Please forgive my tardy review (Mary Poppins took quite a bit of my time!).
This Wave Four installment of Disney's excellent Treasures releases includes three collectors sets: Mickey Mouse in Black & White Vol 2 (finishing up all of the B&W Mickey Shorts), Pluto's first volume of a featured set The Complete Pluto, and the set that surprised me most with its extraordinary value, The Mickey Mouse Club which features the first week's worth of programming for the show when it first aired in 1955. Wave Four is presented in the same fashion as Wave Three; All the double-disc cases come as limited issue in nifty tin-canisters with a certificate inside documenting the item-number from the set's total run (sadly this number is no longer pressed into the outer tin's surface, but we already grieved over that with the last round of Wave Three so let's not start crying all over again). Each set also contains a very well designed booklet with overview material, beautifully reproduced artwork, and a clear index of each disc's features including both program listings (the title of each animated short, for example) and a listing of the bonus content on each disc. This means you, the viewer, can quickly access this printed booklet to determine which disc to play to find that "cartoon" you want to show the guests. Much appreciated.
Leonard Maltin hosts each chronicle, and true-to-form his input is interesting, informative, and of value to both serious and casual collector alike. Maltin's discussion is especially valuable in that he conveys the cultural/historical context for these historic works, and thereby adds depth and solidity to the appreciation for them by all viewers (my guess is that even Disney "experts" might gain something from his insights too). His comments are accessible for most audiences, yet don't sound condescending or oversimplified for child or novice viewers. Leonard's contribution to the value of these sets is extraordinary, and my suspicion is that his positive influence in the production and availability of these Treasures extends far beyond the interview segments they contain.
Walt Disney's Treasures are one of the finest DVD products produced by the Disney Studios. They combine history, art, entertainment, and even manage to educate audiences while putting material in the collector's hand that, until the last few years, many Disney fans had assumed would never be made available. Thank-you Disney for giving us Wave Four of Walt Disney Treasures on DVD. I cannot recommend these sets highly enough. Enjoy!
The image quality of the 3 wave four sets is very consistent with what has gone before. Regardless of the set or the selection viewed on it, the image quality of these discs appears remarkably faithful to the source elements without excessive digital processing. Film elements look very film-like, and with the animation material (especially the older B&W shorts) film artifacts such as occasional print-damage, fluctuating contrast, and film-grain are apparent. However, these artifacts in no-way, let me stress in no way impede one’s enjoyment of these treasure. On the contrary, their faithful presentation here only adds to the sense of authenticity one feels when watching them, and projected them on my screen provides a believable facsimile of having just taken a trip to a 1930’s era cinema where such cartoon shorts were a staple of pre-feature entertainment.
The Black and White Mickey shorts look minimally filtered and more detailed to my eye than the normal Buena Vista DVD fare. The Pluto shorts are also vivid and clear for the most part...and even the color cartoons look relatively detailed and natural in presentation. Color elements are bold without looking artificially boosted. The Black and White Mickey Mouse Club shows are some of the more pristine-looking often with finer-film grain than many of the animated shorts, however detail seems better on some of animation in the Mickey and Pluto sets, though this is very likely source-related.
About the only fault I can find is some minimal-level edge-enhancement on the animated shorts. Viewing these images wide-angle (1.6 screen widths from the 16x9 screen displaying the 1.33:1 pillar-boxed image) I can occasionally spot minor ringing from EE if I look closely for it, but during normal “watching” it never becomes a source of distraction. The Mickey Mouse Club episodes seem to have little-to-no-ringing but they also appear softer overall.
The only real “video artifact” I found that bothered me was the dot-crawl on the color-intro feature on the Mickey Mouse Club set (a bonus feature). Disappointing...means that Disney just grabbed a composite NTSC master to dub to the DVD rather than locating a component digital master or striking a new film-tape transfer. Not a big deal, but seeing dot-crawl off a DVD image running DVI to your DLP projector is something that should never happen under proper-mastering circumstances (bear in mind that this criticism is regarding a bonus feature, so I’m willing to forgive and be glad that I’m getting to see the color intro at all!)
MPEG compression seems well handled, blacks are solid overall even with many of the older more challenging film source elements. Personally, I’m pleased to have these wonderful cartoons/programs in their “native” form rather than having all their film-medium history digitally air-brushed away. Good job Disney.
