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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Davy Crockett: 50th Anniversary Double Feature
Davy Crockett: 50th Anniversary Double Feature
Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment // PG // September 7, 2004
List Price: $19.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Matthew Millheiser | posted October 28, 2004 | E-mail the Author
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The Movie

One of the biggest complaints lobbed at the Disney organization nowadays - one that, I suppose, has some merit standing behind it - is that Eisner-era Disney is so preoccupied with Political Correctness that it has not only stifled creativity but has also supported a corporate mindset that urinates on the legacy of Walt Disney's vast array of creativity. To which I say: hogwash. Not about the whole "legacy urination" issue (of which four out of five self-important, lifeless Internet nerds refer to as "raping our childhood"), but to the assertion that the vast popular success of the Disney organization was due to the actions of Walt alone. Don't get me wrong, the man was a visionary and an immense creative talent who eschewed pseudo-intellectual erudition in favor of popular wonderment, but the only reason Disney became DISNEY!!! was because Walt had an uncanny ability to (a) hire and retain the best creative minds in the business, (b) remain a staunch perfectionist in every aspect of his dealings, and (c) keep all the financial and corporate matters in the hands of his brother Roy.

That's all well and good, and certainly a worthwhile topic that would make for compelling reading if this weren't a review for Disney's brand-new Davy Crockett: 50th Anniversary Double Feature DVD. So instead, let's return to my original issue of Political Correctness and how it has "destroyed" not only Disney creative output, but also the honor and respect deserving of its own legacy. Witness the zooming in Fantasia that eliminates the buffoonish black Centaurette, what with the oversized red lips, bulging eyes, and mammy-doll expression. Or the Yiddishe-spouting Big Bad Wolf pretending to be a fuller-brush salesman in the classic short The Three Little Pigs, which was subsequently removed, re-animated, and re-dubbed in future releases. Heck, good luck trying to find a decent copy of Song of the South if you have some kind of aversion to Japanese subtitles.

So is Disney pissing on its own legacy? Maybe. The fact of the matter is that the Centaurette, whether or not it presents an offensive image (it does), presents an anachronistic and tone-shattering one that totally destroys the entire milieu set up in The Pastoral Symphony. The stereotypical Jew presented by the Big Bad Wolf? Meh. It's a cheap and easy bit, but it didn't really add anything to the story; although if you wanted to, you could make a case that it presents a sanitized image of the grossly offensive "blood libel" charge that has plagued the Jewish community for well over a millennium (Look out: it's the big bad Jew coming to feast on the blood of innocent Gentile children. Granted, given that the Three Little Pigs are quite trafe, I'm probably stretching here.)

And Song of the South sucks. I mean it blows, and blows hard. All of you clamoring for it on DVD: have you actually seen the film lately? It's terrible, easily the worst Disney film to emerge from the era. Worse than Fun and Fancy Free, even. Nothing to do with black stereotypes, either. It's just bad, boring movie.

But here's the kicker: there was never a time - never - that the Disney organization wasn't Politically Correct. If there ever was anything for which Walt Disney was a stickler, it was for not offending public sensibilities. Even in his most dazzling deliveries of dynamic do-goodery - and there were plenty of them, believe you me - Walt made sure that everything he presented was safe, non-threatening, and, while zooming beyond the limits of creativity, quality, and artistry, never going beyond the accepted boundaries of the status quo.

So let's get back to the Davy Crockett: 50th Anniversary Double Feature DVD, and how it relates to my thesis here. The disc itself contains two features: Davy Crockett: King of the Wild Frontier (1954) and Davy Crockett and the River Pirates (1956). To give these films historical context, it is important to remember the first film wasn't "really" a film. The Davy Crockett phenomenon began on the "Disneyland" television show in the mid-1950s, and was an absolute smash. Crockett-mania engulfed the nation, a feat so grandiose and pervasive in scope that it would not be repeated until the "All Your Base" phenomenon of 2000. Anyway, Disney created three episodes of Davy Crockett adventures: "Davy Crockett, Indian Fighter", "Davy Crockett Goes To Congress", and "Davy Crockett at the Alamo". The latter of which should have been renamed "Davy Crockett Dies at the Alamo", since that's exactly what he did, both in reality and on the show. They then took all three episodes, re-edited them, and released them as a single theatrical feature-film which did gangbuster business.

