Twelve bites of brief Disney goodness
How these films were chosen is something of a mystery, as it's by no means a complete collection. The focus seems to be on 21st-century theatrical shorts, but John Henry was part of a direct-to-home-video release and the Prep and Landing short was part of a TV special. Meanwhile, Destino and One by One aren't included, but other shorts previously released on home video are, while the never-released-on-DVD Glago's Guest is also missing. Some explanation or introduction would have been helpful in contextualizing this set, but all we have to go on is the 12 shorts, so that's what we'll go with.
John Henry (10:19) is the longest short by far, originally offered as part of the Disney's American Legends DVD, where it was packaged with a trio of animated tall tales from the ‘40s and 50s. Featuring Alfre Woodard as the narrator (and as John's wife) it's an engaging telling of the story of the steel-driving man, made to stand out y a uniquely folksy art style (powered by the use of stitching as a visual motif) and catchy, spiritual-inspired music. The visible pencil sketches on the characters and a woodcut look on the background make it more hand-made than anything else on this disc.
Lorenzo (4:50) has an odd history all around, being first developed in 1949 before eventually showing before 2004's much-forgotten Kate Hudson comedy Raising Helen. The Oscar-nominated story of a cat dealing with a cursed tale with a mind of its own, the short's main appeal is its art, as the dark, yet colorful visuals present a very atmospheric feel thanks largely to an animation style that emphasizes brush strokes. It's art come to feline life.
When first watching The Little Matchgirl (6:40), which has been released on home video alongside fellow Hans Christian Andersen adaptation The Little Mermaid, the main question was, how are they going to end this story, a notoriously depressing tale? Well, unlike their tack with the less-faithful story of Ariel, Disney went for it here and the results, though beautiful, tear your heart out. It's a moody tale that won't get a lot of spins from most people, but it won't be forgotten either, which explains its Oscar nomination.
How to Hook Up Your Home Theater (6:20), like Lorenzo, had an odd arrival in theaters, preceding the wholly-unconnected National Treasure: Book of Secrets, but it's a very traditional Goofy cartoon, a throw-back to the delightful narrator-driven "How to" Disney shorts of the ‘40s. Goofy's not a personal favorite as far as characters go, but in this modern setting, dealing with the complexities of video technology, he's particularly enjoyable. An attempt to recall the look of the old-school ‘toons makes the homage effective and fun, despite the current settings.
Tick Tock Tale (6:03) is a more stylish, mature short, featuring a clock on the clearance shelf of a clock shop, who's embarrassed by his unsophisticated chime (to the amusement of the other clocks. However, when a thief tries to make off with some of the other residents, it's his chance to take a stand. A touch heavy on the pathos and light on plot, it's nonetheless a gorgeous short and a technically brilliant one at that.
Prep & Landing - Operation: Secret Santa (6:55) is the most curious inclusion, as the story of two of Santa's elves, voiced by Dave Foley and Derek Richardson, is the least artistic of the bunch, purely focused on the story at hand, with a technically solid but relatively standard look. The inclusion of Betty White as Mrs. White and Sarah Chalke as an elf associate raise the bar a bit, but otherwise it's a straightforward piece of holiday-themed action comedy. Of anything included on this disc, including the two follow-up shorts, this feels the most commercial.
The Ballad of Nessie (5:32) arrived in theaters along with 2011's Winnie the Pooh, as another throw-back to hand-drawn animation, using tartan patterns as a theme in the film's illustrations. The animated children's book-style poem, telling the origin of the famous Loch dweller, has the advantage of being narrated by the great Billy Connolly, who imbues what could have been a bit of goofy silliness with real emotion, making it a fun fable.
Tangled Ever After (6:29) is certainly a bit of a cynical follow-up to a big hit, tagging along with the theatrical release of Beauty and the Beat 3-D, focusing on the two animal stars of the original Rapunzel film, Maximus the horse and Pascal the chameleon, as they try to find the wedding rings for Rapunzel and Eugene on their big day. A chase scene full of coincidences and slapstick, it offers a few inventive gags and beautiful animation, making it a good update on a classic formula. No complaints about going to the well again, considering the results.
An Academy-Award winner, Paperman (6:35) is one of the finest examples of short animation in recent history, an outstanding nearly-silent tale of romance between two people who meet on a train platform and are brought together by a bit of magic. (It showed before Wreck-It Ralph, making for a great day at the theater.) The black and white (and slightly red) animation, which mixes a hand-drawn 2D look with CG precision, is essentially perfect, aided by the impact of Christophe Beck's pitch-perfect score. It still brings plenty of excitement and enjoyment after dozens of views.
Get a Horse! (6:01) is quite a bit different but was nominated for an Oscar as well, blending a perfect early Mickey Mouse look with a very modern CG Mickey, resulting in a meta culture clash that will make animation fans smile every time. The love, care and flat-out inventiveness that went into this short, which had the good fortune of sharing the marquee with Frozen, makes for a film that is enjoyable whether you know what a run cycle is or not, with an appeal that will span several generations.
The only film that can truly compete with Paperman in terms of quality here is the other Oscar winner, Feast (6:12), a simply stunning bit of anime-influenced animation tracing the relationship of a man and his dog through the meals they share. Mostly wordless, it offers a wonderful story told in the background, with a ton of heart and style, moving along with pure grace. Though it certainly found some eyeballs sitting in front of Big Hero 6, Feast is the kind of film that couldn't be praised enough and deserves the biggest audience possible.
Bringing up the rear is the reason most kids will beg for this disc, as Anna and Elsa return in Frozen Fever, which picks up where the winter classic ended. In basically one big musical number, all the favorites are back, with Olaf (Josh Gad) getting plenty of cutesy laughs and Idina Menzel and Kristen Bell singing their hearts out with Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez' Broadway-worthy "Making Today a Perfect Day." The addition of adorable little mini Olafs is a fine way to expand the Frozen universe in a short that didn't get bogged down too much in the story of a cold-hobbled Elsa trying to celebrate her sister's birthday. There's nothing here that won't appeal to those who enjoyed the first Frozen film.
The audio is as strong as the visuals on this disc, with strong music, clear dialogue and well-mixed tracks that effectively utilize the surrounds to create an immersive experience. How to Hook Up Your Home Theater makes particularly good use of the side and rear speakers (naturally) and when called on, the low-end does a fine job of making its presence felt. Considering the impact music has on so many of these films, its quality was key and this disc delivers.
The Bottom Line