Disney continues to delve into its past with the release of four more limited-edition DVD sets in its Walt Disney Treasures series. The Chronological Donald, Volume 2 and Disney Rarities — Celebrated Shorts highlight Disney’s animated shorts. The Adventures of Spin and Marty and Elfego Baca and the Swamp Fox — Legendary Heroes offer a look at 1950s television. Many of the extra features are skippable, though serious Disney fans will appreciate them.
The Duck Returns
- Interviews with actors
- Disney timelines
- Collectible tin
Donald Duck, with his hairtrigger temper and incomprehensible voice, was Disney Studios’ most popular character. The Chronological Donald, Volume 2 features 32 Donald Duck cartoons released from 1942-1946. It’s the duck’s ill temper that makes him fun to watch. The best of the cartoons slowly build the pressure on Donald until he really loses it. In Bellboy Donald, his off-screen boss tells Donald, “your personality is your own worst enemy.” Of course Donald then gets stuck hauling the luggage of a difficult hotel guest and his bratty son. When he can’t stand it anymore, Donald manages to get himself fired so that he can give the kid the spanking he deserves.
Most of the cartoons follow a formula that has Donald in a specific profession — smithy, gold miner, army private — and then have him deal with frustrations inherent to the situation. Other shorts pit him against his mischievous nephews, Huey, Dewey and Louie. The formula works well, though watching several cartoons can become repetitive. These shorts are best enjoyed in smaller doses.
In 1923, Walt Disney and some fellow animators made Alice’s Wonderland, which featured a live-action girl in a cartoon world. More than 50 of the Alice comedies were made in the next four years; eight are on disc one of Disney Rarities. These films also tend to be repetitive, though one can trace the evolution of the studio’s cartooning — as the series progresses, the live-action sequences become shorter, the animation becomes more complex and the pacing speeds up.
Many of the other shorts in this set are based on familiar stories. Chicken Little turns into a chilling parable about war, as the fox uses modern propaganda techniques to sow fear in the barnyard. Others, such as Ferdinand the Bull and Pigs Is Pigs hew closer to the source material.
The 1950s and ‘60 marked a change in the animation style of Disney shorts, at least the ones that don’t feature recurring characters. Many of the one-shot shorts in this DVD set have a more flat, stylized look. Others use puppet animation and stop-motion. The delightful Noah’s Ark from 1959 has stop-motion animals made from everyday objects such as corks, pencils, even toilet brushes. A Symposium on Popular Songs, which traces the history of 20th century popular music, mixes hand-drawn animation with puppet and cut-out animation.
The New West
The Adventures of Spin & Marty was a regular segment on Mickey Mouse Club. This DVD set has the entire first season of the serial. The 11-minute episodes follow the adolescent boys who go to the Triple R ranch for summer camp. Spin (Tim Considine) is an all-American boy who spent the summer at the Triple R last year. Marty (David Stollery) is a snooty rich kid who arrives with his butler in tow and wears a suit and bow tie.
The series centers around Marty, who must make the transition from uptight jerk to regular boy. Until near the end of the series, Marty is pretty annoying and Stollery’s whiny voice grates. Ironically, his character is the one with the most depth. He is given a troubled past to explain his problems. The other characters, including Spin, are given few characteristics to set them apart.
The adventures are fairly low-key: there is a snipe hunt, a close encounter with a rattlesnake, a rodeo. Valuable Lessons about getting along with others are learned. To a modern viewer, Spin & Marty feels a little corny, but it’s hard to fault a series that promotes friendship and teamwork
After the enormous success of Davy Crockett, Disney studios looked for more real-life American heroes for its Disneyland television series. One was Elfego Baca (Robert Loggia), a New Mexico lawman. Another home-grown hero was Col. Francis Marion (Leslie Nielsen), nicknamed the Swamp Fox, who led a band of guerilla fighters against the British in the Revolutionary War. Elfego Baca and the Swamp Fox — Legendary Heroes has three episodes for each character, though more episodes were filmed and aired. Perhaps a future DVD release will present these episodes, but three is enough for now.
As action-adventure stories, both series work quite well. Elfego Baca is a gunslinger who holes up in an adobe shack while a lynch mob fires literally thousands of bullets at him. This series is a rare instance on television where a Hispanic character is the hero. Swamp Fox has plenty of horseback chases, as well as skirmishes with redcoats.
When the action sequences end, the shows tend to turn a little dull. The characters’ speeches about standing up for freedom and helping the downtrodden seem canned. The scenes with their sweethearts aren’t much better. In Heroes of the American Frontier, an extra feature, interviewees admit that the shows presented a simplified version of the characters and of history. Audiences in the 1950s wanted good guys and bad guys, not complexity, and Walt Disney was glad to give it to them.
Of all of the Leonard Maltin interviews on these discs, the most memorable is with Tony Anselmo, who took over Donald Duck’s voice after the death of Clarence Nash. Anselmo started out as an animator at Disney and learned the intricacies of the voice from Nash himself. There are no particularly interesting revelations in the other interviews, though David Stollery of Spin & Marty admits that he wasn’t a very good actor at the time. Maltin never forgets to pay homage the studio. Anyone who worked for Disney while Walt was alive is asked to share a story about meeting him (he was a nice guy, apparently).
The other memorable extra is also on The Chronological Donald, “A Day in the Life of Donald Duck,” is an episode of Disneyland, which puts Donald in the real world, a la Roger Rabbit. The duck goes to his office at Disney studios, reads his fan mail, has an argument with Clarence Nash, the actor who did Donald’s voice, and consults with animators about his next film.
For Mickey Mouse Club fans, there is an entire episode on the Spin & Marty DVD set, it includes a segment introducing The Adventures of Spin & Marty. All of the DVD sets have extensive galleries of photos, stills and publicity material.
Picture and Sound
The quality of the picture and sound on the DVDs depends on the source material. The picture on the Alice cartoons is surprisingly crisp for 80-year-old films, with only occasional scratches. These silent films have a newer music soundtrack in stereo. The rest of the shorts on Disney Rarities and The Chronological Donald are in color and look very good, with only the occasional flaw. Toot Whistle Plunk and Boom, on Disney Rarities was the first cartoon made in Cinemascope. It was also Disney’s first stereo cartoon.
Elfego Baca and The Swamp Fox were filmed in color even though they were broadcast in black and white. The color on the DVDs is vibrant. Spin & Marty is unremarkable in black and white. Though much of that series was filmed outdoors, the dialogue sometimes has a slight echo, as if the lines were looped. This is not surprising considering that the show was filmed quickly and cheaply.