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Mickey Mouse Cartoon Shorts on DVD: Black and White Black and White, Volume Two Living Color Living Color, Volume Two

Mickey Mouse in Living Color Volume 2 DVD Review

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Disc 1: (Click title to view that portion of the review)
Mickey Mouse Shorts
1939: Society Dog Show, The Pointer;
1940: Tugboat Mickey, Pluto's Dream House, Mr. Mouse Takes a Trip;
1941: The Little Whirlwind, The Nifty Nineties, Orphans' Benefit;
1942: Mickey's Birthday Party, Symphony Hour;
1947: Mickey's Delayed Date; 1948: Mickey Down Under, Mickey and the Seal;
1951: Plutopia, R'Coon Dawg; 1952: Pluto's Party, Pluto's Christmas Tree;
1953: The Simple Things

Bonus Material: The Sorcerer's Apprentice, Deleted Animation from The Sorcerer's Apprentice, Mickey and the Beanstalk, Easter Eggs

Disc 2: (Click title to view that portion of the review)
Mickey Mouse Shorts
Mickey's Christmas Carol (1983), The Prince and the Pauper (1990), Runaway Brain (1995)

Bonus Material: "Mickey's Cartoon Comeback", "The Voice Behind the Mouse", Mouse Mania, Mickey Cartoon Physics, On the Camera Stand, "Mickey Meets the Maestro", Mickey Mouse Club Titles, "The Making of Mickey's Christmas Carol", Galleries

Running Time: 348 Minutes (5 hours, 48 minutes) / Rating: Not Rated
Disc Two: 143 minutes (59 - shorts, 3 - introductions, 81 - extras)
1.66:1 Anamorphic Widescreen (Original Ratio) / Dolby Surround 2.0, Dolby Digital 5.1
Originally Released between 1939 and 1995
Subtitles: English; Closed Captioned / DVD Release Date: May 18, 2004
Two single-sided, dual-layered discs (DVD-9); Suggested Retail Price: $32.99

REVIEW CONTENTS

Page 1: Disc 1 - Shorts, Audio & Video, and Bonus Features
Page 2: Disc 2 - Shorts, Audio & Video, Bonus Features, and Closing Thoughts

DISC 2

The disc opens with a 32-second clip of Leonard Maltin, who introduces the 2 theatrical featurettes and short that mark the return of Mickey in the 1980s and '90s. He also says to keep your eyes out for surprises, which would imply Easter Eggs. But the only two hidden features I found were on Disc 1. Maltin also provides background for the three shorts in clips before each.

THE SHORTS

Mickey and Donald in "Mickey's Christmas Carol" Scrooge McDuck as Ebenzer Scrooge

Mickey's Christmas Carol (1983) (25:36)
After thirty years with no new big screen material, Mickey returned in this featurette-length condensed adaptation of Charles Dickens' immortal classic A Christmas Carol. Scrooge McDuck is a natural choice to play the role of Ebenezer Scrooge, a grouchy miser who loves money and hates Christmas. Mickey plays Bob Cratchit, Scrooge's hard-working and underappreciated secretary.

Scrooge gets a chance for redemption when the ghost of his old boss Jacob Marley (Goofy) tells him he'll be visited by three more spirits. These spirits (played by Jiminy Cricket, the giant from "Mickey and the Beanstalk", and Pete) seek to show Scrooge the wrong he's done, doing, and will do in an effort for him to change before it's too late. Even though the familiar story is condensed, it retains its effectiveness and stays fast paced and full of classic Disney characters.

Mickey's Christmas Carol is a rousing success of a return, as it's not only one of the best Mickey shorts, but perhaps one of the finest half-hour animated shorts ever made. Along with the Muppets and Scrooged, it's one of the most memorable recent film versions of this excellent holiday tale. From its warm opening titles with cheery song to its heartfelt conclusion, Mickey's Christmas Carol is a wonderful, spirited cartoon.

In addition to picking up an Academy Award nomination, the film launched careers for a variety of animators such as Mark Henn (profiled in a bonus feature) and Pixar director John Lasseter. This is the first time it's on DVD in its entirety (and its original widescreen aspect ratio).

