Saturday Matinee #146, Reuben Week: "Adventures in Music: Melody" (May 28, 1953)
Published October 19, 2013
by Albert Gutierrez
After seven months, we've finally reached our last Days of the Week writer to get a themed week, and naturally, it is our most popular: Sunday Brunch's Reuben. All week, we've been celebrating some of his favorite things, and, as usual, you'll sense a common thread throughout. Alex and Erik's columns both featured a favorite thing set in the future, namely a Hidden Mickey and a beloved character. And Pap and Kelvin's columns looked at the elegant simplicity of treasured favorites like a video game and a collectible series. Brent tied them all together as everything does fall under the same golden sun, showing how the elegant simplicity of Reuben's favorite things will continue on well into the future. As for Saturday Matinee, one of Reuben's favorite shorts is 1953's "Melody," a short that showed the elegant simplicity of a melody, done with the forward-thinking technology of three-dimensional animation, and presented in a timeless cartoon that continues to live on well beyond its original release.
Professor Owl takes roll for his music class, and proclaims that their first lesson shall cover Melody. We hear the students sing about "The Bird and the Cricket and the Willow Tree." They then learn about how homo sapiens - better known as us humans - are another form of intelligent life that can create melody. Granted, sometimes our melodies aren't as good as the birds, but we find that anything can inspire melodies. The bird students sing variety of songs to showcase this, featuring various situations, emotions, and styles. Love, cowboys, motherhood, you name it. Well, maybe not anything. As one of the slightly-nerdariffic birds sings, nobody sings about brains. The students bring this lesson to a close by having everyone reprise "The Bird and the Cricket and the Willow Tree," using all the concepts of melody and style they'd just learned about. The showcase utilizes virtually everything we'd already seen previous, now presented in more abstract ways than before. And, of course, the students ace this, what with being natural melody makers. Professor Owl proudly conducts his class as the cartoon ends.
Disney had intended on "Melody" serving as the first in his "Adventures in Music" series, which would entertain and educate audiences on various aspects of music. However, only one other shrot went into production, the CinemaScope short "Toot, Whistle, Plunk and Boom," released six months after this cartoon. The waning interest in theatrical short cartoons, as well as Disney's continued focus towards live-action and television meant that the "Adventures in Music" series would not continue theatrically. However, music still remained important for Disney. Their "Mickey Mouse Club" maintained a Music Day every Monday, and animated films continued to feature musical songs and interludes within the narrative. The educational intent behind the short cartoons simply disappeared, though would make another, more memorable, reappearnce over thirty years later.
For any Disney fan who grew up in the mid-to-late 1980s, the "Sing-Along Songs" VHS tapes allowed for exposure to a variety of Disney songs throughout their catalogue. And through it all, Professor Owl (and later Professor Ludwig Von Drake) taught us all, thanks to clever re-dubs and re-use of animation from both "Melody" and "Toot, Whistle, Plunk and Boom." The very first "Sing-Along Songs" tape borrowed heavily from the cartoons, so much so that growing up, I believed Disney actually made this animation specifically for such special programs. Only when I learned more about Disney cartoons, and finally saw the two shorts, did I realize Disney animated this material much earlier. As someone who grew up with one version, but became more accustomed to the other, I can still watch either (a Sing-Along Song tape or an Adventures in Music short) and know what the "opposite" dub was. Disney proved very effective in making sure the new dub matched the animation, even when talking about other content. Anyone who still owns the early "Sing-Along Song" VHS tapes will already have the "remixed" portions of this short. But "Melody" and its sister short have also seen digital release on the Fantasia 2000 DVD (released in 2000), the "Walt Disney Treasures: Disney Rarities" DVD (released in 2005), and streaming (if Disney still kept it available) through the "Virtual Vault" nonsense from 2010's Blu-Ray collection of Fantasia and Fantasia 2000.