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Disney Rarities - Celebrated Shorts: 1920s - 1960s DVD Review

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Disc 1: 18 Cartoons: (Click title to view that portion of the review)
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

Disc 2: 13 Cartoons: (Click title to view that portion of the review)
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 Songs

Video and Audio
Bonus Material: "Alice's Cartoon World: An Interview with Virginia Davis", "From Kansas City to Hollywood: A Timeline of Disney's Silent Era", Audio Commentary: "A Symposium on Popular Songs", "A Feather in His Collar", Galleries
Closing Thoughts
Running Time: 373 Minutes (6 hours, 13 minutes) / Rating: Not Rated
Disc One: 194 minutes (170 - shorts, 4 - introduction, 20 - extras)
Various Aspect Ratios (Original Ratios Upheld) / Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono, Stereo (English)
Originally Released between 1923 and 1962
Subtitles: English; Closed Captioned / DVD Release Date: December 6, 2005
Two single-sided, dual-layered discs (DVD-9); Suggested Retail Price: $32.99


Page 1: Set Overview and Disc 1 Shorts
Page 2: Disc 2 Shorts, Video & Audio, Bonus Features, and Closing Thoughts

In the first four years of its existence, the Walt Disney Treasures line mostly presented cartoon shorts and television episodes belonging to an individual series that flourished during Walt Disney's lifetime.
Tins in this double-disc, limited edition class have been devoted to essential characters (such as Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, Goofy, and Pluto), beloved shows (like the Davy Crockett installments of Walt's anthology series and "The Mickey Mouse Club"), and unifying labels (the musically-inclined Silly Symphonies shorts series, cartoons from and inspired by the years of World War II).

That is, for the most part, again the case with this December's fifth wave, with one noteworthy exception. Disney Rarities - Celebrated Shorts: 1920s - 1960s compiles cartoons from the five most productive decades of Walt Disney's career as an entertainer. This set holds a diverse group of 31 short films. Though a handful of characters appear in more than one (one personality indeed shows up in seven), and a few were created in a similar mold, the trait that is most commonly held among this collection's animated shorts (with the exception of the aforementioned) is that they were produced on their own, not as part of a long-running series or featuring any of the characters most readily identified as Walt Disney's creations.

The standalone nature of the selected shorts, which range from just over 6 minutes to 21 minutes apiece, has given them less exposure than the majority of the cartoons that have made their DVD debuts as part of the Treasures or one of Buena Vista Home Entertainment's increasingly prevalent low-priced short compilation alternatives, such as the Classic Cartoon Favorites. While the subjects of Disney Rarities may have not been seen as widely as, say, Mickey and the Seal, Good Scouts, or any of Goofy's "How to" shorts, they are, on the whole, quite well produced and deserving of one's attention, both as oft-ignored chapters in Disney history and as sheer entertainment.

Alice (Virginia Davis) was Walt Disney's first star, headlining more than 50 comedy shorts in the 1920s. Here, she warms up the audience in "Alice's Wild West Show." Ranger Audubon J. Woodlore and Humphrey the Bear appear in two shorts on the "Disney Rarities" tin.

The set opens with the silent Alice comedies, which, aside from a handful of Laugh-O-Gram short subjects, represent Walt Disney's earliest film credits as a producer/director. These shorts came in the early days of what could be clearly classified as animation, with the oldest one (Alice's Wonderland from 1922) released not quite ten years after Winsor McKay dazzled audiences with his depiction of Gertie the Dinosaur. The Alice comedies (which have little explicitly to do with the Lewis Carroll story or heroine that the names "Walt Disney" and "Alice" more immediately conjure nowadays), while indisputably the most dated inclusions on the set, boast a reasonable amount of charm and a more substantial amount of significance. That is not merely because they are among Walt's earliest work, but because they offer a hybrid of animation and live action. Long before Uncle Remus and far longer before Michael Jordan, a young girl named Alice (played in most of the shorts by Virginia Davis) wandered into a world of cartoons, to interact with animals and engage in adventures that defied real world limitations. More than 50 Alice comedies were produced in a span of just a few years. Many are believed to be lost these days, but Disney Rarities provides seven of them, including the debuting short. This may seem an odd way to begin a set devoted to standalone shorts, as Alice was clearly the star character (Walt's first) of a series (Walt's second). Furthermore, they hold far less entertainment value than the rest of contents. Still, as the series is not likely to sustain a Treasures tine all its own anytime soon, one can hardly argue against observing some of the first of all Disney films, if for fascinating historical value more than laughs and giggles (though there are some of these too).

