Uncle Walt knew he had an artistic talent early in his life. He was originally determined to become a commercial artist. But one fateful day he saw a newspaper ad in a Kansas City paper for a company then called The Kansas City Slide Company. Walt got the job. The marketing firm was making theater ads that consisted mostly of stop motion films. It was there, at just 18 years old, that Walt Disney heard his true calling. He soon formed his own company which was called Laugh-O-Grams. It was there that he developed his first fairy tale short on Cinderella. By 1923 Walt had developed a method of combining live action shots with his animation. This first effort, Alice’s Fishy Story would be a breakthrough release. Later a character called Oswald The Lucky Rabbit would lead to the creation of an American icon… Mickey Mouse. The mouse would appear in the very first film ever to feature fully synchronized sound, Steamboat Willie. From that point on, Walt and his stable of elite animators and technicians would revolutionize animation and the motion picture industry time and time again for decades, until his death. The studio that bears his name continues the tradition today. Now let’s go back to some of those roots.
The legacy of Walt Disney and the studio he created requires little explanation. The studio invented the idea of a feature length cartoon and has been on the cutting edge of animation since the 1930’s. No other studio can claim ownership of as many animated classics as Disney. From Mickey Mouse to Pixar, the studio has churned out one masterpiece after another for over 60 years. What tends to get lost in this great body of feature length classics is that the studio was also producing some very high quality shorts over these years. Whether it’s Disney favorites like Mickey, Donald, Minnie, or Goofy or it’s strictly one-off characters gathered to tell a wonderfully animated story, Disney has a record that simply hasn’t and likely will never be matched.
Over the last year or so it has been my pleasure to revisit so many of the Disney classics as they make their way to high definition and Blu-ray releases. I’m sure it’s been as much of a joy for you as it has been for me. Now I get the chance to revisit the shorts of those eras, albeit not in high definition. Still, it’s a labor of love. The task is made all the more pleasant because many of these gems haven’t appeared as widely and as frequently over the decades. Some of these shorts I haven’t seen since I was a kid. There were even a couple I’m not sure I ever did see. Now you have the opportunity to revisit these treasure chests of classic animation with this 6 volume Animation Collection. Each of the single discs are sold separately, but you’ll have an impossible choice if you attempt to single out just one or even a couple to buy. Disney should have offered this as a box collection. That’s how I’m going to approach the review.
It might have been better to group these shorts by era rather than loosely on subject matter. There are some stark changes that can put you off. You can go from a 1990 cartoon straight into a 1933 short. It’s a little unsettling and often makes the older cartoons feel worse than they are visually. Since most of these shorts are available elsewhere, this serves more as an historical collection, and grouping by years would have made that a better sell. With that kind of release, we can watch the evolution of the Disney Animation Studios just as folks did over the span of those 70 plus years.
Volume 1: Mickey And The Beanstalk:
Mickey And The Beanstalk (1947): I should tell you that this is not the original version of the short. The original short featured narration by Edgar Bergen and Charley McCarthy. This one was re-edited for the 1950’s television series and featured the character Ludwig Von Drake and his friend Herman, a bug. Of course, this is a re-telling of the famous tale, Jack And The Beanstalk featuring Mickey as the lad who returns home with the magic beans instead of money. The short features some wonderful Disney tunes. There is a sad coda to the story, as Walt himself voiced Mickey for the last time. No, he hadn’t passed yet, but as the studio grew he found little time for voice work.
The Brave Little Tailor (1938): The theme remains intact as Mickey faces yet another giant. Mickey pretends to be a famous giant slayer and is recruited to slay the troublesome giant. But, Mickey’s really only a mild mannered tailor. How does he get into these jams?
Thru The Mirror (1936): Mickey enters the world of Wonderland. This film was actually an early predecessor of the feature length Fantasia. It provides much of that style of animation and music to create the strange world that Mickey finds inside the looking glass.
Gulliver Mickey (1934): More giants abound as Mickey recounts his shipwrecked adventure with the tiny lads of Lilliput. This short is in black & white and is one of the earliest examples of Disney animation.
Mr. Mouse Takes A Trip (1940): This is a typical antics cartoon. Mickey’s trying to sneak his dog Pluto onto a train.
Volume 2: The Three Little Pigs:
The Three Little Pigs (1933) “Who’s Afraid Of The Big Bad Wolf”. That’s one of the earliest Disney classic songs to be featured in an animation project. It was an instant hit. The short is obviously a retelling of the classic nursery rhyme.
The Big Bad Wolf (1934) This might well be the first short sequel to have appeared. This picks up the Three Little Pigs story, but melds it with that other Big Bad Wolf tale, Little Red Riding Hood. The stories combine flawlessly. There have been many a kid likely grew up thinking this was all the same story thanks to Uncle Walt.
Three Little Wolves (1936) The story continues with The Big Bad Wolf passing down his knowledge to his three boys. But soon enough we’re into more of Papa Wolf as he attempts, once again, to get those three pigs.
Lambert The Sheepish Lion (1951) It’s Winnie The Pooh himself telling the story, Sterling Holloway. That alone makes this one of the nicest of the shorts in the collection. When the stork accidentally delivers a baby lamb to a lion there’s a case of mistaken identity that can only lead to laughs.
