Make Mine Music

One of the easiest, most painless binge-watching projects you could embark upon during the pandemic is to dive into the canon of Walt Disney Animation Studios films. Sure, you could add Pixar to the list, but getting to experience the depth and breadth of mainstream animation history, from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs to Raya and the Last Dragon, would be an effective crash course, and a mighty enjoyable one to boot thanks to the still fairly young streaming service Disney+.

But while Disney+ enables viewers to stream everything from Marvel superhero fare to old Star Wars TV movies to National Geographic specials, there’s an odd gap in that animation crash course, one you might not even be aware exists. That gap is the package film Make Mine Music, which turns 75 today. You might figure today’s a fine day to watch Make Mine Music considering that birthday – how better to celebrate? Sadly, you’re out of luck: it’s the only Disney animated film that’s not streaming on Disney+. In fact, Make Mine Music has never been available for streaming or purchase on Blu-ray. This is the kind of film that would make a perfect selection for the Out of the Disney Vault column here at /Film, except it’s still locked in that vault. The obvious question is: why?

Disney+ has not shied away, to an extent, towards acknowledging the fraught past of the company of which it’s part. Though there were baseless rumors in advance of the streaming service going live that films such as Dumbo would be censored, the 1941 classic was available in full on the launch date, racially offensive crows and roustabouts and all. When the service started in November 2019, the only notable inclusion was a brief message on the page of an offending film, short, or show on the streamer, warning anyone who sought it out that they might be in for a problematic viewing affair.

Within the last year, Disney+ has been slightly more proactive in framing films like Peter Pan or The Jungle Book. Now, when you click Play on these titles, there’s a 10-second content warning that encourages viewers to visit a Disney website talking about how stories matter and how the studio is trying to combat negative depictions of people of color. (That site was unveiled in mid-October of 2020, and it doesn’t appear to have been updated in the last six months, including the minor grammatical error of omitting the word “the” from The Aristocats.) And if your family has a child-facing profile on Disney+, these films won’t even be available to stream, as has been already yelled about angrily by conservative members of the media who want to revive the idiotic culture wars.

Disney+ has, in short, acknowledged the creative failings and stereotypes of the studio’s earlier films, without automatically hiding them and without contextualizing or explaining them. (Yes, child profiles can’t watch some of these films, but…y’know, it wouldn’t be hard to get around that problem while staying on the site.) So what makes Make Mine Music so unique? There are few major feature films from Disney’s earliest days that aren’t available on Disney+, and they mostly don’t require explanation. (You can wonder why Song of the South isn’t available, but…come on. You know why.) Make Mine Music is a much more unassuming affair, the third package film from Disney and the first released after the end of World War II. 

The film is comprised of ten shorts, some of which have survived long past the film’s release thanks to appearing in other home-media compilations like The Disneyland Anthology and having aired on The Magical World of Disney in the late 1980s and 1990s. But if you don’t have your old home media stashed away somewhere, you’d have to resort to searching on YouTube or other video-sharing sites right now to find any of this film’s segments. There’s little doubt that if Make Mine Music did ever wind up on Disney+, it would need to have the content warning affixed in front of it, for content in three different shorts within the overall film. Though it’s not entirely clear that the film deserves to remain unseen officially.

Perhaps the most obvious case of a content warning being necessary is “The Martins and the Coys”, a stylized take on the Western saga of the Hatfields and the McCoys. Though its gun-driven violence is deliberately cartoonish, it’s…well, gun-driven violence. “The Martins and the Coys” was edited out of the American VHS and DVD release of Make Mine Music, just over 20 years ago, for similar concerns. On one hand, there’s no explanation needed for wanting to avoid the depiction of gunplay on Disney+ – at heart, the company is defined by being for people of all ages, and gunplay doesn’t strike the right chord. 

However, if you were so inclined, you could easily find gunplay and violence on the whole in other films on Disney+, from the sci-fi violence of the Star Wars films to superhero action in the MCU to – more pressingly – Melody Time. That 1948 package film, much like Make Mine Music, has a smattering of short films including a Western-themed story with a fair amount of gunplay. That would be “Pecos Bill”, the climax of Melody Time. This isn’t to defend “Pecos Bill”, whose song is very catchy but whose content is troublesome even beyond the gunplay, with lyrics that employ lazy and insulting stereotypes of Native American culture. The point is simple: if Melody Time can be streamed on Disney+, why not Make Mine Music?

Of course, “The Martins and the Coys”, as brightly colored and bouncy as it is, is just one of three shorts posing a problem within Make Mine Music. There’s also “All the Cats Join In”, a jazz-infused sequence performed by Benny Goodman and his orchestra, depicting 40s-era teenyboppers hanging out at the local soda shoppe. The song is a lot of fun, and the pencil-driven animation – throughout the five-minute short, you can see an animator’s pencil sketching in characters and locations – is cleverly employed. However, some of the teenage dancing throughout the short is perhaps a little more aggressive and sexual than you might expect from Disney fare. Is it as flagrant or troubling as the sexual content in a film like Splash, which you can stream right now on Disney+? There’s the rub.

Last, there’s “The Whale Who Wanted to Sing at the Met”, a short about…well, just read the title. With all of the character voices provided by legendary opera singer and actor Nelson Eddy, “The Whale Who Wanted to Sing at the Met” is a strangely haunting and distinctive extended short, both memorable and a strange choice for a closing section to an otherwise upbeat package film. Early in the short, we get evidence of Willie the Whale’s inexplicable ability to not only sing, but to sing with the booming baritone of an opera legend, as he sings “Shortnin’ Bread”, an African-American folk song of the turn of the 20th century at one point. That means you get to hear Eddy’s booming, very patrician and old-fashioned voice saying “chillun” instead of “children” in lyrics like “Three little chillun, lyin’ in bed/two were sick and the other most dead.” It would be questionable to put this on the same level of racial offensiveness as Song of the South or Dumbo, with its faceless roustabouts and quintet of crows. But that doesn’t make the song in Make Mine Music any less uncomfortable to experience. 

The debate for Make Mine Music is far bigger than the 1946 film itself. The question at heart as you watch this film – and just because it’s not on Disney+ doesn’t mean you can’t find its disparate pieces on legally accessible sites like YouTube – is why this movie isn’t appropriate for inclusion. Disney+ has content warnings, and it offers a lot of films (including some pretty popular animated titles) that absolutely earn those warnings, both well-known and lesser-loved. 

No doubt, Disney’s Twitter accounts – likely the Walt Disney Archives and/or the Disney Animation accounts – may make a cursory nod to the premiere of the film on this date 75 years ago. (I’m writing these words a few days before its anniversary, so we’ll see if I’m right.) But Make Mine Music is a strange title to occupy the moniker of being the only Disney Animation in-canon feature not available to stream on Disney+. To deny its problematic qualities is foolish. To imply that those qualities are so distinctive as to make its presence unlikely is misleading at best and insulting at worst. Maybe someone at Disney can read this and convince the right people to make it available. It’s long overdue.

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