Appellate Judge Tom Becker strains to keep his willows away from the wind.
"Oh, the world owes us a livin'!"—Song of the ill-fated Grasshopper
A half-dozen animated classics from the Mouse Factory.
Wind in the Willows: The adventures of J. Thaddeus Toad and his friends Ratty, Moley, and Angus MacBadger in the lovely English countryside.
Ugly Duckling: A baby duck searches for love after being rejected by his family for being…ugly.
The Grasshopper and the Ants: The grasshopper just wants to play his fiddle and have fun while the industrious ants prepare for winter…guess who's not smiling when the snows come.
The Golden Touch: Greedy King Midas gets what he thinks is a gift—the ability to make everything he touches into gold! But when the king realizes that this extends to food and water, he bargains to give the gift back.
The Robber Kitten: Little kitten Ambrose wants to be a bandit, but his mother wants him to take a bath. Popguns at his side, he runs away, only to encounter a real robber.
The Wise Little Hen: Or, the Little Red Hen, as she is commonly known. Here, she asks for help planting and harvesting her corn, but Peter Pig and Donald Duck (in his debut) feign illness to get out of the work. What will they do when she starts making delicious breads and soups with that corn?
Six classic Disney cartoons. What's not to like?
Well, a couple of things.
The cartoons themselves are fine. They look pretty good, although Wind in the Willows could do with a bit more clean up, and they sound fine. All have been released before on various collections, some of which are still in print. All except Wind in the Willows are part of Disney's Silly Symphonies line, made between 1929 and 1939.
Wind in the Willows, released in 1949, is the longest (35 minutes) and most ambitious cartoon in this set. Featuring voice work from Basil Rathbone, J. Pat O'Malley, and Eric Blore, it's like a mini feature—and was, in fact, released as half of a full-length film, The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad, with The Legend of Sleepy Hollow filling out the running time. While it's beautifully made and intelligently written, it's also a little slow moving and dated. Much of the story—involving Toad's "manias," with subplots about bankruptcy and foreclosure—will likely go over the heads of young children. Better to read and discuss the story before tackling this one.
Far more enjoyable are the Silly Symphonies. While the animation is a bit more crude and the picture and audio a bit rougher—these are more than 70 years old, after all—the stories are timeless, with some nice, subtle jokes adults will appreciate. The stand-out here is Ugly Duckling—Not The Ugly Duckling as it's listed on the case and on the menu screen. Disney made this story twice, first in 1931, then in 1939, the last of the Silly Symphonies. This is the 1939 version, and it is as charming and moving a story as you'll see, with an especially personable and well-rendered duckling. Adults will get a kick out of the horrified quacking argument between Mother and Father Duck over their bizarre, unfamiliar-looking off-spring—the soap opera-ish subtext is pretty clear.
Of the remaining cartoons, three are based on familiar stories—The Golden Touch (King Midas), The Wise Little Hen, and The Grasshopper and the Ants. These films are not straight re-tellings but clever, creative takes. The Robber Kitten is very cute and the one most geared toward children. Like Ugly Duckling, all are in the eight-to-ten minute range. 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 Wind in the Willows. 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 a Disney collector, you likely already have some or all of these; if you're just starting your Disney (or classic animation) collection, these are as good a beginning as any. While a little more thematic unity might have been nice, this is still a more-than decent set, competitively priced.
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