In the early 1930s he was one of the most recognizable faces on the silver screen. He was bigger than the Beatles would ever be. Children loved him. Women couldn’t get enough of him. Men wanted to be him. OK, so maybe men only wanted to be him because the women couldn’t get enough of him, but he was still one of the most popular and recognizable faces on the planet. Not bad for a short guy with big ears and only four fingers on each hand.
Mickey Mouse took the American cinema by storm in 1928 when he steamboated his way into audience’s hearts with “Steamboat Willy”. It would be tempting to say that there was no way Disney could have imagined just how far he and Mickey would go. Walt Disney, however, was always a man of incredible imagination and for the next seven years he and the mouse would continue to set the cartoon world on its ears.
Back in the good old days of the cinema, when sound was grainy and movies were in black and white, a feature film had plenty of company. News reels, celebrity events, and coming attractions were all part of the pre-movie lineup that entertained the crowd before the feature started. Among all that fanfare, there quietly appeared the animated short, a seven to ten minute adventure whose cartoon format allowed its stars to engage in antics too crazy for human actors. Among those stars were the likes of Popeye, Bosco and Betty Boop. But Mickey and his pals quickly became some of the most popular folks on the screen, and before too long they were more popular than the full-length movies they led.
Mickey shorts were so popular that even after cartoons made the almost miraculous conversion to color, Disney’s animation studio was able to continue cranking out the less expensive black-and-white Mickey Mouse adventures without a single dip in popularity. Mickey didn’t make the conversion to color until 1935, leaving an amazing seven year legacy and some of the most entertaining animated shorts to ever hit the screen.
Walt Disney Studios began releasing a collection of those classic Mickey Mouse shorts two years ago with its first volume, Walt Disney Treasures: Mickey Mouse in Black and White. This Christmas they’ve continued the tradition with a second volume to complete the set. Included in this second volume are:
As with other releases in the Walt Disney Treasures library, the main content of this two disc set, and not the special features is the centerpiece. Attractively packaged in a collector’s tin and complete with limited edition Certificate of Authenticity (only 175,000 sets were released), this is another must have for any Disney compilation.
Leonard Maltin provides informative introductions to both discs, taking a few quick moments to dole out tidbits about Walt, Mickey, and the cartoon chemistry that made them famous. If you’re planning on making a serious collection of the Walt Disney Treasures, get used to seeing and hearing ol’ Leonard. As the world’s foremost fan of Disney and connoisseur of Mickey trivia, he’s landed himself the prestigious role of DVD host to just about everything Disney is putting out these days. His “I know more about Disney than you smile” can get on your nerves after a while, but at least it’s not Gilbert Goddfried.
Over the years Mickey has been turned into everything from lunch boxes to lighters, pez dispensers to parachutes and just about everything conceivable. Don’t believe me? Among the few bonus features is an interesting visit into the home of one of the world’s largest collections of Mickey paraphernalia. Also included is a lively look at Mickey’s early experiences as a newspaper comic staple. Just as important to his early popularity as his cinematic appearances were his weekly romps in the Sunday newspaper The feauturette takes a good look at the comic and the people who made it possible. Other features include still galleries and a tribute to one of Disney’s early animators and the official portrait artist for Mickey, John Hench.
In a sensitive, albeit sobering move, the cartoon shorts with content that would be questionable by today’s standards have been pulled out of the normal running order and included in a special section titled “From the Vault”. Leonard makes one more appearance to remind viewers that the questionable content (which includes things like blackface comedy, crude barnyard gags and stereotype ethnic references) was typical for mainstream entertainment of the day and wasn’t considered offensive as it would be now. Staying true to their desire for a complete collection of Mickey’s early work, these cartoons are included, but carefully set apart for more thoughtful viewing.
The best feature of this set is the selection of viewing options available. Each disc lets you skim the various titles in both chronological and alphabetical order. You can also watch each short one at a time, or choose to watch the entire disc worth of shorts back to back for hours of Mickey Mouse entertainment. It’s an intriguing experience watching the changes in style and quality of the animation over seven years take place in matter of hours.
Any Mickey fan will love this collection and in some ways having this collection is kind of like owning a piece of American history. In fact, with Disney animation continuing down the path it has taken lately, the more quality work of the past you can get your hands on the better. Your DVD collection will thank you for it.