Saturday Matinee #74, Package Films Unwrapped: Make Mine Music - "All the Cats Join In" (August 15, 1946) - published June 2, 2012
by Albert Gutierrez
I always consider "package films" to be one of the important eras in the history of Disney Animation. True, at the time, they were lean projects done simply to keep the animators working and the studio afloat. Amidst the short cartoons and post-war revitalization of the studio lies the foundation for some of Disney's greatest films. Each package feature - generally accepted to be the work from 1943's Saludos, Amigos! to 1949's The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad - had an important contribution to the Disney canon. Since these films are comprised of shorter stories - be it one-reel shorts or a double-bill of two adventures - we can't often find a common theme or broad narrative to tie them together. For example, 1946's Make Mine Music is perhaps the weakest, with a string of cartoons not really interconnected by a theme beyond music itself. But the shorts themselves are still impressive in their own rights.
The uneven nature of the package films, as well as their general obscurity, has led to the entire series sometimes being overlooked and ignored. These shorts should not go unnoticed. Occasionally, rather than cover a theatrical cartoon that was created and produced as a standalone cartoon, we'll take a look at one of the shorts from the package features. After all, several were re-released on their own in the 1950's, or used in the "Disneyland" television series. To begin this unwrapping of the package films, this week's Saturday Matinee will take a look at my favorite short from the films: "All the Cats Join In" from 1946's Make Mine Music.
A sketchbook lies on a desk. A pencil begins to draw. This concerns a jukebox and a cat. Not the feline mammal, but a hepcat. A lindy hopper. Someone who plays hot licks on the sax and digs jazz and bebop. Aw, heck, a hipster before the trust-fund millenials decided to turn it into a subculture of their own. He's looking to have some fun tonight, and decides to invite his friends to join him. Of particular interest is his gal pal, a teenage girl who decides to join him, but must leave her younger sister behind. She showers and throws on some make-up, then rushes out the door. The hepcat is already waiting for her in his still-being-drawn jalopy. She hops in and they speed away, gathering their friends as they drive.
The gang pass by a studious girl, her nose turned up at them. They slow down for the cop, but speed off once more. As soon as they reach the Malt Shop, the party has already started. Shakes, sundaes, splits, songs, and sandwiches. Everyone's having a good time. We see various couples dance. Some are close, some are all over. It's a jubilant celebration of youth. The entire night is nearly spoiled by a poor sap with a ukulele. He's obviously a remnant of the previous generation, as evident by his clothes and music. Fortunately, they get rid of him quickly. The hepcats and the hipsters and the hoppers dance the night away. And the jukebox explodes.
"All the Cats Join In" is called the Jazz Interlude, and is conducted by famed big band man Benny Goodman. The short captures young life of 1946. Teenagers, no longer burdened by the war, and looking forward to a brighter future, have every reason to celebrate. Music and culture are perpetually on the up-and-up, looking to create an identity just for them. Jazz is becoming mainstream, dancing is becoming more intimate. Good times on a dime can be had by all. Throughout the cartoon, we can see these youngsters are always on the move. It's a recurring theme, as they drive fast, live fast, dance fast. There's no time to mellow out and let life pass them by. They need to keep ahead.
Thus, the pencil ends up struggling to keep up with it all. We can view the pencil almost as progress itself. It serves as creator of the world these cats live in, and they are outpacing it. They're too eager to be ahead that the pencil - and thus, mainstream progress - can't keep up. These hepcats are ready to party like it's 1949, while the poor pencil is still busy finishing up the guy's jalopy and erasing a girl's oversized posterior. It's an amusing contrast, that mirrors both the innovation of youth and futility of the establishment.
The short also serves up several amusing gags that help portray these hepcats as a new generation. Look to their speeding cars, their perfect figures, and their rampant dancing. The automobile serves as a means of escape. It's literally transporting them from the suburban life to a most excellent night. Yet, they still abide by and respect the law - at least when they're seen. Slowing down for the traffic cop likely had to begin in these times, since this is a generation of drivers who felt a greater need for speed.
If only real-life weight loss were this easy
The "perfect figure" also is a sign of the different standards for this generation. You needed to be slim and fit if you wanted to keep pace with the dances, with the music, with the world. It's odd to think that a mere ten years earlier, buxom Mae West was a sign of sexuality. Eventually, this fixation on skinny would become predominant in Hollywood in ensuing decades, though that didn't stop bombshells like Marilyn Monroe and Jayne Mansfield from embracing their full figures in the 1950's, or popular figures today such as singer-songwriter Adele.
"All the Cats Join In" is part of Make Mine Music, which was released to Disney VHS and DVD in 2000. Amusingly - though with far less merit or justification than the original short's intention - Disney decided to do their own erasing in this release. In the U.S. releases for Make Mine Music, they've digitally erased the breast from the teenage girl as she emerges from the shower. It's erased later on when she's changing, as well. The censorship isn't as major as withholding an entire film - *cough* Song of the South *cough* - but is still a problem. If you want the uncensored version of this short, it's only available on a Japanese laserdisc. The laserdisc is also the only place you'll find "The Martins and the Coys," a short from Make Mine Music that has been excluded from every other home video release. Hopefully, if Disney ever releases this package film to Blu-Ray, it will contain the deleted cartoon.