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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 4 DVD Review

Buy It's a Small World of Fun! Volume 4 from Amazon.com It's a Small World of Fun! Volume 4
DVD Details

Running Time: 54 Minutes / Rating: Not Rated
1.33:1 Fullscreen (Original Aspect Ratio), Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English, French)
Subtitles: English; Closed Captioned

DVD Release Date: February 13, 2007
Originally Released Between 1934 and 1953
Single-sided, single-layered disc (DVD-5)
Suggested Retail Price: $14.99
White Keepcase

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It's been twenty-five months since Disney introduced a line of single-disc cartoon compilations. In that time, Buena Vista Home Entertainment has issued more of these than any other kind of DVD. The series -- Classic Cartoon Favorites, Timeless Tales, Funny Factory, to name three -- have been different. But they have rarely strayed from the same founding principle: an hour of shorts, a $14.99 list price, nary a bonus feature, and colorful marketing driven by personalities recognizable to several generations.

It's a Small World of Fun! comes to a close this month with Volume 3 (to be reviewed separately) and Volume 4 (the subject of this critique), which each carry on the line's theme of cartoon shorts set around the globe.
This motif may not sound especially grabbing and comic 55-to-70-year-old depictions of foreign lands cannot be touted for their educational value. Nevertheless, the design of these discs lends them a variety not as easily found in character-based collections.

Of course, some of the usual suspects, like Donald and Goofy, are here and melding their regular formulas with a fish-out-of-water (i.e. American-out-of-America) premise. But there's also been room for pure, non-series narratives to appear alongside these more commonplace jaunts. In fact, with each short representing a different country, those chosen to depict the U.S.A. and Great Britain have often had little to do with the setting. That's definitely not a bad thing, as it has enabled some gems to surface. Or re-surface, as the case almost always is, since most of the shorts (and all on Volume 4) have already turned up on at least one Disney DVD in the past.

Goofy gets his assets frozen in "Polar Trappers." The Reluctant Dragon gets to know a young boy versed in dragon tales.

Though the studio's catalogue of cartoons is massive, these hour-long compilations have for the most part avoided black-and-white creations, shorts with material that can today be considered politically incorrect, and 'toons that don't feature the kinds of enduring characters who sell these discs (to date, more than 3 million copies of these budget collections have been purchased). With well over one hundred animated shorts made available on these types of releases and an aversion to recycling shorts within each line (there have been some exceptions), the supply seems like it almost might be beginning to run dry. At least that might account for why we're seeing segments of theatrically-released films included on these DVDs.

The only such offering of this nature on Volume 4 is The Reluctant Dragon, the cartoon which debuted as part of a 1941 feature film of the same name that gave a Robert Benchley-hosted, behind-the-scenes tour of the Disney studio. This short alone has yet to turn up on a DVD of its own, the 2002 Walt Disney Treasures set Behind the Scenes at the Disney Studio on which the full film made its format debut is long out of print, and, at 20 minutes, it runs longer than your typical short. Taken together, these facts would point to Reluctant Dragon as being perhaps the main attraction of this disc, at least to Disney cartoon buffs who were either late to upgrade to DVD or are on a tight budget.

But altogether, there are five cartoons comprising this disc. That number is less than most of these compilations and it again reflects an unnecessary frugality to the package. Another six-minute short would have brought the total running time to an even hour. For years now, the Walt Disney Treasures have offered two to three times more than that on each disc and they also boast bonus features too. Sadly, that more collectible line's future appears to be bleak, while these less consumer-friendly discs continue to flourish. Is it that casual Disney fans so greatly outnumber the devoted? Is it that people are too dense to realize the cost-effective advantages of the Treasures? Is it the way retailers prominently sell hour-long collections for $10 while making the year-end Treasures buy a scavenger hunt?

One of those penguins looks suspiciously like Donald Duck. "Name's Hades. Put it there."

If you're done pondering those weighty questions, let's look at the five shorts of It's a Small World of Fun! Volume 4 in the order they are presented:

"The Reluctant Dragon" (1941) (20:23)

The appearance of a dragon sets a town in panic. However, a young boy versed in knight tales gets to know the dragon and is surprised by how gentle the large creature is. At a meeting with the boy and Sir Giles (the town-appointed "dragon killer"),
the dragon treats his guests to poetry, tea, and upside-down cakes. Nevertheless, the three agree (the dragon, reluctantly) that the excited townsfolk must be treated to the fight they expect. There's plenty of amusement found in this short, which is adapted from the book by Kenneth Grahame, whose witty The Wind in the Willows would subsequently form half of Disney's The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad (1949).

"Polar Trappers" (1938) (8:18)

Donald Duck and Goofy are an inept pair of South Pole trappers. Most of our time is spent with Donald, who disguises himself as a penguin in an attempt to capture a group of the arctic birds and put an end to eating beans. Goofy, whose sights are on a walrus, has a run-in with icicles in a cave.

"The Goddess of Spring" (1934) (9:33)

Classifying this Silly Symphony as being set in Greece seems like a bit of a cheat, but one can hardly lament its appearance on a mainstream disc like this. A precursor to Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (whose 2001 Platinum Edition included it), this ambitious cartoon depicts a struggle in Greek mythology between eternal spring goddess Persephone and underworld god Hades. In an effort to make her his queen, Hades abducts the fair maiden and takes her to his domain. Like Snow White, the story unfolds with operatic singing and timeless good-vs.-evil drama.

