UltimateDisney.com: The Ultimate Guide to Disney DVD

2004: The Year in Review

Part 1
The Catalogue Releases of 2004


For eight months of the year, on the first Tuesday of the month, Disney released new batches of DVDs from their live action catalogue. Though these started out shaky, with poor transfers and pan-and-scan jobs abound, the studio got progressively better at treating their films from the past five decades well on the current home video format, showing a devotion to preserving original aspect ratio and a growing openness to bonus features.

The final batch of the year - the dozen catalogue DVDs released September 7th - showed that Disney had aspect ratios down pat; every single one was offered in its original dimensions. But that wave's near complete absence of extras makes clear that there's room for improvement - even vintage theatrical trailers are a big step over nothing.

UltimateDisney.com's Top 5 Catalogue Releases of 2004


Read our full DVD review

1) Darby O'Gill and the Little People (1959) - The same year that the success of The Shaggy Dog encouraged more wacky comedies, Disney released Darby O'Gill and The Little People, a project of greater personal interest to Walt. This long-awaited DVD preserves the film in all its glory, with visual effects that remarkably hold up to digital scrutiny forty-five years later.

In the film, leprechaun shenanigans add a dimension to the real world and its brilliant display of humanity. Fantasy elements are seamlessly weaved with the convincing classical Irish setting, and four inspired performances are given by Albert Sharpe (the aging groundskeeper of the title), Janet Munro (an exuberiant young leading lady of Disney, whose career was cut too short), Sean Connery (in one of his first film performances) and Jimmy O'Dea as the cunning king of the leprechauns.

The bonus features surpass any other catalogue title from 2004; a nearly-hour-long special "Disneyland" episode shows just how the film was presented to audiences, a retrospective catches up with the legendary Connery, and a featurette on effects illustrates the mastery presented here.

 



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2) Freaky Friday (1977) - Many people saw and liked last year's Freaky Friday remake, but it doesn't offer quite as much fun as the charming original comedy. The mother-daughter switch was about all that was carried over from this '70s version which is clearly a product of its era, from its music and clothes to the activities of plot. As one of the Disney films she made instead of Star Wars, Jodie Foster plays the daughter who swaps bodies with her mother (Barbara Harris) as the pair deals with each other's world, including typing tests, baseball, and laundry. Both actresses offer winning performances in what's certainly one of the most clever and well-executed Disney comedies of the decade. Though it's not the packed two-disc Special Edition fans hoped for, the DVD includes an insightful retrospective with Jodie Foster and a memory game.

 



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3) The Ugly Dachshund (1966) - Dean Jones and animals were both staples of the live action comedies that the Disney studio released in the '60s and '70s. The Ugly Dachshund gives us both, and while it doesn't seek more than laughs, it doesn't need to. In one of his first films for Disney (and one of the few Walt would live to see), Jones shares the screen with a Great Dane who has been raised among a pack of dachshunds. Dachshund plays its premise for all its worth and winds up feeling like a very good feature-length sitcom. The DVD oddly chooses not to catch up with Jones or co-star Suzanne Pleshette, but with the Japanese actor Mako (who made his debut here) in a heavily-edited interview. Solid anamorphic video and surround audio, and a live action Disney comedy that's guaranteed to please merit this DVD a strong recommendation.

 


4) The Three Lives of Thomasina (1964) - Just a few months before she became known as Jane Banks, Karen Dotrice made her big screen debut as Mary McDhui, a Scottish girl whose best friend is a cat named Thomasina. Both Dotrice and Thomasina hold you captive with their screen time, as do Patrick McGoohan as Mary's stern veteranarian father and Susan Hampshire as a woman living in a forest who's rumored to be a witch. Elements of fantasy are less prominent than a disarming, solemn drama, but forty years later, we see that Walt Disney could craft a serious film just as well as the live action comedies churned out in great numbers. The DVD catches up with Susan Hampshire in a bonus feature, and offers an excellent 16x9 transfer.
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5) The Black Hole (1979) - Neither as bad as some would have you believe nor as good as Disney would have hoped for, The Black Hole represents the studio's ambitious big-budget foray into science fiction in the wake of Star Wars. For a 25-year-old film, the new anamorphic widescreen transfer and 5.1 soundtrack are surprisingly potent. The film's extended original trailer and a new featurette on effects round out the package nicely. Whether you look at the film as campy, dull, or unabashed fun, The Black Hole holds a significant place among Disney's live action canon.

