UltimateDisney.com Presents An Interview with Leonard Maltin, the Man Behind the Walt Disney Treasures.

Leonard Maltin is one of the most known and respected film critics and historians around today. Whether you recognize him from his annual paperback Movie Guide which has been in print for over 35 years, his appearances on television's "Entertainment Tonight" and numerous home video releases, or the articles and reviews he has contributed to countless sources all over the globe, chances are you do know him and as an authoritative source on cinema.

Maltin is also something of a poster child for Disney fans. In 1973, he gave his fellow enthusiasts of the Disney studio The Disney Films, an unprecedented resource on the movies from Walt's time. The book had its beginnings in his days as an awestruck teenaged moviegoer and has subsequently been reissued in three updated editions. Most recently, the greatest gift Maltin has given Disney buffs is the highly collectible, limited edition Walt Disney Treasures DVD series. Launched in 2001 and borne primarily from his own desire to have high quality releases of the studio's fine vintage films, the line hosted and supervised by Maltin is now in its fifth year. It continues to win as much praise and admiration from Disney collectors and general DVD fans as just about any home video output from any studio.

On the wake of the release of the fifth wave of Treasures, Maltin took some time out to tell UltimateDisney.com about the new batch of tins, the future of the Treasures series, the current state of cinema, and more.

UltimateDisney.com: How much say do you have in what is put on the Walt Disney Treasures DVDs?

Leonard Maltin: A lot. 'Cause these were my babies. I came up with this idea originally six years ago and pitched it to (Chairman of the Walt Disney Studios) Dick Cook and he was very amenable to having a meeting. We had a breakfast meeting. I brought along this one page proposal. I didn't really refer to it. I told him what I wanted to do. And he said "Let's do it." It was a very short meeting. Ever since then, I've been very closely involved in planning what comes out on the series.

What do you consider when selecting titles for a wave of Treasures?

Well, each one's different. For instance, The Chronological Donald Duck is kind of a no-brainer. We're trying to do all of the series cartoons . We've got almost all of them covered now. But Donald was the most prolific. So that was an easy call. The Rarities is something I'm very proud of because there's so much wonderful material there that doesn't get the exposure or the attention that I think it should. And fortunately the folks at Disney Home Video said,
"Yes, we can go for that." I'm always thinking about what I would like to see. I think that's the short answer. My partner Eric Young at Sparkhill who produces these and I are both lifelong Disney nuts. Essentially, we're trying to put out the kind of discs we would like to see. And I think that's why we get such a gratifying response from the Disney fans and collectors because we're one of them. We're among them.

What about Song of the South? You've said several times that you'd like to see it released on DVD. Do you think it's apt to be part of a Treasures set, the way The Reluctant Dragon and Victory Through Air Power have been?

I don't know. That is beyond my ability to speculate. I'd like to see it happen. That's all I can tell you. I'd like to see it happen.

Do you have any personal favorites from the cartoons and episodes presented in this current wave?

Gee, again, it's hard to choose. I've always been fond of Ben and Me. It's one that comes right to mind.

Leonard Maltin appears in an introduction on "Disney Rarities." Maltin names "Ben and Me", a 1953 featurette-length short about Benjamin Franklin and a helpful mouse named Amos, as one of his one of his favorite inclusions of this year's wave. The cartoon appears on Disc 1 of "Disney Rarities."

Which if any of the three entirely new volumes of this wave - Disney Rarities, Legendary Heroes, and Spin & Marty - do you expect to become ongoing releases? There are a couple more seasons of "Spin & Marty", 7 other "Elfego Baca" episodes, 5 "Swamp Fox" episodes, and plenty of standalone shorts post-1962. Will we get to see more of everything or is it determined on a case-by-case basis?

I think the answer to that will be made very clear by the sales. I think it's really out of my hands and in the hands of the customers. If they support these, then we can do more. If Spin & Marty is a big hit, nothing would make me happier than to put out more "Spin & Marty."

How about previous Treasures that are left somewhat open-ended? Some of the lines, like Donald and Pluto, seem certain to be continued, but what about Silly Symphonies, Disneyland, or The Mickey Mouse Club?

Hoping to do all of those. I don't mean to be coy or evasive, I really don't. It's just that we don't have a concrete go-ahead yet. And I don't want to hold out a carrot and say something's going to happen that isn't definitely going to happen. I think it's pretty likely we'll be able to do more of those.

And nothing's been ruled out as far as continuing Treasures?

No. This much I can tell you, there will be four more next December. I'm very happy to tell you that.

What do you say to people who think that Disney films are just for kids?

Well, first I say "You're wrong." (laughs) And then I go back to what Walt said when he was making Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. He just - he was so smart. He understood that if you made a film just for kids that he would limit his own audience. Whereas if he made it something that kids and their parents could both enjoy, on different levels, he'd ensure a much wider audience. And of course, he was absolutely right.

Many of the live action and some of the animated Disney films from Walt's time have been given weak DVD treatment. Are there any in particular you're rooting for to be revisited?

All of them. (laughs) I mean if I had my druthers, I'd love to do Special Editions on a lot of those films. Some of them are very close to me because when I saw them growing up or a particular affection I have for them. I've always thought that The Story of Robin Hood was an underrated film and deserved more attention. And one of my all-time favorites is So Dear To My Heart.

Your book, The Disney Films, basically laid a blueprint for our site and is endlessly consulted by many Disney fans. Are there any plans for an updated edition of it in the near-future?

Uh, nothing definite. Have I given you enough vague answers today? I'm sorry about that.

