Last Minute DVDsby Kevin Krock, staff writer
OK, so here you are just hours away from Christmas, and you still have shopping to do? Nothing on last week's reviews caught your fancy? All right, here is my last ditch effort to help you out before things are too late. Granted, one of these sets you will not be able to get until the day after Christmas, so for that one you will just have to do the gift certificate thing. However, if you: A) need something for that Disney fan in your life to unwrap on Christmas morning, and they have not already picked up the Wave 5 Walt Disney Treasures sets, or B) still need to tell someone what you want to open on Christmas morning, read on and see what this year's fantastic Walt Disney Treasures Wave 5 holds in store.
The Adventures of Spin and Marty, The Mickey Mouse Club
Elfego Baca And The Swamp Fox, Legendary Heroes
Disney Rarities, Celebrated Shorts 1920s-1960s
The Chronological Donald, Volume Two, 1942-1946
Toy Story 2: Woody's Roundup Edition
Walt Disney Treasures: Wave 5
It is a bit difficult to believe that Disney and film historian and critic, Leonard Maltin, has now released a fifth wave of the wonderful Walt Disney Treasures sets. These amazing sets have contained some of Disney's best, rarest, and historic animation as well as classic Disney live action shows, and this new wave certainly follows in the rather large footprints of its predecessors.
As has been the norm since the inception of the series, the DVDs are stored in very nice tins stamped with the series logo. Inside the tin, the DVDs are housed in dual disc keepcases along with a certificate of authenticity with your limited edition number (out of 125,000 copies of each set), a small lithograph, and a booklet containing a brief introduction by Leonard Maltin and a listing of disc contents. As usual, the packaging is a perfect compliment to the unique and special content. But now, on to the thing that draws Disney fans to these sets: the content.
This set contains the first season of this classic series that ran on the original Mickey Mouse Club television show during the 1955-56 season. The series follows the adventures of a wealthy young city boy named Marty, played by David Stollery, and a popular camper from the previous summer, Spin, played by Tim Considine, at the Triple R boys ranch. The two boys start out the summer as rivals, as Spin and the other returning campers dislike Marty's well-to-do attitude and butler. However, as their adventures progress through the series, the two become good friends.
While I am a bit too young (although my children think otherwise) to have run home from school to watch this series on the Mickey Mouse Club during its original run, I have seen enough reruns and DVD features to certainly understand why so many youngsters of the mid-1950s enjoyed the MMC as well as Spin and Marty. In particular, though, the Spin and Marty episodes on this great collection are simple and short, and they address a number of topics that I think still have some relevance today. Yes, some of them are a bit dated, but they are still fun to watch. Additionally, having the whole first season compiled on this set makes watching the series a treat for fans and non-fans alike. I am sure, though, that some folks would rather see the episodes as part of intact Mickey Mouse Club shows, but given the number of daily MMC episodes, I am guessing that the probability of that happening seems to be somewhere between "never" and "almost surely never."
The audio and video transfers are pretty good for the source material being about 50 years old. There is not much to say about the audio beyond it is clean and perfectly acceptable for the content, and it really should not be much more than that, if it is going to remain true to the original series. As for the video, it too is reasonably clean and detailed, but it does have its moments of revealing the age of the source film. For the most part though, I found it to be a very nice presentation package.
Most of the two disc set is consumed with the 25 ten-minute or so episodes, but there are also a few cool bonus features that help round out this set. The longest of the bonus items is the complete episode of the Mickey Mouse Club that first introduced the series, and from start to finish, it is a great little window into the Mickey Mouse Club for those that may not be intimately familiar with it, like your children. My favorite on the set is the "Return To The Triple R" featurette, which brings Tim Considine and David Stollery back to the original ranch filming site, and the two provide an interesting retrospective interview and tour of the film location. Also of interest to fans are an interview between Leonard Maltin and Harry Carey Jr., who played Bill Burnett, the bunkhouse counselor, Tim Considine's original screen test, and a still frame gallery. For fans of the series, this set is a must have, and for other Disney fans, it will provide plenty of classic family friendly entertainment.
