This Month's Featured Equipment Reviews
Written by Bill Warren
Tuesday, 12 July 2005
||Walt Disney Home Entertainment
||Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Pluto, Horace Horsecollar, etc.
|DVD release year:
||Three and a Half Stars
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
“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
“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.”
|Dolby Digital Monoaural (original)
|4:3 (first cartoon is windowboxed)
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||36-inch Sony XBR