That Period Where Disney Released “Non-Movies”


Of course you know all the classic Disney Films right? From Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Pinocchio, Bambi and Dumbo, but after that set of films there was a huge world event, World War II, that lead to many animators at Disney leaving to fight in the Eastern and Western Fronts.

For a period of eight years Disney not only released a number of WWII Propaganda shorts, but also a number of “Non-Movies” or “Package Films” as they were called, most of which have been forgotten. Let’s journey back to this time in history.

The first “Non-Movie” was actually 1940’s Fantasia, the third film released by Disney which was a passion project of Walt’s, but sadly it did poorly at the box office, forcing the company to go back to narrative films. But as the United States entered the war, projects that were planned had to be put on hold or scrapped altogether.

The First Package Film in this trend was 1943’s Saludos Amigos, a film entirely about Disney animators traveling the world and making cartoons shorts based on their travels. This film also had the debut appearance of José Carioca, one of the Three Caballeros.

Next was 1945’s The Three Caballeros. While the film technically had a narrative, that being Donald Duck opening presents on his Birthday, each gift shows off a different story. Each story shows a different bird related adventure, from the South Pole, to Brazil and even Mexico. This film is of course the most well known out of the Package Films due to how often the Three Caballeros themselves popped up across various shorts, not to mention the popular attraction at EPCOT’s Mexico Pavilion.

The Third film was 1946’s Make Mine Music, originally planned as a sequel to Fantasia but retooled due to the poor box office of the first film, we have a various number of shorts that focus almost exclusively of music with shorts like Blue Bayou and Without You, but a few musical shorts like the comical Casey at the Bat and the charming retelling of Peter and the Wolf.

The final segment, The Whale Who Wanted to Sing at the Met is a bittersweet short about an opera singing Sperm Whale, if you ever visit the Mickey’s PhilharMagic Attraction at the parks you’ll see Willie the Whale on one of the Posters in the waiting area. The film did relatively well at the box office compared to its predecessor.

1947’s Fun and Fancy Free has only two shorts compared to the previous Package Films as we follow Jiminy Cricket, with guest appearances from Edgar Bergen, Luana Patten and Dinah Shore, reading/telling us the story of Bongo, narrated by Dinah Shore, a Circus Bear who escapes captivity and finds an unusual but hilarious romance. The more popular of the two shorts told to us by Edgar Bergen, is a telling of the classic Jack and the Beanstalk fairy tale. In place of Jack we get Mickey, Donald and Goofy. This film marks the last time Walt Disney preformed the voice of Mickey Mouse. The three friends have to rescue a Magic Harp from a bumbling giant who can transform into anything. The film was received favorably by critics and audiences. 

Melody Time, released in 1948, was another film in the style of Make Mine Music, where a number of segments focused almost exclusively on Music while also having a handful of shorts. Some of the standout shorts include Once Upon a Wintertime, a story about two young lovers ice skating during the winter time, The Legend of Johnny Appleseed which tells the tale of the legendary folk hero, and Pecos Bill, the story of one of the most wild and adventurous cowboys the west had ever known. The film received mixed reviews from critics and while it still made money it showed that these Package Films were falling out of style.

The final film in this trend was The Adventured of Ichabod and Mr. Toad released in 1949. With the War now over the focus on Narrative Driven storytelling was back at Disney as the two halves of the film felt like somewhat complete stories. The first short was based on The Wind in the Willows, where Mr. Toad gets involved with “Motorcar-Mania” and finds himself involved with a gang of weasels. This short is where the popular Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride attraction is based on.

The second short is base on The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, the horror story of schoolmaster Ichabod Crane, voiced by Bing Crosby, as he is pursued by the Ghost of the Headless Horseman. The ending to that one is left ambiguous, similar to the original story. The canceled Disney short The Gremlins by Roald Dahl was potentially going to be included in this film, but that’s a story for another time. The film highly praised by critics at the time.

After this “dark period” in Disney history the company returned to fully narrative films with 1950’s Cinderella, followed by Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan and more. The next Package Film Disney would release was 1977’s The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, which combined the three Winnie the Pooh shorts from 1966 – 1974. Disney would also go on to make Fantasia 2000 in 1999 and a 2001 Direct-to-Video film called Disney’s American Legends which repackaged shorts based on Paul Bunyan, Casey Jones and Johnny Appleseed with an all new short about the legendary John Henry, all with introduction segments by James Earl Jones.

This period in history shows how Disney was able to keep the company alive by finding new ways to entertain audiences of the time. While most animation was just Mickey Mouse and Bugs Bunny shorts the fact that they were able to make fully fledged films when a good chunk of their staff was away shows how much Walt believed in his company. Hopefully reflecting on these films will give them more appreciation. You can find them on DVD or on Disney Plus.

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