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The Best of The Mickey Mouse Club DVD Review

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Show Details

Producer: Bill Walsh

Directors: Robert G. Shannon, Sidney Miller, Dik Darley, R.G. Springsteen

Featured Mouseketeers Cast: Jimmie Dodd, Roy Williams, Annette Funicello, Karen Pendleton, Cubby O'Brien, Darlene Gillespie, Bobby Burgess, Doreen Tracey, Cheryl Holdridge, Sharon Baird, Lonnie Burr, Dennis Day, Jay Jay Solari, Tommy Cole, Mary Espinosa

The Hardy Boys Cast: Tim Considine (Frank Hardy), Tommy Kirk (Joe Hardy), Carole Ann Campbell (Iola Morton), Sarah Selby (Aunt Gertrude), John Baer (Eric)

DVD Details
Running Time: 112 Minutes (5 episodes) / Rating: Not Rated
1.33:1 Fullscreen (Original Broadcast Ratio), Dolby Surround (English)
Subtitles: English; Closed Captioned
DVD Release Date: July 12, 2005; Black Keepcase
Episodes Originally Aired Between 1957 and 1964
Single-sided, single-layered disc (DVD-5); Suggested Retail Price: $14.99

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Before Big Bird, Barney, and Blue's Clues, there was "The Mickey Mouse Club." Launched in the fall of 1955, Walt Disney's ambitious daily variety series was unlike anything else appearing in the slim but attractive offerings from the United States' three-network television system. Like the unexpectedly popular weekly "Disneyland" anthology series which came before it, "The Mickey Mouse Club" was born out of Walt's need to fund his developing theme park ideas.
Walt's original plans envisioned the Club congregating at Disneyland on what would become Tom Sawyer Island. Amidst caves and treehouses, the boys and girls of Mickey's international club would perform in front of live audiences selected from Disneyland visitors.

That's not how things ultimately turned out, but "The Mickey Mouse Club" was a great success all the same. Within its very first week on the air, more than 50 percent of televisions in use were tuned to it. The show was not only embraced by young viewers either; ratings reports would show that about one-third of the series' audience were adults.

Aside from the beloved rodent whose image became inseparable from the series, Walt Disney's name and ideals are those most closely identified with the Club. Walt indeed came up with the show's concept and remained an integral part throughout, but as he was already plenty busy with his "Disneyland" anthologies and the developing Anaheim theme park of the same name, he passed on primary responsibilities to Bill Walsh, a man who was not a big fan of children but who had successfully overseen the Disney studio's first two television specials.

The highly-recognizable Mickey Mouse Club logo which appears in the animated portion of the show's opening. Mouseketeer Cubby winks as animator Ward Kimball's Dixieland band the Firehouse 5 + 2 show up for "Anything Can Happen Day."

In front of the camera, it was the cast who made the show the beloved entity it became. The "Mouseketeers", as they have always been known, were primarily ordinary children who could boast some charisma and talent. Walt and company did not want trained actors or youths with a past in show business; instead, they opted for individuals to whom young audiences could relate and take a liking. Teamed with enthusiastic head Mouseketeer Jimmie Dodd, an adult who contributed some sage advice and a number of songs for the show, the Mickey Mouse Club was a group that viewers could not resist inviting into their home each afternoon.

Despite a widely embracing public, the expenses of producing a one-hour show for every day of the week initially prevented Disney from turning a profit on "The Mickey Mouse Club." After two seasons, the series was pared down to half-hour episodes, and this is how it would air beginning in the fall of 1957. Following Season Three, the show endured even more unfavorable change; the fourth season's half-hour episodes consisted entirely of repeat material from the three preceding years. Unsurprisingly, such an approach yielded drastic drops in ratings. There would be no fifth season launched in the fall of 1959, but thousands of letters poured into Disney's offices to protest the Club's cancellation, and that demand could not be ignored.

In 1962, "The Mickey Mouse Club" returned, but alas, it came bearing no new material. The episodes were culled from the first three seasons worth of footage, with Seasons One and Two's hourlong shows trimmed to fit the 30-minute timeslot. Efforts were made to promote the relaunch; Jimmie Dodd toured the nation and fellow adult cast member Roy Williams regularly made weekend appearances at Disneyland to sign autographs. No longer tied to one network, this recycled form of "The Mickey Mouse Club" ran in syndication for three seasons. For the final season (1964-65), new sequences were produced, including recurring segments of science lectures and magic shows. But shortly after filming his parts for the season, Dodd passed away and not much later, the show disappeared too.

