Ultimate Disney Tournament: Escape to Witch Mountain vs. Make Mine Music

Hiya folks. We’re chugging right along here into the second match of Dyl’s Ultimate Disney Tournament. I’m figuring out that this is going to be a very, very long process as it requires a decent amount of work, but I’m enjoying myself and I hope you guys are too. Our matchup today is the #128 seed Escape to Witch Mountain vs. the #129 seed Make Mine Music. Boy, is this a weird one! Both of these movies are unique in the Disney canon, that’s for sure. They’re also two firsts to this bracket. We’ve got our first live action movie and our first from the actual Disney Disney Disney canon. And, yes, I did said Disney three times on purpose. Once for the company as a whole. Once for the actual Disney movies. And then once more for the animated classics most people think of when the name comes up. So, it’s a Disney cubed movie. Heck. I’d even make the argument that it’s Disney squared having been actually produced by Walt himself. Sorry. I’m getting off topic. Anyways, who will win out? Which one’s weirdness shines brighter?

#128 – Escape to Witch Mountain (1975)

Director: John Hough

Writer: Robert M. Young

Starring: Eddie Albert, Ray Milland, Donald Pleasence, Kim Richards, and Ike Eisenmann

Plot: Two siblings with strange powers run away from a millionaire who is trying to exploit them.

Mini-Review: This one is strange, man. I casually brought up the fact that I’d watched Escape to Witch Mountain to a couple of family members and their reactions were very telling. They all did a weird chuckle, then reminisced about how “creepy” it was. It’s hard to argue with them. Compared to most Disney movies, there is a weird horror film feel to this. Of course, the content itself isn’t really all that frightening, but it’s hard not to think of Carrie when you see adolescent kids in the 1970s performing telekinesis. I’m sure the fact that one of them constantly has flashbacks to a tragic accident in their past where a family member may or may not have died didn’t help either. As an adult, I just saw this as a fun family flick that was unintentionally a bit on the scary side. I’m sure children, especially those at just the right age in the 1970s, took it as a much more frightening venture.

Even without the creep factor, this is still waaaaaay darker than anything Disney would do today. There’s just a ton of “almost violence.” We see a town of hillbillies convinced that the children are witches that they need to hunt down. Like, literally, they are chasing the kids around with guns. The kids also hold a villain up at gunpoint, even cocking it as it’s pointed at his head. They turn a pack of attack dogs on people. Heck, there’s even a scene where they mind control a bear to scare off the hunters. And all of this in a G-Rated Disney film. The 70s were a different time, y’all.

So, other than the creepiness, is there anything worth checking out here? It really depends. If you readjust your expectations and put yourself into the mindset of a young kid in the 70s, the plot can be interesting. By today’s standards though, they really don’t explain enough until the twist at the very end. You kind of just have to go along for the ride. I’m not even sure how well known the twist is. That’s why I’m not talking about it much. Though, I do feel like the movie would be improved by putting it more towards the beginning. We’d feel for the characters on a deeper level. Also, I kinda felt like the movie ran out of steam a bit in the end. The plot is more or less just one long chase. I felt my patience being tested as we watched the kids get captured, then escape, then captured again, over and over and over. From my experience though, that’s just the science fiction genre pre-Star Wars. It was a lot of slow paced, but still interesting, adventure movies. That doesn’t necessarily make them bad. Like I said, you just have to adjust your standards.

Lastly, I was going to compliment how well the special effects held up here, because the first couple of instances of the kids using their powers were super impressive. However, that statement doesn’t really ring true when you get to the second half of the movie. The kids make a couple of thing, including their RV, fly and let’s just say that it looks laughably bad by today’s standards. Though, again, I’d argue in a cool retro kind of way. It’s hard to believe this was only a few short years before Star Wars and Superman. 

Overall, I’d say that the entertainment value of Escape to Witch Mountain is going to vary greatly from person to person. If you’re into the idea of a relatively slow paced, cheesy kids science fiction movie from the 1970s that has just a pinch of creepiness, I think you’ll enjoy it. If that doesn’t sound like it’s, I can promise you that it’s not going to win you over. Personally, I was into it. I didn’t love it, but I enjoyed it for what it is.