The Adventures of Spin and Marty, The Mickey Mouse Club
The Complete First Year, 1955 - 1956
The Triple R
A Surprise Decision
Ride 'Em Cowboy
The Snipe Hunt
The Secret Ride
Tossing the Calf
Nothing Happens on A Sunday
Perkins and the Bear
The Live Ghost
The Big Rodeo
Off on the Wrong Foot
Sky Rocket's Trick
The Last Campfire
Watching this set was my first introduction to the Elfego Baca and Swamp Fox TV series that first appeared in the late 1950s, and I enjoyed what I saw. This two-disc set contains three of the ten episodes of Elfego Baca and the first 3 of the eight episodes of The Swamp Fox, and they are all very well done and well produced.
True-life heroes are the inspiration for both shows, and the stories highlight their heroic deeds in true Disney style. Elfego Baca stars Robert Loggia, in one of his earliest TV roles, as a gunfighter who changes his ways and becomes a sheriff. Then, seeing the impact that the law has, he becomes a lawyer and defends downtrodden. The Swamp Fox stars Leslie Nielsen, of Airplane fame, as Francis Marion, a Revolutionary War hero that consistently led his troops to victory by using the Carolina swamps to hide and maneuver. However, I will also mention that given that these are set either in the Old West or the American Revolution, there is plenty of gun play and bad guys getting shot, so they may not be the most appropriate for very young children or gun-shy folks.
The video and audio transfers on these discs are quite nice. The television shows were originally broadcast in black and white, but on the discs any available color film has replaced the black and white portions. For the most part, only the opening and closing credits are not in color, and Walt's intros and the movies are all in color. The colors are nicely balanced and saturated, and the audio is equally pleasing. For the age of the source material, this is a good presentation, and even better, it is in color, as Walt originally intended.
Besides the six episodes, there are two tidbits of particular interest for Disney fans. The first is an interesting 15-minute interview between Leonard Maltin and Robert Loggia called "The Many Lives of Robert Loggia," and the other is a 18-minute featurette called "Walt Disney Presents Heroes of the American Frontier," that looks at American folk heroes and how their lives were portrayed in Disney's films. Both are perfect additions to this set.
For many Disney fans, this set will serve as a good introduction to these two American heroes, but for longtime fans of each of the shows, you will probably be disappointed by the lack of a collection of all of the available episodes. I do not know if we will ever see a box set with all the episodes, but I would hope that, if Disney is going to release Ducktales, Avonlea, Five Mile Creek, and Chip and Dale's Rescue Rangers box sets, the least they could do would be to release a "show-only" set of each of these series without the bonus material and reconstructed Walt Disney Presents television shows. We will have to wait and see, but in the mean time, given the interesting characters, good bonus material, and pleasing color transfers, this set is worth picking up, particularly if you enjoy live action period movies.
Elfego Baca And The Swamp Fox, Legendary Heroes Contents
DISC ONE: Elfego Baca
Nine lives of Elfego Baca
Four Down and Five Lives to Go
Attorney at Law
DISC TWO: Swamp Fox
Birth of the Swamp Fox
Brother Against Brother
When I think of the Walt Disney Treasures sets, this set is what it is all about. This two-disc set of Disney's rarest shorts from the 1920s through the 1960s is a truly impressive and fascinating collection. A bit surprisingly, even my 7-year-old and 4-year-old both sat quietly watching these shorts, which is a testament to their timeless charm. From an animation history standpoint, this set is indeed a treasure chest and time capsule of Disney animation styles, topics, and experiments.
The set starts with seven of Walt's Alice shorts, which were some of the earliest attempts at combining live-action with animation, and even though these look a bit dated and worn, as they are about 80 years old, they still have a charm and fun about them that transcends the black and white silent movie genre. Then, the set moves onto the great little "Ferdinand The Bull" animated short and just runs through a laundry list of classic animated shorts (see below)some presented on other DVDs through the years, and some never seen on home video.
