Senior HTF Member
- Feb 24, 1999
FRONT LINESStudio:Disney Year:Early 1940’sRunTime:@ 3.5 Hours of program-material (plus bonus material)Aspect Ratio:4x3 encoded 1.33:1 OAR Audio:DD English mono Subtitles:English (captions for the hearing impaired)SpecialFeatures:On the set of “Victory Through Air Power”, Galleries (many), Conversations with Disney Legends (Leonard Maltin interviews John Hench, Joe Grant, and Roy Disney as they share first-hand accounts of the Disney studios during war-time.) ReleaseDate:May 18, 2004
Much like my experience with the Tomorrowland Treasures set (review here), my experience with Disney’s “On The Front Lines” has been an unexpectedly rewarding and eye-opening DVD adventure. Let me just say right-up that if you’re a Disney DVD collector and have enjoyed other Treasures sets, but haven’t yet determined if you want to purchase this particular collection, simply do it. Anyone who has an interest in WWII history should also own this disc, no questions asked.
And just like with the Tomorrowland series, I’ll state right away that I’m not qualified to review this DVD set in the manner that it deserves. However, I hope that my best effort as a novice who is predominantly ignorant of WWII history will help to convince those of you out there, who may not think that you have a strong interest in this material, that its rewards more than earn this DVD a place among your collection.
HTF’s own Ernest Rister has written an outstanding review of this set for dvd.ign.com which I encourage EVERYONE to read (HERE) and has graciously permitted me to quote him. I’d like to share here his own excellent introduction to this set:
On the morning after Pearl Harbor, Walt Disney arrived at his struggling Burbank studio to find it occupied by armed American soldiers. The nearby Lockheed air base was being mobilized for the defense of Los Angeles and Southern California. Because housing in Burbank was scarce, the U.S. military commandeered Disney's studio to use as military housing.
Soon after, Disney was contracted by the U.S. Government to create training and propaganda films for the war effort at a fee of "cost plus 10%". From late-1941 through the end of the war in mid-1945, with the exception of Bambi and a few shorts, the Disney studios shifted from the production of animated entertainment to the creation of training films, goodwill features, propaganda items, military insignias and motivational materials for the Allied Powers.
Much of this material has never been seen by the generations of Americans born after WWII, for various reasons. Some of the shorts are utilitarian, created for a single, specific purpose (such as the proper way to navigate a shipping lane, or how to maintain a rifle). Some shorts contain language and images that are now considered offensive for certain audiences. Some of this material is simply too dark, too violent, and too frightening for young viewers, an audience normally associated with Disney animation.
These long-unseen Disney "war films" from 1942-1945, including the feature-length film, Victory Through Air Power, have finally been collected and released for home theaters via the sliver-tin "Walt Disney Treasures" series. While several of the WWII shorts are not included due to space constraints, all of the truly noteworthy films from this period are found here, and almost all of them have been painstakingly restored. As a bonus, these films are presented uncensored for today's modern audiences -- the only buffer between you and the war films are brief introductions by Leonard Maltin, who appears before certain shorts to place their content within a 1940's war-time context.
Put simply, the set is a bonanza for fans of animation from the 30's and 40's. For Disney fans, the chance to see - let alone own - Victory Through Air Power is nothing less than an event. For everyone else, especially for those new to this material, the set should be an eye-opening, jaw-opening experience. If you are one of those who think of bunny rabbits and deer every time you hear the word "Disney", you're in for a surprise. This is not your father's Disney Animation. This is your grandfather's Disney Animation, and brother, your grandfather had it good.
A Personal Moment if I may...
Many of these shorts fit into the typical “Warner Brothers Style” propaganda film which amount to nothing more than “cartoons” with familiar characters playing out humorous situations with the U.S. military as the background theme--nothing too disturbing and relatively benign (kids could watch these just like any other "cartoon"). But Disney doesn’t stop there, and I found myself continually amazed at how many of these shorts very brazenly deal directly with hard-core themes like Nazism and Hitler Youth Training programs. Others deal with lesser known issues like the short that encourages house-wives to save their grease drippings for collections for the manufacture of glycerin to help fuel explosives production. In these more "focused" works, it is the Disney characters (if present at all), who become incindental.