Picture Quality: 3.5 / 5
The audio presentation for these sets is exactly as it should be and overall remarkably clear considering the age of some of these films. Occasional noise appears on some of the older animated shorts, though I never found any strong levels of hiss (neither did the highs and musical detail seem overly processed away...probably a reasonable balance of audio clean-up though I always prefer to err on the side of original detail and live with some hiss/analog noise). All audio sequences for all 3 sets are in mono. There’s really not much more to say except that they really do sound very pleasing considering their age and, just like with the video, the presence of analog artifacts on some of the older programs only adds to the sense of authenticity and in no-way detracts from the presentation or one’s enjoyment of it.
Sound Quality: 3.5 / 5
This second volume of “Mickey Mouse in Black and White” completes the Disney fan’s collection of Mickey’s early Black & White shorts. We learn from Leonard that Disney chose to keep producing B&W Mickey animation for several years after his first color short due to economics: he knew that Mickey’s popularity would sell to audiences on its own and he didn’t need to spend the increased cost on Technicolor photography to market his shorts.
These early Black and White shorts are marvelous. They can be thoroughly enjoyed as pure entertainment or studied to reveal the gradual evolution and development over time of characters, story, use of sound, and animation skill. It’s not hard to see how the cartoons become more and more sophisticated on all these counts with each passing year.
- [*]Mickey Mania: Collecting Mickey Merchandise: Vivit the home of a private collector of early-Mickey memorabilia and merchandise. And folks think that I’m eccentric. Leonard hosts the conversation and gets a personal tour of this gentleman’s home which is almost literally a Mickey Mouse shrine. The only fault I found with this super feature is the sound...the stereo sound occasionally mixes in some echo or out-of-phase information that caused my ProLogic decoder to become confused and kick the dialog from the center channel to the rears from time to time. Aspect ratio is 1.33:1 and this video short is in color...and remarkably detailed I should add.
[*]Mickey’s Portrait Artist John Hench: demonstrates how to Draw Mickey’s character and gives some nice discussion fans will enjoy.
[*] From the Vault: Very impressive. Disney has struck a nice balance with their presentation of shorts that contain controversial (but culturally historic) racial and ethnic overtones by sensitively placing them in a group together under this “from the vault” banner. These area of the disc is presented with a nice introduction by Maltin who gives a very diplomatic-sounding disclaimer about the content of these shorts (encouraging parents to discuss these issues with their children). I’m sure that some fans will take offense that these shorts have been label as controversial and sifted out from their other contemporaries to be sequestered in their own sub-menu on the disc (ie, not presented chronologically with all the rest). I’m sure that others will take offense that these “racist” cartoons are presented at all. But I think most of you will feel the way that I do; that it’s a pleasure, and a privilege, to have these cartoons at all and I applaud Disney for making them available and for doing so in manner that is sensitive to the ethnic and racial groups portrayed in them.
In all honesty, with some of these shorts I wondered what all the fuss was about. A 1.5-second “black face” from getting splashed in a mud-puddle? The play of Uncle Tom’s Cabin made perfect sense to be here however, and even at their worst, none of the images hit me as too severe (one TV episode of In Living Color contains more ethnic slurs and stereotyping than in all these shorts combined).
Bravo Disney for giving us all these Mickey cartoons...politically correct or incorrect.
[*]Mickey’s Sunday Funnies: This appears to be a complete newspaper comic strip, in full color, of Mickey and a Giant. You can watch the comic strip as a “video” where the video image zooms in, pans, and changes from illustration to illustration at an appropriate time, or you can view them more like an image-gallery (my preference) where you skip from image to image manually. Only suggestion...which you always here me say...Disney, PLEASE use the full-TV height or width to present these type of still-frame images rather than shrking them down to surround them with decorative border designs that only waste space and reduce the resolution and size of the image we’re trying to see!
[*]Still Frame Galleries: Lots of them! Fans will enjoy (but again, Disney please use the full height/width you have available in the frame to provide full resolution and maximum size.