"For Whom the Bulls Toil" (1953) (7:03)

On vacation in Mexico, Goofy unwittingly develops the reputation of a great matador. In front of a full, captivated stadium, the tourist must defend himself against charges from a ferocious bull. Gawrsh!

"The Little House" (1952) (8:17)

Sterling Holloway narrates this tale about an anthropomorphized little house who grows depressed when urbanization gives her large, looming neighbors as well as an increasingly dirty and unfriendly community. The U.S.A-labeled short of this disc, the message about the negative aspects of progress seems more universal than strictly American.

Goofy has unknowingly earned a reputation as a bullfighter in "For Whom the Bulls Toil." The Little House at her happiest.

VIDEO and AUDIO

All five shorts are presented in 1.33:1 fullscreen, preserving the Academy Ratio in which they were theatrically displayed. That's about the only statement that can be applied to the entire disc, because otherwise, as has come to be expected, picture and sound are a mixed bag. Without question, The Reluctant Dragon is the worst-looking cartoon on the disc.
Soft, grainy, somewhat out of focus, and plagued with a print that's littered with white artifacts, it is really lacking, despite being the median-aged. Not being in possession of its incarnation on Behind the Scenes myself, I can't determine how this presentation compares, but it sounds worse. On the other hand, character shorts Polar Trappers and For Whom the Bulls Toil both look great, benefiting from their standout Treasures restorations for their respective Donald and Goofy tins.

The remaining two shorts lie somewhere in between the two extremes. Surprisingly, The Goddess of Spring looks slightly better than it does on the recently-debuted More Silly Symphonies Treasure. Though it's a bit a bit more troubled than other cartoons made near the end of the Silly Symphony reign, it's not bad for having septuagenarian status, the colors seem to offer improvement over the yellow-tinted Treasures appearance, and the windowboxing preserves more of the picture. The Little House was among the 'toons given less-than-excellent treatment on 2005's Disney Rarities tin. You can see it's not quite as visually pleasing as other Treasures restorations, but it's a bit soft and blurry.

Sound comes in a two-channel Dolby Mono track which, for the most part, meets standard expectations. Reluctant Dragon's audio is muffled to the point where dialogue can be a bit hard to decipher at times, but an English subtitle track helps in that regard. The other shorts are either largely free of dialogue or free from concern. There's some mild distortion and the soundtrack clearly doesn't engulf you the way modern animation is designed to, but neither fact is surprising based on the origins.

With pastels and little people, who wouldn't want spring to last forever? As Goofy drives by, that dragon is still reluctant in the main menu for It's a Small World of Fun! Volume 4.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS and DESIGN

Due to the paucity of this package, there is very little to say in this section. Naturally, there are no bonus features. Like the first two volumes, there is also not a single insert to be found inside the case. Surprisingly, there is not even a designated Sneak Peeks menu, though a few promotional previews -- for Peter Pan: Platinum Edition, Ratatouille, and Mickey Mouse Clubhouse: Mickey's Great Clubhouse Hunt -- launch the disc all the same. As usual, these can be skipped, as can the obligatory FastPlay spiel.

The animated 4x3 main menu sticks to the okay design employed for the selection screens of the line's first wave. Against a colorful backdrop, a stack of postcards cycles through a montage of stills depicting four of the featured shorts, while Goofy slowly drives by in his Bulls car. Once again, the short selection is labeled "Episode Selection" and the same strand of instrumental music accompanies the tiny handful of sub-menus, which are not animated.

Take a look, it's in a book! The Little House has seen better days...and better DVDs.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Reviewing this disc and others of its kind feels a little weird, especially at this site. That's because a compilation like this seems designed to be an impulse buy by a casual Disney fan rather than a calculated, research purchase. Most Disney collectors will give little thought to these hour-long compilations, knowing full well that much better bang-for-buck can be had in the Walt Disney Treasures.

Still, the variety of It's a Small World of Fun! Volume 4 is noteworthy, the quality of the shorts ranges only from good to excellent, and three of the five 'toons are not available on DVDs that are in print. In short, a case can be made for exploring the disc and the contents are well worth checking out. But both this DVD's superior shorts and you deserve better treatment than what this disc offers. You're encouraged to check out more remarkable volumes and pretty much any Treasures set instead.

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Related Reviews
It's a Small World of Fun! Volume 3 It's a Small World of Fun! Volume 1 It's a Small World of Fun! Volume 2
Walt Disney Treasures: More Silly Symphonies Walt Disney Treasures: Behind the Scenes at the Disney Studio
Walt Disney Treasures: Disney Rarities Walt Disney Treasures: The Complete Goofy
Walt Disney Treasures: The Chronological Donald, Volume 1 Walt Disney Treasures: The Complete Pluto, Volume 2
The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad Pete's Dragon Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
Cinderella III: A Twist in Time Dumbo: Big Top Edition Howl's Moving Castle Robin Hood: Most Wanted Edition
Timeless Tales: Volume Two Timeless Tales: Volume Three Timeless Tales: Volume One Hercules

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Reviewed February 3, 2007 - LB