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Vintage Mickey Print E-mail
Tuesday, 12 July 2005

Vintage Mickey
Disney DVD
distributor: Walt Disney Home Entertainment
MPAA rating: NR
starring: Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Pluto, Horace Horsecollar, etc.
release years: 1928,1929,1931,1932,1933,1934
DVD release year: 2005
film rating: Three and a Half Stars
sound/picture rating: Four Stars
reviewed by: Bill Warren

Between them, Disney and Warner Bros. own almost a half of the entire DVD market. Warners does it by volume, by creating interesting boxed sets, and because they own not only the Warner Bros. library but most of that of MGM. Disney does it more by volume than anything else, and because so much of their library is ideal for kids.

Take this peculiarly limited collection of, as the name says, vintage Mickey Mouse cartoons. It begins with the first-released Mickey, “Steamboat Willie,” which was also the first sound cartoon. It’s surprising how vivid Mickey’s personality is even in this primitive-looking but entertaining cartoon. Mickey was always the hero of his cartoons, the spunky little guy ready to take on all comers, usually a large obese cat, eventually identified as Peg-Leg Pete. (When that became less than appropriate, he became Black Pete. When that became less than appropriate, he pretty much vanished.)

Like most early cartoons, “Steamboat Willie” has no plot, just a lot of jokes, some pretty vulgar by today’s standards: when Mickey hoists a cow, he gets a squirt of milk in the face from her pendulous udders. Later he turns over a nursing sow and plays her nipples like piano keys. And so forth. Of the nine cartoons in this set, this is the most familiar, although it’s usually shown in various bowdlerized editions.

This is followed, as it was in theaters, by “Plane Crazy,” although “Plane” was made first, and made as a silent cartoon. Mickey has straight-stick arms instead of the rather hose-like arms he had for the next few years. Like a great number of early cartoons, it’s set in a barnyard. Here, Mickey idolizes Charles Lindbergh, mussing his hair to look more like a photo of “Lindy.” He turns a couple of barnyard machines into planes and when aloft tries to pitch woo at a reluctant Minnie.

“The Karnival Kid” from 1929 is next. Minnie is a shimmy dancer at a carnival although we never see her doing the hoochie-koochie. Mickey sells singing, dancing hot dogs. The cartoon veers off in another direction when a couple of cats set up a portable backyard fence and wail “Sweet Adeline” to each other. This is the last to be identified as an Ub Iwerks cartoon; no names other than Walt Disney’s appeared on shorts for many years to come.

“The Birthday Party” (1931) is the first cartoon here to feature the familiar Mickey-surrounded-by-sunbeams logo that repeated on all the remaining Mickey shorts. His cheerful cocky character is now solidly established as is his familiar high-pitched voice—which for many years was that of Walt Disney himself, speeded up on playback. This cartoon, set at a birthday party for Mickey, is full of songs; Mickey and Minnie play two pianos and sing “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love, Baby;” there’s an instrumental rendition of “Darktown Strutters Ball,” and finally Mickey plays “There’s No Place Like Home” on a galloping xylophone.

“The Castaway” also from 1931 is a routine desert island outing with some inventive, energetic animation, initially of a vast, billowing sea with a prankish swordfish. There’s also interesting animation of a teeny Mickey seen at a great distance, but otherwise this is a relatively drab entry. Surely there were other Mickeys in the vaults that could have replaced this.

“Mickey’s Orphans” is the first of two cartoons on the disc that was nominated for an Oscar. It has a Christmas setting, as a bent figure hidden in a shawl leaves a basket on the doorstep of Mickey and Minnie (and Pluto, turning up for the first time). The basket contains uncounted dozens of playful, prankish kittens who immediately get into mischief en masse.

“Mickey’s Revue” from 1932 is reasonably elaborate with Mickey as the impresario of a vaudeville-like collection of entertainers, including triplet Clarabell Cows, a character who would soon evolve into Dippy Dawg and then Goofy turns up in the audience.

“Building a Building” from 1933 is the other cartoon in this set to have been nominated for an Oscar. As Donald Duck did in the great Carl Barks comic books of the 1940s and 1950s, Mickey in the 1930s was master of all trades. Here he runs a glowering steam shovel with Peg-Leg Pete as the straw boss. Minnie arrives on the busy construction site to sell box lunches, and sings about it, too. Similar cartoons with building construction settings were turned out by almost all animation studios for a couple of decades. This is one of the earliest.

The set concludes with “Mickey’s Steamroller” from 1934, featuring his impish nephews, unnamed here but later called Morty and Ferdie. As the title says, Mickey is a steamroller operator here, while Minnie is nanny to the nephews. By this time, Disney cartoons had begun featuring a lot of shading, a great variety of tones in the backgrounds.

This set is clearly intended for those who just want to see what Mickey Mouse looked like early on without having to sit through a lot of the shorts, which most adults are likely to consider dated—but it’s equally true that kids under six will be likely to respond to these shorts in the same manner they have since the cartoons were new.

It’s certainly not for a serious collector of cartoons. The set is woefully lacking in any kind of background information other than to point out that two of the shorts were nominated for Oscars. There are no dates, there’s nothing about the historic background of the cartoons, nothing about the people who made them—not even Walt Disney. There’s no information on screen, no notes in the DVD box. But it does feature one of Disney’s most famous quotes: “I only hope that we don’t lose sight of one thing—that it was all started by a mouse.”

more details
sound format:
Dolby Digital Monoaural (original)
aspect ratio(s):
4:3 (first cartoon is windowboxed)
special features: none
comments: email us here...
reference system
DVD player: Kenwood DV-403
receiver: Kenwood VR-407
main speakers: Paradigm Atom
center speaker: Paradigm CC-170
rear speakers: Paradigm ADP-70
subwoofer: Paradigm PDR-10
monitor: 36-inch Sony XBR

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