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Beauty and the Beast

Diamond edition adds to a top-notch film —Andrea Birgers (DVD review...)

Beauty and the Beast fall for each other

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The Walt Disney company continues its celebration of its earlier years with more releases in its limited-edition Disney Treasures series. Mickey Mouse Club features the first week of episodes of the popular children’s show. Mickey Mouse in Black and White, Volume Two wraps up the first phase of the famed mouse’s career. The Complete Pluto, Volume One looks at Mickey’s best friend.

The bonus features on these discs aren’t as comprehensive as on other Walt Disney Treasures DVD sets, but they do provided a wider look at the Disney phenomenon and its ability to relentlessly promote its products.

M-I-C, K-E-Y, M-O-U-S-E

Not as comprehensive as previous treasures
Not as comprehensive as previous treasures

Mickey Mouse Club has the first five episodes of the television series that debuted in 1955 and was on ABC every weekday for the next four years. Filmed segments, such as a newsreel about kids from around the world, alternate with studio segments with cheerful, tapdancing Mouseketeers, and other entertainers. Each show ends with a Disney cartoon and an exhortation by grownup Mouseketeer Jimmie Dodd about good citizenship

For this adult, these episodes are more watchable than say, Barney and Friends, if only for its view of American television of the 1950s. All of the Mouseketeers are white; the only diversity comes on the newsreel segment. Another film segment called “What I Want to Be,” has a girl who dreams of becoming an airline hostess, while the boy next door aspires to be a pilot.

The ubiquitous mouse ears aren’t the only reminder to viewers of the Disney brand. A special guest who makes balloon animals happens to perform his act at Disneyland. At the end of the third episode, Dodd reminds kids to help their parents — they’ll want to get the dishes done in time to watch the Disneyland television show later that evening.

Mickey Mousing

Mickey Mouse in Black and White, Volume Two has 40 Mickey Mouse cartoons from 1928-1935. Disney made its first color cartoon in 1932, but continued to make Mickey’s shorts in black and white for a few years. Black and white films cost less and Mickey was such a simple visual character that he looked good in that format. The gags in these cartoons quickly become repetitive, but they’re still good for some chuckles. And after all, they weren’t intended to be watched in one sitting.

The earliest of these shorts show that the film industry was still in transition from silent to sound film. These cartoons have plenty of music and sound effects, but the voices don’t seem to be an important part of the characters. In many of the films, Mickey hardly speaks. To contrast, try to imagine Donald Duck without his distinctive voice.

A separate section on disc two called “From the Vault” has ten cartoons with offensive situations. Many of these involve characters in blackface, and some gags are so brief that viewers might miss them if they blink. Other cartoons are less subtle; the natives in Mickey in Arabia (1932) have an ape-like appearance. In Shanghaied (1934), the villainous Pegleg Pete leers and paws at a tied-up Minnie in a most unwholesome way. Film critic and historian Leonard Maltin introduces this section and tries to give these shorts some context. Whether or not these cartoons should have been included with the rest of the cartoons is debatable, but the makers of this DVD set deserve credit for trying to show some sensitivity.

Calling Pluto

Of all of the major animal characters in Disney’s animated shorts, Pluto was one of the few who behaved like a regular animal. His antics were exaggerated for comic effect, but basically, he was a dog. The cartoon collection in The Complete Pluto, Volume One, starts with The Chain Gang (1930), which has a brief appearance of a dog – two bloodhounds, actually – who would evolve into Pluto. He would turn up in numerous Mickey Mouse shorts before getting his own series in 1937. This DVD set has all of his starring cartoons as well as some of his more memorable supporting appearances. As in the Mickey Mouse set, there is a “From the Vault” section.

Pluto is just clever enough to get himself into trouble. He has the right blend mischief and decency to make him an appealing character. Many of these cartoons follow a similar formula: Pluto is bedeviled by an animal of a different species, but makes friends with it in the end. One of the most charming examples of this is Lend a Paw (1941), in which Pluto rescues a drowning kitten and must overcome his jealousy and anti-cat instincts.

Maltin’s introduction tells us that Pluto was a step forward in character animation. Disney animators were able to give him emotions and motivations with great expressiveness. Maltin mentions a series of gags involving a struggle with flypaper in Playful Pluto (1934), in which the audience can follow Pluto’s thought processes. Unfortunately, this cartoon isn’t in this collection, though the flypaper sequence was reused in Donald’s Beach Picnic (1937) on disc one.

DVD Extras

The biggest special feature on Mickey Mouse Club is Mouseke-Memories, a 14-minute featurette with Maltin interviewing six former Mouseketeers, who have many fond recollections of working on the show. The most interesting part comes when they talk about their competitiveness. Their contracts lasted only six months, so they were always trying to get more time in front of the camera. The same Mouseketeers turn up in The Leader of the Club is about the late Jimmie Dodd, who led the kids on camera, was a father figure to them.

A couple of interesting features on Mickey Mouse in Black and White stand out. Mickey Mania: Collecting Mickey Mouse proves that merchandising is nothing new. Maltin interviews collector Bernie Shine who has an amazing array of Mickey Mouse toys, books and housewares. He even has advertisements with Mickey hawking toothpaste and digestive aids. Mickey’s Sunday Funnies is about a Mickey Mouse comic strip that ran in newspapers for about 40 years. Although Walt Disney’s signature appeared on the strips, most of the work was done by Floyd Gottfredson. The DVD includes a series of Sunday comics from 1934 with Mickey in a Jack and the Beanstalk-type adventure.

The extras on the Pluto DVD set center on what made Pluto special. The Life and Times of Pluto focuses on the development of the character. Pluto’s Pal Fergy, is a profile of animator Norm Ferguson, who is credited with creating Pluto’s distinctively canine personality. Pluto 101 includes a lesson on drawing and animating the dog by current Disney animator Andreas Deja.

All three DVD sets have extensive galleries of sketches, publicity materials and photos.

Picture and Sound

Mickey Mouse in Black and White presents the cartoons in their original aspect ratio, which is a little narrower than a standard television screen. The picture on some of the cartoons are excellent, while others have occasional scratches and other flaws. The sound, which is in mono, is a little tinny, but free of any hissing or popping. The cartoons on The Complete Pluto have no noticeable flaws and the color is very good. The sound on this DVD set is more full than on the Mickey set.

The picture and sound on Mickey Mouse Club are unremarkable, but have no glaring flaws – about as good as can be expected from a 1950s television show. A vivid, color version of the animated opening sequence is included as a bonus feature (the show was filmed and broadcast in black and white).