#129 – Make Mine Music (1946)

Directors: Jack Kinney, Clyde Geronimi, Hamilton Luske, Joshua Meador, and Robert Cormack

Writers: James Bordrero, Homer Brightman, Erwin Graham, Eric Gurney, T. Hee, Slyvia Holland, Dick Huemer, Dick Kelsey, Dick Kinney, Jesse Marsh, Tom Oreb, Cap Palmer, Erdman Penner, Harry Reeves, Dick Shaw, John Wallbridge, and Roy Williams

Starring: Nelson Eddy, Dinah Shore, Benny Goodman, The Andrews Sisters, Jerry Colonna, Sterling Holloway, Andy Russell, David Lichine, Tania Riabouchinskaya, The Pied Pipers, The King’s Men, and The Ken Darby Chorus

Plot: A collection of short films based around the concept of music. 

Mini-Review: During World War II, the once booming Walt Disney Studios was brought to a bit of a halt. Most of their animators left to go fight in the war, while the government recruited the rest of their talent to make propaganda and training films. So, the resources to make full length feature films just weren’t there. Disney’s solution was to make package films made of several unrealised concepts that the studio had floating around that probably wouldn’t have been dense enough to support a whole feature anyways. Make Mine Music was the first of these. I mean… kind of. Saludos Amigos and The Three Caballeros came out first, but those were due to an agreement with Walt and the tourism board of South America and something that came about before the war started. In my experience, the WWII package films have been kind of a mixed bag. There’s always some really good stuff in there, but it’s usually surrounded by a bunch of filler. Watching them is never a bad experience. It just doesn’t quite feel up to par with the other movies in Disney’s animated canon. It’s definitely not their fault and I’m glad that Disney did what they needed to in order to survive. But, with so many Disney classics to choose from, I rarely ever find myself gravitating back to these.

As I did with Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmas, I think it’s only fair to break this movie down and judge each short on its own merits. Of course, some of these aren’t super long or plot heavy so they may just get a sentence or two, but, still, fair is fair.

The first short we encounter is The Martins and the Coys and… wait a minute! That’s not how my viewing started. What the heck? How did I miss a whole segment of this movie? Well, as it turns out, this short was edited out of the home video release because of the excessive gunplay being inappropriate for children. Luckily, the whole thing is on YouTube so I got the chance to give it a view. As it turns out, this is a Disneyfied version of the Hatfields and the McCoys. And, yeah, it’s pretty dang violent, especially for a Disney film. While it’s obviously not gory at all, everyone still shoots at each other every single one of them is dead. Then, we get a happy ending, where the two surviving members get married and live happily ever after… beating the crap out of each other! What?!? Seriously? I mean… It’s a fun cartoon and Walt always did say that his films weren’t just for children, but come on. It’s very strange to see all of this in the Disney animation style. I’m not surprised at all that they’ve since pulled it. I’m against the concept of censoring offensive stuff out of older movies and even I kind of agree with this one. It’s definitely worth a watch if you’re curious though and how could you not be?

Then, we’ve got Blue Bayou. After watching, I figured out that it was originally a Fantasia segment that was cut, redubbed with new music, and thrown into Make Mine Music. That makes a ton of sense because it’s beautiful. Don’t take this the wrong way, but I could use this video as a sleep aid. It’s gorgeous and super peaceful. However, I kind of appreciated this one more than I enjoyed it. I definitely think it would’ve been more at home in the “artsier” Fantasia. It’s all about tone and your mindset going into these things.