Head Mouseketeer Jimmie Dodd equipped with his two most turned-to tools: his Mouse-ketar and abundant charisma. "Anything Can Happen Day" is signalled by weird, wild, wacky stuff like a rabbit pulling a magician out of a hat!

"The Mickey Mouse Club" has survived the decades since, enjoying a syndicated run in the 1970s and consistent reairings on the Disney Channel up until only a few years ago. Completely new incarnations of the series sprung up in the late-'70s and late-'80s with quite different degrees of success. But it is this original series, with its offerings of singing, serials, and cartoons, which remains most fondly remembered. The show's contribution to the fashion world - the trademark Mouse Ears - have endured and so has its name and sensibilities.
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Sure, it may be unabashedly simple and notoriously dated when viewed through the lens of an irony-heavy postmodern world. Nonetheless, it oozes with nostalgic appeal and old-fashioned charm; it is not difficult to enjoy today for altogether different reasons than youngsters tuning in after school did so many years ago.

Last December, as part of their collector-friendly Walt Disney Treasures line, Disney released the first week's worth of "Mickey Mouse Club" episodes to DVD on a two-disc set. These hourlong shows were presented in their entirety complete with sponsor messages and accompanied by some nice bonus features. Now, as both Disneyland and this show celebrate their 50th anniversaries, the studio has put together The Best of The Mickey Mouse Club, this single-disc compilation of five vintage episodes at less than half the retail price of the Treasures tin. There is one episode for each day of the week, which ensures that all of the show's original five themes are represented. Each show included runs just over 22 minutes with the (shorter) opening and closing sequences intact; two come from Season Three, when the show made the jump to the half-hour format, and the other three are from the syndicated days of the early 1960s. In contrast to the first five episodes on the Treasures tins, these shows run rather briskly and lack any sense of continuity. It's tougher to warm to the series and its unique format when you're only getting episodes composed of bits of earlier episodes from a number of different years. Nonetheless, the Mouseketeers are here, and no disc bearing nearly two hours of "Mickey Mouse Club" shows could fail to bring a smile to your face and tickle your sense of nostalgia.

Tim Considine and Tommy Kirk are the dapper adolescent detectives The Hardy Boys, who introduce you to their "Mystery of Ghost Farm" serial in the DVD's first episode. "The Ice Capades' bewildered ballerina Willie Call" puts on a show. What's his story?

The five episodes presented on this disc play out as follows:

"Fun with Music Day - September 30, 1957" (22:08)
This rather slim episode offers a short song-and-dance number at the beginning. Next is musical role-playing, as Darlene plays a girl browsing through "The Pet Shop" and imitating animals in song before settling on a dog. Other Mouseketeers join in to belittle her selection. The remainder of the show is devoted to a lengthy tease for Season Three's "The Hardy Boys" serial The Mystery of Ghost Farm. Brothers Frank (Tim Considine) and Joe (Tommy Kirk, who would graduate to a long career in Disney films) Hardy introduce viewers to the spooky happenings encountered while the sleuth youths were pursuing the title case. The clips of events to come, the siblings' clues and words of warnings merely whet your appetite for the serial's subsequent episode where it would presumably launch in earnest. Doreen provides some "Words to Grow By" accompanied by Jimmie on his guitar, but before you know it, the Mouseketeers are slowly singing farewell for the day.

"Guest Star Day - August 28, 1962" (22:42)
In the opening number, the whole gang seems pretty enthused to meet their special guest for the day, but it turns out to be a man who does some ice skating in drag. Neither his staged flubs nor the jerky changes in music make this performance very entertaining, which results in a somewhat tortuous nearly 4-minute act. It's then revealed that the guest is actually Olympic medalist Ronnie Robertson, who talks with the Mouseketeers and showcases the moves that make him "The Fastest Spinner in the World." Next is the "Mousekartoon" for the day which is 1938's "Ferdinand the Bull." In this fun Academy Award-winning short, Ferdinand is a special bull who prefers sitting under a tree and smelling flowers to butting heads, which makes him an odd choice to enter a bullfight. Diehard Disney fans may recognize that the cartoon's human characters are based on Walt's animators and the fiery matador bears a resemblance to Walt himself. (While it's fairly beat up and black-and-white here, this cartoon will make a more proper DVD debut in next month's Timeless Tales: Volume 2.) The episode closes with Jimmie discussing something he liked about Bambi; it's not long before he's strumming his trademark instrument and singing "Safety First."

