With its lengthy existence and vast output, The Walt Disney Company may never run out of stuff to commemorate. The three latest DVDs in the Walt Disney Treasures collection will appeal mostly to fans of classic Disney. These limited-edition two-disc DVD sets come with tins, certificates of authenticity and other goodies.
The Chronological Donald, Volume 4, covers Donald Duck’s later short films. From different ends of the television spectrum, Mickey Mouse Club Presents: Annette celebrates the television career of Annette Funicello, while Dr. Syn: The Scarecrow of Romney Marsh is a historical adventure. The concise bonus features shed some light while avoiding long-windedness.
- Collectible tins
- Collectible art
- Certficates of authenticity
- Commentary tracks with The Chronological Donald
The Chronological Donald, Volume 4has yet more cartoon shorts starring the irascible duck. The formula is familiar: Donald Duck has a bad temper and a funny voice. Something or someone gets the better of him — chipmunks, a persistent insect, his three precocious nephews; then Donald loses his temper and rants and raves in his distinctive voice. One cartoon that doesn’t fit the mold is Rugged Bear (1953), in which Donald cluelessly abuses a bear who is trying to avoid hunting season.
Also of interest are some educational cartoons — How to Have an Accident in the Home (1956) and How to Have an Accident at Work (1959) give him plenty of opportunities for frustration. Donald in Mathemagicland (1959) is a 27-minute film that introduces Donald to mathematics in the real world. The film on this DVD is in much better condition than the oft-broken print I watched in elementary school 30 years ago.
Finally, the DVD set has 10 Donald shorts made for Mickey MouseWorks, a Disney Channel show that aired from 1999-2000. The washed-out color scheme and electronic music give the cartoons a cheap feel, but they are as funny as the classics, and faster paced too.
Queen of Television
In 1955, Walt Disney saw 12-year-old Annette Funicello in a ballet recital, and invited her to be on his new television show, Mickey Mouse Club. She became one of the most popular Mouseketeers, and in the third season, had a starring role in Walt Disney Presents: Annette, a serial that ran on the show. The 20-episode serial originally aired in February and March, 1958.
Annette McCloud is an orphaned girl from Beaver Junction, Nebraska, who shows up at the door of her aunt and uncle one day. Uncle Archie and Aunt Lila didn’t know that their brother had a daughter, much less an unsophisticated one who doesn’t know which spoon to use for grapefruit. Aunt Lila buys her niece a wardrobe that doesn’t make her look like an extra from Little House on the Prairie and gets her invited to a popular kid’s party. Most of the kids are awful nice to the new girl. If it weren’t for mean girl Laura, there wouldn’t be much conflict in the story at all.
Like Leave it to Beaver, Annette presents an idealized version of the 1950s. The kids say things like “jeepers” and “pleased to meet you.” Their grooming and manners are equally impeccable. The best way to enjoy these DVDs is to set your brain to “escapist.” You might want to keep a remote handy, as some of the episodes repeat scenes from previous episodes.
Dr. Syn: The Scarecrow of Romney Marsh is a three-part series, at 50 minutes per episode, originally shown in 1964 on Disney’s weekly television show. (The second disc has a 98-minute version, intended for theatrical release.) By day, Dr. Syn (Patrick McGoohan, The Prisoner) is the respectable vicar of Dymchurch in southeast England, by night he dons a scarecrow costume and provides the locals with tax-free alcohol, while aiding draft dodgers.
King George III, so we are told, was taxing the heck out of all of his subjects, not just American colonists. Who can blame them for wanting a little cheap booze from across the Channel? Even more sinister than the taxing authorities were the press gangs, who would kidnap young men and force them to serve in the Royal Navy. The Scarecrow, a fictional creation of novelist Russell Thorndike, emerges as a folk hero.
Plot takes precedence over character in this story. Dr. Syn/The Scarecrow is a guy who cares about injustice and is clever enough to do something about it, and that’s all there is too him. The poor guy doesn’t even get his own love interest. To make up for this , there are plenty horseback chases, prison escapes and dramatic courtroom scenes.
All of the DVDs start off with introductions by Leonard Maltin, who gives background information about the subjects. Two of the Donald Duck shorts have commentary tracks with Maltin and animation historian Jerry Beck. The more interesting one goes with Working for Peanuts (1953), which was made as a 3D film, but presented on the disc in 2D. They talk about the technical difficulties of making and projecting 3D movies at that time. Donald Goes to Press is a 13-minute film about Donald Duck comic strips and comic books. In Unseen Donald Duck: Trouble Shooters, Disney animator narrates a proposed Donald cartoon that was story-boarded but never made.
Musically Yours, Annette (12 minutes) is about Annette Funicello’s singing career, which was launched when she sang in the Annette serial. With her pleasant but unremarkable voice she had several pop hits in the late 1950s and early ’60s. To Annette with Love (16 minutes) summarizes her entertainment career. It has new interviews with people who knew her when and some old interviews with Annette. Funicello was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1987 and keeps out of the public eye these days. If you haven’t gotten your fill of 1950s television, the Annette set also has two complete episodes of Mickey Mouse Club which include the serial.
The extras are more sparse on the Dr. Syn DVD set. Disc one has Walt Disney’s introductions to the television episodes in widescreen (more about Dr. Syn ’s aspect ratio in the following section). Dr Syn: The History of the Legend (16 minutes) gives some historical background to the story and traces the history of the character. On disc two, Walt Disney: From Burbank to London is a 12-minute featurette about Disney’s English-made live-action films in the 1950s and ’60s. It has interviews with people who worked on the movies, but it’s more promotional than informational.
Finally, the tins that the DVDs come in have cards glued on the back with information about the content. On previous DVDs in this series, the cards were poorly glued and came off very easily. The cards in Wave 8 are more securely affixed.
Picture and Sound
The Donald Duck shorts look very good. Ironically, the cartoons made in 1999 and 2000 can’t boast the richness of color that the classics have. This is probably due to the overall cheapness of the production. The sound is unremarkable, but has no obvious flaws. The Annette episodes, which are black and white, are about as good as can be expected for 1950s television. Neither the picture nor the sound stand out, but aren’t bad either.
Dr. Syn: The Scarecrow of Romney Marsh was filmed in a 1:1.66 aspect ratio, and cropped for television. It’s presented on this DVD set in its original aspect ratio, while Walt Disney’s introductory segments are in 4:3 (widescreen versions of these segments are a bonus feature). The picture was restored for this DVD set, and it looks very good. The sound was also restored. Viewers can choose between a new 5.1 Dolby Digital remix or a restored mono soundtrack.
How to Use These DVDs
Most of the original content wasn’t intended to be watched all at once. Watch an episode or two. If you want more, check out one of the bonus features. Save the rest for future viewings.