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

1939-1995 (2004) - Disney

review by Adam Jahnke of The Digital Bits

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

Program Rating: B-

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): A/B+/B

Specs and Features

Disc One
Approx. 137 mins, NR, full frame (1.33:1), dual-disc keep case packaging in limited edition tin, single-sided, dual-layered (no layer switch), video introductions by film critic/historian Leonard Maltin, The Sorcerer's Apprentice short, deleted animation from The Sorcerer's Apprentice, Mickey and the Beanstalk short, 2 Easter eggs, 6-page booklet, Fantasia poster lithograph, certificate of authenticity, animated program-themed menu screens with sound, feature access, languages: English (DD 2.0 mono), subtitles: English, Closed Captioned

Disc Two
Approx. 68 mins, G, letterboxed widescreen (1.66:1), 16x9 enhanced, single-sided, dual-layered (no layer switch), video introductions by Leonard Maltin, 2 original featurettes (Mickey's Cartoon Comeback and The Voice Behind the Mouse), Mouse Mania, Mickey Cartoon Physics from The Plausible Impossible, Mickey on the Camera Stand from Tricks of Our Trade, Mickey Meets the Maestro, color title sequences from The Mickey Mouse Club, The Making of Mickey's Christmas Carol featurette, publicity and memorabilia gallery, 4 story and background art galleries, animated program-themed menu screens with sound, feature access, languages: English (DD 5.1 & 2.0 Surround), subtitles: English, Closed Captioned

Mickey Mouse's third collection of cartoon shorts begins with one of Leonard Maltin's most honest introductions. He admits that by the period represented in this set, Mickey's glory days as a screen performer were by and large behind him. Yes, some of the short films here have their own charm but there aren't really any classics here. If you're anything like me and not a particular fan of the mouse, this introduction is going to make you worry that you've got a long, tedious road ahead of you. Fortunately, a little charm sometimes goes a long way and Mickey Mouse in Living Color Vol. 2 isn't the interminable yawnfest I had feared it might be.

It should come as a surprise to nobody that Mickey as a character ran out of gas before the rest of his cartoon brethren. After all, Mickey's a nice guy but in a medium based on bringing the impossible to life, nice will only get you so far. Consequently, Mickey was almost always teamed up with characters who were allowed to do a bit more than the company's star. Mickey's latter days at the studio are represented on disc one in the following shorts:

Society Dog Show; The Pointer; Tugboat Mickey; Pluto's Dream House; Mr. Mouse Takes a Trip; The Little Whirlwind; The Nifty Nineties; Orphans Benefit; Mickey's Birthday Party; Symphony Hour; Mickey's Delayed Date; Mickey Down Under; Mickey and the Seal; Plutopia; R'Coon Dawg; Pluto's Party; Pluto's Christmas Tree; The Simple Things

The fact that Pluto's name appears in the title of these shorts almost as often as Mickey's demonstrates how the focus was shifting in the post-war years. Of the cartoons collected on disc one, only The Little Whirlwind comes close to being considered a Mickey solo outing. In this one, Mickey volunteers to clean Minnie's yard and runs into trouble with a miniature tornado. It's a cute little cartoon but it demonstrates the limitations of Mickey's character. Mickey isn't really a fighter, he's a peacekeeper. While characters like Pluto, Donald and Goofy are allowed to fight back against people and animals that have crossed them, Mickey's only allowed to fight against forces of nature.

In addition, the Disney team appeared to be running out of ideas for Mickey, with several cartoons on this disc either exact or virtual remakes of shorts from Mickey's earlier years. Orphans Benefit appears on Mickey Mouse in Black and White and apart from some design changes and the addition of color, not much is changed in the remake. Mickey's Birthday Party is similar to any number of similar "party" cartoons from the black and white days. And Symphony Hour is, as Maltin points out, basically a redo of The Band Concert with a symphonic twist.

Having said that, Symphony Hour is also one of the best cartoons on here and much superior to The Band Concert. The musical gags are extremely funny and the interaction between the characters, particularly Mickey's growing aggravation with Donald Duck as the duck gets fed up with the concert and attempts to walk out, is top-notch. Other highlights of disc one include Tugboat Mickey, one of the last shorts to team the Big Three a la Lonesome Ghosts. Mr. Mouse Takes a Trip is another fairly simple but well-executed short. And Plutopia and Pluto's Christmas Tree are beautifully animated and often very amusing, though I wouldn't be at all surprised to see these crop up again on the forthcoming Walt Disney Treasures set devoted to Pluto.

Disc Two brings Mickey Mouse to the present day, focusing on his big-screen comeback starting in 1983. The real surprise on this disc is that all three films are presented in their original theatrical widescreen aspect ratios and are enhanced for anamorphic sets. The three programs included on disc two are:

Mickey's Christmas Carol - A Disneyfied all-star adaptation of the Dickens classic starring Mickey as Bob Cratchit, Donald as Fred, Goofy as Marley's ghost and who else but Scrooge McDuck as Ebenezer Scrooge. Thanks to repeated TV broadcasts, this is probably the most familiar piece on this set to contemporary audiences. I know I've seen it plenty of times and, thanks to one of my younger brothers who had the record back in the 80's, heard it even more. Fortunately, it's an extremely well done film that will no doubt continue to win over young audiences for countless holidays yet to come.