It’s Pluto. What can I say...you’ve got almost 30 Pluto cartoons...from the very early B&W to beautiful 1940’s color. Lend a Paw (where he saves the kitten from drowning...got Academy Award for “Best Short Subject” in 1941) and Bone Trouble (two of his best). Enjoy!
- [*] Life and Times of Pluto: A nice Pluto documentary. Meet Pluto experts, Pluto animators, historians, see rare Pluto footage, a must for any Pluto fan!
[*]Pluto 101: Disney animator Andreas Deja talks about Pluto, his approach to animating this character, and takes us through the creative process of bringing this character to life in drawing.
[*] From the Vault: [/i]Please ready my “From the Vault” comments from B&W Mickey Vol 2 if you haven’t already.[/i]
Here we have two Pluto cartoons that contain controversial ethnic or racial representations. The cartoon that seemed most understandably categorized as such is Pantry Pirate where Pluto attempts to steal food from a kitchen while the African American house-maid keeps thwarting his efforts. Nothing more shocking that the stockings and slippers you’re familiar with on the Tom and Jerry cartoons you’ve seen a million times.
These shorts are introduced by Maltin who shares the same comments we hear on the Mickey set. Thanks Disney for providing these shorts and for taking care to treat everyone with respect.
[*]Pluto’s Picture Book: This feature is actually an excerpt from a Season one episode of the Disneyland TV show, “A Story of Dogs”. Approximately 30 minutes from that show is presented here which really was being put together as an ad for Walt’s then-released Lady and the Tramp. Lots of Pluto cartoons and other interesting content mixed in. I enjoyed it.
[*]Pluto’s Pal Fergy: A very welcome interview with legendary animator Norm Ferguson (responsible for many a Pluto cartoon). Most of this feature consists of discussion with Mr. Ferguson intermixed with historic photos and animated sequences. Any Pluto, Disney, or animation fan will enjoy this and find it very informative.
[*]Still Frame Galleries: Lots of nice pictures including poster art and other promotional material. Great to have but Disney...please use the full screen height/width that you are able to maximize image size and resolution!
In the 1930's, when Mickey Mouse cartoons were a weekly event at movie-theaters everywhere, the first incarnation of the "Mickey Mouse Club" appeared. Though it was sanctioned by Disney (who provided some minor curricula materials etc.) the events were organized primarily by theater-owners in an effort attract large audiences of children to their daily shows...in order to sell a larger volume of tickets and concession-stand popcorn. Entertainments centered around singing the theme-song "Minnie's Yoo-Hoo" and various contests and activities to entertain and keep the kids coming back week after week. By 1937, with the debut of Snow White and Disney's other feature-length animated films, the Mickey-Mouse Clubs (and Mickey Mouse cartoon shorts) lost their popularity and club participation dwindled away.
The growing popularity of television in the 1950's had the movie studios were worried about how it might cut into their profits. None of the major film studios made any effort to get into television programming (viewing it as a "threat") until Walt Disney. In 1950 Walt produced a television special on ABC called "One Hour In Wonderland" to promote his new movie "Alice in Wonderland" (contained on the Alice in Wonderland SE DVD). This program was so successful that ABC begged Walt to provide more programming, and he provided three additional one-hour features over the next four years (but no regular programming). Then in 1954 Walt was trying to raise money to fund his Disneyland Theme Park and he reached an agreement with ABC; the studio would provide $900,000 in cash and Walt would create two regular television shows for broadcast. In September 1954, Walt began hosting his one-hour weekly show, "Disneyland" on ABC television (which was extremely popular and continued airing on a variety of networks until 1989). The second show he provided for ABC was a new incarnation of the Mickey Mouse Club, but this one had the full weight of Disney Studios Production behind it. This show was aired daily, Monday through Friday, and was a full-hour in length! Produced to high-professional standards with an astonishing variety of rich and entertaining content unmatched by any other children's programming of its time (or arguably since), 1955’s Mickey Mouse Club became a national phenomenon. It could be argued that it introduced children to "appointment television" where childhood daily life (for better or for worse) revolved around watching this special show in a way that only radio programming had impacted previously.
