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RUNNING TIME: 326 Minutes
• A Feather In His Collar short
• Alice’s Cartoon World featurette
• Commentary by composer Richard Sherman
• From Kansas City to Hollywood featurette
“Go pick up some of those old animation reels we have sitting in the basement and slap them on a DVD.”
Walt Disney, Leonard Martin, Virginia Davis and a bunch of cartoons.
It may be hard to believe, but cartoons used to exist for a purpose other than excessive licensing and selling toys. Once upon a time, cartoons were created out of a love of the art form. Some of the best cartoons produced during this time period were Walt Disney shorts. The shorts allowed for Disney animators to experiment with new techniques and ideas. It also gave the animators something to do in between larger projects. Walt thought so highly of the short subject cartoons that he continued to make them even after the invention of television forced him to discontinue the shorts featuring Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck.
This latest Walt Disney Treasures release collects a myriad of shorts released between 1920 and 1960. The set begins with the Alice comedies, a series of short films that placed a live action girl in a cartoon world. The collection ends with a Symposium on Popular Songs, a fitting bookend that traces the evolution of music and sound from the 1920s all the way to 1962.
Terrorism spreads to Alice’s Egg Plant. Is nothing sacred?
Disney Rarities comes in the standard collector’s tin that all Walt Disney Treasures have been released with. The interior case has gone through a few cosmetic changes. The plastic case is now black and instead of having a disc holder on each side the set uses one of those fancy fold over disc holders. The set comes with a certificate of authenticity featuring the facsimile signatures of Roy E. Disney and Leonard Martin along with a postcard sized reproduction of an animation cell from the Paul Bunyan short. A small booklet is also included which contains a written introduction to the set by Leonard Maltin and a listing of all the shorts.
Since all the shorts come from varying time periods, the video transfers are a mixed bag. Disney has not taken the time to remaster these shorts and it shows. The colors are muted and dirty in several shorts. The only shorts that have been even partially restored are the Alice comedies, which are still difficult to watch at times. The audio tracks are all satisfactory considering that a majority of the shorts were originally presented in mono. The silent Alice comedies have been given a newly recorded soundtrack that sounds great and feels appropriate.
A few short featurettes are included in the extras. The most interesting of these is an interview with Alice herself, Virginia Davis. Leonard Maltin conducts the interview and finds out the truth about Virginia’s opinion of Walt Disney, her experiences making the films and what ultimately led to her quitting the role. The From Kansas City to Hollywood featurette is a timeline that traces Walt Disney’s career from its very inception all the way to the creation of Steamboat Willy. The second disc contains a commentary track for the Academy Award nominated short, A Symposium on Popular Songs. Leonard Maltin and composer Richard Sherman sit in on the track and have a lot of fun discussing the short’s merits and its creation.
Charles Band presents Retro VeggieTales
By the very nature of this set alone, it’s more entertaining than a majority of the Walt Disney Treasures releases. When watching the shorts in the other sets, such as the Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck themed releases, comedic patterns quickly become apparent and the shorts become repetitive. There’s no such problem with this release as each short is distinctive and has its own style.
The Alice comedies are included mostly for their historical value. The animation is very crude and the shorts show a heavy reliance on repetitive slapstick humor. It is interesting to see the early roots of Walt Disney’s career and some of the first instances of putting live actors in cartoon worlds. A ton of Alice shorts were created but only a handful are included in this set. This is most likely because a lot of the shorts are missing and also because only a few are needed to give viewers the general idea of what the series was all about.
A majority of the shorts are based on popular short stories or children’s books. Adaptations include Ferdinand the Bull, The Brave Engineer, The Little House, Paul Bunyan and Noah’s Ark. They’re all solid adaptations and often mimic the visual style of the illustrations found in the books. Some shorts use more experimental styles of animation that aren’t found in traditional Walt Disney features. A Symposium on Popular Songs makes use of traditional animation as well as stop-motion. Two propaganda shorts finish the set. Chicken Little is a repeat from the On the Front Lines set and A Feather In His Collar is a very brief short that encourages donations.
The shorts contained on Disney Rarities cover a variety of subjects in a variety of animation styles. Even the shorts that aren’t particularly entertaining are interesting to watch due to their significance and history. Besides, most of them end well before they can become tiresome. Disney Rarities is an excellent set for fans of Walt’s work and have been waiting for some of these long lost short to receive new life.