Read our full DVD review

 

10 More Catalogue Movies to Check Out: There weren't many (or new) bonus features on these DVDs, but they're worth checking out on the basis of the movie, which has been satisfactorily presented.

1) One Magic Christmas (1985) (DVD Review / Buy from Amazon.com)

2) Flight of the Navigator (1986) (DVD Review / Buy from Amazon.com)

3) Now You See Him, Now You Don't (1972) (DVD Review / Buy from Amazon.com)

4) Return to Oz (1985) (DVD Review / Buy from Amazon.com)

5) Davy Crockett: Two Movie Set (DVD Review / Buy from Amazon.com)

6) The Watcher in the Woods (1981) (DVD Review / Buy from Amazon.com)

7) Hans Brinker, or the Silver Skates (1962) (DVD Review / Buy from Amazon.com)

8) Never a Dull Moment (1968) (DVD Review / Buy from Amazon.com)

9) Napoleon and Samantha (1972) (DVD Review / Buy from Amazon.com)

10) Third Man on the Mountain (1959) (DVD Review / Buy from Amazon.com)

 


20 Most Popular Catalogue Release of 2004: Based on orders shipped through Amazon.com, the following ten catalogue DVDs were most popular with visitors of UltimateDisney.com this year.

1) Darby O'Gill and the Little People (1959) (DVD Review / Buy from Amazon.com)
2) The Ugly Dachshund (1966) (DVD Review / Buy from Amazon.com)
3) The Three Lives of Thomasina (1964) (DVD Review / Buy from Amazon.com)
4) The One and Only, Genuine, Original Family Band (1968) (DVD Review / Buy)
5) Follow Me, Boys! (1966) (DVD Review / Buy from Amazon.com)
6) Hans Brinker, or the Silver Skates (1962) (DVD Review / Buy from Amazon.com)
7) The Gnome-Mobile (1967) (DVD Review / Buy from Amazon.com)
8) Third Man on the Mountain (1959) (DVD Review / Buy from Amazon.com)
9) Freaky Friday (1977) (DVD Review / Buy from Amazon.com)
10) Flight of the Navigator (1986) (DVD Review / Buy from Amazon.com)
11) The Happiest Millionaire (1967) (DVD Review / Buy from Amazon.com)
12) One Magic Christmas (1985) (DVD Review / Buy from Amazon.com)
13) Now You See Him, Now You Don't (1972) (DVD Review / Buy from Amazon.com)
14) Miracle of the White Stallions (1963) (DVD Review / Buy from Amazon.com)
15) Never a Dull Moment (1968) (DVD Review / Buy from Amazon.com)
16) Davy Crockett: Two Movie Set (DVD Review / Buy from Amazon.com)
17) Greyfriars Bobby (1961) (DVD Review / Buy from Amazon.com
18) Those Calloways (1965) (DVD Review / Buy from Amazon.com)
19) The Great Locomotive Chase (1956) (Buy from Amazon.com)
20) The Watcher in the Woods (1981) (DVD Review / Buy from Amazon.com)

 


Disney's 2005 Live Action Catalogue DVDs

After six months with no new DVDs of this type, Disney starts anew on April 12, 2005. That Tuesday brings four live action comedies from the late '60s and early '70s: Lt. Robin Crusoe U S N starring Dick Van Dyke, The Barefoot Executive starring Kurt Russell, $1,000,000 Duck headed by Dean Jones and Sandy Duncan, and The Adventures of Bullwhip Griffin with Roddy McDowall.

See our updated Disney Catalogue DVDs Thread, with synopses and links to preorder.

 

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