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Walt Disney Animation Collection 4: Tortoise & The Hare
Here we have the fourth issue in the ongoing Walt Disney Animation Collection, which presents a choice selection of classic Disney shorts. This series is intended for casual fans of Disney animation, as an alternative to the Walt Disney Treasures series, which is for collectors and completists.
Walt Disney Animation Collection: Volume 4 comprises a mixed bag of six shorts from the golden era of animation through the early 1960s. The selection seems haphazard, stylistically inconsistent, and thematically disjointed. There's nothing wrong with the shorts in and of themselves (with one exception). But the Animation Collection strikes one as a slapdash effort to tap the wide and deep market of people who aren't big enough fans to purchase the $35 Treasures sets, but who have sufficient fondness to shell out $15 or so for a single-disc shot of nostalgia. Though the series offers classic Disney shorts, I wish a bit more thought had gone into the way each volume was put together.
All of the shorts contained herein are available elsewhere on other Disney releases (precisely where is mentioned below).
The Tortoise and the Hare
A charming retelling of Aesop's fable of an overconfident hare racing a slow but steady tortoise. This is excellent early Disney animation, with whimsical backgrounds, a jazzy score, and loads of wit. Everyone knows the ending, but the whole short is stuffed with great design and nicely-timed jokes. Also available on Walt Disney Treasures: Silly Symphonies.
Babes in the Woods
Fantastic early Silly Symphony that blends the title tale with stuff from "Hansel and Gretel." Wonderfully detailed backgrounds, with the witch and her house being highlights. Also available on Walt Disney Treasures: Silly Symphonies.
The Goddess of Spring
Another very well-animated Silly Symphony, this short retells the Persephone and Pluto story from Greek myth through operatic music. The lush opening scenes showcase pastel-toned natural landscapes, while the middle section takes us to Pluto's underworld, alive with flame, shadows, and dancing demons. According to the exhaustive website www.DisneyShorts.org, this is the first example of Disney's studio attempting realistic animation of human movement. Also available as an extra feature on Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs: Platinum Edition.
Toby Tortoise Returns
The characters from The Tortoise and the Hare reunite in a boxing ring. The story here is absolutely minimal, but serves as a framework for some memorable gags. Of note is an unbelievable double-entendre: When Toby Tortoise is knocked out of the ring and into the lap of a hen who looks and sounds like Mae West, she says, "Oh, I like a man who takes his time." Also available on Walt Disney Treasures: Silly Symphonies.
This lengthy retelling of the familiar American legend marks a 22-year leap from Toby Tortoise Returns, and a major change in animation style. The highly stylized backgrounds and angular, exaggerated character design tell us right off that we're in the 1950s. The storytelling here is solid, and the humor is generally appealing. Also available on Walt Disney Treasures: Disney Rarities: Celebrated Shorts, 1920s - 1960s.
The Saga of Windwagon Smith
This overlong "original" tall tale is poorly animated and marred by some truly offensive jokes. The protagonist of the title builds a hybrid covered wagon/galleon to "sail" people west. At one point, a cigar store Indian is mounted as the ship's figurehead; when doused with a barrel of whiskey at the christening, its face whitens, smiles, and shakes with delirium tremens. When we see jokes like this in shorts from the 1920s or 1930s, they seem like relics of a time when insensitive cultural attitudes prevailed; this short dates from the height of the civil rights era in this country and it's shocking that it was even considered, let alone allowed in the final cut. Windwagon Smith also features some offensive Asian caricatures, to boot. Also available on Walt Disney Treasures: Disney Rarities: Celebrated Shorts, 1920s - 1960s.
The full-frame transfers are presumably the same ones used for these shorts' other DVD releases; in any case, they are quite good. Some of the shorts are slightly pictureboxed to maintain their 1.33:1 OARs. Colors are bright and consistent, with no glaring artifacts.
The mono soundtracks have been well-preserved and/or restored. They are crisp and clear; even the older Silly Symphony shorts feature unmuddied dialogue and sound effects.
Other than the unfortunate Windwagon Smith, this is an entertaining group of shorts that does not make a bad buy for casual fans of Disney animation. Despite the lack of extras and historical context provided by the superior Treasures sets, the shorts are granted a solid technical presentation and mostly represent classic Disney work. Recommended.