Some of my personal favorites are on this set, including the highly stylized and unique animation style of "Toot, Whistle, Plunk and Boom," which won an Academy Award for Best Short Subject (Cartoon) in 1953, "The Brave Engineer," "The Truth About Mother Goose," and "Ben and Me." From start to finish, I was completely sucked into this set and could not put it away until I had watched them all, and my boys hung in for most of it. It is simply a wonderful collection, and I hope to see the rest of Disney's animated shorts appear in upcoming collections.
As for bonus material, there are three wonderful and interesting pieces. The first is an interview between Maltin and Virginia Davis, the star of the Alice comedies, and it is quite interesting to hear Davis' stories about Walt and the Studio back in the early 1920s. The second is a fascinating featurette that follows the Walt Disney Studio through the silent film era from the time it was the Disney Brothers Studio in Kansas City through its early years in Hollywood. Finally, there is the Professor Ludwig VonDrake animated short "A Symposium on Popular Songs," that features an audio commentary with Maltin and long-time Disney song man Richard Sherman. It is interesting to listen to them, but there is no way to just watch the animated short, which is a bit disappointing.
Taking into consideration the age of the source film, the audio and video transfers are perfectly acceptable, but I noticed that most of the shorts show their age via occasional dust specs, scratches, and uneven colors. However, for the majority of the time, though, those minor defects take a back seat to the stories and animation, and that is quite obvious when you have two young boys sit and intently watch each and every short on a collection like this.
Simply put, this set is a must have for any Disney fan or fan of animation history.
Disney Rarities, Celebrated Shorts 1920S-1960S Contents
1923: Alice's Wonderland
1924: Alice's Wild West Show, Alice Gets in Dutch
1925: Alice's Egg Plant, Alice in the Jungle
1926: Alice's Murderous Mystery
1927: Alice the Whaler
1938: Ferdinand the Bull
1943: Chicken Little
1944: The Pelican and the Snipe
1950: The Brave Engineer, Morris, The Midget Moose;
1952: Lambert the Sheepish Lion, The Little House;
1953: Adventures in Music: Melody, Football: Now and Then, Adventures in Music: Toot, Whistle, Plunk and Boom, Ben and Me
1954: Pigs is Pigs, Social Lion
1956: Hooked Bear, Jack and Old Mac, In the Bag, A Cowboy Needs a Horse
1957: The Story of Anyburg, U.S.A., The Truth About Mother Goose
1958: Paul Bunyan
1959: Noah's Ark
1960: Goliath II
1961: The Saga of Windwagon Smith
1962: A Symposium on Popular SongsAlice Gets in Dutch
Donald Duck is one of Disney's most popular characters, and probably the most prolific period of his career is featured on this set. Covering the rather short period of 1942 to 1946, this set contains 31 Donald shorts, including eight wartime shorts. While several of these shorts have appeared on other DVDs or collections, such as the Walt Disney's Classic Cartoon Favorites series, but this second volume of the Chronological Donald series conveniently gathers all of Donald's shorts for these four years onto two packed discs.
Some of the shorts that I particularly enjoy out of the 31 include "Donald Gets Drafted," the Academy Award-winning "Der Fuehrer's Face" (Best Short Subject (Cartoon) 1943), "The Plastics Inventor," "The Clock Watcher," and "Old Sequoia." I should also mention that the eight wartime shorts are put in a separate "From the Vault" section that has its own introduction by Lenonard Maltin that you cannot bypass, and the intro nicely sets the historical context of shorts. It is true, though, that without an understanding of the events of that time, most of these shorts do seem pretty harsh. Have you ever seen a Disney character contemplate suicide with a gun to his head? Probably not. So, as Maltin says in his intro, "You can't say I didn't warn you." As an adult, though, it is fascinating to watch and appreciate its place in history, and as fan of animation history, it is a treat to have these available.
