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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Disney's American Legends
Disney's American Legends
Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment // G // February 12, 2002
List Price: $29.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Phillip Duncan | posted February 27, 2002 | E-mail the Author
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Lately Disney seems to be on a rehash and redo streak. There is a sequel to practically every classic film in the works (excepting Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, and the Fox and the Hound) and they are trying to come up with ways to package older material and make it work for a new audience. In my opinion they have succeeded wonderfully with their newest collection of shorts on the American Legends DVD.

Comprised of new and old 10-15 minute shorts based on American folktales, this collection of cartoons contains a few gems and miss. James Earl Jones introduces each short as he relates the history of the folktale. Some were based on facts and others were creations of the imagination. I'll briefly describe each short in the order they appear on the DVD.

John Henry - from what I've found, this wonderful short was produced several years ago and only ran in front of an Oct. 30, 2000 screening of The Nightmare Before Christmas in California. Disney had this short completed and really didn't know what to do with it and luckily it turned up on this collection. The is easily the best piece of short animation I've seen come from Disney in many, many years. It has a rough animation style—pencil lines are often visible—and the backgrounds look like they were done on rough paper with pastel sticks. The story is narrated by Alfre Woodard, as Henry's wife Polly, and related with gospel style songs. When Henry enters the mountain in the last part of the story the animation switches to an expressionistic style with only bright highlights of color sparking occasionally in the dark. Quite simply, this disc is worth the price for the short alone.

Johnny Appleseed - is the story of vegetarian John Chapman who spent most of his life roaming America. This was originally released on the Melody Time DVD that had the edited version of Pecos Bill (which I think should have been on this disc as well) on it as well. The oldest short on the disc, the style harkens back to the Snow White animation that Disney conceived. The story isn't as entertaining as John Henry or Paul Bunyan, but works well enough. The heavy religious leanings of the story seem out-of-place in today's overtly politically correct society.

Paul Bunyan - is an American version of the creation myths that many Norse Legends are. From his mysterious arrival at a coastal Maine town to his retirement in northern Alaska, Paul Bunyan and his Blue Ox Babe are credited with creating many of mid-Americas natural landmarks. Animated in an angular style, this 1958 short presents the most popular aspects of the Paul Bunyan legend put to entertaining and catchy song. While not as inspiring as John Henry or as beautiful as Johnny Appleseed, it's another perfect addition to the disc.

The Brave Engineer (Casey Jones) - proves to be the only literal train wreck on the disc. Aside from the Indian and Bandit gunplay that was cut from the original, the narrative of this cartoon just does not work. I found myself completely lost through most of it and even the message of always doing your job was a hard one to glean from this short. By the time your done watching this 6-minute cartoon catastrophe you'll be screaming Egad over and over like the conductor in the short.

The Video: The full-frame video looks quite good for it varying age. But undeniably John Henry looks better because of its newness. It's a shame that not all DVDs can get the Snow White restoration that they deserve. This collection is still the best presentation these shorts have had.

The Audio: Nothing to write home about here, the Dolby Digital Surround is used sparingly in all of the shorts with nothing standing out. The audio works well enough, but the songs could have used a little boost, they seemed constantly flat. The Brave Engineer has the worst audio I've heard, but that likely comes from the un-understandable voice that the narrator is speaking in.

The Extras: Like most standard Disney DVDs, this has little more than the standard previews. There are previews for some of their many sequels, but the highlight is the Special Edition DVD of Beauty and the Beast. It highlights the extra work done on the film but doesn't list any of the features. Walt Disney's original introduction is also included on the disc from the first airing of Johnny Appleseed. The DVD games are entertaining, but are interesting enough only for kids. They also suffer from the lag and access time that DVD games suffer.

Overall: This is definitely a disc worth buying. The first three shorts are great examples of the work Disney can do when firing on all cylinders. Pick this one up and skip the last disappointing short.

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