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|Kevin Krock, editor|
The Discs and Goodies
I have been waiting for Disney collections like these for a couple of years. Interestingly, when I asked a Disney representative in January at the 2001 VSDA conference about the possibility of releasing collections of old animated shorts or television shows, he replied that no plan for such collections existed. However, it was with surprise and pleasure this past May that I was able to relay the announcement of the four- volume Wave I of the Walt Disney Treasures collection. It appeared to be a wonderful collection and resource for Disney fans, and I could not wait until they were released. After all the waiting, Christmas came early this year, and on December 4th, my hopes were realized and I was not disappointed.
Evidently pitched to Disney by Leonard Maltin, noted film critic and Disney film historian, the concept of the Walt Disney Treasures collection was to assemble definitive collections of classic Disney television shows and animated shorts, with archive material, and historical commentary provided by Maltin. In the end, the concept pays off not only for fans of Disney history and nostalgic adults, but for those new, young viewers who may have never seen many of these classic shows.
Each of the four two- disc volumes are packaged in silver finish tins numbered up to 150,000. Inside the discs are kept in standard plastic double- width DVD cases that also contain a postcard sized lithograph and a Walt Disney Treasures booklet that describes the contents of the set. A visually pleasing scheme, this is a nice touch to such a fitting tribute to Walt Disney’s creative genius. I just hope that future Treasures releases continue this interesting packaging trend.
With almost 17 hours of material on these four volumes, I must limit my content comments, since many of you probably know the general plot or concepts behind the individual television shows or animated shorts. Rather, let's focus on the unique content on each of the volumes.
Volume 1: Mickey Mouse in Living Color
This fantastic collection of color Mickey Mouse animated shorts covers the 1935 through 1938, and includes many of Mickey’s most famous escapades. Disc 1, covering 1935 and 1936, opens with a pleasant introduction by Leonard Maltin, which nicely sets the stage for exploring the set. Also on Disc 1 is an amazing collection of full-length pencil versions for three of the shorts, which can be accessed individually or by using the "angle" feature on your remote. These priceless items were recovered from an animator’s garage, and for the first time, we can see the raw handiwork of some of Walt’s greatest animators.
Another nice touch is Mickey’s first color screen appearance in a special, rarely seen short called, "Parade of Award Nominees," which was made for the 1932 Academy Awards banquet. Finally, there is a neat little Easter egg from "The Disneyland Story" television show that shows Walt talking about the history of Mickey Mouse.
On Disc 2, covering 1937 and 1938, there is an eight-and-a-half-minute featurette called "Mickey In Living Color." Here, Leonard Maltin runs through Mickey’s history with numerous clips of the famous mouse in his various stages of development. It is a short but fitting tribute to the mouse that made the Walt Disney Company the giant it is. The only other goodie on this disc is an Easter egg that plays "Mickey’s Surprise Party," an animated short sponsored by Nabisco for the 1939 World’s Fair. The volume of animated shorts more than makes up for the lack of more goodies.
Volume 2: Disneyland USA
This set was one of my most anticipated collections, and while only four of the dozens of episodes made it on the discs, they are probably four of the most influential and memorable episodes, making them a pleasure to finally have on DVD. I was a bit disappointed that more of the episodes were not released in this wave, especially since I think there are several other episodes that meet or surpass the interest level of those on Disc 2. Fortunately, since these DVDs appear to be selling well, I hope that Disney continues to release some of these other episodes in future waves.
The shows take up most of the room on the two discs, so goodies are minimal. Except for Maltin’s brief introduction, Disc 1 lacks them altogether. Disc 2 only contains a still- frame gallery of Disneyland attraction posters and a nine- and- a- half- minute featurette called "The Magic Kingdom and the Magic of Television," in which Leonard Maltin discusses the importance of television to the development and construction of the park. While somewhat short, it is quite informative and interesting. One other nice touch is that Maltin introduces each of the four episodes and provides just the right amount of historical context to set up the shows. Unlike the other volumes in the series, there appear to be no Easter eggs on this one release.
Volume 3: Silly Symphonies
Of the four volumes, I was most surprised by the Silly Symphonies. I have always enjoyed them, but never realized just how many of them were produced until I started sifting through this collection. There are 37 beautifully animated shorts packed onto these two discs, and several of the more significant releases have wonderful and concise introductions by Leonard Maltin that set their historical context.
