Appellate Judge Tom Becker wrote this review slowly...and steadily.
Six classic Disney cartoons.
The Tortoise and the Hare: Slightly revisionist telling of the classic story of how "slow and steady" wins the race. Toby Tortoise squares off against Max Hare (a character reportedly based on legendary boxer Max Baer). Hare is fast but cocky, Tortoise is…you know, slow and steady. Guess who wins the race? This won an Oscar for Best Short Subject, Cartoon, for 1935.
Babes in the Woods: Two children get lost in the woods and befriend some gnomes. A witch shows up and tricks the children into going with her. At her house, they discover the witch kidnaps children and turns them into rats, spiders, cats, and other creatures. The gnomes come after them, shooting arrows into the witch and pelting her with pumpkins. The children are transformed back, the witch ends up in a covered with a boiling substance that hardens on her, and the children join hands and dance merrily around her sodden form.
The Goddess of Spring: Why do we have winter? Because Persephone, Goddess of Spring, was dragged kicking and screaming into the underworld by erstwhile suitor Pluto. A chorus of imps serenading her by singing "Hi-dey Hades" fails to cheer her up, so Pluto agrees to let her return to the world above for six months every year to bring warm weather to the world.
Toby Tortoise Returns: It's rematch time for Toby Tortoise and Max Hare, this time in a boxing ring. Animated animal versions of Mae West, Alfred Hitchcock, and Harpo Marx add to the fun.
Paul Bunyan: The story of the giant lumberjack and his blue ox, from birth through his legendary race against a machine.
The Saga of Windwagon Smith: In the old West, a sea captain "sails" his wagon across the prairie, powered only by air.
There is no disputing the beauty and the value of Disney animation, and the cartoons here are no exception. These are timeless pieces, and they look great, even though many of them are over 70 years old. The lineup, though, is a bit jarring.
Four of the cartoons on this set are from Disney's famed Silly Symphonies line, the highly successful and influential series of animated shorts that the studio made between 1929 and 1939. These were very creative efforts, and not always geared toward children.
The quartet included here is a good sampling of Silly Symphonies. The Tortoise and the Hare is a simple take on the Aesop fable, and its riff on boxer Max Baer was undoubtedly funnier when the film was released. Max Hare is now more a precursor to Bugs Bunny (reportedly, Warner Bros. animators have acknowledged the inspiration). In second Max and Tortoise match up, we get cartoon take offs of other popular figures of the day, with a decidedly not-for-innocent-eyes rendition of Mae West as a seductive chick(en).
Babes in the Woods starts out as a simple Hansel and Gretel-style cautionary tale until its ultraviolent end. The Goddess of Spring gives us the story of Persephone and Hades—"Pluto" according to the subtitles—but the underworld here is a nightmare vision of Hell complete with fire, brimstone, and pitchforks. The wee ones might not fully grasp why Pluto is so frustrated with the comely Persephone's refusal to be his "wife," but the rest of us do.
After these imaginative and slightly subversive works of art, the two remaining cartoons are disappointingly prosaic. Both Paul Bunyan and Windwagon Smith are a bit longer than the 8- to 10-minute Symphonies—Windjammer is around 13 minutes and Bunyan about 17—and both are straightforward stories aimed at youngsters. Windjammer was made in 1961 and Bunyan in 1958, and the animation is colorful but a little flat. I'm guessing that these were made with the popular Walt Disney television show in mind. They are acceptable, TV-style shorts but awfully bland compared to the Silly Symphonies.
If you're a Disney collector, you'll likely want to pass on this, as all these cartoons have been released as part of other sets. Paul Bunyan has apparently turned up on a number of different sets, and The Goddess of Spring was a bonus feature on the Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs DVD. This set is less expensive than the Walt Disney Treasures tins that were out a few years ago, but there are also far fewer cartoons. There are no supplements on the disc, which is a shame—a little background would have been nice—but you do get a post-card size "collectible litho print" featuring a scene from The Tortoise and the Hare. There's also an option for something called FastPlay, which, I gather, is just a way of running the DVD without menus and other set up options.
If you're just starting to build a collection of Disney or any other classic animation, this is a good starter set.
Great animation, but Disney is guilty of taking one too many trips to the well.
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