DVD Review HTF REVIEW: Disney Treasures - On The Front Lines, HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

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  1. DaViD Boulet

    DaViD Boulet Lead Actor

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    ON THE
    FRONT LINES
    Studio: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



    The Feature...


    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:

    Quote:



    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.





    Thanks Ernest.

    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...


    The Presentation...

    Hardware:
    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.

    Software:
    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.



    Picture...


    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
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    Sound...

    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
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    Special Features...

    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.
    [/list]


    In Closing...

    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.

    HIGHLY RECOMMENDED
     
  2. Keith Paynter

    Keith Paynter Screenwriter

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    This package could have had 0 stars and I'd still be buying it, for Der Fuehrer's Face alone. Having never seen Victory Through Air Power, I expect this volume to get the most playing time of all my 'Treasures' volumes.

    Kudos to Disney for releasing this in spite of troubling times we live in.
     
  3. Randy A Salas

    Randy A Salas Screenwriter

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    I asked Leonard Maltin, who produced and presents the Disney Treasures series, for his top pick from each of the new volumes. He cited this as his favorite, too, from On the Front Lines.
     
  4. ChrisMatson

    ChrisMatson Cinematographer

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    I have not bought any of the "Disney Treasures" sets--until now. I will be picking this up on Tuesday.

    This fascinating collection just sounds incredible. I will probably get Tomorrowland too.

    Great review.
     
  5. James L White

    James L White Supporting Actor

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    [​IMG] Oh man, you don't know what you've been missing, great DVDs, can't wait until mine are shipped from Amazon.com[​IMG]
     
  6. Adam_S

    Adam_S Producer

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    David, what did you think of Victory through Air Power? It's the major focus of the set and has never been released before, so I"m most interested in hearing your thoughts on it.

    Adam
     
  7. Paul_Scott

    Paul_Scott Lead Actor

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    you sly little minx [​IMG]

    i haven't read Ernests review yet- but i can say that your review here, David, has certainly strengthend my resolve to snag this.
    while i really don't have any affection for the core Disney characters (i'm much more a LT kind of guy), this set sounds flat out amazing.


    i hope nothing goes wrong with my Amazon order
     
  8. Artur Meinild

    Artur Meinild Screenwriter

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    I got this set some days ago, and so far I like it very much. Very classic, a real collector's item...
     
  9. James_Garner

    James_Garner Stunt Coordinator

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    Those three quotes finally explain why Eisner's still working at Disney [​IMG]
     
  10. DaViD Boulet

    DaViD Boulet Lead Actor

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    [​IMG]


    Absolutely incredible. I added a few lines to my review regarding this...and I may go back later and flesh it out even more. I think that this single feature is reason enough to justify the purchase of the entire set. Top-drawer. And very educational...the whole history of flight is chronicled clearly and accurately...and is portrayed in a more serious manner than the usual Disney "history of ...." scenario.

    Curiously, this feature is slightly letterboxed in the 4x3 window, my guess is to preserve the academy aspect ratio of 1.37:1 (which is just slightly wider than the 1.33:1 aspect ratio of 4x3). Most folks won't even notice but my projector running DVI has almost no overscan so these type of things are very clear.
     
  11. PaulP

    PaulP Producer

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    Oh my god. When you get your hands on one of them you'll realize just how much care goes into each one, and you'll immediately want to own them all. I guarantee that! Unfortunately, the previous two waves are pretty hard to come by cheaply now, especially the very first tins. Good luck though, I very highly recommend you try and seek out as many of them as possible. I was lucky enough to buy them as they came out, starting with the first wave, and will continue to do so with this wave and the upcoming fourth wave, due in December. Of course, I guess, you have to be a big fan of animation, but to me these sets should be owned by as many people as possible, because they showcase some of the best animation ever produced, in my humble opinion...
     
  12. ChrisMatson

    ChrisMatson Cinematographer

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    To clarify, I have not bought any of the sets because I am not generally passionate about animation or Disney charachters. I am, however, fascinated by the content of two of the sets offered this time: On The Front Lines and Tomorrowland: Disney in Space and Beyond. I have no doubt all of the collections are great, but these two are of the most interest to me.
     
  13. DaViD Boulet

    DaViD Boulet Lead Actor

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    Chris,

    I reviewed these two sets before the others for precisely that reason. They distinguish themselves by their appeal based on CONTENT alone...which makes them a must-have even for folks who might not be "Disney fans" or "animation fans" but who are interested in the historic nature of the marvelous work they contain. Both of these sets are indeed historical documents and are "important" in ways far beyond their entertainment as "cartoons" would imply.
     
  14. TonyDale

    TonyDale Second Unit

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    It's been quite a day for my wallet. My TREASURES all arrived as did my AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS. Now, to find the time to plug them into the player and watch. [​IMG]
     
  15. Al (alweho)

    Al (alweho) Second Unit

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    They used to be hard to find - now Disney has apparently put them back into production as a $170 box set, minus the tins.

    You can buy the set at the Disney Store website, and they used to offer the same set at both Costco and Amoeba Records here in the Los Angeles area.
     
  16. LorenzoL

    LorenzoL Second Unit

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    Thank you Al for pointing the set out. This is great news for me having missed the last two waves. Don't care much about the collectivity of the tins, just want the DVDs so I can played them at home.

    Excellent review of the "On the front lines" David. Can't wait until I get my copy.
     
  17. Steven Wesley

    Steven Wesley Second Unit

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    David, thanks for the review. I appreciate the "top level" approach for those of us who don't know everything about this history of Disney animation... but are excited to learn more!
     
  18. Patrick McCart

    Patrick McCart Lead Actor

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    I just recieved On The Front Lines this afternoon... Wonderful set! I've watched a few cartoons so far and they're really amazing. I'm also very pleased with the image quality... I guess keeping most of the films out of circulation for a few decades lessens the chance of excessive wear and tear [​IMG]

    Disney really should be applauded for releasing this set.[​IMG]

    I would like to know, though... the clips of "Why We Fight" that they used in one of the intros looks fantastic! I'd like to know where they got such good source material for it.
     
  19. Jeff Jacobson

    Jeff Jacobson Cinematographer

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    I just got received this set today from Deep Discount DVD, and it freezes in the middle of "Donald's Decision". Has anyone else had this problem?

    This disc (disc 1) was loose when I opened the case, and there are some small scratches on the disc. Perhaps this is the cause of the problem.

    DDD doesn't have "Front Lines" listed on their website anymore, so I don't think I'll be able to exchange it. What do I do now?
     
  20. Ernest Rister

    Ernest Rister Producer

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    Mine's fine, Jeff. Hopefully, it's just that one cartoon (which looks like hell and is made from recycled animation, anyway, you're not missing much) - still, I'd get an exchange - if Deep Discount can't help you, try contacting Disney and asking for a replacement disc.
     

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