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Make Mine Music is the 8th animated feature in the Disney canon and for the most part has been completely forgotten today. Unlike other animated films, which consist of a single story, Make Mine Music is an anthology, that is, it is a collection of unrelated animated shorts that all heavily feature music in some way. The most famous short from this film (in my opinion) is Peter and the Wolf (narrated by Sterling Holloway), but the finale piece is what I’d like to draw to your attention.
The Whale Who Wanted to Sing at the Met (quite the mouthful to say) concludes Make Mine Music and is without a doubt one of the most disturbing pieces of animation you will ever see. The story is about Willie, a large sperm whale who has the gift of singing grand opera and dreams of starring at the famous Metropolitan Opera in New York City (how a whale would do that I don’t know, but it’s Disney so why not?).
As Willie continues to sing for any ships that pass by (or for the local seagulls), word eventually spreads back to the city that there is a whale with tremendous operatic talent. This news reaches the ears of the famed head of the Metropolitan opera, Tetti-Tatti, who quickly (and wrongly) deduces that Willie must have SWALLOWED a talented opera singer, and he must go rescue him straight away!!
Tetti-Tatti sails out with a harpoon boat to “rescue” the (non-existent) opera singer, and Willie, thinking this is an audition, goes to perform for him. The crew, enthralled by Willie’s singing, does everything they can to stop Tetti-Tatti from firing the harpoon (up to and including sitting on him). We then see a montage of Willie’s operatic career, implying that Tetti-Tatti changed his mind and accepted that Willie COULD sing opera.
But then…just as Willie is performing the role of Mephisto from Faust, we see Tetti-Tatti appear amongst the flames (Mephisto is a devil), harpoon poised to strike…and then he fires!!!! In the midst of his singing Tetti-Tatti fires and KILLS WILLIE!!!!! I mean brutally kills him too, there’s a shot of Willie thrashing away over the sea, harpoon embedded (albeit it’s at a great distance, we can’t see it clearly) and then the sad truth that a great talent has been extinguished forever, on Earth anyway. The “silver lining” is that Willie can sing on forever in Heaven (hence his appearance below as a member of the heavenly choir) but for me that doesn’t make up for the fact that a singing whale was killed, KILLED!!! Up until this point it was just another cartoon, you don’t expect the main character to actually DIE!!
Yes, I know they called the story “tragic” from the outset, but “tragic” doesn’t have to equal death. I mean come on Disney!! Let me tell you, when I first saw this, the ending traumatized me, and that’s why this story belongs in the list of “Disturbing Disney.”
I am dying of curiosity to know what you think of this cartoon and of the ending. Did it disturb you just as much as it does me? Please let me know in the comments below.
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