wealthy farmer
Book BeginningTwo book beginnings – one for The Wind in the Willows and a second for The Legend of Sleepy Hollow
SourceThe Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame (1908), Ichabod Crane, or The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving (1820)
Songs:All but one by Don Raye and Gene de Paul
  • 'Ichabod and Mr Toad'
  • 'The Merrily Song' aka 'Merrily on Our Way (to Nowhere in Particular)' by Frank Churchill and Charles Wolcott
  • 'Merry Merry Christmas Time'
  • 'Ichabod'
  • 'Katrina'
  • 'The Headless Horseman'

Disney bought the rights to The Wind in the Willows in 1938 and began animating the film in 1941, but was forced to stop when America entered WWII. After the war, work resumed on finishing it. After the flops of the early 40s and Disney's policy of cheap package films it was no longer conceived as being a standalone feature-length film, but instead part of a package. The film was then intended to be combined with Mickey Mouse in Jack and the Beanstalk or an aborted Roald Dahl tale called Gremlins. Many proposed sequences were abandoned and never made, including Toad disguising himself as a washerwoman. This gives the finished film a rushed feel and the characters are never fully developed. A better animated adaption was made by Cosgrove Hall in 1983.

The Ichabod Crane half is even worse, with none of the characters even allowed their own voice, although the character of Brom Bones is a direct ancestor of Beauty and the Beast's Gaston.

In the first introduction, Basil Rathbone considers who the most famous characters in English Literature are, suggesting Robin Hood, King Arthur, Becky Sharp, Sherlock Holmes, Oliver Twist. All of these characters, with the exception of Vanity Fair's Becky Sharp, have since inspired a Walt Disney classic9.

The Ichabod Crane introduction mentions Paul Bunyan, Pecos Bill, Johnny Appleseed, Black Bart, Davy Crockett and Daniel Boone. Walt Disney was fascinated with early American heroes, creating a Frontierland in his Disneyland, California theme park. Johnny Appleseed and Pecos Bill had made it into Melody Time, which may originally have intended to feature the other characters. Disney later made a television series10 on its Disneyland programme on ABC about Davy Crockett as a means of promoting the Frontierland area in Disneyland. It became a television sensation, and the song 'The Ballad of Davy Crockett' was a huge hit.

The weasels would later inspire the Toon Patrol villains in Who Framed Roger Rabbit. Ratty and Mole would later appear as the charity collectors in the short film Mickey's Christmas Carol (1983).

Non-Classic Disney Animated Films

In addition to the 11 Classic Disney animated films made during this time, four films not considered to be Classics were also made. These combined various degrees of live action and animation.

The Reluctant Dragon (1941)

DirectorLive Action: Alfred Werker
Animation: Hamilton Luske
PlotRobert Benchley visits the Walt Disney Studios and tries to persuade members of staff there to adapt Kenneth Grahame's short story into a cartoon, only to learn that they have.
Length74 minutes (approx 40 minutes animated)
Live ActionIntroductions, Robert Benchley sequences
Component Parts
  • Introduction and linking sections with Robert Benchley
  • Casey Junior, Dumbo's train
  • Baby Weems
  • How to Ride a Horse - starring Goofy
  • The Reluctant Dragon
SettingWalt Disney Studios in 1941
Other Characters
  • Robert Benchley (Himself)
  • Doris the Studio Artist (Frances Gifford)
  • Humphrey the Studio Guide (Buddy Pepper)
  • Mrs Benchley (Nana Bryant)
  • Sir Giles (Claud Allister)
  • The Dragon (Barnett Parker)
  • The Boy (Billy Lee)
  • Donald Duck (Clarence Nash)
SourceThe Reluctant Dragon by Kenneth Grahame (1898)

A combination live-action and animated film considered from the start to be a cheaply-made film to make money for the ailing studio at the height of the strike. Most of the 'animators' who appear in this film are actually actors, as many of the real animators were on strike. It failed to find an audience, becoming another flop. Interestingly, it introduces the character of Casey Junior from Dumbo and Bambi from the film of the same name. It even shows concept drawings for films such as Peter Pan and Lady and the Tramp, films Disney was planning but was unable to afford to make at the time.

Victory Through Air Power (1943)

DirectorsPerce Pearce with James Algar, Clyde Geronimi, Jack Kinney and HC Potter
Length70 minutes
Live ActionIntroductions by Alexander P de Seversky
SettingA propaganda film proposing that powerful bomber aircraft were the only effective weapon in winning the Second World War.
Characters Major Alexander P de Seversky (Himself)
SourceVictory Through Air Power by Alexander P de Seversky (1942)

Two months after Dumbo was released, America joined the Second World War. The Disney studio was requisitioned for war work, production of the Mickey Mouse shorts stopped and instead the Disney Studio produced educational short training films for troops and propaganda such as Der Fuehrer's Face, the Oscar-winning short in which Donald Duck wakes up in Nazi Germany.

Disney, hating being dictated to, felt that if he had to make propaganda, he would choose which to make. He adapted for animation a controversial book by Major Alexander P de Seversky, inventor of the automated bombsight. This argued that in a modern war, the army and navy were irrelevant and only long-range bomber aircraft capable of carrying heavy payloads and dropping them with precision on the enemy's vital nerve-centres would affect the outcome of the war.

The film was effectively animated, with filmed introductions of Alexander P de Seversky himself. Like most Disney films of the 1940s, it was a financial failure.

