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This Disney collectable Tin Collection is, as they say, for the collectors. Of all the Disney creations Mickey was the one character who basically went stale because he meant so much to the company's image that he couldn't change or really do anything particularly interesting. He's beautifully animated in many of these latter-day short subjects but with certain exceptions he's more than a bit dull. Pluto carries the ball in many of the cartoons and when they run into foes like the charismatic Chip 'n Dale, Mickey ends up being a straight man.
Disc one has an impressive pile of cartoons dating from 1939 to 1953 when Mickey finally bowed out. For decades later he retreated to the safety of comic books and brief snippets on The Mickey Mouse Club TV show. His lively costumed interpreters at Disneyland insured his immortality; and just because they stopped making new short subjects doesn't mean that he wasn't a favorite at kiddie matinees, the kind that routinely strung together cartoon shorts from a variety of sources.
As Leonard Maltin practically apologizes in his nice standup intros, Mickey stopped being the spunky wild-card maniac of his earlier cartoons and settled into an all-purpose everyday Joe character. He lives in a house and does domestic things like interact with the dog and court the ever-elusive Minnie. (Actually, if Goofy's a dog too, things get a bit complicated, according to Stephen King). Romance is implied but Morty and Ferdie never show up so Mickey doesn't attract the raised eyebrows Donald and Daisy got over Huey, Dewey and Louie, the little (word deleted). Of course, Donald never even wore pants, and we all know things happen when you party (rest of sentence deleted).
What's distressing is how bland the cartoons are. Mickey will go on a trip with Pluto, and the story never progresses beyond getting on a train. The gags are drawn out and obvious. There are good jokes, often character generated, but nothing particularly inspired. Mickey and the Seal has some amusing moments in a bathtub with an amiable seal character (with Pluto vainly signalling through the window) but really goes nowhere. The Birthday Party cartoon just marks time with unfunny business until Mickey gets clobbered with the cake goofy has repeatedly tried to bake. Mickey then smiles through the candles and icing as if to say, "Sorry folks, it's the best we can do." No joy in Mudville there.
The cartoons are high technical polish. The illusion of character dimension is excellent and the background work is beautiful. There's often a clever song in the titles, sung in a swing harmony. Only Mickey's last 50s cartoon The Simple Things uses inferior animation that makes mush of the Mickey character template. Walt must have seen it and said "That's enough. Mouse to back burner - full speed ahead on the park and the big feature work."
Leonard Maltin's intros are limited almost exclusively to smiling disclaimers and nervous damage control. For every cartoon with the slightest racially insensitive moment - even the villain Pete speaking with an Italian accent or Mickey disguising himself for two seconds in an Indian blanket - there's a preemtive acknowledgement of the PC offense. It's entirely acceptable to Savant because the bottom line is that the cartoons don't appear to be censored. That's actually a giant step forward for Disney DVD. 1 But Maltin goes on to say debatable things like "we're much more enlightened now," the kind of mental pampering that can only come from a PR committee. We long for the days when Mickey reached over and snapped the elastic on Minnie's underwear, twice, without the slightest hint of a responsible attitude.
1939: Society Dog Show, The Pointer. 1940: Tugboat Mickey, Pluto's Dream House, Mr. Mouse Takes a Trip. 1941: The Little Whirlwind, The Nifty Nineties, Orphans Benefit. 1942: Mickey's Birthday Party, Symphony Hour. 1947: Mickey's Delayed Date. 1948: Mickey Down Under, Mickey and the Seal. 1951: Plutopia, R'Coon Dawg. 1952: Pluto's Party, Pluto's Christmas Tree. 1953: The Simple Things.
In its all-inclusiveness, the disc also contains Mickey's other two 1940s feature appearances. The Mickey and the Beanstalk excerpt is from Fun and Fancy Free and includes the live-action intro with Edgar Bergen, Charlie McCarthy and Mortimer Snerd. I've seen that show in at least 3 different forms, and didn't realize it had this original formatting.
The Sorcerer's Apprentice from Fantasia, A deleted animation pencil test from The Sorcerer's Apprentice, Mickey and the Beanstalk.
Disc two contains all the odds and ends that round out Mickey's career. More of a figurehead than a breathing character, he continued to pose a problem for the Disney creatives. It's as if one had secured rights to use the real George Washington in the movies, but had to be careful not to tarnish his image as father of the country. In his latest half-hour shows Mickey's Christmas Carol and The Prince and the Pauper, Mickey doesn't become a storybook character as much as he plays himself playing the character. It's a real problem for the branding marketers - your leading Disney representative can stand, smile and take a bow, but can't speak his mind for fear of despoiling the company name.
There are a lot of bits here, some more interesting than others. The interview sections are okay but the latter-day animators' reverent attitudes toward the "cherished institution" of Mickey indicate immediately how difficult it is to put the million-dollar vermin in an entertaining show. Mickey and Minnie's present voice talent are interviewed as well, but that gets thin very quickly as they just don't have much to say. I've amended the list below to further describe the other goodies.
The final cartoon is the relatively recent Runaway Brain, a badly-paced frenetic hodgepodge that wants to be wacky but isn't. Its craziness doesn't approach the mania to be found in the cute but also non-classic Roger Rabbit cartoons.
Mickey Mouse Shorts: Mickey's Christmas Carol, The Prince and the Pauper, Runaway Brain.
Mickey's Cartoon Comeback - interview with animators of the Mouse's later work.
The Voice Behind the Mouse - interview with Mickey and Minnie vocal talent.
Mickey Mouse Club Titles in Color - the daily intros for the TV show were apparently never seen in color before.
Mickey Meets the Maestro - Mickey's bits in Fantasia and Fantasia 2000.
Mouse Mania - Mike Jittlov's ambitious, frantic animation bit with Disney toys.
Mickey Cartoon Physics from Plausible Impossible - excerpt from TV show about animation.
Mickey on the Camera Stand from Tricks of Our Trade - excerpt from another TV show explains the Multi-Plane camera.
The Making of Mickey's Christmas Carol - somewhat tedious EPK-like longform promo for the cartoon.
Publicity and Memorabilia Gallery & Story and Background Art Gallery.
Although a tamer set of shows and snippets than the first Mickey collections, Volume Two will certainly appeal to animation fans and completists, of which there are many. And small kids will no doubt be charmed by the fanciful animation and characterization of Mickey's "safe 'n sane" 40s cartoons. Older kids and adults may not be able to stay with the program and will probably prefer the technical excerpts on the second disc.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Walt Disney Treasures: Mickey Mouse in Living Color Volume Two rates:
1. Although we shouldn't expect
Song of the South very soon, Disney was very good about not buttering over PC dimples in its
The War Years compilation. Savant once edited a
collection of racy Warners cartoons, but had to cut out every offensive bit to please the Cartoon Network people.
But Warner's racist humor was a lot nastier than Uncle Walt's, by a long shot. We saw one cartoon where a buck-toothed,
kimono'ed Tokyo Rose was caught sitting on a toilet!