All animation companies could take a cue from Disney on how to remarket and reconfigure their lengthy past catalog. Remember, for every feature film the House of Mouse made from 1937 until the late '60s, they propped up their profit margin with hundreds of celebrated shorts. Walt Disney won 22 Oscars over the course of his career, and even after he died in 1966, his company continued to flourish. No where was this truer than with the advent of home video. Moms and Dads, using any excuse to avoid interaction with their demanding, career-addling offspring, took to the instant nostalgia of Disney many classic titles, turning the once floundering film conglomerate into a mighty media giant. It even continues to this day, as DVD and Blu-ray overwhelm the now digital landscape. A good example of this propensity toward repackaging their otherwise available artifacts comes in the form of the latest Mickey made merchandise - the Walt Disney Animation Collection Classic Short Films. 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.
Ferdinand the Bull (Oscar winner, 1938) - As a massive, ferocious looking animal, Ferdinand is expected to participate in the annual bullfight. Sadly, all he wants to do is sit around and smell the flowers.
The Reluctant Dragon (1941) - When a young boy discovers a dragon in his kingdom, he calls on Sir Giles to slay the beast. Unfortunately, all the monster wants to do is recite poetry. And he finds a solid soul mate in the weary old warrior. So they all concoct a plan to fool the townspeople who only want to see the bloodsport such a creature/champion dynamic usually creates.
Johnny Appleseed (1948) - Hoping to spread his love of apples all across America, young Johnny Appleseed takes up his bag of fruit pits and proceeds to walk the land, planting any plowing along the way.
Goliath II (1960) - Goliath II is the smallest animal in the herd. As a matter of fact, he's an incredibly tiny pachyderm. While everyone considers him a pest, his standoff against one of their natural enemies wins the hearts of his cynical superiors.
Of the three, Ferdinand is the most commercial. It tells a wonderful little tale about being true to yourself while indulging in some Warner Brothers level slapstick. Appleseed has an unusually preachy message that ties God and faith into the efforts of the wandering planter. Luckily, Dennis Day's voice acting (and singing) saves the day. Similarly, Goliath II comes from the period when Disney was skimping on their typical denseness and detail. You can tell the artwork is from the '60s, since it deals in angles, lines, and pencil "ghosts" that would come to define the company's next 20 years. But the biggest revelation here is Dragon. Again, it is missing the entire preamble which finds Robert Benchley touring the Disney studios to see how a typical production is handled. As he stumbles from component to component - camera, foley, sketching, coloring, etc - we see how the animators take and idea and illustrate it. Obviously, The Reluctant Dragon short is the result of their efforts, and it's an unusual work. Arguing against the usual good vs. evil set-up of a knight vs. beast situation, art and poetry are championed in ways that may make contemporary kids blush with cultural embarrassment.
From a consumer standpoint, we are only talking about a mere hour of content. That's it. As you will see below, there are no bonus features offered or attempts by Disney to contextualize these classics. Indeed, if you wanted to know where Johnny Appleseed first appeared (as stated before, it was part of the Fantasia like Melody Time) or that Dragon was a mostly live action feature with only about 40 minutes of animation, you have to look elsewhere for this information. When Warner Brothers releases its Merrie Melodies, it at least tries to offer up some small amount of historical heft. Here, we can see the commercial concerns of the company taking center stage. These collections are not meant to provide some kind of consolation for the Mouse House completeist. Instead, they are almost unnecessary examples of reconfiguring to fit a new - and supposedly, eager - under-aged fanbase. While it seems silly to argue over motives, especially when the shorts themselves are so entertaining, one does have to wonder what Disney really cares about - the viewers, or the bottom line.