I’m sure everyone will walk away from this set with their own particular favorite program and with their own ideas about why its important. The most impressive feature is the full length (1 hour, 10 minutes long) “Victory Through Air Power” which chronicles the history of flight and its role in warefare. I think that many will be willing to purchase this set for this single feature alone. However, for me, the two programs that affected me most acutely were the shorts “Reason and Emotion” and “Chicken Little”. This is because I see an ironic applicability to our own present times of the “warnings” these two programs convey. Without adding any editorial spin to point your thoughts to any particular association, allow me to quote three passages used by the sly fox character in “Chicken Little”. These quotations are taken as he (the fox) reads from his psychology book to glean some insights about how deceive the flock into leaving the safety of their coup and flee in into his cave to escape the dangers of the "falling sky":
“To influence the masses, aim first at the least intelligent.”
“If you tell a lie, don’t tell a little one, tell a big one.”
“By the use of flattery, insignificant people can be made to look upon themselves as born leaders.”
Ok, on to the technical details of the DVD review...
Like with all the previous Treasures sets you own, this one comes in an outer tin canister case that is just oh-so-cool. Unlike previous incarnations of the Treasures series, this one is not “stamped” with the serial number. Inside there is an “extra wide” double-shell DVD case containing two DVD discs along with some generous printed booklet material. Also inside you’ll find a certificate designating the individual production number of your set out of the total run lot.
This is presentation with class. If only Disney would produce more of them! Get them while you can. They are all limited issue.
There are no forced trailers. If you’re familiar with the previous Treasures sets You’ve got the same sort of menu style and “flow” here. The Program material is organized into categories: “From the Vault”, Propaganda & Entertainment Subjects”, and “Educational Shorts” are all on disc one. All of the program material in each of these groups are basically shorts…as would have appeared before a feature film in a theater. Disc two contains some longer programs, like the full-length (one hour, 10 minutes) “Victory Through Air Power” which is absolutely outstanding (and presented slightly letterboxed in the 4x3 frame preserving the OAR of @ 1.37:1). Also on disc two are a series of (many recently declassified) “Training Shorts” used by the military, along with a host of bonus material like galleries, behind-the-scenes snippets, and three very remarkable interviews.
Each disc has an “overall” introduction by Leonard Maltin as well as a brief introduction for almost every feature/short presentation. I cannot express the value of Maltin’s contributions highly enough. And let me take issue with a few opinions I’ve encountered who seem to interpret Maltin’s comments as some sort of “compromise” as if this is a milder flavor of censorship…where Disney is trying to “soften” the effect of their historic content by using his comments as some sort of disclaimer. On the contrary, in my opinion Maltin’s comments are educations, and add depth and context to each feature they precede. In no way to I view his presence here as anything that lessens or weakens the integrity of this historic work; Maltin’s words serve to honor and enhance this important work.
Each disc offers only English audio and optional English subtitles “for the hearing impaired”. The menus are nicely rendered and really fit the look and feel of the historic material. Bravo Disney for another superb job.
Much of this part of the review shares script with my Tomorrowland review. This isn’t a cop-out, it’s because the same comments apply.
Obviously we’re dealing with source material that is quite dated, and there are intermittent artifacts that are film-source/production related that probably would have looked no different to 1950’s audiences. A few more obscure shorts show more age/storage related artifacting (the Training Shorts on Disc two come to mind), but granting just a few exceptions, to my eyes, very little of what artifacting there is seems to be due to damage due to age. In any case, “natural” film/production related artifacts don’t bother me. That’s the medium and that’s the content’s history. What does bother me are “electronic” artifacts that are introduced during film-tape transferring and/or subsequent mastering for DVD. Blessedly, this latter type of “artificial” artifacting is nary to be seen on Disney’s On The Front Lines except for just a FEW instances where I saw the slightest bit of ringing around hard-lines in some of the animation sequences, but the effect was minimal, benign, and non-distracting (though causing me to shave off just a fraction of a point for final PQ score).