The Mickey Mouse Club was revolutionary in many ways; It used an innovative format that provided structure and consistency from episode to episode, week to week, while at the same time building-in a rotating "theme" mechanism. This provided a structure that was both stable and new-and-exciting each day to delight child audiences and keep the show from growing stale and predictable. The program's formatting was (is) quite sophisticated incorporating segments that were filmed on location (sometimes international), live-acted serials that stared the Mouseketeers themselves, featured animated shorts (from Disney's vast library), as well as "variety" acts with song/dance and other live talent. The entire show was printed to film prior to airing, which allowed the production quality to achieve a high standard as well as archive the programming on a high-quality and stable medium for future generations to enjoy. The show was produced this way for three years--that's an hour of original programming, five days a week, and then continued being aired for a fourth year in re-run.
“New” Mickey Mouse club...
In the mid 1970's Disney decided to "test" the market for a program like the Mickey Mouse Club and edited their shows down to half an hour and released them into syndication (this is the way most of us have experienced the original Mickey Mouse Club--in greatly edited form). The show was deemed popular, and Disney created the third incarnation of the "Mickey Mouse Club" in 1977. This "all new" Mickey Mouse Club bore resemblance to the old, but the show was only 30 minutes in length, produced for syndication, and had some other notable differences from the original as well. The most stand-out distinction was the full-color presentation (the bright and varying palette of 70's jump-suit uniforms makes an unmistakable impression) which was quite a contrast to the Black and White The Mickey Mouse Club that audience members had grown used to watching. Another key difference was the much more racially and ethnically diverse Mouseketeers (including Lisa Whelchel who went on to star in NBC's "The Facts of Life"). The "All New Mickey Mouse Club" became the most popular children's television show that year; but in spite of this fact, Disney executives ceased production after only one season.
Note: Disney fan/expert Rodney Elin contributed to the content for this review.
- [*]Introduciton by Leonard Maltin: Leonard does his usual excellent job here (as on every other set) but I make mention of it on this DVD set because his explanation of the impact of the 1950’s Mickey Mouse will be very helpful for many viewers who are unfamiliar with the show and how it was received by television audiences of the time.
[*]Leader of the Club: A nice tribute to Jimmie Dodd. Original Mouseketeers Karen, Bobby, Doreen, Sharon, Cubby, and Lonnie, Leonard reminisce about the contribution that Jimmy Dodd, the host of the Mickey Mouse Club, gave, and Dodd's lasting effect on the Mouseketeers and the show. This feature includes a visit by the Mousekateers to soundstage 1 in Burbank where the entire show was filmed.
[*]Still frame Galleries: Mostly promotional material though of interest.
[*]Mouske-Memories: Really touching. Several of the surviving Mousketeers get together and talk with Maltin and share their memories and what it meant to them to be a Mousketeer. I don’t want to ruin the surprise but Maltin gets an honor he doesn’t expect. I watched the whole thing and found myself thoroughly interested.
[*]The Mousketeers Debut at Disneyland: Archival rehearsal footage of the Mouseketeers preparing for the opening ceremonies for Disneyland Theme-Park (Disneyland Opened in July 1955 and the Mickey Mouse Club premiered in October of that year. Mostly black and white, but some color sequences survive of the Mousketeers performing at the opening of Disneyland (before their show had aired on television). Fun to see them perform...a more innocent time. And the color film-stock that survives is beautiful and remarkably lush and clear. Your chance to see what those outfits really looked like!
[*] Opening Sequence in Color: The only thing better than the Mickey Mouse Club’s opening is to see it in color! Walt Disney was forward-thinking enough to film sequences of the 1950's show in color knowing that they might be aired on color systems at a future date. This is the first time it’s been made available to the public. The opening sequence in color is almost exactly the same as the opening sequence used in the 1977 "all new" The Mickey Mouse Club but with improved fidelity. The only down-shot is that despite the gorgeous color image, you’ll see dot-crawl around the hard-edges which tells me that the Disney DVD production folks used a composite NTSC master rather than a component digital master or new film-tape transfer. A quibble, an this feature is great to have...
Want to own a bit of history? Want to have fun at the same time? Buy these Treasures sets. I recommend each one whole-heartedly. Whether you’re a Disney fan, animation fan, film-history buff or have an affinity for the topic of one of these sets, they are sure to reward. Quality bonus material (good re-watch potential) coupled with excellent and minimally processed audio and video quality should make this an easy purchase.