Walt Disney Animation Collection: Volume 1: Mickey and the Beanstalk Review

Say what you will about the Walt Disney Company (though if you haven't read Neil Gabler's excellent biography of the man, you really should next time you have the freedom to absorb about six hundred pages of something), but they absolutely know how to repackage their old materials into something new. Sometimes this means re-releasing the exact same product onto DVD not long after it has already been released in an entirely different box set, but hey, it's not like you don't know what you're getting.

The Walt Disney Animation Collection comes a few years on the heels of the Walt Disney Treasures Collection. Whereas those sets were both comprehensive (they each had two disks, with about twenty cartoons on each, full of extras and commentary by Leonard Maltin, came in a limited edition factory numbered tin) and were expensive (most of them were about thirty dollars), the Animation Collection is basically the more polished equivalent of those VHS tapes that used to be cranked out ad nauseam in the early 1990s that eventually found their way into the bargain bins of the early DVD era. They only have about an hour's worth of material on them, and no extras. Clearly, the audience is different, but it's possible that this also represents a misreading of the audience on Disney's part.

The first volume of the Classic Short Films collection set is headlined by Mickey and the Beanstalk and is complemented by a collection of cartoons loosely strung together by the theme of the titular mouse encountering various fairy tale related creatures and environments. They have all been plucked from very different eras in Disney history (the animation quality varies greatly between them, with Gulliver Mickey being in black and white, and the title cartoon clearly having been produced much later), and, when viewed together, demonstrate something about Mickey Mouse that is never really talked about: he has no personality of his own. From this set, I have gathered that he has all of the following qualities: timid, bold, reactionary, creative, cowardly, easily frustrated with children, deceitful, and noble. From an adult perspective, that's really kind of interesting. It's been suggested that Mickey Mouse acted as a vessel for Walt Disney's personality in the way that Kermit the Frog acted as a vessel for Jim Henson's, but what's far more likely is that he was a vague enough character that nearly any trait could be attributed to him in order to make him more popular with the then current audiences of the day (which would explain a good deal of his popularity).

But then again, that's kind of a hard thing for kids, which is whom this set is clearly intended for. It's entirely possible that when shown this collection, modern day young'uns are going to be entirely perplexed as to why Mickey Mouse was popular in the first place, since they won't be able to get a true handle on who he is (in contrast to the Looney Tunes characters, who were pretty consistent throughout the entire time they were being produced). Since this set clearly isn't intended for collectors, and it's hard to imagine a very large market for this among children who aren't going to recognize the nostalgic or historic value of such a thing, it's not clear exactly who this set is intended for. The description from the back of the box suggests that ‘every generation of your family' is going to enjoy it, but I'm not convinced. But then again, we're not really cartoon people.

Speaking objectively, the cartoons are pretty good. They are not of the creative or technical quality of some of the more superlative efforts (for the real height of Disney animation, check out Disney Treasures: Silly Symphonies), but they are certainly entertaining enough to justify spending an hour with them.

"Walt Disney Animation Collection: Volume 1: Mickey and the Beanstalk" is on sale May 7, 2009 and is rated G. Animation. Directed by Bill Roberts, Burt Gillett, Clyde Geronimi. Written by Joe Rinaldi, Bill Peet. Starring Clarence Nash, Lee Miller, Marcellite Garner, Pinto Colvig, Sterling Holloway, Walt Disney.

Anders Nelson • Associate Editor


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