One of my favorite Maltin introductions is for "Three Little Pigs," in which he discusses and shows the original animation of the Wolf as a Jewish peddler. This brief scene, which was replaced in later years, was the root of many rumors about Walt being an anti-Semite; but, as Maltin describes, the Jewish stereotype was common and widely accepted in entertainment of that day. I found it simply fascinating.
In addition to the 33 shorts listed among the menus, there are four hidden as Easter eggs as well as a couple of other treats. I will not divulge their locations, as they are easy enough to find, but they are:
Disc 2 also sports:
The first featurette covers the importance of music to both the Silly Symphonies and many of Walt’s films, and particular attention is paid to songs like, "Who’s Afraid of the Big, Bad Wolf" and "The World Owes Us a Livin’," as well as others. The second one discusses some of the unique merchandise developed for several of the animated shorts. Together, the two featurettes provide the perfect polish on this outstanding collection.
Volume 4: Davy Crockett
I never spent much time watching the reruns of the Davy Crockett shows on the Disney Channel, so my background was pretty limited when I watched these discs. Even with that limitation, the shows just sucked me in, thus demonstrating to me why these five shows were so influential to the youth of the 1950s.
Each of the shows are presented as they were on the Disneyland television series from the mid-1950s, except that the actual Crockett shows are presented in color (taken from the original color film prints, Walt was already thinking ahead). Like Volume 2, the shows take up most of the space on the DVDs, but there are two very interesting featurettes on Disc 2.
The first is a 19- minute discussion between Paul F. Anderson, author of "The Davy Crockett Craze," and Leonard Maltin about the impact that these television shows had on Americans of the '50s. The second is a very interesting, 17- minute conversation between Maltin and Fess Parker. Both featurettes cover a wide variety of topics, including how Davy Crockett fit in to the promotion of Disneyland. For someone who was not very familiar with the history behind these shows, these two goodies provided a wealth of information that I would have otherwise missed.
And of course Disney has indicated there is an Easter egg in this set - look around and you may find Parker himself singing a certain very famous ditty.
The Video, Audio and Interface
The video quality on all four volumes varies somewhat depending on the age of the material, but a decided lack of digital restoration across- the- board is quite obvious. However, keep in mind that all of these shows are quite old, and due to the large volume of material, I am sure that Disney could not justify spending the time or money to restore all of this great stuff. While having pristine video would have been the icing on the cake, the trade- off of actually having the material available seems pretty reasonable. It is clear, though, that Disney did make an effort to find the best film prints to transfer. While the dust and occasional scratches are mildly distracting, I found myself too engrossed in watching the shows and appreciating the animation to really notice.
There is not much to say about the audio. It is quite simple and clean, and for the most part it is mono. The discs will sound just fine on any system, but you should not expect them to push your home theater system.
The user interface, though, is pretty boring, especially when compared to the vast majority of Disney DVD releases over the past year. Each menu screen is accompanied by music, but there are no screen or transition animations. For all of the fancy packaging and limited edition status, I expected a bit more, but maybe next time.
The Final Evaluation
As I said, my Christmas present came early this year, and I will be enjoying these discs for a long time to come. All four of these volumes generally met and, in a couple of cases, exceeded my expectations, and I think they signal an impressive start to what will hopefully become a regular Disney DVD series. Having a very knowledgeable, likeable, and obviously enthusiastic host like Leonard Maltin adds a nice perspective to the collection that is sorely missed in other similar collections. To top it all off, I recently saw the collection for sale at Costco for about $22 per volume, which is a great deal. So, if you are still looking for that last- minute Christmas present for a Disney buff, these should take care of your stocking- stuffing needs.
If I had to rank them in order of how I would buy them, I would probably list them like this:
The middle two are a tough call, but I'd put Crockett last simply because it was not a major part of my childhood or something I am particularly attached to. Regardless, they are all great collections and worth taking a close look at.
So, what is next for the Walt Disney Treasures collection? Word is that production on Wave 2 has started, and, assuming sales of Wave 1 are good — which they apparently are — we should see the next set of discs in Fall 2002. There has been no word on what the next set will cover, but the list of things I’d like to see are Goofy’s "How To" series of shorts, Donald Duck shorts, World War II animation, the Space series (including Cosmic Capers, Man in Space, Man in Flight), animated educational shorts (Donald in Mathamagicland), and so forth.
I can always dream.
Keep your fingers crossed – I am!
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