Next up, we have All the Cats Join In, which is really fun. It feels very similar to something like Archie Comics or Grease, featuring kids getting together and going to dance at the town hall. Disney rarely captures the time period in which the movies are made, so this is kind of a special treat. I really have a soft spot for this style of music and dance, so I had a lot of fun with this one. The fact that it was being drawn as they went along was a cool stylistic choice too. Plotwise, this one is pretty straight forward. It’s just a whole lot of dancing. And underwear. And partial nudity? You know, typical Disney stuff. Seriously though, this short features some serious “eye candy.” I’ve noticed that’s a bit of a theme that’s unique to this specific era of Disney films. There’s even one in The Martins and the Coys. For whatever reason, the cartoons of this time period all featured Jessica Rabbit type characters. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s another strange thing to see coming from Disney though. Also, when they released Make Mine Music on home video, they apparently edited out some nudity. Which… again, very weird. Was this originally the least Disney movie Disney ever made? (Especially Disney squared) Is that why it’s not streaming anywhere? I mean… they edited it but are they secretly too ashamed to release it. Release the unedited cut, you cowards! I kid, of course. Kids don’t need to see that stuff.

The next short is called Without You. It’s pretty. It’s artful. Like Blue Bayou, it doesn’t really fit all that well here. And that’s all I’ve got to say about that. 

Casey at Bat is about an overconfident baseball playing coming in to save the game in the bottom of the ninth inning. It’s an interesting short for Disney, because it almost feels more like a Looney Tunes cartoon. Maybe it’s because I’ve seen Bugs Bunny almost this exact same act. I don’t know. I enjoyed it. I laughed out loud a couple of times. I really liked the twist ending, though I didn’t care for the execution. It kind of just felt like it ended abruptly. I’d theorize that they ran out of money and just wrapped it up real quick. Overall, good short though. Not my favorite, but not awful.

Then, we’ve got another slow down in Two Silhouettes. It features two rotoscoped dancers doing ballet. Honestly, I’m not a fan of this style of animation. I’m not dissing the art form. It’s just not for me. Like, if I’m going to watch animation, I want to watch animation. If you want to do live action, do live action. Again, just a personal choice. Also, I’m going to sound like a broken record here, but the slow pretty stuff really doesn’t help with the pacing of this movie. The tone feels very all over the place.

Peter and the Wolf is probably the most iconic short from Make Mine Music. Or, at least, it’s the one that I’d seen before. It’s pretty good. I really enjoyed the darker tone it has. The wolf was legitimately scary at times. I think it’s because we see a character get eaten fairly early on. That really creates tension throughout the rest of the short. You don’t honestly know if these characters are going to be ok. I also really liked the designs of the characters. The heroes were soft, inviting and a little dopey, while the wolf was janky and creepier looking than the more recognizable Three Little Pigs’ Big Bad Wolf. Though, my favorite part had to be the narration from Sterling Holloway. He, of course, would later go on to voice Winnie the Pooh, which makes the whole segment seem like a weird, dark story time session in the Hundred Acre Wood. That definitely wasn’t the intention, but it’s what I got out of it. So, I definitely did enjoy this short.. Again though, I didn’t really care for how this one wrapped. The conflict just sort of resolved itself in a way that felt unsatisfying. It’s a really unfortunate consensus I keep coming to with these shorts. I like them. I’m just not quite loving them.

My least favorite short of the whole thing is probably After You’ve Gone. There’s nothing super offensive here. It’s just boring. It’s like a less fun version of the “Pink Elephants on Parade” song from Dumbo. Just a bunch of instruments changing shapes and morphing into different objects. It’s another plotless one, so there’s not a whole lot to talk about. It’s one long gag that came too late in the movie for me to even want to pay that much attention to.

So, overall, I’ve been kinda meh on Make Mine Music up to the point. I’m not having a bad time. It’s just that I’m not having the best time either. However, that changed dramatically in the last two shorts. They are fantastic. The second to last one is called Johnny Fedora and Alice Blue Bonnet and is about two hats that fall in love. I don’t want to oversell it, but this is like a proto-Pixar short. It takes something we normally don’t think about all that often. Puts a face on it. Then proceeds to put them through an emotional journey of hardships and triumphs. Now tell me that isn’t Pixar. I really, really enjoyed this one. The animation is good. The story is actually engaging. It doesn’t feel rushed. And, the song is the only one featured that I can hum off of the top of my head. It’s very good.