The Prince and the Pauper - Seven years later, Mickey was back on the big screen, this time in a challenging dual role. Continuing the tradition of literary adaptations, Mickey stars as both the title characters here, with Donald appearing as the prince's valet, Goofy as the pauper's best friend, and Pluto as... well, Pluto. Unlike Mickey's Christmas Carol, all the characters here appear under the own names, presumably because the actual character names in The Prince and the Pauper aren't nearly as universally known as those in A Christmas Carol. This is an ambitious and generally pleasing short film but not as successful as earlier Mickey-lit cartoons. Despite the fact that this is exactly the same length as Mickey's Christmas Carol, the sluggish pace at the beginning of the film makes it seem about twice as long.

Runaway Brain - In 1995, Disney attempted to revive their short film tradition with this madcap seven-minute short. In every sense, Runaway Brain is unlike any previous Mickey Mouse cartoon. In an attempt to raise some quick cash, Mickey responds to a want ad placed by Dr. Frankenollie (a clever in-joke voiced by Sideshow Bob himself, Kelsey Grammer). But the mad doctor plans to transplant Mickey's brain into that of a Kong-sized monster. I'm not sure what Walt would have made of this cartoon but for modern viewers, it's fast-paced, fluidly animated, and rather amusing.

All three of the films on disc two look wonderful in their 16x9 enhanced glory but even the older cartoons on disc one look pretty darn spiffy. The visual presentation here is on a par with the beautiful work done on The Complete Goofy. The older films are presented with their original mono soundtracks and sound just fine all things considered. Mickey's Christmas Carol and The Prince and the Pauper both sport 2.0 surround tracks that are more than sufficient, while Runaway Brain kicks things into the digital age with a full-fledged 5.1 mix as wild and active as the animation.

Extra features on disc one include two more milestones from Mickey's career. The complete Sorcerer's Apprentice segment from Fantasia is included along with the complete Mickey and the Beanstalk from the anthology film Fun and Fancy Free. We also get to see a brief bit of deleted animation from The Sorcerer's Apprentice and, for egg hunters, a pair of interesting hidden features. There's some extremely rare footage of Walt Disney in a recording session performing Mickey's voice and a vintage bit of advertising ballyhoo created for the Standard Oil corporation back in 1939.

Disc Two focuses almost entirely on Mickey's more recent career. There are two original featurettes here. Mickey's Cartoon Comeback interviews animators Mark Henn and Andreas Deja about the challenges of bringing Mickey into the 80's and 90's. The Voice Behind The Mouse talks to the present-day voices of Mickey and Minnie, husband-and-wife team Wayne Allwine and Russi Taylor. Both segments are interesting, if not exactly compelling since Mickey's current work isn't exactly as defining as his early career. But all four of these people convey the sense of responsibility they feel as keepers of the flame.

The rest of Disc Two covers a range of mouse ephemera from the 1940s up to today. The usual Treasures galleries look at posters, memorabilia, storyboards and background art from the films covered on both discs. There are two Disneyland TV segments featuring Mickey. There's rare color footage of Mickey's introductions to the Mickey Mouse Club. A highlight of either disc is a wildly inventive stop-motion tribute to Mickey from 1977 by fan favorite Mike Jittlov. From 1983 comes a half-hour featurette self-explanatorily titled The Making of Mickey's Christmas Carol. Finally, Mickey Meets the Maestro looks at the making of Mickey's appearance in Fantasia 2000.

I'm of two minds about many of the extras on these discs. I can't deny that they add to a complete look at Mickey Mouse's career during the years covered here. You couldn't very well call this set definitive without including The Sorcerer's Apprentice or Mickey and the Beanstalk. But Disney collectors will be familiar with much of this material from DVDs they already own, whether it's the Treasures entry Behind the Scenes at the Walt Disney Studios or The Fantasia Anthology box set. I'm not saying these things shouldn't have been included. Just that more effort could have been made to help us understand these moments in the broader context of Mickey Mouse's evolution.

Disney collectors won't need this or any other review to tell them to add this set to their Walt Disney Treasures collection. As for parents, there are worse things you could do than get your children to appreciate these mouse cartoons, both past and present. But for the casual viewer, Mickey Mouse in Living Color, Vol. 2 might be an easily skippable entry in the Treasures line. There are some choice moments here but you also get quite a bit of chaff along with the wheat. And knowing Disney's tendency to repackage material, it wouldn't surprise me in the least if two of the highlights here, Pluto's Christmas Tree and Mickey's Christmas Carol, wound up on a Disney holiday disc at some future date. While the earlier Mickey sets made a reasonable case for the mouse's popularity, this one shows off more of his limitations than his versatility.

[Reviewer's Note: A couple of sharp-eyed Mousketeers have let me know that Disney has already opportunistically included Pluto's Christmas Tree and Mickey's Christmas Carol on a holiday DVD entitled Mickey's Magical Christmas: Snowed in at the House of Mouse. I can't vouch for the quality of this one but I doubt very much that Mickey's Christmas Carol is in anamorphic widescreen. But if all you want is yuletide entertainment, it's probably easier to get this disc than try to program your player to just play the Christmas toons on here.]

Adam Jahnke
[email protected]

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