Chicken Little (1943) The story of the chicken who kept saying the sky is falling was used as a World War II propaganda film. It was intended to calm American fears of war coming to our shores.
Three Blind Mouseketeers (1936) This plays out like a Tom And Jerry cartoon. The three mice avoid the various traps set by the watch cat and make off with a haul of fine cheese.
Elmer Elephant (1936) This is one of those Ugly Duckling type cartoons. Elmer is mocked because he doesn’t conform, but eventually saves the day thanks to his uniqueness.
Volume 3: The Prince And The Pauper:
The Prince And The Pauper (1990) This is one of the more modern entries in the collection. It’s a rather long form for a short at over 25 minutes. It was created to appear as a short in theaters for The Rescuers Down Under. It follows the classic tale with Mickey in the dual roles.
The Pied Piper (1933) It’s rats this time instead of a mouse. In one of Walt’s earliest cartoons we get a retelling of the famous tale, Disney style. Children definitely followed this piper.
Old King Cole (1933) The king throws a gala for all of the Mother Goose characters, but they’ll be trouble if they linger after the stroke of midnight.
A Knight For A Day (1946) This is one of my least favorite in the collection. It’s a narrator heavy Goofy cartoon that puts him into various Olympic events and eventually as the valet for a Knight. Of course, Goofy ends up stepping in to save the damsel in distress.
Ye Olden Days (1933) Minnie is about to be forced into wedlock with Goofy. It’s up to traveling musician Mickey to save the day. It’s another black & white cartoon.
Volume 4: The Tortoise And The Hare:
The Tortoise And The Hare (1935) I can’t get the early Ray Harryhausen project out of my head when I see this one, so it falls short of that early stop-motion effort. Still, this is a classic cartoon. Max Hare takes his speed for granted in a match against Toby Tortoise.
Babes In The Woods (1932) This is a bit of a take on the Hansel and Gretel story with those characters saving the day.
The Saga Of Windwagon Smith (1961) That’s the year I was born. Rex Allen narrates and voices Smith in this pioneer trail story. The short combines a sea tale with an Oregon Trail tale. It features stowaways and tornadoes.
The Goddess Of Spring (1934) This is likely another Fantasia precursor. Through music and stylized animation we’re told how the seasons came to be.
Toby Tortoise Returns (1936) A direct sequel to the first short on the disc. This time the Tortoise and the Hare are boxing.
Paul Bunyan (1958) The mythological lumberjack is the theme of this rather substandard short.
Volume 5: Wind In The Willows:
Wind In The Willows (1949) If you’ve been to Walt Disney World you’ve seen Mr. Toad’s ride. Here’s where it comes from. Mr. Toad is dragged into court for stealing a car. The truth comes out in this hilarious send up.
The Ugly Duckling (1939) You can’t judge a book by its cover. This classic Disney favorite is an Oscar Award winner and one of the most popular cartoons of all time.
The Robber Kitten (1935) Kittie doesn’t want to take a bath. It’s Rebel Without A Claw as the kittie meets up with a true hardened crook and no longer fancies himself a lawbreaking feline.
The Grasshopper And The Ants (1934) Nero fiddled while Rome burned, and the Grasshopper fiddled while winter approached and didn’t gather any chow. Now it’s the hardworking ants who have the last laugh.
The Wise Little Hen (1934) This is one of the more important shorts in the collection. Audiences were introduced for the first time to that dapper sailor, Donald Duck. Peter Pig and Donald try to get out of helping out an old needy hen.
The Golden Touch (1935) The lesson: Be careful what you wish for in this cartoon telling of the story of King Midas. The mufflers come later.
Volume 6: The Reluctant Dragon:
The Reluctant Dragon (1941) When Sir Giles is called upon to slay the dragon, he develops a bond of friendship with the poetry loving beast. The two decide to put on a show for the townsfolk to collect the money.
Goliath II (1960) Size doesn’t matter in this story of the littlest elephant with the big heart. Goliath stands up to the beasts and saves the day.
Ferdinand And The Bull (1938) What happens when the biggest, baddest bull in the ring just wants to take time out to smell the flowers? This Oscar winner will explain it all.
Johnny Appleseed (1948) The apple loving youth goes across the country planting apples.
Each short is presented in its original full frame aspect ratio. As you have to expect, there is incredible variance in quality depending on the age and condition of the original material. Overall it looks pretty solid. I found many of these shorts just don’t look their age. Disney has done a superb job of maintaining their legacy in film.
The Dolby Digital 2.0 track works very well to reproduce material that can be as much as 75 years old. You can hear the stuff with minimal hiss or distortion.
Each disc comes with a collectible litho print from one of the shorts.
Many of these stories involve well known fairy tales or other legends. They tend to have a moral and attempt to provide a lesson of some kind. It would be a pattern that Uncle Walt would follow his entire life. The feature length cartoons would more often than not feature well known stories or characters. It was a built in audience that we see repeated throughout Hollywood today. Disney has more editions of the collection coming. You can be sure I’ll be here eagerly awaiting each release. “I’ll see if I can scare up the background that goes with it.”