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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Walt Disney Treasures - The Chronological Donald, Volume 2 (1942-1946)
Walt Disney Treasures - The Chronological Donald, Volume 2 (1942-1946)
Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment // Unrated // December 6, 2005
List Price: $32.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Stuart Galbraith IV | posted January 6, 2006 | E-mail the Author
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Walt Disney Treasures - The Chronological Donald, Volume 2 (1942-1946) is a seriously flawed collection of Donald Duck's mostly wartime one-reel cartoons supplemented with a feast of fun extras and Disney's annoyingly labyrinthine menu navigation, the DVD equivalent of your insurance company's voicemail system. On one hand it's great that Disney is gradually releasing boxed sets that presumably will eventually feature the entire ouvre of Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, and other favorite characters. Unfortunately, this set has mastering issues that should have been avoided, and weeding though Disney's endless animated menus and Leonard Maltin intros make it harder than ever to simply sit down and watch a cartoon.

By the early '40s Donald Duck had far eclipsed Mickey Mouse as Disney's biggest most popular star. Mickey was a rodent Harold Lloyd, a scrappy relic of can-do Middle America who had been supplanted by a brasher, gaudier type of comedian exemplified by Lou Costello and Bob Hope. These guys were childlike, temperamental, cocky, given to bursts of frustration and cowardice, dominated by tough Army sergeants and conned by shysters who were also their best pals. In this less innocent, more impolite world, Donald Duck fit right in.

Donald's wartime vehicles are especially interesting in that, much more so than Disney's other character cartoon shorts they reflected the American psyche, with Donald one of countless new recruits joining the fight against the Nazis and "the Japs" (while embracing South American culture as part of Roosevelt's "Good Neighbor Policy") and frustrated by wartime rationing. Though obviously dated, these cartoons are infinitely more interesting than generic entries like Bellboy Donald (1942), with "The Duck" frustrated by demanding patrons at a hotel.

While most of these wartime shorts are army comedies with familiar situations along the lines of Buck Privates (1941), enough so that small children who've never heard of World War II can still enjoy them, others are laced with flag-waving propaganda and ugly racial stereotypes. That Disney would in these "politically correct" times make available a short like Commando Duck (1944), with its outrageously racist Japanese caricatures, deserves to be applauded. Such films are part of American film history, and animation buffs and general audiences alike can still appreciate them for what they are when put into perspective. (Indeed, beyond Maltin's helpful introduction, I'd recommend parents with children old enough to understand such sensitivity sit and chat with them about such issues.) In the end, shorts like Commando Duck are pretty appalling for their racism, but as well-drawn, imaginative, and often very funny cartoons they are still quite valuable.

For the record, the shorts in this set are:

Disc One 1942: Bellboy Donald, The Village Smithy, Donald's Snow Fight, Donald's Garden, Donald's Gold Mine, Donald Gets Drafted, The Vanishing Private, Sky Trooper. 1943: Donald's Tire Trouble, Flying Jalopy, Der Fuhrer's Face, Fall Out - Fall In, The Old Army Game, Home Defense. 1944: Commando Duck.

Disc Two 1944: Trombone Trouble, The Plastics Inventor, Donald's Off Day, Donald Duck and the Gorilla, Contrary Condor. 1945: The Eyes Have It, Donald's Crime, Duck Pimples, No Sail Cured Duck, The Clock Watcher, Old Sequoia. 1946: Donald's Double Trouble, Wet Paint, Dumb Bell of the Yukon, Lighthouse Keeping, Frank Duck Brings 'Em Back Alive.

Video & Audio

Beyond the racial stereotypes, there are two nagging issues with this set. The first, discussed at length on Internet discussion boards and in other reviews, is the fact that many of these shorts use older and inferior masters, apparently in some cases even when superior masters already existed. The more controversial wartime cartoons tend to look very good, possibly because they had been out of circulation or at least less widely accessed than more standard fare, and thus more obviously were in need of a new transfer. Most of the shorts, however, look little better than laserdisc or VHS worthy, as they lack the sharpness, detail, and vibrant color one used to expect automatically from Disney. Most of these shorts carry the Buena Vista logo, which didn't exist before about 1954, though a few note Disney's 1940s distributor, RKO. The original mono is just fine; optional English subtitles are available for the hard-of-hearing.

Of course, back in the 1940s audiences didn't sit down and watch one Donald Duck cartoon after another, ten at a time. Disney was turning one reel shorts out at the rate of about once a month, and probably no one at the studio could have anticipated that consumers in the 21st century would be watching them batched together like this. The basic sameness of the cartoons, particularly those focusing in on a single character, work better when watched one at a time and savored, yet these discs really aren't designed for that. Viewers must wade through FBI warnings, helpful but endless Maltin introductions, opening and closing curtains, and sometimes confusing menu screens. As pal DVD Savant has pointed out before, Criterion's discs are easy; just pop 'em in and hit Play. If only it were that easy to access these shorts.

Extra Features

The supplements go a long way (though not quite far enough) to make up for the inexcusably botched transfers. Disc One's A Day in the Life of Donald Duck is a delightful and apparently complete episode of Disneyland from 1956 running 49 minutes. (It may be time-compressed, but may also simply have run with 11 minutes of commercials and promos.) The show is a mini Roger Rabbit that follows the star on a typical day at the Disney Studios in Burbank. Throughout the black & white program is a terrific integration of live-action and cartoon animation punctuated with funny gags, with Donald interacting with his own voice, Clarence "Ducky" Nash, as well as Jimmy Dodd and the Mouseketeers.

Disc Two kicks off with Drawing and Talking "Duck", a surprisingly touching interview with Donald's voice since 1987, Tony Anselmo, which really becomes a tribute to the animator and voice artist's mentors, particularly Nash and director Jack Hannah. The Art and Animation of Carl Barks offers a nice overview of the Disney employee who had an okay career in the Animation Department, but who thrived as one of the major comic book artists of the last century, especially for his epic adventures with Donald, Uncle Scrooge, and Huey, Dewey, and Louie. (This reviewer's favorite: "The Land Beneath the Ground." Disney should make that into a feature!) The Volunteer Worker is a brief public service announcement, a plea for charity from Donald; it runs about two minutes. Timeline: The War Years, 1941-1945 is a collection of film clips and stills chronicling the history of the studio during this time, including the infamous cartoonist strike. Finally, an extensive Gallery gathers surviving backgrounds and other art from many of the shorts presented on the two discs.

Parting Thoughts

General audiences probably won't care much about the quality of the transfers; they just want something to add to their collection or baby-sit the kids for an hour. Hard-core animation buffs or Disney fans, however, may want to wait and see how Disney responds to this major slip-up, and see if a new improved pressing will be in the works in 2006. In the meantime, Rent It.

Stuart Galbraith IV is a Kyoto-based film historian whose work includes The Emperor and the Wolf - The Lives and Films of Akira Kurosawa and Toshiro Mifune and Taschen's forthcoming Cinema Nippon. Visit Stuart's Cine Blogarama here.

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