Disney continues to celebrate its history with the release of three new DVDs in the Disney Treasures series. This latest batch of Disneyana features a forgotten cartoon character, a popular cartoon character and the early years of Disneyland.
- Audio commentaries
Perhaps kids visiting Disneyland would be wearing rabbit-ear hats instead of mouse-ear hats if a business relationship hadn’t gone sour 80 years ago. In 1927, Walt Disney made a deal with producer Charles Mintz to make some cartoons featuring a new character, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. A dispute over money ended the partnership. Because Mintz owned the rights to the Oswald, Disney had to come up with a new character. Ub Iwerks, the studio’s top animator, would create Mickey Mouse, which would help catapult the studio to greater glory. Other producers continued to make Oswald cartoons (166 in all), but the bunny would languish in obscurity.
In 2006, Disney got back the rights to their old cartoons. Of the 26 that were made, 13 survive. Some were acquired from private collections. Others exist only in edited form. New scores were recorded for the DVD release. Oswald looks very much like Mickey Mouse, but with long ears and a round, fluffy tail. The look of the cartoons is very similar to the early Mickeys. Plane Crazy, the first Mickey Mouse cartoon is practically a remake of Ocean Hop (an Oswald cartoon from 1928).
Thirteen cartoons aren’t enough to fill a two-disc set, so the second DVD pays tribute to Iwerks. The Hand Behind the Mouse is a 90-minute documentary about Iwerks, made by his granddaughter, Leslie Iwerks (who also directed The Pixar Story). He and Walt Disney were both 18 when they met at a commercial art studio in Kansas City. Though the two men’s careers were intertwined for most of their lives, the film devotes too much time to glorifying Walt and his studio. It does include plenty of clips from cartoons made by Iwerks in the 1930s (some of them quite racy) when he left Disney and ran his own studio. This disc also has six cartoons animated by Iwerks while he worked for Disney.
After Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck was surely Disney’s most popular cartoon character. He’s easily the most distinctive character with his incomprehensible voice and hair-trigger temper. The Chronological Donald, Volume 3 has 30 cartoons made from 1947-1950. By this time, Donald had his own theme song that asked the question, “who’s got the sweetest disposition?”
If you’ve seen Donald Duck cartoons from previous Disney collections, you’re in for more of the same. The animators had a successful formula and there was no need to change it. The cartoons tend to seem repetitive when viewed all at once. Watching one or two at a time will make your enjoyment last longer.
Some of the more memorable cartoons make fun of the ducky voice. In Donald’s Dream Voice (1948), Donald is failing at door-to-door salesmanship because no one can understand him. He buys a box of voice pills and suddenly starts talking with a British accent and perfect diction. In Donald’s Dilemma (1947), he gets hit in the noggin with a flower pot and is suddenly able to sing like Sinatra, though the only song in his repertoire is When You Wish upon a Star.
Disneyland: The Secrets, Stories and Magic takes a fond look back at the first years of the company’s southern California theme park. It’s just as much a tribute to the business savvy of Walt and Roy Disney. Walt frequently plugged Disneyland on his show of the same name. The second disc of this set has two episodes devoted to the park. A third episode, Disneyland Goes to the World’s Fair, features many animatronic attractions that would later be used at the theme park. If you don’t care for It’s a Small World, keep the mute button handy. In his introduction on the disc, film critic Leonard Maltin concedes that these episodes seem like long commercials. But they allowed kids like him to take a vicarious vacation from their living rooms.
On the first disc is Disneyland: Secrets, Stories and Magic of the Happiest Place on Earth, an 81-minute documentary about the history of the theme park, which opened in 1955. This film will probably appeal most to those who visited the park in its first decade. Also on disc one is a trivia game which requires players to sit through yet more Disneyland advertising before answering questions.
Disneyland USA (1956) is a 42-minute CinemaScope theatrical film that gives viewers a tour of the park. Though the park is supposed to be a fun place, Disney wanted the audience to take it seriously; “its purpose is enlightenment, its product, happiness,” intones narrator Winston Hibler. The most interesting aspect of this film is the audio commentary track with Disneyland executive Tony Baxter and Maltin. Baxter is particularly knowledgeable about the history of the park. Viewers wanting to switch between the two soundtracks, will have to go back to the menu to do so.
DVD ExtrasThe most interesting extra features on the DVDs are the audio commentaries. Six of the Oswald cartoons have commentary tracks with animation historians Jerry Beck or Mark Kausler, joined by Maltin. Though they spend too much narrating what’s happening on the screen, Beck and Kausler have plenty to say about the gags and the people who drew them. A pencil-drawn fragment from the lost Oswald cartoon, Sagebrush Sadie, is also on this set. Oswald Comes Home is a 14-minute history of the character at Disney Studios.
On the Donald Duck DVD set, The Many Faces of Donald, breaks no new ground in covering the history of the duck. As Easter eggs on both discs, there are ten versions of the Mickey Mouse Club theme with different Donald-hitting-the-gong gags.
Aside from the commentary track for Disneyland USA, the most interesting bonus on the Disneyland DVD is Building Walt’s Dream: Disneyland Under Construction. It has 38 minutes of time-lapse photos of various attractions as they were built. Amazingly, it took only seven months to build the theme park.
Picture and Sound
Because Disney makes an effort to preserve it’s films and other materials, the picture and sound are mostly excellent. The Oswald cartoons have the greatest variation in quality, due to the condition of the source material. The sound quality also varies according to the age of the films.
How to Use These DVDs
Watch everything. These are collectors editions with some material that isn’t readily available. Watching these discs a little at a time, particularly the ones with the shorts, will enhance your enjoyment of them.