Just forget the words and sing along

Thursday, June 06, 2013

Fishing in the Discount Bin - Davy Crockett: Series 2

Time for another installment of Fishing in the Discount Bin, where one of the many VHS, DVDs, or Blu-Rays in my collection inspires me to blog!  Today, we finish off what I started last week...it's the second half of Disney's Davy Crockett series.  This entry is dated in my notes at September 16, 2012.

In Leonard Maltin's intro on the Walt Disney Treasures DVD, he recounts the tale that, when Davy Crockett exploded on the pop culture scene, Walt Disney was heard to lament, "Had I known he was going to be so popular, I would have never killed him after three episodes!"  And so, when The Wonderful World of Disney returned in the fall of 1955, Walt Disney commissioned two new Davy Crockett adventures.  In his intro to these episodes, Walt Disney is clear to emphasize that these stories are among the tall tales that grew out of Davy Crockett's exploits...these stories are based on those tall tales, no the historical truth.

And thus, what the fans have dubbed "Series 2."  These two episodes were also edited together into a movie.  These two put together formed the movie Davy Crockett and the River Pirates.  THIS is the movie that I saw when I was a kid.  THIS is the one that me and my friends saw and started thinking Davy Crockett was oh so awesome.  THIS is the one that started it all for me.

For these two new adventures, the Disney writers decided to have Davy Crockett and his sidekick Georgie Russell cross paths with another American folk hero, Mike Fink, a big, blustery, bully of a keelboat captain.  As we learn early on, keelboats were this kind of boat that hauled freight up and down the river.  Mike Fink is the self-described "King of the River," and with his boat the Gullywhumper, he travels the river, hauling cargo, and striking fear into the hearts of friend and foe alike.  So, of course, when he meets Davy Crockett, Crockett figures he's got to take Fink down a notch.

Episode 1:  Davy Crockett's Kellboat Race

After a very successful hunting trip, Crockett and Russell decide to hire a boat to take them up the river, to a bigger town where they can get a better price for their furs.  Their first encounter with Mike Fink doesn't go to well.  Crockett and Russell meet up with another keelboat captain named Cobb who reveals that, due to some Indian trouble on the river right now, Mike Fink is the only one tough enough and/or stupid enough to keep making the trip.  But, Cobb points out, with a legend like Davy Crockett on his boat, he'd having no trouble recruiting a crew and going up the river.  Crockett agrees, and he and Russell head out to recruit a crew.

While out recruiting, Russell runs into Fink in a tavern, and after few too many drinks, Russell challenges Fink to a bet.  Crockett and his boat can beat Fink and his to New Orleans.  If Crockett loses, they'll hand over their cargo of furs.  Of course, the King of the River takes up a challenge like this, and the race is on.

What follows is classic Disney slapstick, as Crockett and Fink race along the river.  They're constantly playing pranks on one another, trying to sabotage the others boat, as they make their voyage down the river to New Orleans.

My favourite one has to be when they bump into a tavern and Fink and Crockett get into an impromptu shooting contest.  Crockett uses a little slight of hand to make it appear as though he made bullet ricochet around the room, and then catch it in his teeth.  It's just a brilliant, and hilarious scene. 

Of course, being the King of the River, Mike has an easy lead, made all the easier when Crockett and his crew stop to rescue a stranded farmer and his livestock from an island in the middle of the river.  It looks like things are lost, but the farmer tells them about a shortcut through a bayou.  That puts Crockett in the lead, Fink finally learns some humility, and Crockett and Fink become friends.

Episode 2:  Davy Crockett and the River Pirates

So there was one unresolved plot thread from that episode...the Indian raiders who've been attacking keelboats and making river travel too dangerous.  Crockett and Russell, taking to land and walking through their home turf of the wild frontier, they run into some Indians.  It seems that there are no Indians attacking riverboats right now...it's a group of white river pirates disguising themselves as Indians.  This is infuriating the Indians, and they're ready to go to war.  Crockett and Russell offer their help.  If Crockett and Russell don't find the true culprits and clear the names of the local tribes, there'll be another Indian uprising. 

Crockett and Russell quickly enlist the aid of Fink to bring these river pirates to justice.  They set up a scam.  Fink disguises his boat, and takes on the persona of a banker, carrying a shipment of gold up the river to open a new bank.  They spread the tale at every town they stop in.  In one town, they decide to take on a traveling musician, who wants a ride to the next town.  Our heroes think this is awful suspicious, so they take him along, hoping to lay a trap.  And their suspicions are right.  Turns out this musician in in league with the pirates, and sends secret messages about the boats and their cargo by the songs he sings loudly while they're on the river.

The pirates soon attack the boat.  Fink and his crew make short work of them, while Crockett and Russell pursue the ringleaders on shore.  After a mighty brawl in their cave hideout, Crockett is easily able to bring them to justice through his usual cleverness and swagger.

And that's series 2 of Davy Crockett.  This is definitely a lot more...Disney than the first series.  Free of the constraints of attempting to be historically accurate, Disney is allowed to just cut loose and get pure Disney with these tales.  All those Disney flourishes of the era are in there.  That's what really made the Wonderful World of Disney TV series stand out back in the day.  Walt Disney insisted it be big budget, and it shows.  Even in his intros, Leonard Maltin doesn't regard them as episodes of a TV series, but short films.

Mike Fink makes an interesting foil for Crockett.  Crockett is still the strong, silent type that we saw in the first series.  And Mike Fink is so cartoonish and over the top that it makes for a great contrast. 

This is pure, classic, unfiltered Disney at its finest.  No wonder it capture my 7 year old imagination.

I wish, though, they had the rest of the Davy Crockett legend.  I remember it didn't capture my imagination as much.  Around 1988 or so, Disney attempted a Davy Crockett revival, as part of the late-1980s version of The Wonderful World of Disney.  In this new version, Crockett was play by Captain Power!  That's right, Tim Dunigan was Davy Crockett.  In one episode, Johnny Cash played the elder Crockett, and set up a framing story remembering his adventures as a young man.  I barely remember seeing it when I was 11, and I'd love to see it again.

Come on, Disney.  Get on it. 

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