Seeing double in "The Prince and the Pauper" Mickey pretends to be Prince

The Prince and the Pauper (1990) (25:24)
Seven years after Christmas Carol, Disney saw fit to make a new half-hour featurette adapted from a classic piece of literature. The source this time was Mark Twain's The Prince and the Pauper, a tongue-in-cheek tale of class-switching and mistaken identity. With the King of England ill, his captain of the guard (Pete, of course) is robbing and terrorizing the people in the king's name.

Mickey, Goofy, and Pluto are cold, hungry, and dreaming that times will get better. Meanwhile, the king's son, who looks suspiciously like Mickey as well, is wishing for freedom and adventure instead of constant schooling, scheduling, and good manners. A chance encounter leads the two to switch places and see life from the other's perspective.

The Prince and the Pauper works very well in its format. With direction that goes cinematic even beyond Mickey's Christmas Carol and a thrilling score, it succeeds with adventure and laughs. Like Christmas Carol, this short film offers more than the sight gags and comedy of past shorts and ventures into dramatic territory. It's a tricky task, but one that Prince and the Pauper aptly pulls off with an evocative moments in the score and impressive uses of light and shadows.

Mickey is glued to his video game in "The Runaway Brain" With Julius' brain, Mickey's a bit insane

The Runaway Brain (1995) (7:44)
Though this short returned to the traditional length of classic Mickey shorts, as Maltin states in the intro, "this is not your father's Mickey and Minnie." It opens with Mickey playing a video game in which Snow White's Dopey is beating up on the Wicked Witch with some high-powered jump kicks, which certainly sets the pace and tone of this piece.

Minnie comes home on this stormy night and reminds Mickey that it's the anniversary of their first date. Mickey assures her he hasn't forgotten, but when he tries to explain his plans, she reaches the conclusion that they're heading to Hawaii. Rather than explain his miniature golf intentions, Mickey seeks money to afford the vacation. He stops by the residency of Dr. Frankenollie (voiced by Kelsey Grammer) who is offering the very amount he needs for "mindless work." But Mickey learns the hard way that the doctor's plan is to make Julius, one of his gigantic creations, the new home to Mickey's brain.

The lightning pacing, modern settings, and quick-witted humor all make Runaway Brain a real winner. It's interesting to see how Mickey is reinvented again for the post-modern age, and to notice the complexity of the environment animation contrasted with the relatively simple backdrops of classic Mickey shorts. This one is frenetic fun!

Scrooge counts his money "Mickey's Christmas Carol" "The Prince and the Pauper"

VIDEO & AUDIO

All three of the Disc 2 cartoons are presented in 1.66:1 anamorphic widescreen. Since the shorts here were more recently and more expensively produced, it's expected that they would look even better than the clean, bright video quality from Disc 1. Mickey's Christmas Carol accurately displays its distinct color palette, which looks both cold and vintage, or warm and embracing, as desired. Runaway Brain's transfer wonderfully conveys its interesting use of cool blues and neon reds, atypical for Mickey shorts.

Christmas Carol and Prince and the Pauper are both presented in Dolby Surround, which clearly distinguishes them from the strictly Mono older shorts on Disc 1. The mix serves to complement the stories, with the music coming from the rear speakers and creating an environment with depth. The Prince and the Pauper's surround track is particularly effective and cinematic, from its trumpet-filled opening titles on to the powerful organ in the final scenes. Both the atmospheric Christmas Carol and the more active Prince offer fine soundtracks.

Runaway Brain is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1. It's a potent digital age surround track, with plenty of sound effects that make full use of the multi-channel system. Lip-synching of the audio is a very tiny bit off; I wouldn't have noticed it if I hadn't heard rumors and been looking for this.

