Willie the Operatic Whale: when Disney made a cartoon about opera
Yes, you read that correctly! A whale singing the opera. And who could have imagined something so special if not Walt Disney himself!
Willie is an opera-singing sperm whale and the main protagonist of Disney's 1946 short, The Whale Who Wanted To Sing At the Met, the finale segment of the animated feature Make Mine Music.
The bittersweet story about Willie and his dreams of singing grand opera has been a great success and many of you are likely to remember it. And perhaps some opera lover discovered his passion at an early age by seeing this short.
A rumor is spread throughout the city about an operatic whale, but is seemingly disproven, therefore the short-sighted impresario Tetti-Tatti believes Willie has swallowed an opera singer and is holding him prisoner in his belly. Tetti-Tatti hires an expedition for the North Pole to kill Willie and save the singer. Whitey, Willie's seagull friend, excitedly brings Willie a newspaper and all of his friends believe that this is his big chance, so he goes out to meet the boat and sing for Tetti-Tatti. He finds them, and upon hearing Willie sing, Tetti-Tatti comes to believe that Willie has swallowed not one, but three singers (due to his having three uvulae, each with a different voice range; tenor, baritone and bass), and chases him with a harpoon on a boat with three crewmen. Upon hearing the whale sing, the crewmen try to stop the stubborn and deluded Tetti-Tatti from killing the whale, as they want to continue listening to him sing, even to the point of pinning Tetti-Tatti down by sitting on him. A montage then follows of what would be Willie's future career in performing opera on the stage of the Metropolitan Opera House, with Tetti-Tatti shown to have finally been convinced otherwise.
Nelson Eddy narrated and performed all the voices in this segment. As Willie the Whale, Eddy sang, among others, Shortnin' Bread, "Largo al factotum" from The Barber of Seville and all three male voices in the first part of the Sextet from Donizetti's opera, Lucia di Lammermoor, and then Pagliacci, Tristan and Isolde, and Mephistopheles. In the end, he is seen singing Mag der Himmel Euch Vergegen from Friedrich Wilhelm Riese's opera Martha. Suddenly reality strikes when Tetti- Tatti succeeds in harpooning and killing Willie. However, even though Willie is gone, his spirit lives on in Heaven, singing in a hundred voices, forever.