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Walt Disney Home Video presents
Walt Disney Treasures: Disney Rarities (1923-1962)

"He was big, but he was yellow."
- Narrator (Sterling Holloway) in Lambert, the Sheepish Lion

Review By: Mark Zimmer   
Published: January 05, 2006

Stars: Virginia Davis, Sterling Holloway, Jerry Colonna, Bill Thompson, Paul Frees, Thurl Ravenscroft
Other Stars: The King's Men, Charles Ruggles, Hans Conried, Gloria Wood, Billy Storm, Skip Ferrell, Rex Allen, Sons of the Pioneers
Director: Walt Disney, Jack Kinney, Charles Nichols, Jack Hannah, Wilfred Jackson, Ward Kimball, Hamilton Luske, Bill Justice, Clyde Geronimi, Wolfgang Reitherman, Les Clark

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (mild racial stereotyping)
Run Time: 05h:25m:52s
Release Date: December 06, 2005
UPC: 786936285468
Genre: animation


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
B+ B+C-B B

DVD Review

While most of the sets in the Walt Disney Treasures series have had some common unifying character or theme, this two-disc set accumulates 31 of the studio's lesser-known efforts and those that don't fit into any other series. But that isn't to say they are not worthy; some terrific material is here, including a few of Disney's first films and a number of Oscar-winning classics.

Disc 1 opens with an introduction by Leonard Maltin and gives one the option of playing all the shorts, or checking chronological and alphabetical lists. The first six entries are one-reel comedies from the Alice series, including the seminal Alice's Wonderland (1923), which finds little Alice (Virginia Davis) chatting with the young Disney and entering into a cartoon land and engaging in misadventures. This concept would continue in the long-running series, numerous entries of which are included here. They have a certain charm, especially Alice's Wild West Show, an Our Gang precursor that uses the cartoon medium to allow the live-action Alice to tell tall tales to her friends. Alice's Egg Plant features Alice's hen house, under a strike organized by the Little Red Hen, a Russian chicken complete with an IWW button! The political and historical content make this a particularly intriguing short. Similarly, Chicken Little (1943) is an interesting study in political subversion, as the fox convinces everyone in the henhouse to act contrary to their own interests by spreading disinformation and disharmony.

Several classic adaptations of children's books are here too, such as the Oscar-winning Ferdinand the Bull and the clever Morris the Midget Moose. There's a thematic link of the variety of animals with serious problems, such as Lambert, the Sheepish Lion (a lion cub raised by sheep). The adaptation of Casey Jones features some catchy songs and some witty jokes to boot. The Little House, from the book by Virginia Lee Burton, is a moving essay on urban sprawl and social history; it has a ton of sentimental pull that's impossible to resist. Less successful are two entries under the rubric, Adventures in Music, the morbidly dull Melody, and Toot, Whistle, Plunk, Boom, made even worse by a slavish aping of the minimalist UPA style. Disc 1 wraps up with a lengthy two-reel adaptation of Robert Lawson's Ben and Me, a retelling of the life of Benjamin Franklin (an uncredited Charles Ruggles) by his friend Amos the Mouse (Holloway again). It's cute and clever but starts to wear out its welcome by the end.

Disc 2 starts off with the most engaging short in the set, Pigs Is Pigs, a highly amusing saga of bureaucracy and red tape, satirizing the literal-minded in the guise of a decision as to whether guinea pigs are pigs or pets. It's highly creative and visually hilarious as the guinea pigs begin to breed phenomenally while the railroad stationmaster waits for a decision. Less successful is Social Lion, a dull tale of a lion transplanted to New York City. A pair of Humphrey the Bear shorts are included, Hooked Bear, in which the hero tries to feast at the fish hatchery of Ranger Woodlore (Bill Thompson). In the Bag finds the Ranger getting even by coaxing Humphrey and his bear friends into cleaning up litter. A Cowboy Needs a Horse is a charming little childhood fantasy informed by watching far too many Western television programs. The automobile is placed on trial in The Story of Anyburg USA, a satire of traffic congestion that is little more than a high concept that falls flat. The story of Morris the Midget Moose is rehashed in different guise in Goliath II, the story of a miniature elephant and his travails. Not only does it anticipate some of the character designs of The Jungle Book (and some of that film's elephant gags too), but also borrows the crocodile from Peter Pan.

