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DVD Review: Walt Disney Animation Collection: Volumes 1 through 6

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At the time of this writing, The Walt Disney Animation Collection stands at six volumes, each comprised of a single DVD containing more than an hour of cartoon shorts from the vast Disney archive, titled after the first cartoon on the disc. Many, if not all, of these selections have appeared in various home-video releases over the years.

Volume 1 begins with “Mickey and the Beanstalk,” a variation on the Brothers Grimm “Jack and the Beanstalk.” It first appeared in Fun and Fancy Free (1947) with live-action footage of ventriloquist Edgar Bergen acting as a narrator. When the cartoon aired on television in 1963, the narration was taken over by the animated characters Professor Ludwig von Drake and Herman the Cricket, which is the version presented here. “Mickey and the Beanstalk” features the trinity of Mickey, Donald, and Goofy, who must rescue a singing harp from a giant. This cartoon has the distinction of being the last time Walt played Mickey.

The remaining cartoons in the volume all star Mickey. Also based on a Grimm fairy tale, “The Brave Little Tailor” (1938) finds him taking on a different giant after villagers mistake his claim about killing seven flies with one blow. In “Thru The Mirror” (1936) Mickey dreams he goes through the looking glass like Alice, and in the black-and-white “Gulliver Mickey” (1934) tells his nieces and nephews about the time he was shipwrecked on an island. “Mr. Mouse Takes A Trip” (1940) leaves the storybooks behind as Mickey trying to sneak Pluto on the train passed frequent Disney villain Pete.

The Three Little Pigs lead the way on Volume 2 with a trio of Silly Symphonies shorts. They were introduced in the Academy Award-winning “Three Little Pigs” (1933), in “The Big Bad Wolf” (1934) they help Little Red Riding Hood, and “Three Little Wolves” (1936) retells “The Boy Who Cried Wolf” with the wolf joined by three young sons.

Narrated by Disney regular Sterling Holloway, “Lambert The Sheepish Lion” (1951) presents a familiar twist as the stork drops off a baby lion to a herd of sheep. He’s a bit of an oddball and an outcast because he is so different, but of course his uniqueness is what saves the day, much like “Elmer Elephant” (1936) who is teased because of his trunk. That is, until a fire needs to be put out in the jungle.

“Three Blind Mouseketeers” (1936) has three mice outwit a cat, four years before Hanna Barbera would perfect the formula. “Chicken Little” (1943) is the strangest one of the entire collection as this take on the old tale finds Foxy Loxy manipulating the chickens through a book titled Psychology, which was originally intended to be Hitler’s Mein Kampf.

Volume 3 opens with a retelling of Mark Twain’s “The Prince and the Pauper” (1990) with Mickey starring in the dual title roles. The newest cartoon of the collection, it was released with The Rescuers Down Under.

There are two Silly Symphonies from 1933. One tells the story of the Brothers Grimm “The Pied Piper” while in “Old King Cole” the King throws a party for a group of nursery-rhyme characters. And two featuring Goofy as a knight. In the black-and-white “Ye Olden Days” (1933), Mickey must rescue Princess Minnie from an arranged marriage to Goofy, who then went by the stage name Dippy Dawg. Set during the same period, everyone looks like Goofy in “A Knight For A Day” (1943).

Volume 4 presents the Academy Award-winning “The Tortoise And The Hare” (1934) based on Aesop’s fable. Toby Tortoise and Max Hare, a precursor to Tex Avery’s Bugs Bunny, would both return in the sequel “Toby Tortoise Returns” (1936), squaring off in a boxing ring.

“Babes In The Woods” (1932) presents a variation on the Brothers Grimm “Hansel and Gretel.” “The Goddess of Spring” (1934) finds the Disney animators’ attempting their first realistic human-looking characters with the story of Persephone’s abduction by Hades from Greek mythology.

The disc concludes with two tales of American folklore. “Paul Bunyan” (1958) tells the story of the mythical giant lumberjack, and “The Saga of Windwagon Smith” (1961) is a tale set in the Old West about a sailor wanting to sail across the American prairie in a covered wagon. The Sons of the Pioneers accompany the latter. The familiar Disney animation style is noticeably different.

Kenneth Grahame’s “Wind in the Willows,” the inspiration behind Disneyland’s Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, is featured on Volume 5. It was originally released in 1949 paired with Washington Irving’s “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” under the title The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad.

The remainder of the disc is made up of Silly Symphonies. Hans Christian Andersen’s “Ugly Duckling” (1939) is a color remake of the 1931 black-and-white Disney cartoon and is the last entry in the Silly Symphony series. “The Grasshopper And The Ants” (1934) is based on Aesop’s fable. Both won an Academy Award.

“The Golden Touch” (1935) tells the Greek myth of King Midas and is directed by Walt himself after a five-year hiatus. Young Ambrose runs away from home to be “The Robber Kitten” (1935) but finds life much tougher than he imagined. Based on the folktale “The Little Red Hen,” “The Wise Little Hen” (1934) marks the debut of Donald Duck as he and Peter Pig fake bellyaches to get out of helping the her plant and harvest her corn, but learn a valuable lesson.

Volume 6 finds Kenneth Grahame in the title spot again with “The Reluctant Dragon” (1941), which is a segment from a longer film of the same name. Everyone assumes the dragon is fierce, but he never fights. Instead, he enjoys writing poetry and playing a flute. The video for this cartoon looks terrible. The focus is soft and the colors faded.

Winner of an Academy Award, “Ferdinand The Bull” (1938), by author Munro Leaf, tells a similar story about a presumed vicious creature. Ferdinand would rather smell the flowers than take part in bullfights. “Goliath II” (1959) tells the story of a miniature elephant taking the role of outcast/hero. The cartoon’s look foreshadows The Jungle Book (1967), so it's no surprise Wolfgang Reitherman directed both. Starring the vocal talents of Dennis Day, “Johnny Appleseed” tells the story of John Chapman. It originally appeared in Melody Time (1948).

While there's a great deal of history, The Walt Disney Animation Collection appears targeted at parents who want to provide their children some quality entertainment. The DVDs certainly aren’t for anyone who considers themselves a serious Disney or animation aficionado because the picture quality ranges average to poor and there are no extras except for a “Collectible Litho Print,” which resembles a postcard. For those people, The Walt Disney Treasures line or potential future releases remastered for Blu-ray would be much better options for your video library.

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About Gordon S. Miller

Gordon S. Miller is the artist formerly known as El Bicho, the nom de plume he used when he first began reviewing movies online for The Masked Movie Snobs in 2003. Before the year was out, he became that site's publisher. Over the years, he has also contributed to a number of other sites as a writer and editor, such as FilmRadar, Film School Rejects, High Def Digest, and Blogcritics. He is the Publisher of Cinema Sentries. Some of his random thoughts can be found at twitter.com/ElBicho_CS