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Walt Disney Treasures 3

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

The Chronological Donald: Vol. 1

This two-disc set marks the first Donald Duck collection, and lines up 36 of Donald's full-color appearances from 1934 to 1941, from his supporting role in The Wise Little Hen to Chef Donald. Fastidious viewers can choose between watching the cartoons in alphabetical order or chronological order.

Growing up, I very much enjoyed reading Donald Duck comic books by the great Carl Barks. They often featured Donald and his three nephews traveling around the world with their rich, penny-pinching Uncle Scrooge looking for treasure. The ducks were intelligent and well-read, prepared for any emergency and all kinds of action.

The animated cartoons are more simple-minded however. They usually show Donald attempting to perform some task while some animal, insect, bully or relative interrupts him. The cartoons do feature Donald's hilarious boxing stance, with one arm outstretched in front of him, the other pinwheeling around, while hopping up and down.

Though most of these 36 eight-minute cartoons are the same, some of them offer fleeting glimpses into Donald's psyche, such as Self Control (1938), in which Donald listens to the advice of a radio DJ and tries to control his temper by counting to ten; in the end he winds up smashing the radio. Donald's Better Self (1938) uses the old good conscience-bad conscience plot, but with Donald, it makes a lot more sense. This is a character who will always choose vice over virtue, even if Disney tried to keep his images squeaky clean.

Another great cartoon, The Autograph Hound (1939), has Donald running around Hollywood trying to get autographs from such stars as Mickey Rooney, Greta Garbo, Sonja Henie and Shirley Temple. In one scene, he berates an Irish cop and has fun doing it -- one little spark of life from this anti-authoritarian duck. Unfortunately, the later cartoons reigned him in more than they let him loose.

Astonishingly, some of the cartoons -- the ones featuring guns or racial stereotypes -- come with disclaimers! Film critic Leonard Maltin provides the disc's introduction and the disclaimers. Other extras include a storyboard and background art gallery, a publicity and memorabilia gallery and a tribute to Donald's voice, Clarence "Ducky" Nash.

Walt Disney's Tomorrowland

This disc revives many of the space/science programs that Disney produced for the 1950s television show. These documentaries feature on-camera narration by Disney himself, animation and other clips, and many of them managed to accurately predict the future. The six titles include the hour-long Man in Space (1955), Man and the Moon (1955), Mars and Beyond (1957) and Our Friend the Atom (1957), which many people may have first seen on a rickety 16mm projector in a classroom. In addition, the disc includes two half-hour shorts, Eyes in Outer Space (1959) and Epcot (1966) -- the final film produced by Walt before his death.

Maltin again provides the introductions. The disc also includes interviews with Ray Bradbury and Marty Sklar, who worked on many of the Tomorrowland projects, as well as image galleries.

Mickey Mouse in Living Color: Vol. II

Though he's the company figurehead, Mickey is arguably Disney's most benign and least interesting character. In one cartoon, The Little Whirlwind (1941), he attempts to clean up Minnie Mouse's yard in exchange for a piece of freshly-baked cake. But a tiny tornado comes along and makes things rough. Instead of showing Mickey devising a way out of his predicament or even some good slapstick, the whirlwind constantly gets the upper hand, upstaging Mickey at every turn and even getting most of the screen time.

The most common formula has Mickey making a decision and his dog Pluto carrying it out for the duration of the film. Even at his own birthday party, in Mickey's Birthday Party (1941), he is upstaged by Minnie playing the organ, Goofy baking a cake and Donald dancing with a large hen. There's no question that these cartoons are beautifully produced, but it's as if the animators were still enamored by the way drawings could move rather than making them do anything interesting. Still, there's something reassuring about the little guy.

This disc comes with 18 eight-minute cartoons from 1939 to 1953 and Maltin provides more introductions and disclaimers. Extras on the first disc include the classic Mickey and the Beanstalk (1947, co-starring Donald and Goofy) -- for my money the best thing on the disc and one of the greatest food movies ever made. Unfortunately, it's presented with its disruptive live action wraparound sequence and annoying narration by Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy. The disc also has Mickey's "Sorcerer's Apprentice" sequence from Fantasia as well as a brief outtake from same.

The second disc contains three more recent cartoons, the half-hour Mickey's Christmas Carol (1983) and The Prince and the Pauper (1990) and the eight-minute Runaway Brain (1995). Ironically, the latter 'toon features a livelier Mickey than in any of the earlier shorts, and it appears to have been influenced more by the Chuck Jones Warner Brothers cartoons than by earlier Disney cartoons.

Other bonuses include: the featurettes The Making of Mickey's Christmas Carol, Mickey's Cartoon Comeback and The Voice Behind the Mouse, as well as many other small goodies. In addition, I found two "Easter eggs." On the main menu, highlight Mickey's cane and you will see a recording session with Walt Disney playing Mickey and Billy Bletcher playing Pete. And, on the "Bonus Features" menu, highlight the single musical note just above Mickey and the Beanstalk, and it will take you to a bizarre short designed to coax Standard Oil into using Disney characters for advertising!

Walt Disney on the Front Lines

Perhaps the most fascinating of all the Disney box sets, this collection highlights Disney's WWII efforts, many of them unseen for years. Disc one divides 29 shorts into three categories: Entertainment and Propaganda, Education and Out of the Vault. The first is a collection of mostly Donald, Pluto and Goofy shorts with a military slant. The best ones have poor Donald trudging through Army life under the sadistic guidance of Pete. The Educational shorts mostly recycle previously produced cartoons for new uses. The Vault selections are the most interesting of all. They contain Der Fuehrer's Face (1943), an Oscar winner in which Donald dreams he's a member of the Third Reich. He wakes up at the end and hugs a miniature Statue of Liberty. Other selections are grim little numbers warning Americans about the dangers of being brainwashed by evil leaders with sinister agendas.

The second disc includes a couple of vintage training films, one on riveting and the other on stopping tanks, as well as Disney's feature film, the 65-minute Victory Through Air Power (1944). Other extras include the making of Victory and a theatrical trailer, galleries and interviews.
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