Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
Disney is repackaging some of its older short subjects for the kiddie market, taking a few
Silly Symphonies from archive treasure cans and matching them up with other material.
Volume One shapes up as
the better bargain overall. This collection has only four pieces and no real surprises.
The Wind in the Willows (1949) is the collection's main attraction. We've always liked this one
even though it's been traditionally paired with Disney's The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, a
terrific cartoon with a foundation of so-square-they're-cool harmonized Bing Crosby songs. This
excerpted piece of the story casts Mr. Toad as a wild enthusiast, a real English eccentric
driven mad by whatever theme catches his imagination. We still use the expression "Mr. Toad's
Wild Ride" to describe any chaotic trip. Toad is framed by an unscrupulous barman named Winkey
and his manor is ripped off by a band of criminal weasels, apparently the source of the weasel thugs
in Who Framed Roger Rabbit? Toad and his more conventional animal friends eventually shake
the weasels. The half-hour cartoon also has a delightful Cockney horse named Cecil. The overall fun
of this one is Disney's unconcern for issues of propriety. No matter what the official moral of
the film is, what kids will take away from this one is the pure joy of being irresponsible and
raising hell. Mr. Toad does it so well.
Eric Blore is the voice of Mr. Toad, and Basil Rathbone makes an excellent narrator.
That leaves only a half hour for three more cartoon shorts, and only two of those are really
worthwhile. The (1936) Ugly Duckling's endearing animated characters win us over entirely,
even if the harsh lesson of the original story hasn't changed. A baby swan (a cygnet?) somehow gets raised with
some ducklings. He's booted out of the family for being a little feathery freak, and honking instead
of quacking. The cygnet is traumatized as he seeks maternal compassion elsewhere, and is chased off by
a Mrs. Sparrow and clobbered by a wooden decoy duck. The animators do a fine job with his despair
until the happy ending comes along to bring a tear to our eyes ... tiny kids won't be able to resist
this one. If compassion can be learned and sentiment cultivated, the cartoon is an uncomplicated
classic. I personally never liked the lesson in the story. The baby swan is shunned because he is different.
He doesn't find relief by being accepted, and his oppressors never learn to appreciate him - in fact,
the little swan gives his old duckling pal a snooty cold shoulder as the cartoon's last gag. Peace
and harmony in nature isn't found by working out differences and living together, but by finding
the birds of your feather and sticking to them. It's gang warfare, I tells ya.
Ferdinand the Bull (1938) is also delightful, mainly because of another main character we can't
help but like. In a pastiche of Blood and Sand (although it's from a published original) a
strapping, burly but pacifist bull is chosen for the big bullfight. Ferdinand is just a sweetie who
loves to smell flowers, and the cartoon wisely allows him to be a softie without implying that he's
got a different sexual orientation. The lampoon of the toreador and his entourage is funny but
somewhat on the bigoted side - all the latins except for the señoritas (drawn in a completely
different style) are buffoons or morons. One even wipes his nose ... the final irony is that
they're all said to be patterned on Disney animators, with Walt as the Matador himself. The cartoon
event-challenged in that the bullfight peters out into a subdued ending, but I remember the hordes of
50s kids at kiddie matinees cheering for Ferdinand and his alternate attitude toward violence. Kids
could use his example now.
The film has a favorite visual throwaway: Ferdinand likes to sit under a cork tree. As depicted on screen,
the tree grows wine corks in clusters, like apples.
Bringing up the rear is The Country Cousin, (1936) a cartoon of no great distinction that's topped
in all categories by competing Warners and later MGM product. It's the oft-repeated tale of the country
mouse arriving in the city and being shepherded by his more sophisticated cousin through various
uneventful events - an encounter with a mousetrap, trying to stay quiet while stealing food. The
country mouse gets drunk (one nice bit has him lick way deep into the stem
of a champagne glass), kicks a cat in the rear and is soon fleeing back to the sticks. Few of the
gags address the country-city theme -- I'm sure the country mouse has tougher cats to deal with back
in the barn anyway. It's a cartoon where nothin' happens, to quote Hope Holliday. No action. Dullsville.
This cartoon won the Oscar for Best Short Subject. Savant demands a recount.
Disney's Timeless Tales Volume Two is a fine package if one takes into account that there is
an ocean of drek out there calling itself wholesome kid entertainment. If you're in the habit of
tossing something on the tube to keep the ankle-biters distracted, this might do for smaller tykes.
The color is uniformly good, as is the audio. The presentation is preceded by some difficult-to-skip
promos that are the bane of DVD Savant's existence. The disc offers a friendly button to click to
skip all the menu stuff and just play the show --- it skips the menuing all right but still nails you
with the promos. The only way to suppress them is to hit the 'next chapter' button about five times.
I'd like to find the remote button that puts a stake through the heart of whoever dreamed up this
(Savant bias:) I really prefer Warners' DVD menuing style. With few exceptions, once the disc is rolling
one can hit 'menu' at any time and the image skips to the end of the menu sequence. One more click
and the show is on - no FBI threats, no parade of annoying logos, no accusations of criminal
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Walt Disney's rates:
Movies: Very Good
Video: Excellent to Good
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: August 24, 2005
DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson