There’s a mixed bag waiting for Disney fans with Volume 5 of the Disney Classic Short Films collection. On one hand you have the unforgettable The Wind in the Willows with the awesome J. Thaddeus Toad and a genuinely touching version of The Ugly Duckling. But then you have four more cartoons all on the older spectrum making it hard to say whether or not the younger ones in your life will be able to sit still. This volume has the highest concentration of older cartoons as well as a newer cartoon that most kids won’t really latch onto – so I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to say that older children will get more out of this volume than the youngest ones.
The Wind in the Willows (1949)
Directed by James Algar & Jack Kinney, Written by Winston Hibler & Kenneth Grahame
God, what can really be said about this incredible classic. One part of me wants to be glib and leave you with the Mallrats quote “Everyone wants Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride.” While another wants to point out that this timeless story went on to inspire that obnoxious, techno rendition of “Axel F” by Crazy Frog. The Wind in the Willows is about self-control and setting limits and the consequences that come about by extravagance. It’s one of those perfect stories about discipline (or the lack thereof) and I can’t recommend it highly enough. Basil Rathbone, Eric Blore, J. Pat O’Malley, Colin Campbell, Campbell Grant and Claud Allister all lend their voices to this animated classic.
The Ugly Duckling (1939)
Directed by Jack Cutting, Written by Hans Christian Andersen
A true classic. Which of these things is not like the others? Unfortunately there are situations where the answer means marginalization and expulsion from a group. Shunned by his duck siblings, a baby swan wanders from one family of birds to the next before finally finding its place amongst the most regal of birds: the swans. The message of The Ugly Duckling has always been slightly off-kilter. It’s okay to be different – if different means you’re actually one of the really popular and elite birds in disguise.
The Robber Kitten (1935)
Directed by David Hand, Written by William Cottrell
While not packed with an easily discernable lesson like other cartoons on the disc, The Robber Kitten is a cute little story about a cat who runs away to be a bandit because he doesn’t want to take a bath. Encountering a wanted scoundrel named Dirty Bill; the kitten realizes that cleanliness is a small price to pay to be kept safe in its loving home.
The Grasshopper and the Ants (1934)
Directed by Wilfred Jackson, Writter by William Cottrell & Aesop
Aesop laid the groundwork for this story about hard work and diligence thousands of years ago and yet, even with spiteful ants and fiddle playing grasshoppers acting it out, it still reeks of cultural significance. In a gimme, gimme, gimme culture like ours, mindsets similar to the grasshopper’s motto of “the world owes me a living” need to be dispelled – and that’s exactly what this classic animated fable does (even if the grasshopper does end up getting food for minimal effort). Baby steps.
The Wise Little Hen (1934)
Directed by Wilfred Jackson
A hard-working hen and her clan of chicks labor in the field to plant, raise and harvest corn while her two friends Mr. Pig and an early incarnation of Donald Duck feign stomach aches whenever the issue of helping out comes into play. Asking them numerous times for aid, each time she is rejected with their rather lame excuse. When the time finally comes to share in the bounty of her hard labor, the two sham friends come forward looking for delicious treats only to find the hen treating them to what they deserve: nada. Like The Grasshopper and the Ants, The Wise Little Hen preaches a very clear message about working for the things we want and need.
The Golden Touch (1935)
Directed by Walt Disney
The classic tale of King Midas gets a bright and colorful run as a cartoon directed by Walt Disney himself (a rarity in this Classic Short Films collection). Wanting riches beyond his kingdom’s wealth, the king makes a wish with an impish little creature and finds that everything he touches turns to gold. The king initially revels in his new gift but soon discovers a rather important downside to it all. It’s a classic cautionary tale about the dangers of greed and, in this version, it ends with a hamburger – so you decide how meaningful it really is.
"Walt Disney Animation Collection: Volume 5: The Wind in the Willows" is on sale May 12, 2009 and is rated G. Animation, Children & Family. Directed by David Hand, Jack Cutting, Jack Kinney, James Algar, Walt Disney, Wilfred Jackson. Written by Winston Hibler, Kenneth Grahame, William Cottrell, Hans Christian Andersen, Aesop. Starring Basil Rathbone, Billy Bletcher, Campbell Grant, Claud Allister, Colin Campbell, Eric Blore, J Pat OMalley.