Friday, July 4, 2014

Ben & Me

Premiered 10 November 1953

Human Tour Guide: "Benjamin Franklin was one of the most extraordinary men of the 18th century.  Philosopher, inventor and patriot, he rose from obscurity to become one of the greatest figures in American history.   In our struggle for freedom, much credit must be given to this illustrious ... "

Mouse Tour Guide: "... MOUSE. For it was Amos who was REALLY responsible for the great deeds attributed to Benjamin Franklin."

A human tour guide sets the stage

This Disney animated short subject tells the story of Amos, a poor Philadelphia church mouse who sets out to seek his fortune and finds refuge and employment in the print shop of one Benjamin Franklin.

A mouse tour guide sets the record straight
We learn that Amos was responsible for helping Franklin with many of his best known inventions including bifocals and the Franklin stove.

By George, bifocals! 

 He also helps start the Pennsylvania Gazette (and muckraking reportage).

Amos introduces himself to Ben Franklin
Franklin keeps Amos and his contributions (literally) under his hat.  Amos helps his friend Ben with correspondence and with printing the Gazette.

Ben and Amos working hard on the Pennsylvania Gazette

Amos becomes frustrated with Ben pottering around with inventions and zapping him with electricity.
Ben promises to behave better, but instead involves his small friend in a certain well-known kite-flying experiment with "shocking" results.

Amos is incensed, leaves Ben and returns home to his church mouse family.

The "Liberty Bell" makes a cameo
Time passes and the political situation in the Colonies becomes serious.   Franklin is sent as an envoy to the King of England but his efforts are unsuccessful.

It is now 1776,  and Franklin comes to the church to beg Amos for help.   Our mouse hero agrees, but only on condition that Franklin adhere to the terms and conditions of a document drawn up by Amos.

Said document inadvertently becomes Thomas Jefferson's inspiration for the Declaration of Independence!

Jefferson reads the Declaration (note Amos in Franklin's pocket)
RigbyMel says:

I remember watching this film in elementary school.  I enjoyed it then and enjoy it now.  The animation is top notch and the voice actors are Disney regulars from this time period.

Sterling Holloway (perhaps best known today as the voice of Winnie the Pooh) voices Amos the Mouse and Charles Ruggles (aka the big game hunter in Bringing Up Baby) give voice to Benjamin Franklin.

To my mind, the only slight misstep in casting is the use of the great Hans Conried  as Thomas Jefferson. Conried is unforgettable as the voice of Captain Hook in Disney's Peter Pan (which was released earlier in 1953),  but his booming voice seems jarring coming from Thomas Jefferson who was said to have been very soft-spoken.

Jefferson suffering (loudly)  from writer's block
That being said, Ben and Me is a fun little film based on a fun children's book (written and illustrated by Robert Lawson and published in 1939).   It's a nice introduction to the history and is definitely worth sharing on or around the 4th of July seeing as the Declaration of Independence does figure prominently.

RigbyMel's rating:


3  1/2 waving flags

J.A. Morris says:
I mostly concur with my co-blogger on Ben And Me.  I first recall seeing it as a cartoon that played before a Disney movie (can't remember which one) when I was very young.

Speaking as a someone who holds a degree in history, I believe films like this one can encourage kids to be more interested in learning the real story.  Things like Ben And Me and Schoolhouse Rock always had that effect on me.  The scene that features the angry protest against the King is especially dramatic and intense for a cartoon aimed at children.

Amos helps invent the Franklin Stove.
Ben And Me is available on dvd several ways.  The most accessible is a disc called Walt Disney's Timeless Tales Vol. 3, which may be found here.

This short cartoon is recommended for Independence Day viewing and any other time of year.  Ben And Me is also a must-see for fans of Sterling Holloway and Hans Conreid.

J.A. Morris' rating:


3 1/2  flags.

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