There is a certain joy in watching animated shorts, particularly classic ones. They speak of days gone by and, when done right, reflect and recall a world they may never have existed buy for which we certainly long. Perhaps no company knows this better than Disney, which now has six volumes in its new Disney Animation Collection. The first three DVDs were released this past April, and the second wave of three just last week.
Each volume in the collection contains approximately (though it does vary) a half-dozen different shorts and runs for — again, approximately — an hour (they are as short as just over 50 minutes and as long as just under 80). Consequently, the title of each volume indicates merely the lead short and should not be considered the only title included. Wisely however, the volumes are loosely themed, so Disney Animation Collection Volume 3: The Prince and the Pauper contains not just that tale, but also "The Pied Piper," "Old King Cole," "Ye Olden Days," and "A Knight for a Day." They're not a perfect match to be sure, but there is a logic to them having been placed together.
The six volumes currently available, in order, are: Mickey and the Beanstalk, Three Little Pigs, The Prince and the Pauper, The Tortoise and the Hare, Wind in the Willows, and The Reluctant Dragon. Together, all six provide an amazing look into a world of animation gone by, and in the case of Wind in the Willows rides at DisneyWorld gone by (Mr. Toad's Wild Ride still exists at Disneyland, but not DisneyWorld). The tales are not always wholly child accessible, as is the case with "The Goddess of Spring" in volume four, but that doesn't mean that adults won't enjoy it, in fact, it was certainly one of my favorites across all six of the volumes.
Perhaps though the best thing about the collections are their examinations of classic stories, be they novel, folklore, fairy tale, or even vaguely historical. "Paul Bunyan," "Johnny Appleseed," and "Three Little Pigs" (all from different volumes) all put a positively Disney spin on the tales, but still manage to stay true to the source material (mostly).
On the downside, the volumes are currently available as individual items, not a single boxed set, so fans of certain tales can selectively purchase those which interest them. Of course, the Disney archives are incredibly deep, and consequently great shorts air across all six volumes (and assuredly more are sitting there ready to be put into future ones).
The biggest issue however with collection is that, unfortunately, the quality of prints that exist for some of the shorts is distinctly subpar. While that is to be expected with the pieces being decades old, it is certainly still a disappointment — it's not the sort of thing that will distress younger viewers (and most of the shorts are of good quality), but as stated above, some of the shorts are not child oriented.
In the final summation, volumes one thru six of the Disney Animation Collection can't help but bring a smile to anyone who remembers the "Silly Symphonies" of olden days – whether they saw them on the big screen or the small. Seeing the shorts currently on DVD one can't help but wonder what volumes seven thru nine will contain.
The pieces that appear in the Collection are incredibly disparate, the animation may all be done by hand, but the styles are very different, as are the songs in them. However, everyone will be able to find something in the six volumes to interest them.