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Walt Disney's It's a Small World of Fun! on DVD: Volume 1 Volume 2 Volume 3 Volume 4

Walt Disney's It's a Small World of Fun!
Volume 1 DVD Review

Buy It's a Small World of Fun! Volume 1 from Amazon.com It's a Small World of Fun! Volume 1
DVD Details

Running Time: 55 Minutes / Rating: Not Rated
1.33:1 Fullscreen (Original Aspect Ratio), Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
Subtitles: English; Closed Captioned

DVD Release Date: May 16, 2006
Originally Released Between 1945 and 2002
Single-sided, single-layered disc (DVD-5)
Suggested Retail Price: $14.99
White Keepcase with Side Snaps

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By Aaron Wallace

While deep in thought the other day, I was struck by a brilliant notion: it's time we're aware that it's a small world, after all. It must have occurred to someone at Disney too, because they've decided
to wax philosophical in a whole new line of DVDs: It's A Small World of Fun!. Great minds think alike, you see.

Okay, you caught me! That idea comes from a song that some of you may have heard called "It's A Small World," the Sherman Brothers-penned theme to the Disneyland attraction of the same name. If you notice that it's the same title used in this new DVD series, then you've caught Disney too! (Unless of course you've already purchased it in hopes of finding some theme park-related content on the disc, in which case Disney caught you!)

Indeed, the clever use of this uber-popular Disney anthem is both suspicious and initially disappointing when one discovers that this DVD and Disneyland have nothing to do with one another. Moving past those expectations, however, the release is actually not half bad (more like a quarter bad at most).

Goliath II just can't compete with the larger elephants. A cowboy really does need a horse, it seems.

Taking its cue from the Classic Cartoon Favorites series, an economy class of DVDs that offers a meager plate of vintage animated shorts (always adding up to around an hour) in each release, It's A Small World of Fun! Volume 1 presents seven cartoons united by a single theme with a few marketable Disney characters slapped on the front.

In this case, that theme is global diversity (okay, so it does have something in common with the attraction -- its message, sans the harmony). Each cartoon comes from a different country, with the locale figuring heavily in either appearance or narrative, usually both. That makes this a more diverse (and accordingly less marketable, perhaps) sampling than the standard hour-long compilation DVD, as some of the cartoons don't feature Disney's star characters at all.

This is the first of at least two It's a Small World of Fun! DVDs. The second volume is released alongside it on the same day. Disney has only recently begun issuing these kinds of DVDs with a banner other than Classic Cartoon Favorites, so it's difficult to discern their future plans with any certainty, but if the tremendous success of similar releases in recent history is any indication, these aren't likely to be the last. An individual look at the included cartoons and the specifics of the DVD are below.

It's a bird! It's a plane! It's a donkey? In "In Dutch," Pluto's in love. Mickey aims his boomerang in "Mickey Down Under."

"The Flying Gauchito" (1945) (8:09)

This short originates from The Three Cabelleros, the 1944 Disney anthology film, and was reissued as a stand-alone short the following year. The opening and closing titles indicate that it is this latter version that is included here. Taking place in South America, it tells the story of a young boy who finds what he first believes to be a bird but is actually a flying donkey.

"In Dutch" (1946) (6:51)

Similar to "The Boy Who Cried Wolf," this is the story of a love-struck Pluto who accidentally alerts a town in Holland with a false alarm but is soon called on to save the day.

"Goliath II" (1960) (15:05)

Featuring elephants set in the jungles of India, "Goliath II"
looks, sounds, and feels quite a bit like The Jungle Book. The elephant animation and the score is nearly identical to that of the animated classic (the "Colonel Hathi's March" sequence in particular) and it's been reported that some of the animation in "Goliath II" was recycled for The Jungle Book seven years later. It also borrows snippets of animation from previous Disney works. Goliath II is an elephant runt, mocked by the others for his diminutive stature... until it comes in handy, of course. You might recall that a very similar tiny elephant appeared in The Jungle Book as well. Both stories feature a Tiger as a villain (here, Goliath has a nasty run-in with an ill-intented, scrawny, and humorous tiger named Raja, not to be confused with Aladdin's tiger of practically the same name or The Jungle Book's Shere Khan). Sterling Holloway even narrates (which leads one to think it might be Kaa up to his hypnotic trickery)!

"Mickey Down Under" (1948) (6:40)

Mickey's a swindling bloke in "Mickey Down Under," which -- in case you couldn't tell -- is set in Australia. The first half of the short focuses on Pluto's frustrations with Mickey's trick boomerang while the second concerns Mickey's run-in with an angry ostrich whose egg he tried to steal.

This scene hasn't always been included in "African Diary," but it's restored here just as it was for Goofy's Treasures set. What every good cowboy story needs: a damsel in distress. The Starmaker is fed up with pollution and a lack of interest in the stars.

"African Diary" (1945) (7:05)

Goofy (a whole camp of Goofys, in fact) takes a trip to Africa, where he has a violent encounter with an enraged rhinoceros. As is common with Goofy shorts, this one is heavy on physical comedy and Goofy reacts to off-camera narration.

