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Toon Talk: Walt Disney Treasures - Disney Rarities and The Chronological Donald V2
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A Review by Kirby C. Holt
Walt Disney Treasures:
The Chronological Donald, Volume 2
Culled together from the "leftoversâ€? of the Disney Studio library not yet mined in other Walt Disney Treasure releases, one might think that the first of this year's wave of titles, Disney Rarities: Celebrated Shorts, would contain a hodgepodge of forgotten material best left, well, forgotten. Yet, although it is hard to avoid the catchall nature of the project, the collection offers a rich bounty of beloved one-shot cartoons and undiscovered gems, some that have been rarely seen since their debuts.
Sure, most any Disney fan worth their salt has seen such favorites as Lambert the Sheepish Lion and Toot, Whistle, Plunk and Boom; but the inclusion here of such unexpected delights as The Little House and A Symposium on Popular Songs makes this set a must-have for the completists out there, yet offers ample entertainment value for casual animation fans as well.
Disc 1 begins with a sampling of Alice Comedies, Walt's silent series from the 1920s that was his first success. Loosely based on Lewis Carroll's "Aliceâ€? books, Walt recast Alice as a live action little girl in a cartoon world. Although the series produced a total of 56 cartoons from 1923 to 1927, even hardcore Disneyphiles have seen little of these cartoons, making the seven shorts included here indeed rarities (especially Alice's Wonderland, the "pilotâ€? for the series that was never publicly exhibited). Curiously, Alice's Day at Sea, the first "officialâ€? episode, is not included (granted, it is possible a surviving print was not available). The Alices are very typical of other shorts of the silent era, and are presented here in their original black and white with musical accompaniment; those unaccustomed to silent films may find these trite, but their historical significance is irrefutable.
This pre-sound period is showcased in disc one's pair of bonus features, beginning with Alice's Cartoon World: An Interview with Virginia Davis. Host Leonard Maltin interviews Davis, the Disney Legend who first played Alice and therefore was Walt's first star, who reveals that she came this close to playing Snow White. From Kansas City to Hollywood: A Timeline of Disney's Silent Era is an informative look at Walt's career from 1920 to Steamboat Willie in 1928, and includes a peek at another early rarity, Tommy Tucker's Tooth.
Back to the shorts, we jump ahead a decade to 1938 and Disney's first non-Silly Symphony Oscar winner, Ferdinand the Bull (based on, as Maltin explains, Gandhi's favorite book!), followed by a pair of wartime allegories, Chicken Little (making its second appearance, after On the Front Lines, in a Walt Disney Treasure set) and The Pelican and the Snipe (originally intended as a segment of The Three Caballeros). Some lesser fare (The Brave Engineer, Morris the Midget Moose) are sprinkled amongst more significant works, such as Adventures in Music: Melody (the first cartoon filmed in 3-D and later a popular Disneyland attraction), Toot, Whistle, Plunk and Boom (the Oscar-winner that accomplished multiple "firstsâ€?: first Cinemascope cartoon, first use of Stereophonic sound by the Studio and the first short released by Buena Vista) and Ben and Me (a fixture of many an American history class), but the unforeseen highlight of the first disc is The Little House, the 1952 short based on the popular children's book by Virginia Lee Burton. Narrated by Sterling Holloway (who narrates quite a few of the shorts included in this set), House, a sweet fable about the dangers of so-called "progressâ€?, is truly a newly rediscovered joy.