The remaining twenty-four shorts of this two-disc set span 34 years, a number of animation styles, and a fair amount of genres. They include a couple of Best Short Oscar winners (1938's Ferdinand the Bull and 1953's Toot, Whistle, Plunk and Boom), seven additional nominees, and plenty of adaptations of well-known sources, from Mother Goose nursery rhymes to the legendary tall tale of Paul Bunyan to the Book of Genesis' story of Noah's Ark. This wide-ranging collection is free of any single formula that may mark the chronologically-released sets of irascible Donald Duck or clumsy Goofy, but certain patterns emerge. Many tell of animals overcoming their challenges, be they physical, emotional, or a mixture of the two. Many prominently
feature music, either in rhyming, melodic narration or in outright performance. And many are narrated or voiced by Disney veteran Sterling Holloway, whose unmistakable vocals gave dialogue to Dumbo's Mr. Stork (a role he reprises for Lambert the Sheepish Lion), Alice in Wonderland's Cheshire Cat, The Jungle Book's Kaa, and good ole' Winnie the Pooh in the '60s/'70s featurette/1977 film.

As you move through Disney Rarities, you'll inevitably notice a trend, in which the shorts gain running time and substance as the years went by. While few could argue that cartoons like Ferdinand and Lambert aren't just right at 7-9 minutes, those which stretch the definition of "short" such as Disc One-closer Ben and Me (1953), Paul Bunyan (1958), and Noah's Ark (1959) feel equally satisfying at their 16-21 minute clips. The meatier of the films on this compilation illustrate how it'd be an uphill battle for one to claim that the 6-8 minute length imposed upon a majority of Disney's character-based shorts of the format's heyday are the best or only running time suited for non-feature-length big screen cartoons. Indeed, many of Disney's subsequent successes in the field of shorts (such as Pooh's debut appearances, Mickey's Christmas Carol, and The Small One) were the so-called "featurette"-length, while Pixar Animation Studios has lately delivered true gems often in 5 minutes or less.

Regardless of their running times, sources, mediums, or production years, the cartoons of Disney Rarities prove to be a truly pleasing array of the studio's undeservedly lesser-known animated works.

Professor Owl may be famous from Disney Sing Along videos of the past, but he originated in two fun musical education shorts in the 1950s. Paul Bunyan is the larger than life subject of his own 1958 Disney short.

Like the fourteen Walt Disney Treasures which preceded it and the three released by its side, Disney Rarities is presented in a double-width keepcase and housed in a silver tin. Past waves have introduced minor aesthetic changes and Wave 5 is no different. The case inside is now black (last December's were white and those before were gray) and the discs are now facing each other, with Disc 1 held on a flap and Disc 2 on the back of the case's inside. Those blue bands which adorned the exterior of the first three waves of tins have not been brought back, and the number of your individual copy is again relegated to the certificate of authenticity inside. A modest total of 125,000 copies of Disney Rarities (and all of the other Wave 5 titles) have been produced, a print count which matches Wave 2's releases and falls upon the lower end of the line as a whole. The certificate of authenticity features the not-really-hand-signed signatures of Leonard Maltin...and Roy E. Disney, who has returned to the Walt Disney Company's good graces after the whole not-quite-two-years-of-trying-to-oust-Michael Eisner episode. The two remaining inserts have stayed consistent to the Treasures line's beginnings. They are a cool collectible card (which reproduces early publicity artwork for Paul Bunyan) and a slick 8-page silver booklet. The booklet holds a few standard things -- a brief paragraph of Walt's career, a page on the four tins of this wave -- as well as a thoughtful and concise overview of this volume by Leonard Maltin and a table of contents.


