Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Walt Disney Treasures Review: Mickey Mouse in Living Color

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Lots of fun and laughs in full color
Cons: A few of the shorts aren't that great
The Bottom Line:
Mickey goes color
Hits the stride of his career
Be prepared to laugh

There are Some Colorful Adventures in This Collection

While Walt Disney started producing his Silly Symphony cartoons in color in the early 1930's, he kept Mickey in black and white until 1935. The early color cartoons produced after the switch are the subject of Mickey Mouse in Living Color, one of the first wave of Disney Treasure sets released back in 2001. (I'm not going to lose my Disney fanatic status if I confess I am just now watching the set, right?)

26 Mickey Mouse shorts were produced between 1935 and 1938, and all of them are included in this two disc set. And there are some pretty famous one here.

Opening the set is "The Band Concert." I know I've seen bits of it, but I'm not sure I had seen the whole thing. This is one of the few times that Donald and Mickey were adversaries. Mickey is trying to conduct the orchestra, but things keep interrupting. First it's Donald and his infinite supply of pipes playing "Turkey in the Straw." But then a tornado comes along and things really pick up. This one is so full of clever gags I wish I had enjoyed it sooner.

"Thru the Mirror" was inspired by Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking Glass. Mickey falls asleep reading that book, in fact, and finds himself in a world where everything is alive. When he shrinks down to a smaller size, he has fun with everyday objects until he is caught dancing with the queen.

The set closes with "Brave Little Tailor." In this classic, Mickey is sent to defeat the giant entering the kingdom after he brags that he "Killed seven with one blow." The only problem is that Mickey was talking about flies.

By the time the set opens, the staff had run into problems finding enough material for Mickey to carry an entire 8 minute cartoon by himself. So he often teams up with Donald Duck and Goofy. There are several such cartoons here. The gang fight a fire in "Mickey's Fire Brigade," clean a clock in "Clock Cleaners," fight ghosts in "Lonesome Ghosts," and build a bridge in "Boat Builders." (Such imaginative titles some of these had.) Usually, Donald and Goofy get the best routines and the focus of the screen time. Not that I am complaining since those shorts are great. That isn't the case in "The Whalers." The highlight of this short for me was Mickey's attempt to dump a bucket of water over the side of the ship. Watching it return to the bucket no matter what Mickey did was a hoot.

Pluto gets a chance to shine on several cartoons such as "Mickey's Elephant" and "Mickey's Parrot." Minnie isn't around that much, usually preferring to give these other characters co-star status. But the entire gang is involved in such classics as "On Ice" and "Hawaiian Holiday."

And I must make special mention of "Mickey's Trailer." As a kid, I had a toy of some kind that features parts of the short. It was wonderful to finally see the entire thing.

What surprised me was how little dialogue there was in these cartoons. "Brave Little Tailor" has the most of the set, I think. Most of the gags are still visual with vaudeville inspired antics timed perfectly to music. Not that I'm complaining. I was just surprised to see it, I guess.

There are a couple shorts on here that don't measure up to the others. "Pluto's Judgment Day" features the canine in a dream where he is on trial for his treatment of cats. "Orphans' Picnic" and "Mickey's Circus" feature Mickey and Donald trying to do something nice to a bunch of misbehaving orphans. I really don't find their behavior funny. But the ones I don't like are the minority.

All 26 cartoons have been restored for the set. They look great. And we get some cool extras as well. Mickey did make one private appearance in color in 1932 to introduce the Oscar acting nominees. "Parade of Award Nominees" is included here. The pencil tests for three of the 1935 shorts are included as well. Disc two features a gallery of promotional posters and other items from the time. Finally, Leonard Maltin offers a brief video essay on the transitions going on in Mickey's career during this time.

No one hits perfect all the time, so it is quite easy to look over the few sub-par cartoons. The majority of the shorts in Mickey Mouse in Living Color are fun and well worth watching no matter how old you are.

Included Shorts:
1935 - The Band Concert, Mickey's Garden, On Ice, Pluto's Judgment Day, Mickey's Fire Brigade
1936 - Thru the Mirror, Mickey's Circus, Mickey's Elephant, Mickey's Grand Opera, Mickey's Polo Team, Alpine Climbers, Moving Day, Mickey's Rival, Orphan's Picnic
1937 - Hawaiian Holiday, Moose Hunters, The Worm Turns, Magician Mickey, Mickey's Amateurs, Clock Cleaners, Lonesome Ghosts
1938 - Mickey's Parrot, Boat Builders, The Whalers, Mickey's Trailer, Brave Little Tailor

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