And, finally, we have The Whale Who Wanted to Sing at the Met. Oh. My. God. I freaking love this short. I’m sure you can use context clues to guess the plot. It’s about a whale who can sing opera. He attracts a lot of attention. However, the rumor soon becomes that he’s swallowed an opera singer and is hunted for it. Ultimately, it’s a tragic tale but it’s such a fun one. First of all, that concept is just so original and fun to explore. Second, Willie the Whale is a really likeable character. He’s just got an adorable look and a great voice. The sequence where he fantasizes about actually performing at the opera is one of my favorites in all of Disney. I do wish that they hadn’t focused so much on his uvalae though. That was slightly disturbing to look at to be honest. Also, the short was definitely the funniest. I was smiling the entire time, even with the more tragic ending. This is easily my favorite short of the movie. It’s probably my favorite thing to come out of the wartime era Disney flicks.It’s just really, really, really good.

So, overall, how would I rate Make Mine Music? I’d definitely say it’s worth checking out. While not every short is a homerun, (Casey is up to bat after all. Sorry, I had to.) they’re all at least watchable. And, as I said, I really, really enjoyed the final two. At the very least, I would check those out on YouTube and, if you’re intrigued, check out the edited out segments too while you’re at it. Like I’ve said, the wartime Disney flicks were kind of uneven and not all that great. Make Mine Music, unfortunately, isn’t an exception. I think it’s my favorite of them though, if that tells you anything. I mean… it has to be with the weirdness of the first half and the greatness of the second. Plus, man, Willie the Whale is the best.

The Disney Smackdown

This is where we quickly compare the movies against metrics that almost all Disney movies meet. It won’t necessarily determine the winner, but it will help break some stuff down into a nice digestible format.

Our Heroes: In Escape to Witch Mountain, we have two main heroes, Tia and Tony Malone. They are brother and sister. They both have mysterious powers. Tia can read thoughts and take control of animals. While Tony can telepathically move things with the help of his harmonica. And, boy, are they creepy. I’m sorry, but they are. They’ve got some Children of the Corn stuff going on with their blank stares and monotone voices. Again, maybe it’s because I’m only used to seeing this topic explored in horror films. I mean… they’re not awful. It’s not like you can’t root for them. They’re likable. They both seem pleasant enough. She likes animals and helps them out a couple times. That’s cool. But, I also don’t really feel like I got to know these two all that well. I know their powers, but not really their personalities. That’s kind of the flaw with having the twist come at the end. They have to keep the kids mysterious. Or, at least, they chose to. We got to know Eleven in Stranger Things pretty well without completely understanding her backstory. Again, I guess you have to adjust your thinking and remember that this was a kids’ movie released in the 70s. 

Honestly, despite consisting of ten shorts, there are only a handful of protagonists in Make Mine Music. A lot of the segments either are plotless or don’t really feature characters long enough for us to get to know them. I guess there’s Casey. I think he’s our hero, even though he mostly comes across as unlikable. He’s too cocky and, ultimately, that’s his downfall. I’m not sure if he learned anything from the experience though, so it’s kind of hard to feel bad for him. There’s Peter, who hunts the wolf. We don’t really get to know him all that well. We just root for him because he’s got a cute design and the wolf is scary. Then, we get to my two favorite characters coming from unsurprisingly my favorite shorts. We’ve got Johnny Fedora, the hat who fell in love. His determination to get back in touch with the love he lost is admirable. He’s a determined little hat. And, finally, we’ve got Willie the Whale who I can’t stop going on and on about. He’s just the best. He makes me smile. He’s got big dreams and he’s not going to let the fact that he was born the wrong species slow him down. Plus, just look at him, freaking adorable. And that voice. I’m so glad I finally have this character in my life. I wish he was bigger (popularity wise, not physically), so I could get even more of him. I want toys. I want more shorts. I want to meet him at the parks. Guys, I think I’ve become a bit of a Willie the Whale stan.

Willie easily swings this point to Make Mine Music.