The prospect of fatherhood has the Mouse quivering under the covers in "Mickey's Nightmare", the third episode's Mousekartoon. "Mooseketeer" Roy is in the proverbial monkey in the middle of the Hap Brothers' juggling act. Lei-wearing Annette narrates a report on the Mouseketeers' trip to Hawaii. Hope nobody killed Karen!

"Anything Can Happen Day - November 12, 1964" (22:40)
It's "Anything Can Happen Day", a fact announced by the wild and wacky way the cast parades out for their roll call. The Fire House 5 + 2, Disney animator Ward Kimball's Dixieland band, shows up and performs "I Want to be a Fireman" and "Tiger Rag" with the Mouseketeers. Cubby O'Brien gets to show off his drum-playing skills, and a performer in a tiger costume helps keep the mood light and gay. The 1932 cartoon short "Mickey's Nightmare" follows. What really frightens Mickey isn't Pegleg Pete or a monster, but the prospect of having the famed Stork drop too many kids down his chimney. The hypothetical little ones create plenty of havoc for the Mouse, and all that's left after Mickey wakes up is for the Club to say their drawn out goodbye.

"Circus Day - October 11, 1962" (22:42)
After the gang introduces themselves costumed for the theme's day, they welcome South American circus performers the Hap Brothers, who put on a diverting but prolonged juggling exhibition. The episode's Mousekartoon is "The Pied Piper" (which, coincidentally, will also make its proper DVD debut in the new Timeless Tales line next month). The mayor of a town overrun by rats hires the Pied Piper to take care of the problem. The Piper comes through, but when the mayor tries to stiff him on the bill, the Piper leads all the town's children off to a fantasy land. It's a nice cartoon, but clearly, children had greater attention spans in 1933 than they do now. The episode concludes with Jimmie Dodd poignantly waxing philosophic on the problems facing the day's youths.

"Talent Roundup Day - October 25, 1957" (22:02)
The set concludes with a slight Friday episode composed of three fairly unmemorable portions. First, fulfilling the talent to be rounded up for the day's theme and becoming an Honorary Mouseketeer is Cheryl Weinberg, a girl from Chicago who sings about her "Weekend Blues" and then performs a dance number with her partners Ronnie and Riley Wilson. Following this dated but diverting segment is the Mickey Mouse Newsreel. Here, Annette narrates part of a report on a trip several Mouseketeers made to Hawaii. They learn about the natives' pastimes of fishing and lei-making before things get slightly more serious for a visit to Pearl Harbor. The final segment is a rhyming Mouseke-fable told by Jimmie about a cat unable to outsmart some birds.

Darlene craves attention in this musical "Pet Shop" sketch. Is that matador Walt Disney? Is that bull a little different? These are the questions you may ask while enjoying "Ferdinand", the second show's Mousekartoon.

VIDEO and AUDIO

The five episodes that are included are all presented in their original broadcast ratio, 1.33:1 "fullscreen." For daily television programming that dates back fifty years, you have to come in with proper expectations. These aren't going to look perfect, but as last December's Treasures release proved, they can look quite good.
What is here is somewhat of a mixed bag; the two "oldest" episodes from 1957 actually look the best; there are some scratches here and there, but more noticeable is a pleasing sharpness and clarity. The three shows from the syndicated period do not fare as well; they never are as sharp and are plagued by far more unsightly intrusions, with "Circus Day" looking the best of its kind.

Despite what the DVD's back cover and front cover photo may lead you to think, the show is wisely not artificially colorized. All of the shows are presented in black and white as they aired; even though the opening credits and most of the Mousekartoons were made in color. The animated shorts are quite beat up here; that's somewhat to be expected, as they do predate the Club by a good twenty years or more. Nonetheless, those hoping for nice restored prints of the shorts edited within the episodes will surely be disappointed by the presentations of those 'toons making their DVD debuts.

Rarely does this standalone disc approach the satisfying picture quality achieved by the opening week Treasure, but certainly, Disney has taken a bit more care than your run-of-the-mill distributor might do with equally-dated television content that has entered the public domain. There is no doubt that more effort could have gone into the DVD and with plainly evident results, but the aged element does seem to suit the dated sensibilities fairly well.