On top of all the shorts, there are a few fantastic bonuses. The first is the complete Disneyland TV show "A Day In The Life of Donald Duck," which follows Donald through a day at the Walt Disney Studio. It is pretty entertaining, and you get a taste of how the studio used to put together animated features. The second bonus item is an interview between Maltin and the current voice of Donald, Tony Anselmo. The story behind how Clarence Nash, the original voice of Donald, quietly trained Anselmo and then passed the torch in his last days is fascinating and touching. Finally, there is a featurette that discusses "The Art and Animation of Carl Barks," the Disney artist responsible for the first Donald Duck comic books as well as several of the Duck family characters we have all become familiar with. It is all great, great stuff.
In terms of the audio and video transfers, they are very similar to the Rarities set: pretty good for the age of the source material, but the video looks a bit worn and exhibits dust spots, scratches, etc. As I have been saying, the issue is minor, and of the four Wave 5 sets, the Chronological Donald is by far the most popular with my young boys. They laugh out loud at these shorts, and I'm glad to see that they think these are just as funny now as they were 60 years ago. This DVD set is a must for any Disney fan and their family.
The Chronological Donald, Volume Two, 1942-1946 Contents
1942: Bellboy Donald, The Village Smithy, Donald's Snow Fight, Donald's Garden, Donald's Gold Mine
1943: Donald's Tire Trouble, Flying Jalopy From the Vault - Wartime Animated Shorts
1942: Donald Gets Drafted, The Vanishing Private, Sky Trooper
1943: Der Fuehrer's Face, Fall Out - Fall In, The Old Army Game, Home Defense
1944: Commando Duck
1944: Trombone Trouble, The Plastics Inventor, Donald's Off Day, Donald Duck and the Gorilla, Contrary Condor
1945: The Eyes Have It, Donald's Crime, Duck Pimples, No Sail, Cured Duck, The Clock Watcher, Old Sequoia
1946: Donald's Double Trouble, Wet Paint, Dumb Bell of the Yukon, Lighthouse Keeping, Frank Duck Brings 'Em Back Alive
I am going to cheat on this review a bit. About five years ago, I wrote a review on the Toy Story Ultimate Toy Box three disc special edition (link), which contained the two movies and a third bonus material disc. A couple of months ago, Disney re-released Toy Story on a two disc special edition (link), and it looked like they took all the Toy Story related bonus material, including the commentary, and put them on two discs. They also put a couple of retrospectives on the set, since it was the 10th anniversary. Most of the stuff, though, was exactly what I had reviewed all those years ago.
Well, the exact same thing is true this time around with Toy Story 2. You get an absolutely beautiful anamorphic widescreen, high bit-rate transfer of the movie and commentary on one disc, and all the other Toy Story 2 bonus material from the old box set on the other disc. The only new bonus items on the disc are a set top game, where you answer questions and the path leads to what character you are like, and an eight minute "Making of" featurette with footage not included in the old box set.
In the end, if you do not already have Toy Story 2 on DVD, then by all means pick up this title with whatever gift certificate you get on Christmas morning. No questions asked. However, if you already have the Ultimate Toy Box, then there really is not enough reason to get this besides a few tidbits that are already covered in one way or another on the old box set, which is not really worth the price. For those of you, though, that have not seen the list of extraordinary bonus material, here is a quick rundown:
Toy Story 2 Woody's Roundup Edition
Filmmaker Audio Commentary with director John Lasseter, Lee Unkrich, Ash Brannon and Andrew Stanton.
Sneak Peek of Pixar's All-New Animated Feature "CARS"
Who's The Coolest Toy? Featurette - the cast and filmmakers discuss their favorite characters.
Which Toy Are You?
Ponkickies - Play rock-paper-scissors with Woody, Buzz and Jessie
Riders In The Sky Music Medley
New "Making Toy Story 2"
John Lasseter Profile
All-New Design Gallery Slideshows
Story - An early storyboard version of "Woody's Nightmare"
Watch "Jessie's Song" with a multi-angle feature comparing early storyboards to the final film.
Designing Woody's Past
Making Woody's Roundup
Early Animation Tests