Note: I only recieved my Treasures Wave Five discs in the mail this past Friday...already several days after street date! Please forgive the tardy review...
Disney Rarities is a indeed a “treasure” of shorts not neatly fitted in to one of the usual Disney-character or series categories. This set contains well-loved gems like Ferdinand the Bull, Lambert the Sheepish Lion, The Little House and Paul Bunyan. This set also presents some of Disney’s lesser-known but masterfully done experimental work like Noah’s Ark and reference-setting educational works like The Truth About Mother Goose. Many of you may recognize some of the animation from Goliath II that you’ve seen appear in the animated Jungle Book. To top it off, Walt’s personally-directed silent “Alice” shorts are presented here. Without a doubt, Disney Rarities is a set that appeals to any self-respecting Disney or animation collector. For me personally, it’s the collection I’ve been waiting for since the Disney Treasure sets first appeared.
In keeping with a working design, the 2 discs allow viewers to view menus arranged by alphabetically or by chronology. The booklet is comprehensive and lists all program items including bonus material on each disc (saving you a disc loading session to figure out which DVD has that feature you’re looking for). The double-disc case comes packed in a handsome tin (sans serial-stamping), the discs are nicely silk-screened (like all B.V. DVDs if you’ve noticed), and the cover design is consistent with the other treasures sets so it all blends nicely on the shelf.
I’m a bit dismayed. It looks to my eyes that nearly all (if not every) of the features appear sourced from composite-video media. I say this because “NTSC decoding artifacts” can be seen in almost every short. My first surprise came with the opening title/credits with 1923’s Alice’s Wonderland…The stair-stepping on the title text was not the kind of artifact I was expecting to find in a 1923 silent film! Dot crawl can be found during the credit scenes for many of the other features though to be fair rarely intrudes into the running program material (however, I did see a bit of dot crawl on the flamingos in Noah’s Ark which I found distracting). The worst NTSC artifact to plague the animation is color moiré which appears as a twittering rainbow-like effect on fine detail especially in white-colored areas. This became quite distracting at times for me especially in some of the more geometrically-drawn features like Toot, Whistle, Plunk and Boom. There is also a general softness to the animated features that falls visibly below the detail threshold of which the DVD medium is capable of delivering. Shoddy.
Note dot crawl and NTSC "hell" going on with Noah:
More atrocious NTSC decoding artifacts:
To add insult to injury, the “widescreen” animated features are presented in 4x3 lbx and appear blurry and artifact-laden when zoomed to fill the 16x9 screen. Edge Enhancement was also a problem with the widescreen presentations, though it thankfully didn’t intrude into the native 1.33:1 shorts. Rapheal (a fellow HTF member) and I compared the Toot, Whistle, Plunk and Boom on this DVD set to its presentation on the Fantasia 2000 DVD and we both found that the color saturation and sharpness appeared slightly better on the Fantasia version of the same title (I’m sure someone was wondering about that comparison). I won’t begin to debate the accuracy of the aspect ratio of the widescreen 4x3 lbx presentations on this set, but I can assure you that none of them look 2.35:1 to my eyes (Toot, Whistle, Plunk and Boom looks more like 2:1).
On the plus side, color is generally outstanding, and perhaps viewers with smaller screens (who view from a relatively father distance given their screen-width/distance ratio) might not find the occasional NTSC decoding artifact and image softness objectionable.
I’m of two minds about this, however neither justifies the below-bar image presentation on this set.
Mind Set Number One: You do it right and produce a new (HD or 4K) film-to-digital transfer and derive the DVD from these state-of-the-art digital sources to provide a more transparent image reproduction.
Mind Set Number Two: For whatever reason you can’t do a new film-to-digital transfer (maybe money…maybe the elements are destroyed etc.). Well then you get a DECENT comb-filter and color decoder to derive the component master for the DVD. I just don’t get it folks…I’ve got a comb-filter in my laserdisc player that avoids dot-crawl. Faroudja makes some very nice professional NTSC decoding equipment that minimizes artifacting. Yet Disney Studios was forced to use off-the-shelf crappo-NTSC gear to produce a DVD with dot crawl and color moiré hard-coded into the digital image?
