Friday, April 26, 2013

Walt Disney Treasures Review: Mickey Mouse in Living Color Volume Two

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Many funny moments
Cons: Mickey taking a back seat, "Runaway Brain"
The Bottom Line:
Mickey and his friends
Present latest of his shorts
For you to laugh at

Mickey's Twilight Years

When Disney began releasing rare material on DVD way back in 2000 (or there abouts), I started snapping it up site unseen.  Hey, I'm not a Disney fanatic for nothing.  As each new wave of the Walt Disney Treasures series has been released, I've continued the tradition.  The result is sets I own that I fully intend to watch some day mixed in with sets I have watched and enjoyed.

Then there's Mickey Mouse in Living Color Volume Two, the only set I've watched twice.  This was the only Treasures collection of Mickey Mouse cartoons I had watched before this year.  But when I decided to watch all of Mickey's cartoons in 2008 for his 80th birthday, I didn't let that fact stop me from watching it again.  And you know what?  It was still fun the second time.

As with all the entries in the Treasures series, this is a two disc collection.  But the break down is a little different.  Disc one holds the majority of the shorts with 18.  The first few shorts start in 1939 and extend into the early 40's.  By this point in his career, Mickey's popularity was being eclipsed by his former co-stars.  Donald was already starring in his own series of shorts.  And the co-stars are also present in these shorts.  Pluto gets most of the laughs in "The Pointer" and almost all the screen time in "Pluto's Dream House."  Donald and Goofy co-star in "Tugboat Mickey," one of my favorites from the set.  But Mickey does get to shine on his own when he battles "The Little Whirlwind."

Then there's the strange case of "Orphan's Benefit."  This short was originally produced in the early 1930's in black and white.  And this is exactly the same cartoon with the same jokes and characters.  The only difference is that the characters have been redrawn to look like their 1940's selves (check out Donald and Goofy especially) and color has been added.  I'd love to know why they decided to spend the time and money to do this, but we aren't told.

Instead, series host Leonard Maltin comes on before any short with a potential racist or violent joke and warns us about it, reminding us that they we don't find them funny now.  Yes, his constant sermonizing (which you can't skip past) gets boring.  But if that's the price we have to pay to get these cartoons, I'll gladly pay it.

The second half of the cartoons on this disc pick up after World War II and send Mickey up to 1953.  Pluto is a constant in all of them, and we even get to see Chip and Dale in "Pluto's Christmas Tree."  I think my favorite from this era is "Mickey and the Seal."  It's got some hilarious moments.

The bonus material on this disc consists of Mickey's movie appearances from the time.  We get the complete "Sorcerer's Apprentice," an alternate take on a scene from it, and the original version of "Mickey and the Beanstalk" that was part of the movie Fun and Fancy Free.  That means that the cartoon is interrupted at times for bits with popular comedian Edgar Bergen and his ventriloquist dummies.  Frankly, I'd rather have the edited version I grew up watching on TV, but it's still fun to have.

The reason that the studio stopped making Mickey shorts in the 1950's was that short features weren't popular with the audiences any more.  But after three decades, the studio began to dust off its original star.  We get those cartoons on disc two.  Up first is "Mickey's Christmas Carol," a half hour piece that does a reasonably good job of telling the classic Dickens story given the time constraints.  Mickey plays Bob Cratchit to Scrooge McDuck's Scrooge.  (Appropriate casting if I ever saw some.)  The cartoon is fun without being scary for the kids.  And seeing who gets cast in what parts is half the fun.

This disc also contains "The Prince and the Pauper" and "Runaway Brain."  I actually saw both of these in their original theatrical releases.  The first finds Mickey playing both title rolls in a fresh take of Twain's classic.  It's got some great funny moments and nice suspense as it nears the end of its half hour run.  Unfortunately, I have never warmed up to "Brain," a seven minute short that finds Mickey agreeing to become a subject for a mad scientist.  I find it more creepy than funny.

Finally, we get a plethora of bonus material.  There are interviews with the artists responsible for giving Mickey new adventures, the husband and wife who currently voice Mickey and Minnie, the opening sequences from The Mickey Mouse Club in color, Mickey's scenes in some animation episodes of the "Disneyland" TV show, and the standard publicity and animation galleries.  There's enough in the bonus material here to keep you busy for hours.

I do agree with most people that Mickey's best cartoons were done earlier in his career.  But that doesn't mean there isn't some truly fun stuff in Mickey Mouse in Living Color Volume Two.  Any Disney fanatic will want it.  And even a casual fan will enjoy the latest chapter in the longest running mouse career in Hollywood history.

Included cartoons:
1939: Society Dog Show, The Pointer
1940: Tugboat Mickey, Pluto's Dream house, Mr. Mouse Takes a Trip
1941: The Little Whirlwind, The Nifty Nineties, Orphan's Benefit
1942: Mickey's Birthday Party, Symphony Hour
1947: Mickey's Delayed Date
1948: Mickey Down Under, Mickey and the Seal
1951: Plutopia, R'Coon Dawg
1952: Pluto's Party, Pluto's Christmas Tree
1953: The Simple Things
Mickey's Christmas Carol
The Prince and the Pauper
Runaway Brain

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