It's early in the summer of 1903 in the picturesque little town of Fulton County, located somewhere in the mythical turn-of-the-last-century midwest that Walt Disney so loved. And here begins the tale of what is perhaps his most forgotten film with animation in it: "So Dear to My Heart".
The film is as obscure as Disney films get. It's tucked away among the Anthology Features (obscure in their own right) like an afterthought. The very few scenes of animation within the film are at least as interesting as anything in "Melody Time" or "Make Mine Music", and include some fine moments indeed.
It's too bad the film surrounding those approximately fifteen minutes of full animation is such a slog.
OK, kiddies, gather 'round. As I said before, it's 1903 and we're somewhere in the mythical candy-colored midwest that very likely existed nowhere else but in the fertile mind of Walt Disney. As legend has it, Disney grew up on a farm where... hell with it. Suspiciously, no two accounts agree on what Disney's childhood was like. But we do know that in any case, whether it was rosy and happy or horrifically traumatic, he had a lifelong affinity for farms and for the Good Old Days.
Oh, the Good Old Days! When little boys lived with their fire-and-brimstone-and-horrible-guilt-and-blatant-contradiction preachin' grannies and did all the chores that didn't involve sewing or knitting or weaving or cooking or beating rugs with those rug-beating things. When uncle Burl Ives would come over with his guitar and his folky songs and little cousin Tildy, who has been a mite bit grumpy lately since her application to the Lollipop Guild was rejected cause her little squeakie voice wasn't *quite* grating enough. Where you could raise yourself a baby lamb to win the Special Prize at the county fair, even though that lamb is... well, you know... black! Where boys could tromp through the deep woods where the owl blinks and the werewolf howls and the Skunk Ape screams, and look for bee trees, whereupon they could raid the beehive without incident and bring a fortune in honey into town. Where the highlight of a little boy's day was puttin' pretty pictures in his scrapbook, and hallucinating while reading it. And where the highlight of a little girl's day was pouting and whining and runnin' home cryin' to her daddy.
Aw, gee wizz! You all don't know how nice we had it back in the Good Old Days! You kids these days and yer card games and yer face books and yer motor cars and yer rap music and yer public schools and yer piercings and yer electricity and yer animal rights and yer child labor laws and yer civil rights and yer women's lib...
As you may have guessed, I have a healthy level of cynicism about nostalgia for the Good Old Days.
But all criticism aside, the animation is very pretty, and it has some truly beautiful moments. The idea is that Jeremiah (the little boy) is collecting pictures in a scrapbook and he imagines them coming to life. The animated characters interact with the scrapbook elements in really inventive ways. At the same time, all the animation is at the service of musical numbers with inspiring messages for the young audience, and these songs are very, very boring when they aren't downright head-scratching. There's a reason why you don't hear these ditties much anymore. (My gosh, "Stick-to-itivity"...)
So overall, "So Dear To My Heart" is pretty dull and unintentionally very, very weird. It's SO aggressively a product of it's time that children will likely either be bored silly or find the movie as utterly baffling as a student film. It's ultimately of interest only to the hardcore Disney animation completest.
For more posts in this ongoing series, go here, or click the Chronological Disney Animated Canon tag below.
Sketch of the Day!