Well, Disney had a goldmine on their hands - as well as quite the conundrum. They basically killed off the goose that laid the golden egg! How, exactly, were they going to continue the adventures of a dead guy? The answer: Satanic resurrection. Yes, they invoked the silent shade of the Dark Lord himself, and brought Davy back to life in Davy Crockett and the River Pirates, a two-part "Disneyland" television special, which was also given a theatrical release in 1956. Crockettmania ran as hard and as fast as ever, and Disney made a mint.

Surely, Davy Crockett: King of the Wild Frontier, at first glance, seems about as Politically Correct as a bachelor party weekend in Bangkok. There's lots of talk of "redskins", "wild injuns", and "savages". Crockett is certainly emblematic of that entire "manifest destiny" mentality that gets thrown around with pride in history textbooks, but which glosses over some gross injustices that historical retrospection has brought to life in recent years. Still, I would argue that the film is as much of a reflection of 1950s Politically Correct sensibilities as, say, Pocahontas was so 1995. Fess Parker's performance as the titular character is warm, charismatic, and human, all the while drenched in two-fisted frontier bravado, but the way his character is written you'd half expect him to grow wings and a halo, and float around the Alamo like some kind of sacred spirit. As his buddy George Russel, Buddy Ebsen is rough-edged and dirty-kneed, but he's basically the harmless sort. And what's up with that floating Greek chorus that provided narrative exposition to the famed "Ballad of Davy Crockett" theme? I understand that this song was a #1 hit, but you know a little goes a long way.

Still, although these films are very much ultra-sanitized products of their times, they have their own innate charms. There's a solid and workmanlike sense of storytelling here. There's little fat, superfluous elements, muss or fuss in these movies, and they do provide some solid and gentle entertainment that, while easy to derisively snort at 50 years later, display elements of enthusiasm, creativity, and general fun for the viewer. To that end, Davy Crocket: 50th Anniversary Double Feature makes for a sweet little diversion that should please Disney fans.

Note: The previously released Davy Crockett: The Complete Televised Series collector's tin (now out-of-print) contained only the televised versions of these films, while Davy Crocket: 50th Anniversary Double Feature contains the theatrical versions. Collectors will probably want to own both, while the casual fan will be satisfied with one or the other.



Davy Crocket: 50th Anniversary Double Feature is presented in its original fullframe aspect ratio of 1.33:1. The quality of the video, given that this film is 50 years old, is quite impressive. The image is reasonably sharp given the age of the source material, with some noticeable softness but nothing too detrimental. Colors are the strong point: this is a wonderful Technicolor presentation, rich and stable with warm flesh tones and fine contrasts. There is some rather evident grain structure, retaining the film-like appearance of the original presentation. Compression noise is non-existent. The transfer is mostly clean, with only some minor speckling available at times. Overall, very impressive.


The audio is presented in a monaural Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack. The delivery is centrally located in the frontstage, and dialog sounds warm and natural without hiss or distortion. There is a little bit of thinness in the audio which can be expected from the age of the material.


The only extra included on this disc is The Lone Chipmunks, an enjoyable six-minute Chip and Dale short. They should have included the Fess Parker interview and examination of the Davy Crockett craze, both of which are found in the Davy Crockett limited edition tin Disney released a few years back. Oh well.

Final Thoughts

Definitely a product of its times, I nonetheless was able to enjoy much of Davy Crocket: 50th Anniversary Double Feature without too much smugness. Truth to be told, I'd much rather enjoy Disney's sanitized retelling than a gritty, post-modern, deconstructing character study that purported to deflate the myth and reinforce the "reality". You know, because that worked so well in last summer's King Arthur movie. Let's keep our heroes and legends larger than life, bright and colorful like a Skittles commercial, and as deliciously phony as an Ashlee Simpson performance. Disney fans and collectors owe it to themselves to pick up this disc. Those looking for quality family entertainment from a bygone era would also benefit from a viewing. All others might want to rent first, depending upon their own sensibilities, but for me this is an easy recommendation.

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