Leonard Maltin with animators Mark Henn and Andreas Deja in "Mickey's Cartoon Comeback" Wayne Allwine and Russi Taylor in "The Voice Behind the Mouse" The pyschedelic "Mouse Mania" stop-motion short

BONUS FEATURES

In the newly-produced "Mickey's Cartoon Comeback" (16:16), Leonard Maltin gets clearance to venture into Disney's Animation Research Library, home to just about everything the studio has created. Animators Mark Henn and Andreas Deja are interviewed, and they reveal their first experiences with Disney animation and Mickey Mouse in particular. The two also discuss their favorite Mickey Mouse films and show some of their artwork from scenes they worked on in "Mickey's Christmas Carol" and "The Prince and the Pauper." Modern animators are compared with the animators of the early Mickey Mouse shorts, trendsetters to whom there was no opportunity to study animation. This feature is insightful and the animators are nicely complemented by the voice performers in the next bonus piece.

"The Voice Behind the Mouse" (23:45) is a newly-produced documentary in the vein of the Treasures' series of "Conversations" featurettes. Leonard Maltin interviews Wayne Allwine and Russi Taylor, the voice of Mickey and Minnie Mouse. They talk about the characteristics of Mickey and Minnie that they see in themselves. They compare how Mickey's voice changed over the years, even within Walt Disney's run of doing the voice. Allwine and Taylor consider how Walt would probably embrace new technologies of today. Allwine does most of the talking, sharing anecdotes and touching on a wide array of other subjects related to Disney animation. Taylor, his real life wife, recalls how she prepared for her Minnie audition. The feature includes some clips of "Runaway Brain", older shorts, "House of Mouse", and even the costumed Mickey Mouse at Disney's parks, as well. It's a great supplement - both very informative and entertaining.

"Mouse Mania" (2:06) is a stop-motion segment that aired as part of a primetime TV special for Mickey's 50th Anniversary. If you don't know when the 50th Anniversary was, you'll know from this sequence that it was definitely the '70s. ('Twas 1977, to be exact.) Mike Jittlov, who had established himself in stop-motion, made this short, set inside a psychiatrist's office. It's extremely weird in a good way. Mickey figures and an assortment of Disneyana, bell-bottomed men, and fast-tempoed electronic music are all rapidly blended in a nearly incoherent fashion. The sequence is certainly something of a rarity; it's the first time it's been issued since its airing.

Walt Disney introduces a clip on the physics of cartoons. Cels from a Mickey Mouse cartoon are shot for "Tricks of our Trade" Fantasia 2000 Storyboard in "Mickey Meets the Maestro"

There's an excerpt on Mickey Cartoon Physics (3:08) from "The Plausible Impossible", a 1956 episode of the Disneyland TV series. Walt discusses how impossible action can seem real in animation if there is some factual basis. We see why it makes sense for a cow's bell to ring when you pull its tail, how Mickey stretches and squishes when going up in an elevator, and a couple of other demonstrations from cartoons. As Maltin points out, the complete episode is on the Behind the Scenes at the Walt Disney Studio Treasures release.

Another segment from a Disneyland episode, "Tricks of Our Trade", is presented. Walt discusses three-dimensionality in cel animation, using the multi-plane camera. This episode too is in its entirety on the aforementioned Behind the Scenes Treasures set, plus is included in part on Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. It's a great segment that concisely (5:09) and effectively illustrates how Disney was able to incorporate depth into its animation.

"Mickey Meets the Maestro" (3:26) contains a behind-the-scenes featurette on the meeting of Mickey and conductor James Levine in Fantasia 2000. The effect of blending live action and animation in modern times is covered. We see the scene progress in various stages and then with the finished effect as it appears in the film. It is also included on Disc 3 of the Fantasia Anthology DVD set.

One of the title sequences from "The Mickey Mouse Club" "Mickey Down Under" Poster from Publicity Gallery "Pluto's Christmas Tree" Poster from Publicity Gallery "The Makin of Mickey's Christmas Carol"

Next are the original opening sequences of the daily "Mickey Mouse Club" show (3:15) presented in color. Walt, with an eye for the future, filmed his television programs in color even though there was no way to broadcast other than black & white in the 1950s. In his introduction, Maltin reveals that for this show, Walt returned to voice Mickey for the last time to do Mickey's voice. There are five different 25-second openings; one for each day of the week, each with a different theme. It's a very cool bonus.

