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Walt Disney's Timeless Tales Volume Two

Walt Disney's Timeless Tales Volume Two
Disney DVD
1932 - 1990
1:33 flat full frame
58 min.
Street Date August 16, 2005

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 is rather 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 manipulative formatting.

(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 activity.

On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor, Walt Disney's rates:
Movies: Very Good
Video: Excellent to Good
Sound: Excellent
Supplements: none
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: August 24, 2005

DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson

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