Our Beloved Side Characters: Escape to Witch Mountain features Jason O’Day. He’s kind of your typical adult character in kids’ flicks. In the beginning, he doesn’t like kids at all and refuses to help. Then, we see him slowly breakdown his barriers when he realizes how innocent they are. By the end, he’s straight up a big ol’ softie with a heart of gold. And, of course, we get to dive into his tragic backstory a little bit. While it’s not super original, the character is still a fun one thanks mostly to the performance of Eddie Albert. I’m not sure he deserves a spot in the pantheon of great Disney characters, but he’s definitely worth a mention. Then, there’s a cat named Winkie. He winks. It’s adorable. I’m pretty sure we only get to see him do it once though. That is all.

Make Mine Music has a couple of cute side characters. Unfortunately, they don’t really have a whole lot to do or really much personality. Peter and the Wolf features the most of these. We have Sasha, a little bird with quite the fighting spirit. There’s Sonia, the goofy duck character who we think we’ve lost too soon. He’s more or less the character that gives the short heart. And, then, there’s Ivan the Cat and the three hunters Misha, Yasha, and Vladimir, who seem to be there just for quick sight gags. Willie the Whale has a little buddy named Whitey, who is super supportive of his dream. And, of course, there’s Alice Blue Bonnet, but she doesn’t really have a whole lot to do either. She’s more of a generic love interest. So, yeah, not a lot from Make Mine Music. That’s excusable though. It’s hard enough to develop one character over that short of time, let alone multiple.

Since Jason is the only one I really felt a connection to, I think Escape to Witch Mountain gets the relatively easy win here.

Villainous Villains: While there are a couple of side villains, Escape to Witch Mountain primarily features two of them. Personally, I would argue that Lucas Deranian is the more memorable one, but he’s technically only a henchman for Aristotle Bolt. As is the case with the kids, we never really learn all that much about these villains. We know they’re rich. We know they have nefarious intentions. And we know they look scary. That’s about it. We don’t really know what they’re planning to do with the kids. We don’t know what evil things they’ve done in the past. We just know they’re the bad guys because the kids and the movie tell us they are. However, I will say the fact that Deranian is played by Donald Pleasence actually helps a lot. I don’t think he can turn off his creepiness. He’s essentially bringing the same energy he did in the James Bond franchise into a kids flick and I am here for it. And the fact that he was in a handful of the Halloween movies probably helped cement this movie as a quasi-horror in my mind. He’s just chasing down creepy children instead of Michael Myers this time. Bolt is just your typical grumpy, old, evil, rich dude we see in a lot of kids’ movies.

By my count, Make Mine Music has two pretty decent villains. I am legitimately impressed by how scary Disney made the Wolf Peter fights. He just pops out of nowhere. He’s gnarly looking. And, he’s one of the few Disney villains who creates actual suspense by making us think he ate someone. It’s really cool to see. He’s definitely an underrated villain. Then, we have Tetti-Tatti, an impresario who wants to kill Willie in order to save the opera singers he’s convinced the whale swallowed. Sure, one could argue that he’s not necessarily a bad guy. He was misguided and thought he was doing the right thing. However, he killed Willie and that’s unforgivable. Boo this man. Booooooo.

While this is extremely close, I think I’ve got to give this win to Make Mine Music. I enjoy the look and feel of that wolf too much.

Quotable Quotes: From Escape to Witch Mountain: When the villain tells the kids that he owns everything they see: “Well, I can see the sky.” “They’re not upside down, we are!” After the bully mentions he’ll fight Tony with only one hand: “I’ll fight you with none.”

From Make Mine Music: “You see, Willie’s singing was a miracle, and people aren’t used to miracles. And you, faithful little friend, don’t be too sad, because miracles never really die.”

I really, really enjoy that Make Mine Music quote and can see it being applied to other things. But, there are a lot of decent one liners in Escape to Witch Mountain. So, do I go with the one great quote or the handful of decent ones? Uhmmmmm….. Make Mine Music.