"The Making of Mickey's Christmas Carol" (24:14) is a thorough and informative featurette from the '80s. It satisfactorily covers the filmmakers' approach to the material, such as how they assigned Disney's cartoon stars to Dickens' characters, and how they assigned animators to characters. Producer/director Burny Mattinson, animators Glen Keane and David Block, and some of the voice talent are interviewed. There's even a bit of a history of Mickey and Donald provided. Plus, we see animator Mark Henn and Wayne Allwine (who are profiled in the newly-produced features) as they looked two decades ago making their big screen debuts. Particularly amusing are a bookending scenes of Jiminy Cricket getting a call to make a new Christmas film, giving roles for his cartoon friends and keeping it all within budget. While it looks a bit dated, it provides an interesting look at Mickey's big screen return. I was glad to finally see this making-of special.

The Publicity and Memorabilia Gallery contains four pages of posters and advertisements of the Mickey Mouse shorts that appear throughout the two discs. The colorful promotional artwork is very neat. There's also some material celebrating the 25th anniversary of Mickey Mouse in 1942. Plus there are some pages from a feature in Good Housekeeping with rhymes and illustrations on Disney characters and shorts. The magazine ran the feature monthly in the '30s and '40s. Five of the stills include some basic comments from Maltin.

Story and Background Art Gallery offers about a dozen sketches for four shorts: "The Little Whirlwind", "The Nifty Nineties", "The Pointer, and "Symphony Hour." On some images, denoted by a microphone graphic, Leonard Maltin provides commentary about costumes, supporting characters, and how Mickey's changed over the years.

The Disc 2 menus match the first disc's screens. Again, they are red, blue, and yellow 4:3 screens, with excerpts of the cartoon scores on all but the Cartoons menu.

Leonard Maltin introduces a bonus feature Mickey as Bob Cratchit, with Tiny Tim Art Gallery for "The Little Whirlwind"

CLOSING THOUGHTS

The Mickey Mouse short is a distinct creature, heavy on comedic gags, and often short on plot. The cartoons in this collection display Mickey in a variety of comic adventures that define and redefine the personality of perhaps the most beloved animated character. Though not as groundbreaking or historic as previous Mickey Mouse releases, the shorts here are consistently entertaining and Mickey fans will undoubtedly be pleased. Many may find the inclusion of the three Mickey shorts from more recent years on Disc 2 to be a particular highlight.

All the shorts display a pleasingly sharp and clean video transfer, reflecting a significant amount of effort that paints this set and all the other Treasures sets. Even if some of this material appears on other DVDs, it is nice to have it all compiled together on these two discs. Most won't need my clear recommendation on this set, but those who have shied away from other cartoon short Treasures due to the age may be surprised to find the films on both discs more approachable. In the way of supplemental material, two terrific new featurettes shine, and are accompanied by some nice little treats.

Anyone with an interest in Disney animation is bound to find something they like in this highly entertaining and wide-reaching collection of Mickey Mouse's later films.

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REVIEW CONTENTS

Page 1: Disc 1 - Shorts, Audio & Video, and Bonus Features
Page 2: Disc 2 - Shorts, Audio & Video, Bonus Features, and Closing Thoughts

Related Reviews
Walt Disney Treasures:
Mickey Mouse in Living Color, Volume 1 Mickey Mouse in Black and White, Volume 2
Mickey Mouse in Black and White, Volume 1 The Chronological Donald, Volume 1
The Chronological Donald, Volume 2 The Complete Goofy The Complete Pluto, Volume 1
Walt Disney on the Front Lines Disney Rarities Silly Symphonies Walt's Tomorrowland

Other DVDs Featuring Mickey Mouse:
Funny Factory with Mickey Classic Cartoon Favorites: Volume 1 - Starring Mickey
It's a Small World of Fun! Volume 2 Timeless Tales, Volume One
The Fantasia Anthology Disney Learning Adventures: Mickey's Around the World in 80 Days
Mickey's House of Villains Fun and Fancy Free Mickey, Donald, Goofy: The Three Musketeers

Mickey Mouse Cartoon Shorts on DVD: Black and White Black and White, Volume Two Living Color Living Color, Volume Two

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Review posted May 10, 2004.