Disturbing Disney #8: The Whale Who Wanted to Sing at the Met (from Make Mine Music, 1946)

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.

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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!!

Disney-willie-the-operatic-whale-the-whale-who-wanted-to-sing-at-the-met-make-mine-music-Old-Met-Opera-House

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!!

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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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For more Disturbing Disney, see also:

Disturbing Disney #1: The Coachman in Pinocchio (1940)

Disturbing Disney #2: The truth of Pleasure Island in Pinocchio (1940)

Disturbing Disney #3: Escaping Monstro from Pinocchio (1940)

Disturbing Disney #4: Dumbo loses his mother (1941)

Disturbing Disney #5 The death of Bambi’s Mother

Disturbing Disney #6: Faline vs. the dogs (1942)

Disturbing Disney #7: Cruella wants to do WHAT??

Disturbing Disney #9: Dr. Facilier’s Fate (The Princess and the Frog, 2009)

Disturbing Disney #10: The rat in Lady and the Tramp (1955)

Disturbing Disney #11: Clayton’s Death in Tarzan (1999)

Disturbing Disney #12: The Bear from The Fox and the Hound (1981)

Disturbing Disney #13: “Smoking them out” in The Fox and the Hound (1981)

Disturbing Disney #14: The Salt Trap in The Jungle Book (1994)

Disturbing Disney #15: Night on Bald Mountain from Fantasia (1940)

Disturbing Disney #16: King Triton destroys Ariel’s grotto

Disturbing Disney #17: Ratigan becomes a monster

Disturbing Disney #18: The Queen’s assignment for her Huntsman

Disturbing Disney #19: Cinderella’s dress is destroyed (1950)

Disturbing Disney #20: Quasimodo is crowned ‘King of Fools’ (1996)

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25 thoughts on “Disturbing Disney #8: The Whale Who Wanted to Sing at the Met (from Make Mine Music, 1946)

    1. Miles

      I saw it on British TV in the 1970s when I must have
      been 5. I was devastated – saddest thing I ever saw
      then or since. Even worse, my parents never let me
      watch cartoons so that was one of two I ever saw. I
      was a journalist in Japan for years and laid into whalers
      whenever I had the chance.

      Liked by 1 person

      Reply
  1. Benjamin Fastnedge

    The earlier Disney musical shorts are quite a world away from the full length Disney feature films. Make Mine Music, Melody Time et al are not necessarily easy watches for a casual viewer but there some nice stories to be found in the collection. (Ben Fastnedge)

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
  2. Pingback: Disturbing Disney #2: The truth of Pleasure Island in Pinocchio (1940) | Film Music Central

  3. Pingback: Disturbing Disney #3: Escaping Monstro from Pinocchio (1940) | Film Music Central

  4. Pingback: Disturbing Disney #1: The Coachman in Pinocchio (1940) | Film Music Central

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  13. Pingback: Disturbing Disney #13: “Smoking them out” in The Fox and the Hound (1981) | Film Music Central

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  18. Pingback: Disturbing Disney #12: The Bear from The Fox and the Hound (1981) | Film Music Central

  19. Traumatized

    I saw this horrific cartoon on TV when I was 6 or 7, and it practically scarred me for life! I finally had the courage to track it down now (50 years later) and found your blog series. THANK YOU for agreeing with my inner child, that this was “one of the most disturbing” things my young self experienced!

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
  20. Pingback: Disturbing Disney #19: Cinderella’s dress is destroyed (1950) | Film Music Central

  21. Pingback: Disturbing Disney #20: Quasimodo is crowned ‘King of Fools’ (1996) | Film Music Central

  22. Maria Bondi

    Until today, I only saw this film once as a small child, about 50 years ago – I think they showed it on a Saturday evening “Wonderful World of Disney” show. To say it traumatised me is putting it mildly – I cried myself to sleep for about a week afterwards and always filled up with tears whenever I thought of it. I’ve never forgotten it, and always cite it as one of the most disturbing screen experiences of my life as a child (along with the creepy b&w tv series Escape Into Night) – even more so than Bambi! I have been an animal lover all my life, never more so than when I was a child, totally obsessed with animals and desperate for a pet and determined to be a vet when I grew up (never happened!) . One minute I was enjoying the music and marvelling at Willie’s prowess and apparent success, then WHAM – he’s been harpooned to death!!!! The narrator’s comforting words to the seagull at the end broke my heart and I have never forgotten them, word for word. I’m not joking!
    Today I received a dvd copy of Make Mine Music and watched Willie again for the second time in my life – it still brought tears to my eyes but exorcised a ghost that has haunted me since I was a little girl. And now I can marvel at Nelson Eddy’s incredible talent, I never knew until a few days ago that he voiced EVERYONE in the film, also had forgotten (or rather was too young to appreciate) that Willie could sing Bass, Baritone AND Tenor (although I did recall his killer believing that he had swallowed 2 and then 3 opera singers)
    This is a beautiful little film, and still so topical! But let little ones see it at your peril. I was always a cynical tomboyish type as a kid, and this movie absolutely broke me at the time.

    Like

    Reply

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