Disc 1 opens with a video introduction (3:35) from Treasures host Leonard Maltin. He briefly covers the shorts and supplements comprising the set with a clear focus on the first disc. He discusses the primitive nature but importance of the Alice comedies and mentions some other noteworthy Disc 1 pieces and their interesting traits. The introduction plays automatically, but it can be skipped and accessed from the Main Menu as well.

The first disc holds 18 shorts, offered individually through alphabetical and chronological listings (the former separates the Alice comedies from the rest) or altogether as a "Play All" option that cycles through the platter chronologically.

Alice enjoys a warm greeting in "Alice's Wonderland." Oh no, Alice's teacher got inked. That little girl has a dunce cap on quicker than you can say "Aunt Hetty." Little Red Henski creates uprising in "Alice's Egg Plant."


Alice's Wonderland (1923) (12:27)
Alice spends a day at the cartoon studio with Walt and his animators. When night arrives, her dreams take her to a wonderland filled with various cartoon animals.

Alice's Wild West Show (1924) (12:41)
Alice and her real life friends put on a Wild West-themed stage show, but the appearance of some young bullies creates problems. Alice tells of her life in the wild west with the aid of some cartoon co-stars.

Alice Gets in Dutch (1924) (9:49)
An ink-filled balloon puts Alice in the corner of the classroom with a dunce cap on her head. When she can't stay awake, she finds herself in Cartoonland again, but her teacher tries to bring her back with the aid of books representing the three R's.

Alice's Egg Plant (1925) (8:32)
The arrival of a Russian bird named Little Red Henski leads all of Alice's chickens to strike. They won't lay the eggs she and her cat Julius need. So, she comes up with an idea for a boxing match.

Who wouldn't like a haircut from a monkey? Alice is on Pete's trail in "Alice's Mysterious Mystery." Animal fun aboard a ship in "Alice the Whaler."

Alice in the Jungle (1925) (7:20)
There's only a bit of Alice, as animal antics in the wild get the majority of screentime in this one. A monkey opens up a barber shop. When Alice finally shows up, she must duel with a lion.

Alice's Mysterious Mystery (1926) (6:11)
Alice and Julius set out on the trail of a mysterious dog catcher who apparently has plans to turn captive hounds into...sausage. Yes, this is probably the weirdest of the included Alice comedies and yes, that's an early version of Pete.

Alice the Whaler (1927) (6:12)
A noticeably older Alice frolics aimlessly with her animal friends aboard a ship. A mischievous mouse seems to indubitably foreshadow Mickey and his plights of potato-skinning and answering to a large cat superior seems straight out of Steamboat Willie, which would come the following year.

Ferdinand likes to smell the flowers. Is that so wrong?! Sixty-two years ago, Disney released quite a different "Chicken Little." "The Pelican and the Snipe" have an unusual friendship.

Ferdinand the Bull (1938) (7:54)
Appearing on Disney DVD for the third time this year, this Oscar-winning short tells of a bull who preferred to sit under trees and smell flowers to clashing horns with his fellow animals. As luck would have it, an untimely bee reveals Ferdinand's ferocious side via pained howls
and wild stomping. This lands him in the bull-fighting arena amidst characters based on Walt's animators with a matador reportedly modeled after Walt himself.

Chicken Little (1943) (8:48)
It's the tale of Chicken Little, only with Foxy Loxy being a cunning villain who uses a number of psychological tactics to drive a farm-ful of animals into a cave to be eaten. Slightly disturbing and quite political - most youngsters will probably prefer Disney's new, computer-animated take on the story, now in theaters.

The Pelican and the Snipe (1944) (8:39)
Narrated by Sterling Holloway, this memorable little short tells of two friends who live in Uruguay: Monte, a sleep-flying pelican, and Viddi, the sleep-deprived snipe who watches over him to prevent harm. Viddi's attempts to get some shuteye creates a rift between the pair and grave trouble for the angry Monte.