I’m sure some folks will continue the railing to encompass the condition of some of the film elements in regards to dust, scratches, and print-damage and demand that Disney “do better” in restoring their films prior to DVD. I’ll go on record by saying that I’m perfectly fine with the modicum of film-print anomalies visible here. These are movies. They have history. They’re perfectly watchable without any “film restoration” at all. What ticks me off isn’t seeing the occasional print-scratch or spec of cell dust when watching a DVD derived from film elements…what bothers me as a videophile is having to watch it through an added layer of electronic noise that never would have been seen on the big screen.
Picture Quality: 2.5 / 5
In the past I think I've been too ambiguous with my scoring or at least haven't applied it consistently from title to title, so I've endeavored to define my rating system more clearly to help make the scoring more meaningful (for all titles reviewed December 2004 and later):
|1-2||An absolute abomination. Hurts to watch. Think "Outland" (scan-line aliasing, chroma noise, dotcrawl)-- truly horrid.|
|2-3||Has some serious problems, but one can at least watch it without getting a headache despite all the problems though you might try to talk your guests into picking a different movie to watch if you have a large projection screen. Think Cold Mountain.|
|3-4||Good or at least "acceptable" on a big-screen, but not winning any awards and definitely room for improvement if you view the image wide-angle (though smaller-screen viewers may be quite content). Think the first extended cut of Fellowship of the Ring...decent picture but still some HF filtering and some edge-halos.|
|4-5||A reference picture that really makes the most of the DVD medium and shows extraordinary transparency to the film-source elements. Non-videophile observers can't help but remark "WOW". Think The Empire Strikes Back or the Fifth Element Superbit (full “5” would be sans EE) or the new Toy Story 10th Anniversary Edition.|
Currently running DVDs on my OPPO DVD player (Faroudja deinterlacing) which scales to 720P, feeding my BenQ 8700+ PJ via DVI, projecting onto a 106” 16x9 Dalite HiPower screen, viewed from approximately 1.6 screen-widths distance. Well mastered DVDs produce a stunningly film-like image in this scenario, and lesser-mastered material quickly shows its flaws.
Audio is perfectly fine. Thankfully the audio engineers seemed to have exercised good taste and left a bit of audible hiss in tact to preserve the full-frequency response and low-level-detail of the original sound recordings. The audio is generally quite listenable and doesn’t appear too brassy or shrill. Not much else to say…the audio sounds just like it should.
[b] Sound Quality: 4 / 5
There are a few very worthwhile bonus items spread over these two discs.
On disc one there is a marvelous documentary about how Walt got his start in animation which covers the features he produced during his “silent era” which includes the Alice shorts. Fascinating information and if you’re a “wanna be” Disney-phile like me who loves Walt’s work but isn’t that well informed about the history behind it, you should find this feature very engaging.
Also on Disc one is a great Interview of Virginia Davis who is the live-action “Alice” in Walt’s first features. Leonard Maltin does an outstanding job as usual and it’s difficult to leave this interview not feeling a heart-tugging sentimentality for Walt’s achievements and the lives that have been touched along the way.
Disc two offers up run-time commentary from Richard Sherman for the short A symposium on Popular songs which is a wonderful journey to take with a man who has touched so many lives through his work. There are also some very nice still-frame galleries on Disc two that fall victim to my usual pet peeve of “wasted bordering image area” but are marvelous to look at nonetheless.
Sorry to disappoint you, but try as I might, I just wasn’t able to find any Raven music video, pre-school game, or ESPN sports segment.
What’s a collector to do? On the one hand, how can you live without this incredible Disney Treasure set? On the other hand, how can you make a purchase that ignores the shoddy video mastering by a studio who ought to know better? It’s hard to disagree that it’s better to have these works in this better-than-laserdisc format than not at all. But DVD, and Disney, are capable of so much more than a recycled decades-old composite video master-tape is able to deliver. I certainly hope Disney knows that they can and should do better. And I hope that this awareness translates into action when these treasures sets begin to emerge in hi-def media.
[b]RECOMMENDED with mixed feelings