If you could change one thing about the movie industry today, what would it be?

Oh...don't sell your audience short. I would tell the people who were making decisions at studios that audiences deserve better. I teach at
USC (University of Southern California), we just finished our semester last night. I have a big class of 360 kids, only about a fifth of whom are film majors. So they come from all parts of the campus - I have football players, water polo players, business, economics majors. And we show new movies and have filmmakers come as our guests. And I don't just show the Hollywood blockbusters. I show independent films, foreign films, documentaries. A lot of films that they wouldn't necessarily seek out on their own. And as often as not, they're surprised at themselves at how much they enjoy them. But they've never been given the opportunity or never been forced to sit down and try them out. I think that the movie and TV industry should have more respect for its audiences.

You're both a film historian and critic. Do you find it difficult to remain critical of films or studios when you're working closely with them on certain projects like the Treasures?

No, I've been able to compartmentalize that. You know, if I were less than honest as a critic, I think people would spot that right away. And it would destroy my credibility.

Where do you stand on Disney animation today? Do you view traditional 2-D animation as a thing of the past like black-and-white or silent films generally are? Or do you think the two mediums, CG and 2-D, can share the field?

I think it's gonna be cyclical. When everything we see is in CG, the only way to look different will be to do something in traditional cel animation. And that's what will stand out. I think it will come back around. I really do. Besides, millions of people are watching "The Simpsons", the "Family Guy", and, you know, countless other traditionally animated shows on television. So it's not as if it's dead. It just happens to be dormant in the theatrical arena right now.

I know there's probably nothing set in stone or that you can say for sure, but what can we expect in future waves of Walt Disney Treasures? Are there certain things you're considering?

Well, we're definitely hoping to round out the Silly Symphonies. And those are so rare and so difficult to see. That'd be especially exciting.

Do you draw a line at things that Walt Disney lived to oversee? There's been some of it, but will more of the studio's post-Walt stuff ever become a part of the Treasures line?

Too soon to tell. We try to keep it - "restrict" sounds like such a harsh word - we try to define it as things Walt Disney himself produced. But down the road, anything's possible.

"The Adventures of Spin and Marty" introduced the adolescents whose adventures at the Triple-R Ranch comprised three popular seasons of serials on "The Mickey Mouse Club" in the late 1950s. The first season makes its DVD debut as part of this month's Walt Disney Treasures. Robert Loggia portrayed Elfego Baca, a Mexican gunman who became a sheriff in New Mexico in a series of late-1950s "Walt Disney Presents" adventures. Three episodes of "Elfego Baca" and three of "The Swamp Fox" (which starred Leslie Nielsen as Revolutionary War hero Francis Marion) appear together on the "Legendary Heroes" Treasures tin.

Do you see a definite end to the Treasures series or is this something you'd like to keep moving forward with through home video format changes and on?

Well, I'll keep doing it as long as they'll let me. It's as simple as that.

Do you think a format change would have any effect on the Treasures?

I don't think so. They've been doing restoration on a lot of this material. And it's already at a pretty high level. The video quality for DVDs. And they're, like all the studios, they're looking ahead to high definition. I think it will be fine.

Are there things that the sheer volume of prohibits from releasing - say, "The Mickey Mouse Club" in its entirety or Walt's "Disneyland" anthology? Would these be possible on a future home video format that can hold more than DVDs do?

Well again, theoretically, you're right. But on the other hand, people are buying these complete season packages of all sorts of shows. So it seems to be doing quite nicely right now in the DVD world. So there's no reason why it couldn't be done that way too. Except that "The Mickey Mouse Club", of course, was a daily show. So, it does amass a lot of material.

How do you decide which cartoons need a contextual introduction?

It's not my call. There's someone at the studio who determines that.

How do you feel knowing that for some viewers, these short films and episodes will be eternally associated with you from your introductions?

(Laughs) I'm sorry. (laughs again) It's the price they have to pay.

Wave 5 of the Walt Disney Treasures (Information on Past Treasures)
The Chronological Donald,
Volume Two

Order from Amazon.com

Review (NEW!)
Press Release
Disc 1 Art | Disc 2 Art
Menus & Stills
Disney Rarities:
Celebrated Shorts: 1920s - 1960s

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Review (NEW!)
Press Release
Disc 1 Art | Disc 2 Art
Menus & Stills
The Adventures of Spin & Marty

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Press Release
Disc 1 Art | Disc 2 Art
Menus & Stills
Elfego Baca and The Swamp Fox:
Legendary Heroes

Order from Amazon.com

Review (NEW!)
Press Release
Disc 1 Art | Disc 2 Art
Menus & Stills

Hear Leonard Maltin's responses:
On what goes into selecting content for the Treasures
His answer to the "Disney films are just for kids" argument
On the current state of animation / 2-D & CG Debate
On the future of the Walt Disney Treasures line

Past Interviews:
Michael Angarano, star of Sky High (November 2005)
Don Grady, Former Mouseketeer and Current Disney Musician (November 2005)
Ilene Woods, voice of Cinderella, and Disney producer Don Hahn (September 2005)
Irene Bedard, voice of Pocahontas (May 2005)
Don Dunagan, voice of Bambi (February 2005)
Angela Robinson, director of Herbie: Fully Loaded (October 2005)
Jim Brickman, The Disney Songbook (October 2005)
Taylor Lautner, Sharkboy of The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl in 3-D (September 2005)

Interview conducted December 2, 2005. Thanks to Buena Vista Home Entertainment
for setting it up and to Leonard Maltin for taking the time to talk with us.

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