Tall tales are the order of the day with Paul Bunyan (featuring the incomparable Thurl Ravenscroft as the title hero) and The Saga of Windwagon Smith, a tale of a Conestoga wagon fitted out like a sailing ship. They're both pretty well done and feature some good songs (the latter featuring the Sons of the Pioneers). The Truth About Mother Goose is a fairly thick essay that looks at the stories supposedly behind such nursery rhymes as Mary, Mary Quite Contrary and London Bridge. One doesn't usually associate the Disney studios with stop-motion animation, but there are two splendid efforts in that specialized field found here. Noah's Ark (featuring Paul Frees as both Noah and God) is a cute retelling of the biblical tale, using found objects to form the stop-motion animals for a highly clever character design. A Symposium on Popular Songs (1962) features Frees again as Ludwig Von Drake, claiming to have invented most genres of popular song over the preceding 60 years. The styles are illustrated with catchy songs by Richard and Robert Sherman, with accompanying stop-motion animation by Bill Justice that's really eye-popping in its precision, especially in the mouths of the singing characters. Unlike the other musical essays in this set, this one is a genuine winner.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B+

 

Image Transfer

 OneTwo
Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame2.35:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyesyes
Anamorphicnono


Image Transfer Review: The transfers are a very mixed bag. The ancient Alice silents look wonderful beyond some mild ghosting, except for Alice in the Jungle, which seems rather dupey. Some cartoons, like Ben and Me and Chicken Little, look just fine, while others such as Ferdinand the Bull are unrestored and almost look out of focus much of the time. Melody is in quite rough shape, and Toot, Whistle, Plunk Boom suffers the indignity of being in the same sad nonanamorphic widescreen transfer that appeared many years ago in the Fantasia boxed set. The two Cinemascope Humphrey the Bear shorts have the same problem and look even worse, with artifacting messing up the linework. They're hardly watchable, and Disney should be ashamed for cheaping out on new transfers for what is supposed to be their flagship line.

Image Transfer Grade: C-

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoEnglishno
DS 2.0English, music onlyno


Audio Transfer Review: The scores by Alexander Rannie for the Alice films sound great, with plenty of surround information. The Adventures in Music shorts have wide stereo separation, and the other shorts are generally in a quite acceptable 2.0 mono. The older sound films predictably lack range and depth but they sound reasonably good for what they are. There's little noise or hiss anywhere to be heard here.

Audio Transfer Grade: B

 

Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 31 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
2 Featurette(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Richard M. Sherman, with Leonard Maltin
Packaging: Gladiator style 2-pack
Picture Disc
2 Discs
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. Gallery
Extras Review: Disc 1 includes two featurettes in addition to Maltin's introduction. The first is an interview with Virginia Davis, the original Alice, who talks about her time with Disney and her contractual problems. The second featurette is a timeline of Disney's silent era (8m:27s) that includes plenty of snippets and is quite interesting from a historical perspective. The second disc includes a commentary on A Symposium on Popular Songs by longtime Disney songwriter Richard M. Sherman that's quite informative, though he scolds Maltin for confusing pastiche with parody. A brief Pluto public service commercial for Community Chests, A Feather in His Collar (1m:44s) certainly qualifies as a rarity, though in the classic Disney style. Finally, there are galleries of concept art for eight of the shorts, totalling 72 frames.

Extras Grade: B

 

Final Comments

The selection of shorts is eclectic and many great favorites are here, but the presentation is somewhat disappointing. They probably won't be released on the DVD format any other way, so strike while the iron is in the stores.

 


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