Judge Eric Profanick says give me CGI over traditional animation any day.
Animated Adventures In Exciting Lands!
After I finished watching this disc I stopped to think when the last time was that I had watched a cartoon. For the life of me, I just don't know. The first thing that popped into my head was Finding Nemo, which isn't a cartoon but it's as close as I can get. A few seconds later my brain reminded me I had reviewed Star Trek: The Animated Series for the site just a few months back. Cartoons, comics, animated series, animated movies, they're not my thing. Like the next person I love Pixar, but beyond that I just don't care for the colored-in world. I prefer live actors in a live, CGI world to tickle my fancy. Although, it's not a perfectly rigid rule, as the upcoming Doctor Who Animated Adventure is something I'll make a modicum of effort to see.
Why don't I watch cartoons? Everyone loves cartoons, and I remember many a happy hour watching them growing up. Ah, there it is. As much fun as they are, as universally viewable as they can be, I have that tickle in the back of my mind that says cartoons are for kids. Right or wrong, that's my brain working for or against me. But, despite my brain, this disc from Disney fits the bill.
Facts of the Case
The fourth volume of a series, Walt Disney's It's A Small World of Fun puts together a handful of cartoons set in foreign countries, to expose children to the magic of distant lands. This volume contains five such cartoons:
"The Reluctant Dragon" (1946, Great Britain, 20.5 minutes): The story of a dragon that isn't stereotypical. He likes poetry and music and never wants to pick a fight. But the brave Sir Giles, noble dragonslayer, is on his way to vanquish the feared monster. Can a little boy save the dragon from certain death?
"Polar Trappers" (1938, South Pole, 8 minutes): Donald and Goofy are ethical penguin hunters—they bring them back alive. While out laying the traps, Goofy is outsmarted by a walrus. Back at camp, Donald is tired of eating beans and decides a penguin will taste like a chicken; his prey outsmarts him too.
"The Goddess of Spring" (1934, Greece, 9.5 minutes): All is wonderful in the woods, as the goddess of spring brings warmth and happiness to the land. But the devil comes up from under the Earth and kidnaps her, taking her down to his lair where he wants to make her his bride. With the goddess gone, it turns very cold and all the vegetation dies. Can the forest animals survive without the goddess?
"For Whom the Bulls Toil" (1953, Mexico, 7 minutes): Traveling through Mexico, Goofy is mistaken for a grand bullfighter, and soon finds himself trapped in an arena with a big, mean bull.
"The Little House" (1952, U.S., 9 minutes): There's a happy little house far out in the country. All is well until the city begins to grow and grow and he finds himself surrounded by big, unfriendly buildings. What will happen to the little house?
I don't get the point of this disc. As it's the fourth in the series, maybe the explanation was made in an earlier release. Let me quote the back cover of the DVD: "Get ready for a magical journey around the world with this collection of classic animated shorts. Follow a cast of lovable Disney characters as they bring you fun-filled stories from across the globe." It does seem pretty clear and straightforward, I agree, but it actually isn't.
If you're producing a collection of cartoons from around the world to give kids a taste of far off places, where's the instruction or lesson? If I hadn't read the back cover, if I hadn't seen the countries listed next to the name of each cartoon, then I would have had absolutely no idea that the purpose of this collection was to show me cartoons from around the world. Outside of the five cartoons there is nothing else here. In essence, kids are just watching five more cartoons. I expected at least some small introduction either at the very beginning of the disc telling me about the cartoon's origin and a lesson about said country…but there's nothing.
Exacerbating this conundrum, I wasn't sure if these "foreign cartoons" were supposed to originate from the country, are simply set in the country, or perhaps a combination of the two. Out of the five cartoons, only one has any authentic foreign flavor to it, and that's For Whom the Bulls Toil from Mexico. In watching this very simplified account of Goofy as a matador, the artists made an effort to make it look like Mexico, to fill the cartoon with Mexicans, and have the people speak Mexican. With the other four cartoons, there's no such effort. The Reluctant Dragon has a very light British feel to it, simply because of the knights and dragons; Polar Trappers could be set in any southern hemisphere cold locale; The Goddess of Spring has the most unique feel to it but I wouldn't classify it as Greek (except in the pure mythological sense); and The Little House could come from any industrialized nation.
Perhaps I'm reading too much into it, but the entire branding of this collection seems irrelevant. These cartoons are just played as any other cartoon.
With that out of the way, let's go back and look at each cartoon:
"The Reluctant Dragon"
"The Goddess of Spring"
"For Whom the Bulls Toil"
"The Little House"
As you can see, the cartoons themselves aren't anything special. They're fine, they're dandy, but they're nothing that screams "buy me." Couple this relative blandness with the vagaries of the DVD's focus, and I just don't see the point.
If I've yet to dissuade you and you're still interested in the DVD, first know it's a bare bones release. Five cartoons and that's it. The quality of the cartoons also is a bit wanting (considering their age) and varies across each. The worst is the first, The Reluctant Dragon, with a fuzzy picture, washed out colors, and a plethora of dirt. The Goddess of Spring has the most fluctuation in its colors and exhibits a flicker on the right side of the screen. The rest aren't as bad as these, but they all have some level of muted colors and dirt speckles. For the audio, the simple Dolby stereo mix is adequate, allowing you to hear dialogue and background music just fine.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Any opportunity to expose children to foreign cultures is a welcome thing. You don't have to shove it in their faces to get the point across. Sometimes being subtle without lecturing them is the best way to accomplish a goal. With this DVD, your get to expose children to other cultures and places, and they may not even realize they've been taught something. As they say, if you really want someone to hear what you say, whisper it.
You have five average cartoons. They're mildly enjoyable, but they're not exceptional. Put together they're supposed to impart some sort of lesson, but I think it's far too flimsy, lacking any emphasis. There's really no surprise I can't give this DVD a recommendation. If you want your kids to learn about foreign lands, put on the Discovery Channel, TLC, or even the Travel Channel. If you want them to watch a cartoon, put on the Disney Channel or the Cartoon Network. This disc doesn't work for me, but maybe the first volume has what I thought it should.
Walt Disney's It's A Small World of Fun, Volume 4 is hereby found guilty of failing the No Child Left Behind Act.
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