Songs to Add to Your Playlist: Nothing from Escape to Witch Mountain

All of Make Mine Music is set to music. So, I guess… all of it. I wouldn’t call them memorable songs either though, so… maybe none of it. I don’t know. It’s somewhere in that gray area. All I know is that I’d definitely stream me some Willie the Whale if I could find it.

A ton of not so memorable music is better than no music. Make Mine Music gets the musical point. Who would’ve guessed?

Most Magical Disney Moment: In Escape to Witch Mountain, I’d have to give it to the dancing marionette scene. On their first night in the mansion, Tony cheers his sister up by performing a puppet show with his telekinetic powers. What follows is a Mary Poppins-esque scene where she dances with the various characters. It’s both adorable and still a little frightening. More or less summing up the whole movie.

In Make Mine Music, I feel like I have absolutely no choice but to give it to the scene where Willie the Whale daydreams about performing for humans at the Met. It’s imaginative. It’s fun. It’s different. It’s heartwarming. Like I said, I was smiling the whole time. Please, if you take nothing else from this review, please know that I love Willie the Whale. He’s the best. You should watch the movie just for him. And watching his dreams come true, even if only for a minute, was fantastic. 

I’m sure it’s no surprise that Make Mine Music takes this point too.

Legacies: Escape to Witch Mountain left a pretty decent legacy on the Disney brand. It has a 76% on Rotten Tomatoes and a 6.4 on IMBD. It also did fairly well at the box office, finishing in the Top 20 highest grossing movies of 1975. There were two sequels. One was theatrical while the other premiered on tv. They’ve also remade the original twice.They did a version for tv in the 90s and a theatrical version featuring Dwayne Johnson in the 2000s. I’d say that overall it’s one of the more recognizable live action Disney movies from their “dark age.” Even if they haven’t seen it, most people have at least heard of the Witch Mountain franchise. I mean… that’s why they keep remaking it, right? Something in Disney’s research has to show that there’s a soft spot. And it all started with this one. I’d say that, overall, not a bad legacy for a semi-creepy kids movie from the 70s.

Like most of the wartime films, there’s not really much of a legacy for Make Mine Music. It has a 70% on Rotten Tomatoes and a 6.3 on IMDB. It’s one of the harder Disney films to access. It’s not on Disney+ and can’t be streamed anywhere else. I think that’s because of the edits they had to make. I mean… people have almost made it a hobby to spot the Disney+ edits. I can’t imagine what people would do with a whole segment missing. However, the edited version is available to purchase on DVD. (Though not Bluray.) Most of the shorts were repurposed to be shown before other features or on television. Casey at Bat got a followup short called Casey Bats Again in 1954. And, while there are no attractions or characters based on the film, Make Mine Music can still be found in the Disney parks if you know where to look. A scene from Peter and the Wolf is represented in Disneyland Paris’s canal boats. Casey’s Corner, a hotdog stand on Main Street, is based on Casey at Bat. And, Willie has a poster on display at Mickey’s PhilharMagic, which good for him. He deserves it. So, not the biggest legacy, but the film did have an impact. 

Just from the sequel and remake angle alone, I’d have to say Escape to Witch Mountain has the better legacy.

AND THE WINNER IS…

MAKE MINE MUSIC

This one was tough right until the very end. Ultimately, it was the one-two punch of Johnny Fedora and Willie the Whale that knocked Witch Mountain out of contention. I still think that both of these movies are worth a watch though. Plus, the Witch Mountain movies still have a shot. They’re sequel is coming up. But, it’s hard to beat a Disney squared original.

Congratulations to Willie the Whale, Johnny Fedora, Peter, Casey and the rest of the Make Mine Music crew! You all live to fight another day.

Thanks for coming along on this part of the journey with me. It’s been fun. Like I said, these were two strange ones in the Disney canon. Be sure to check in next time when we compare two movies I have not seen in a very long time. We’ve got the Disney classic The Aristocats vs. the Brendan Fraser classic (?) George of the Jungle. Who will win? Will we both be surprised? I don’t know. You’ll have to come back.

See you then!

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