The sound is advertised and encoded as Dolby Surround, but obviously, the show originally delivered monaural audio and this disc doesn't betray that. The soundtrack offers precisely what you'd expect in light of the picture quality and source. The music and dialogue juggled are fairly limited in dynamics and depth, but the track remains mostly comprehendible and the English subtitles and closed captions provided should help fill you in any thing you can't make out so well. As with the picture quality, the tracks on the '57 episodes are stronger, more natural-sounding, and less subject to distortion.

Cubby seems to be struggling with this dumbbell, but Karen has no problem holding a ton of bags. Why, it must be Circus Day! Fifty years later, Jimmie, Roy, and the younger Mouseketeers are still here to please us.

BONUS FEATURES and DESIGN

Not surprisingly, no bonus features are included here. For some of those, you'll have to turn to the out-of-print, but not-too-hard-to-find Walt Disney Treasures: The Mickey Mouse Club set. There's not even an insert to be found inside the black keepcase;
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only an ad for this batch of Disneyland's 50th Anniversary DVDs (featuring the since-delayed Secrets, Stories & Magic of the Happiest Place on Earth documentary) and an application to join the Disney Movie Club. There is a chronologically-arranged episode list on the back of the keepcase, but this is not the order in which the five shows are actually presented.

Like the Treasures set which preceded this DVD, the disc's static 4x3 menu screens offer instrumentals from the series. The Main Menu displays a black-and-white version of the disconcertingly Photoshopped cover art and a wordless version of the theme tune. Submenus display promotional cartoon artwork and more music. The Episode Selection page enables you to play just one show and return to the menu; alternatively, you can choose "Play All" and cycle through the days of the week, as listed in the review.

Like most other DVDs, the disc opens with promos for others. Skippable previews play automatically Cinderella Platinum Edition, Chicken Little, the upcoming Old Yeller/Savage Sam collection, and Lilo & Stitch 2. Additional promos can be found from the Sneak Peeks menu for two audio CDs marking Disneyland's 50th Anniversary: A Musical History of Disneyland and Happiest Celebration on Earth.

I think Jimmie has a point. The gang chills by the MouseClubouse.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

The Best of The Mickey Mouse Club does not satisfy as a comprehensive presentation of Walt Disney's tremendously popular television series, but it does delight in delivering five episodes pulled from the hundreds which aired in the 1950s and '60s. The episode selection leaves quite a bit to be desired, picture and sound could use some improvement, and the DVD sorely lacks the continuity which made the two-disc Treasure of the series' opening week so accessible. Like the drawn-out introduction to the Hardy Boys mystery in this disc's first episode, the sampling provided here leaves you wanting much more. You'll want more of the hour-long episodes which won over the public, rather than these shortened syndicated shows that jumble earlier episodes' content and seem to end too soon after they begin. You'll want more of the serials, more randomly-selected vintage cartoons, more guest appearances, and more of Jimmie and the gang simply being Mouseketeers. In that way, this DVD will frustrate fans of this show. Those who want simply a taste of this early TV milestone should go away content, but it does not do the greatest job of introducing the show's finest stuff to the unacquainted. Still, at the end of the day, outside of the repeatedly mentioned Treasure set, this is the only DVD of the show that Disney has released and turning down nearly two hours of such dated but charming programming for around $10 would be one of the sillier things Club fans could do.

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Related Reviews:
Walt Disney Treasures: The Mickey Mouse Club Walt Disney Treasures: The Adventures of Spin and Marty Walt Disney Treasures: Annette
Walt Disney Treasures: The Hardy Boys Mickey Mouse Club: The Best of Britney, Justin & Christina Vintage Mickey
Mickey Mouse Clubhouse: Mickey Saves Santa and Other Mouseketales The Shaggy Dog (1959)
Old Yeller: 2-Movie Collection Babes in Toyland Walt Disney Treasures: Disneyland - Secrets, Stories & Magic
Happy Days: The Third Season Lady and the Tramp: Platinum Edition The Muppet Show: Season Three

NOTE: Information on the development and history of "The Mickey Mouse Club" was researched primarily in Bill Cotter's fantastic, but out-of-print resource book, The Wonderful World of Disney Television: A Complete History. It's pretty much a must-have for anyone with a strong interest in Disney's many television programs and movies.

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Reviewed July 26, 2005.