Song of the South (1946)

DirectorsLive Action: Harve Foster
Animation: Wilfred Jackson
PlotUncle Remus tells children stories about a group of animals, Br'er Rabbit, Br'er Fox and Br'er Bear while a boy called Johnny comes to terms with being separated from his father.
Length94 minutes
Live ActionYes, bookending the Br'er Rabbit sections. Johnny moves to Georgia and makes new friends, including a man called Uncle Remus.
Component Parts
  • Br'er Rabbit runs away from home.
  • Br'er Rabbit meets a tar-baby
  • Br'er Rabbit has a 'Laughing Place'
SettingA plantation in Georgia in the 1870s.
Animated Animals
  • Br'er Rabbit (Johnny Lee)
  • Br'er Fox (James Baskett)
  • Br'er Bear (Nick Stewart)
  • Br'er Frog (Roy Glenn)
Other Characters
  • Uncle Remus (James Baskett)
  • Johnny (Bobby Driscoll)
  • Ginny Favers (Luana Patten)
  • Toby (Glenn Leedy)
  • Sally, Johnny's mother (Ruth Warrick)
  • John, Johnny's father (Erik Rolf)
SourceUncle Remus stories by Joel Chandler Harris (1881)
  • 'Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah' by Allie Wrubel and Ray Gilbert
  • 'Everybody's Got a Laughing Place' by Allie Wrubel and Ray Gilbert
  • 'How Do You Do?' by Robert MacGimsey
  • 'Sooner or Later (You're Gonna Be Comin' Around)' by Charles Wolcott and Ray Gilbert
  • 'Who Wants to Live Like That?' by Ken Darby and Foster Carling
  • 'Let the Rain Pour Down' by Ken Darby and Foster Carling
  • 'Song of the South' by Sam Coslow and Arthur Johnston
  • 'Uncle Remus Said' by Eliot Daniel, Hy Heath and Johnny Lange
  • 'All I Want' by Ken Darby

Song of the South is the most controversial Disney film ever made. To a modern audience, many of the characters are painfully stereotyped. Although public perceptions, attitudes and tastes naturally change over time, making what was previously acceptable no longer allowable, the film on first release was borderline at best, and numerous accusations of racism make it unreleased on home video in America.

The film is an adaptation of the stories told by a former slave in the southern states of America. Since release the film has been considered to help portray a stereotype of benign slavery, demeaning the real plight of those in horrific situations and perpetrating patronising attitudes. Many characters are little more than clichés. When the film was being made, the Motion Picture Production Code Office, America's film censor, asked for it to be made clear that the film was set in the 1870s. Though the setting was changed to post-Civil War America so that Uncle Remus would not be a slave in the film, this was not obvious and the white family are smarter dressed than everyone else. Although the film was picketed in protest on original release, it still made $3.3 million.

James Baskett, who played Uncle Remus, won an honorary Oscar for his role. The film's soundtrack was well received, and the song 'Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah' won an Oscar.

So Dear to My Heart (1949)

DirectorsHamilton Luske and Harold D Schuster
PlotYoung Jerry Kincaid raises a young lamb, Danny, which he hopes will win a prize in the local fair.
Length82 minutes
Live ActionMainly live action, with approximately 12 minutes animated.
SettingIndiana in 1903
Fairytale CastleThe Walls of Jericho and Stirling Castle
  • Jeremiah 'Jerry' Kincaid (Bobby Driscoll)
  • Granny Kincaid (Beulah Bondi)
  • Uncle Hiram (Burl Ives)
  • Tildy (Luana Patten)
Animated Animals
  • Danny the Lamb
  • Owl
WishesJerry wishes to keep his lamb and also prays that he'll find it safe when it runs off.
Book BeginningA scrapbook of memories of 1903.
SourceMidnight and Jeremiah by Sterling North
  • 'Lavender Blue' (Traditional)
  • 'So Dear to my Heart' by Irving Taylor and Ticker Freeman
  • 'It's Watcha Do With Watcha Got' by Don Raye and Gene de Paul
  • 'Stick-to-it-Ivity' by Larry Morey and Eliot Daniel
  • 'County Fair' by Bob Wells and Mel Tormé

Jerry has a little lamb in this heart-warming tale of a family and lamb with a nursery rhyme for a plot. It is as cheesy and syrupy as the title suggests. The film was an attempt by Walt Disney to recreate his childhood as a farm boy in small town Marceline, the barn in the film was based on his father's barn. The animated sequences were added after filming had originally finished. Disney delayed releasing it as he felt that it needed something extra adding to it, spending a year on refilming. He added the animation at this time, including sequences in which David battles Goliath, Christopher Columbus battles a sea monster and Danny the lamb knocks down the Walls of Jericho.

1Films with synchronised sound ensured that the sound would accompany and match images seen on screen.2Cel-animation, also known as traditional or hand-drawn animation, uses a series of pictures drawn on 'cels', named after the transparent celluloid film on which the artwork was commonly drawn. Full-length films containing stop-motion animation had already been made, notably The Lost World (1925) and King Kong (1933).3Pinocchio, Fantasia, The Reluctant Dragon, Bambi and Victory Through Air Power lost between them almost $2,500,000 on first release.4In Disneyworld in Florida, the nightclub area of Downtown Disney is called 'Pleasure Island', although there are no reports of anyone turning into a donkey and being sold into slavery.5Their appearance and hard work would later prove an inspiration for Disney's Fairies' Tinker Bell films.6One new animator at Disney who started work on Fantasia and later achieved a prominent role within the Disney organisation was John Hench.7Best known for narrating the Goofy cartoon shorts.8Frank Churchill committed suicide soon after writing the music for Bambi; he was just 40 years old and had been suffering from depression. He was posthumously nominated for an Academy Award for the Bambi score and 'Love is a Song'.9Robin Hood (1973), The Sword in the Stone (1963), Basil the Great Mouse Detective (1986) and Oliver and Company (1988).10The television series was later adapted into a film, released as Davy Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier.

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