The one thing that did bother me was that two of the “Training Shorts” actually show dot-crawl (amid a host of film-related artifacts like print scratches etc.). This particularly bothers me because it means that Disney used a composite video master for this DVD (and a really pathetic comb-filter, PLEEEASE, I mean, I can by an outboard comb-filter that doesn’t produce dot-crawl…can’t Disney Studios???) rather than a film-source. However, given the astonishing level of restoration and quality for so much content on this disk, I’ll give the production folks the benefit of the doubt (and if any of them were placing bets as to whether anyone would notice the dot-crawl composite artifacting on those particular shorts and complain about it, I did). I’ve seen this same problem on a few isolated shorts on some other Disney Treasures disc so it’s something that I now look out for when judging overall picture quality (generally dot crawl is not among the “ills” one worries about ferreting out when reviewing DVD picture quality!).
Lots of film grain in many sequences. And that’s good. It means the Disney compression/DVD mastering center hasn’t opted to digitally air-brush all that natural film-grain away…which would have left a “clean” picture but one devoid of authenticity and fine detail. Color balance is striking. I presume that a Technicolor process was used for most of the color sequences we see. Colors are sumptuous, rich, vivid, and bold. Animation sequences naturally impress the most with a lush and vibrant pallet, but even live-shot sequences are worth noting. Depending on the animation of the particular program, colors are in a word: Stunning. Black level is also without fault. Black level is “absolute” on this disc (as black as it can go, using the full grayscale-range available) giving the picture a wide and saturated dynamic range. Whites are bold without ever appearing “crushed” and grayscale is as good as the source material will allow. I noticed no compression artifacts from my 1.75 screen width distance.
Picture: 4.5/ 5
For once he’ll be brief. Try to stay calm. The audio is perfectly acceptable DD mono. Sound is quite listenable on a high-resolution audio system without sounding thin and irritating. Neither is there a thick fog of hiss or noise overlaying the sound. Sound is clear, dialog easily intelligible, and music and score have a reasonable sense of dynamic range and frequency response.
Sound: 4/ 5
There is so much bonus material to cover, please forgive me if I only give a cursory listing. Once the disc are in-hand, if any of you care to go more in-depth and provide your own personal review of the special-feature content, email me and I’ll post your comments here to share with others.
[*]On The Set of “Victory Through Air Power”: Some behind-the-scenes historic footage (some with Walt). Fans will appreciate for sure.
[*]Galleries: There are quite a few to say the least. Fans have hours of content to explore for those are so inclined…
[*]Poster Gallery: Using Disney characters and themes. If you’re like me, most of this comes as a complete surprise.
[*]Production Art Gallery: Color and B/W production art/story boards for 18 wartime shorts.
[*]Dispatches from Disney Gallery: About the never-produced feature “The Gremlins”.
[*]Joe Grant’s Sketchbook Gallery: Disney artist-legend Joe Grant’s historic work is documented here (he was the only artist who worked on both the original Fantasia along with “Fantasia 2000”.
[*]Insignaia Gallery: Disney artists produced over 1200 insignia designs for the military, some with Disney characters.
[/list][*]Conversations with Disney Legends: Three remarkable interview segments are captured here, hosted by Leonard Maltin. He speaks with John Hench, Joe Grant, and Roy Disney to discuss their first-hand accounts of “War-time at the Disney studios”. This is the kind of quality special-feature content I really value, and I’m sure that many of you will feel the same. The conversations are candid, well-guided, and worth the listen.
This may not be the “sit down with the kids and family” entertainment set you’ve normally come to expect from the Disney Treasures line, but that should not dissuade your interest, rather it should intensify it. Walt Disney Studios helped the war effort in a profound way by helping to influence public opinion and, in some cases, government and political leadership as well. This set represents this remarkable and little-known (to most of us) era of Disney’s work, and as expected Disney has done a first-class job with the presentation. Any Disney fan, or anyone with an interest in WWII American-history, needs to obtain this set without further haste.