Casey Jones believes in making good time. "Morris, The Midget Moose" looks up to a bouncing bunny. I think Mr. Stork made a boo-boo.

The Brave Engineer (1950) (7:37)
Based on the ballad of Casey Jones, this cartoon profiles a devoted, ruthless mail train engineer who strives to keep time in the face of extreme obstacles, from rain and damsels in distress to bandits and brown cows.

Morris, The Midget Moose (1950) (7:59)
An elder beetle tells two younger bugs feeling bad about their size about Morris, an undersized moose who teams up with a small-antlered moose to stand up against local leader Thunderclap.

Lambert the Sheepish Lion (1952) (8:16)
Mr. Stork (played, as in Dumbo, by Sterling Holloway) delivers a lion to a family of sheep. While his mother takes a liking to him, he gets teased by his "brother" lambs. But when Lambert grows up, his kin change their opinion on him.

The Little House (1952) (8:17)
As progress brings the city directly around a little house, she grows more and more depressed.

The old-timers enjoy a halftime treat: milk fresh from the team's mascot. In his second short, Professor Owl instructs his class in Cinemascope. Benjamin Franklin takes the credit, but a mouse named Amos is behind most of it in "Ben and Me."

Adventures in Music: Melody (1953) (10:05)
Professor Owl talks about the importance of melody in life, which he claims is only present in two animals: birds and humans. His interest lies in the latter, as he follows the human life cycle and illustrates different places you can find melody. This was the first American animated 3-D film; here it is only offered in 2-D.

Football Now and Then (1953) (7:28)
American football of the then-present and olden days are juxtaposed when the current champions take on yesteryear's gridiron heroes. Both styles
are gently satirized, especially the modern way of things, with its excessive gear, silly rituals, a distant coach, and even a team psychologist present.

Adventures in Music: Toot, Whistle, Plunk and Boom (1953) (10:16)
Professor Owl takes class through a basic history of music, from cavemen times to present day, explaining the four archetypes and how they work together to create pleasant sounds. This Academy Award winner is presented unedited and in its original Cinemascope aspect ratio.

Ben and Me (1953) (21:00)
At "featurette"-length, this is the longest cartoon of the disc. The extended running time gives it room to have a plot and be more than just funny and cute. It winds up being one of the more memorable pieces of the set. It tells the story of Amos, a poor mouse (voiced by -- who else? -- Sterling Holloway), who is truly responsible for all of Benjamin Franklin's innovations in the 1740s, from the bifocals to the printing press, from the lightning rod to the furnace stove. Their relationship is electric, but rewarding (at least for Franklin). Years later, Amos reunites with Franklin to help America frame the Constitution. Sure, this entirely robs one of the most revered founding fathers of his agency, but it's all in good fun and it's a charming, clever little tale.


Order Walt Disney Treasures: Disney Rarities from Amazon.com


Page 1: Set Overview and Disc 1 Shorts
Page 2: Disc 2 Shorts, Video & Audio, Bonus Features, and Closing Thoughts

UltimateDisney.com | DVD Review Index | Wave 5 on the Walt Disney Treasures Page | Treasures in Direct-to-Video Listings

Other Walt Disney Treasures and Cartoon Compilations Reviewed
The Chronological Donald, Volume 2 Elfego Baca The Swamp Fox: Legendary Heroes
The Complete Pluto, Volume 1 Mickey Mouse in Living Color: Volume 2
Walt Disney on the Front Lines Tomorrowland Behind the Scenes at the Disney Studio
The Chronological Donald: Volume 1 The Mickey Mouse Club: Week One
Davy Crockett: The Complete Televised Series Disneyland USA
Mickey Mouse in Black & White Mickey Mouse in Black & White: Volume 2
Timeless Tales: Volume One Timeless Tales: Volume Two
Classic Cartoon Favorites: Volume 7 - Extreme Adventure Fun Volume 9 - Classic Holiday Stories

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Review posted December 5, 2005.