Because of how successful the event was the year before, the Newport Beach Film Festival held another session of Disney Animation Rarities, again hosted by producer Don Hahn and Walt Disney Animation Studios Creative Director Dave Bossert who provided commentary and background before each cartoon. In 2008, the event was a sellout, but this year there were plenty of seats to be had as the program started, which may have been a combination of Roy Disney not returning, no knowledge of what the shorts would be, and the power being out for hours before the program started and no way to confirm it would take place at all. However, the city workers came through and Disney Animation Rarities went on as scheduled.
Starting off, they went way back into the vaults to present “Hell’s Bells” from 1929, which hit theaters the day after the famed stock-market crash. Featuring the work of animator Ub Iwerks and music by Carl Stalling, who would go on to great fame at Warner Brothers, this “Silly Symphony” presents a day in the underworld, featuring much more dancing and music, such as “Funeral March of a Marionette,” taking place than many have proclaimed.
Three years later, Disney and his team created their first Technicolor cartoon, “Flowers and Trees,” which won the first Oscar for an animated short subject. A grizzled old tree trunk resents two young trees in love and makes the mistake of thinking he can use fire in his fiendish plot. The advancement in artistry over “Hell’s Bells” is quite remarkable.
Bossert read from a phone transcript in which Walt called the animators after a discussion with the Treasury Department, right after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, about creating a short that would encourage people to buy bonds and pay “taxes to bury the Axis.” This led to Donald Duck starring in “The New Spirit.”
A PSA targeted to South America (though presented in English) about mosquitoes carrying malaria was entitled “The Winged Scourge.” Featuring the Seven Dwarves, the scare tactics came off as comical, and suggestions about combating the insects that included pouring oil into ponds and spraying Paris Green insecticide may have been just as hazardous as the mosquitoes.
Next up were two more shorts about the war effort at home. “Out of the Frying Pan, Into the Firing Line” starred Minnie Mouse and Pluto explaining why it was important to save and recycle fats, like bacon grease. “Food Will Win the War” trumpeted the American farmers of the time and presented funny visual comparisons of their production. The Three Little Pigs made an appearance.
Jumping ahead four decades to 1982, “Fun with Mr. Future” was a piece that may have been created to entertain people waiting in line at Epcot Center. The animation, which looked different from the typical Disney house style, presented the oft-covered cartoon subject of what life will be like in the future. The robotic narrator was a skinless animatronic head of Lincoln.
Out that same year and familiar to Tim Burton fans, “Vincent” was his stop-motion tribute to legendary actor Vincent Price, who narrated the piece. The exaggerated gothic look and themes are trademark Burton. The short provided a segue to a mention that Burton was working on Alice in Wonderland and Hahn was producing a feature-length version of another Burton short, “Frankenweenie.”
The Rarities program then jumped to the near present with last year’s “Glago’s Guest,” by Bolt director Chris Williams. Done with computer graphics, the short about a Russian soldier encountering alien life looked amazing and made great use of the theater's speaker system. The audience was told that a surprise was in store to conclude the night, but it only turned out to be a new trailer for Disney/Pixar’s Up, which was extremely disappointing.
Although the shorts were not as entertaining as the previous year's, and quite a few are available on DVD, the program still made for a fun evening. Seeing them on a large movie screen and learning about them was a rare treat.