"A Cowboy Needs a Horse" (1956) (6:54)

A young boy fantasizes of life as a heroic cowboy. That's right, it's America's contribution to the disc and it features all the sights, sounds, and gags that one would expect from a cowboy adventure. It's book-ended by one of the catchiest songs from any of the Disney shorts. The animation is highly stylized, lending it a vintage flair, and is in parts very reminiscent of the artwork of Mary Blair.

"Grievance of a Starmaker" (2002) (4:40)

This DVD marks the first appearance of "Grievance of a Starmaker" outside of Japan, the country in which it takes place. In it, a boy is frustrated by the lack of bright stars in the sky. To reconcile the problem, he pays a visit to the Starmaker, a man whose lost faith in the world below him is restored by the boy's ardent devotion to cleaning the dirty stars. Based on a Japanese story contest winner and produced by Walt Disney Television Animation a few years ago, the cartoon bears a unique visual style that is most appealing.

Pluto wakes up all of Holland with his false alarm. Raja snakes through the jungle in "Goliath II."

VIDEO and AUDIO

Five of the seven shorts on this DVD have previously appeared on various Walt Disney Treasures sets. In accordance with the high quality generally associated with the transfers of those sets, the video quality for these five is mostly pleasing. Clearly, the same restored animation used for their respective Treasures releases has been used here.

That satisfying video quality can also be found in "Grievance of a Starmaker," the disc's most recent short by nearly a half-century. It stands out as the best-looking short on the set, which is largely
to be expected, given its age. The other non-Treasures short, "The Flying Gauchito" previously appeared on DVD as part of The Three Cabelleros. That DVD's transfer wasn't exactly reference-quality, but "Gauchito" looks a bit worse for the wear here and appears to have been drawn from a different source. Faded and very grainy, the picture is littered with artifacts and falls far short of the rest of the disc's quality.

All six Walt-era shorts appear in 1.33:1 fullscreen, an ratio that is acceptably similar to the Academy Ratio used for their original production. Information about "Grievance of a Starmaker" is hard to come by, but the 1.33:1 ratio used for its presentation here also looks to be appropriate.

The package promises a "Dolby Digital Stereo Surround" presentation. With the exception of "Grievance of a Starmaker," which was truly produced in stereo, these shorts were created for a monaural audio mix and this DVD upholds that with a two-channel stereo presentation. On all, the audio is potent and clear, though only "Grievance of a Starmaker" would lead one to believe that it was created in the digital age (mainly because it was).

Goofy arrives in a very Goofy caravan! The colorful main menu is rather nice to look at, isn't it?

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS and DESIGN

When Disney tells you that this DVD is a "Small World of Fun," they mean it! The 55 minutes' worth of cartoon comes unaccompanied by bonus features of any kind unless you count the obligatory "Sneak Peeks" as supplements. If you do, then you'll be instantly gratified when inserting your disc, as ads for The Little Mermaid: Platinum Edition, Cars, Dumbo: Big Top Edition, and Brother Bear 2 play right away. More "fun" awaits on the first page of previews (accessible from the main menu), where ads for Lilo Leroy & Stitch, Little Einsteins: Mission Celebration!, and The Fox and the Hound: 25th Anniversary Edition can be found.

It's been a long time since Disney has issued even a low-priced DVD without an insert of some sort inside the case, but that's exactly what they've done here. They did, however, "enhance" (in quotes because it does anything but) the disc with FastPlay, which plays the shorts and previews in constant succession, bypassing any opportunity for interactivity.

The main menu is pretty neat, as intentionally kiddy art-like animation surrounds a stack of postcards that show off still frames from the included shorts. Below that sits a little "Small World"-esque village, through which the young boy from "A Cowboy Needs a Horse" takes a leisurely horse ride. All the menus employ catchy instrumental music in the background. For some reason, the cartoons are referred to as "episodes," which isn't technically inaccurate if one views the "Play All" as one feature, but it doesn't make much sense.

Behind you, Mickey! Look behind you! The stars have disappeared in "Grievance of a Starmaker."

CLOSING THOUGHTS

With a lack of bonus features and a few compromises in the video/audio department, It's a Small World of Fun! Volume 1 is clearly less a value than the Walt Disney Treasures line. I could lecture on the merits of that superior series, but at this point, buying Classic Cartoon Favorites and other such releases is sort of like eating at McDonald's: it's good stuff at a low price, but you know it's not the best decision you could be making. Overall, the cartoon selection and common theme are commendable, as is the debut of "Grievance of a Starmaker," making this disc worth considering for the curious, completists, or those looking to expand their Disney cartoon-collecting horizon by a little at a time.

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Related Reviews
It's a Small World of Fun! Volume 2 | It's a Small World of Fun! Volume 4 | Walt Disney Treasures: Disney Rarities
It's a Small World of Fun! Volume 3 | The Three Caballeros | The Jungle Book
Walt Disney Treasures: The Complete Pluto, Volume 1 | Walt Disney Treasures: The Complete Goofy
Walt Disney Treasures: Mickey Mouse in Living Color, Volume 2 | Timeless Tales: Volume Two
Around the World in 80 Days (2004) | Disney Learning Adventures: Mickey's Around the World in 80 Days
The Very Hungry Caterpillar and Other Stories | Funny Factory: Volume 1 - With Mickey
My Neighbor Totoro | The 3 Wise Men | Valiant

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Reviewed May 16, 2006.