The House of Mouse is no dummy. Ever since the VCR proved that parents would prefer any manner of babysitter - including a faceless, nameless electronic one - than actually having to deal with their kids, the enterprise Uncle Walt built has been using its incredibly cartoon catalog as a nonstop supply line of home video fodder. From their groundbreaking features to the films they made during the less successful "wilderness years" (the late '60s and '70s) they have repackaged and reconfigured everything, using embargo dates and generational nostalgia as a means of making even the most sensible customer breakdown and buy their product. As analog gave way to digital, and DVD has started sprouting Blu-ray offshoots, the keepers of the Disney legacy have managed to manipulate collectors and consumers into rebuying their efforts over and over again. The Animation Collection, Classic Short Films line is no different. As you will see below, it takes several titles previously available elsewhere and reconfigures them into a disc no completist can resist. And frankly, for those unfamiliar with the company's pre-'80s output, these overviews are well worth visiting.
The Grasshopper and the Ants (1934) - While he plays his fiddle and fools around, the grasshopper laughs at the hardworking ants. He changes his tune once winter comes around.
The Wise Little Hen (1934) (The debut of Donald Duck) - Hoping to find someone to help her plant, farm, and harvest her corn, the wise little hen asks Peter Pig and Donald Duck for help. They feign bellyaches instead.
The Golden Touch (1935) - King Midas wants everything he touches to turn to gold. A mischievous little elf makes him regret what he wishes for.
The Robber Kitten (1935) - Rebellious and unwilling to take his bath, a little feline fancies himself a highwayman and runs away from home. When he meets up with a real criminal, however, he learns that he's not up to a life of lawlessness.
The Ugly Duckling (Oscar winner, 1939) - After all her eggs hatch, mother duck is disturbed to see that one of her children is not as attractive as the others. After being exiled from his family, the little fowl finally finds a home.
The Wind in the Willows (1949) - Mr. Toad and his friends Mole, Ratty, and Angus MacBadger all live by the riverside, inseparable as friends and compatriots. This is truly tested when the amphibian's tendency toward uncontrolled mania leads him to court where he is accused of stealing a car. Even worse, the case results to the dispossession of Toad Hall. Desperate to help their friend, the trio takes it upon themselves to investigate the claims of bartender Winkie and his associates, the weasels. Turns out Toad may be innocent after all.
As entertaining and fun as The Wind in the Willows is (removed from its original pairing with the House of Mouse's take on The Legend of Sleepy Hollow), the rest of the short films here are equally excellent. The efforts from 1934 and 1935 specifically show how a small group of people applying their obvious talents to a single goal can forge something wholly unforgettable. The animation is sublime, the denseness and detail adding to the antiquate quality of the images. Similarly, Disney was expert at silent storytelling, having made their reputation years before sound came to celluloid. The character design and facial expressions lend the perfect amount of emotion to the narrative, and when they go for laughs, no one knows timing better than Uncle Walt's workers. Sure, there are times when we see through the manipulation and recognize the old school sentimentality at play, but for the most part, Disney defined the art of short filmmaking. None of the offerings here overstay their welcome or underperform when required to open up in scope.
Still, there is a reason to give pause before an actual purchase. By giving the company your hard earned coinage for less than complete compendiums like this, you support their decision to keep their output scattered and incomplete. It's a lot like the lesson Sony had to learn when Three Stooges fans stopped sustaining the "three shorts per DVD" release of the comedians' classic films and, instead, opted for a remastered series that offered the efforts in complete chronological order. Disney doesn't do this. Even their metal tin special edition froufrou sets stumble instead of doing the right historical thing. No one is demanding that the studio release everything in their creative canon (though a few contemporary exclusions argue for a strict Song of the South avoidance) or put everything into a fully remastered and digitally shiny transfer. But when you ask fans to spring for multiple sets of random titles, you're suggesting they'll stoop to buying anything. The Walt Disney Animation Collection Classic Short Films will be a treasure to anyone new to the ways of the House of Mouse. For everyone else, the aroma of marketing and its demographically designed exploitation may insight a dollar and cents conundrum which is difficult, if not impossible, to overcome.