I’d be willing to bet you know very little about the 1947 Disney feature Fun and Fancy Free. I sure didn’t know much.
There are a handful of entries in the Disney library that function as pillars of the studio, classics standing the test of time and rightfully expounded upon time and time again by means of revelatory books and thorough behind-the-scenes documentaries broadcast on television or released as bonus features on a Blu-ray disc. Early classics like Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and Renaissance masterpieces like Beauty and the Beast are overflowing with content for Disney fans and cinema enthusiasts alike to mine for backstage stories to learn more about such beloved films. Even the likes of Disney’s most recent hits like Frozen are afforded at the very least their own art book, if not much more.
But then there are those movies that, despite existing among the legendary canon of Walt Disney Animation Studios, remain in relative obscurity compared to their esteemed siblings. They’ve had their share of re-releases and general availability over the years, but beyond that haven’t been afforded much attention simply because they weren’t mammoth game-changers. And yet, their development still took up the same amount of time as these cherished masterpieces we know so much about — meaning they have an equal collection of stories waiting to be told. Fun and Fancy Free is one such title, a 1947 package film that finally gets its due in a new volume by J.B. Kaufman, The Making of Walt Disney’s Fun and Fancy Free.
Produced over a span of seven years on either side of World War II, you may recall that Fun and Fancy Free pairs the otherwise independent stories of Bongo (a circus bear acclimating to living in the wild) and Mickey and the Beanstalk (a showcase for Mickey, Donald, and Goofy derived from the classic fairytale Jack and the Beanstalk). The two extended segments are threaded together by exposition featuring Jiminy Cricket as our master of ceremonies, along the way also including star Edgar Bergen and his ventriloquist dummy characters, Charlie McCarthy and Mortimer Snerd.
Seeing as virtually all that exists enlightening us about the making of this film prior to now was a 16-minute mini-doc produced in 1997, Kaufman could probably write a book of little consequence and still exponentially multiply our knowledge of this film. That makes his thorough dedication to providing a 360-degree viewpoint of the movie all the more welcome. This isn’t just a tossed-to-the-wind volume; it’s afforded the same coverage as a Disney “masterpiece” despite not really being considered one.
The Making of Walt Disney’s Fun and Fancy Free runs at a slim 142 pages, but that doesn’t indicate a lack of content. It’s packed with information that spans a pretty equal balance between text and artwork. The text covers the surprisingly lengthy development and production of the film, as well as a scene-by-scene breakdown of the movie in its entirety that reads as a visual version of an audio commentary. Ordinarily this approach might feel unneeded, but it’s helpful here seeing as the reader likely isn’t as familiar with the story as they are their favorite Disney movie. The artwork includes wonderful sketches and character model sheets, as well as a hefty amount of publicity photos, both of the animators and of the fictional stars.
Kaufman specializes in an expert knowledge of Fun and Fancy Free‘s placement within the 1940s decade and the larger Disney narrative, providing detailed credits for which animators created each scene and how different aspects of history (both of the studio and the world at large) affected the film. I particularly enjoyed the discussion of deleted ideas, among them casting Foulfellow and Gideon from Pinocchio as cons who would sell the magic beans to Mickey. Also of note is the revelation of the entire film being repurposed for television, airing as episodes of The Wonderful World of Color and being narrated by none other than Professor Ludwig Von Drake (!). Now that is something I would love to see.
The book is the first in a new wave of titles from the Hyperion Historical Alliance, a non-profit unaffiliated with The Walt Disney Company that seeks to share and celebrate Disney history. The association uses the specific language of this publication being part of its “Academic Monograph Series,” indicating future work. The book’s packaging, at 8.75 x 11.25, is wide enough to feel like a coffee table book but comfortable enough for lap reading. If this first installment is any indication, the animation community is in for a real treat as the HHA continues to publish more.
Fun and Fancy Free might not be your favorite Disney film of all time, or even one that you could recall with great detail. This fact is not ignored, but rather embraced in The Making of Walt Disney’s Fun and Fancy Free as J.B. Kaufman brings to light a chapter of Disney history that many animation fans are likely uninformed about. And with a list price of $30, modest in comparison to similar volumes about other films, any fan of Disney or animation history will find it economical and enjoyable.
Have you seen Fun and Fancy Free? What would you love to learn about this overlooked Disney feature?
Edited by: Morgan Stradling