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Vintage Mickey DVD Review

Vintage Mickey DVD cover art - click to buy from Amazon.com Vintage Mickey
DVD Details

Running Time: 64 Minutes / Rating: Not Rated
1.33:1 Fullscreen, Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
Subtitles: English; Closed Captioned

DVD Release Date: July 12, 2005
Originally Released Between 1928 and 1934
Single-sided, single-layered disc (DVD-5)
Out of Print (Suggested Retail Price: $19.99)
Black Keepcase

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As of December 2004, all of the theatrically-released animated shorts starring Mickey Mouse had been made available on DVD in four comprehensive (and now out-of-print) collections in the Walt Disney Treasures series.
In 2005, Disney has sought to repackage the cartoons of their enduring everyman icon in various low-priced compilations, apparently catering to those wanting just a sampling of the Mouse's work.

In January, the Classic Cartoon Favorites line was launched, delivering hour-long, bonus-less volumes of color cartoons from the format's heyday. Volume 1 (Starring Mickey) offered seven highlights from the '30s and early '40s and a handful of other Mickey-centered shorts turned up in May's thematic trio of discs. In March, the mid-'40s featurette "Mickey and the Beanstalk" and "Mickey's Around the World in 80 Days" (a short from the '90s television series "Mouse Works") were the focus of two simplistic educational DVDs for preschoolers as part of Disney's Learning Adventures series. Next month, the studio will debut a new line called Timeless Tales, with the first volume containing Mickey's 1990 featurette "The Prince and the Pauper." And in September, "Mickey's Christmas Carol" will again resurface on DVD in Classic Holiday Stories, the ninth Classic Cartoon Favorites installment.

What those other currently-available and forthcoming compilations neglect to provide is Mickey's earliest appearances, the black-and-white cartoons he headlined in the late 1920s and early 1930s. They were presented in full in the aptly-titled Treasures tins Mickey Mouse in Black and White and Mickey Mouse in Black and White, Volume Two, but enthusiasts turned off by their $32.99 suggested retail prices (when in-print) and intrigued but unacquainted Disney fans should take pleasure in Vintage Mickey, the latest cartoon compilation from the studio. This standalone effort arrives with two Mickey Mouse Club discs to vaguely mark July's 50th anniversary of Disneyland and boasts nine of Mickey's most memorable black and white cartoon shorts, from his landmark debut in 1928's "Steamboat Willie" to 1934's "Mickey's Steam Roller."

The Mickey on display in this collection is not as benign as the Mouse most are used to. Particularly in the first three shorts, which especially favor sight gags over sparsely-used dialogue, Mickey seems to be fine with manhandling other animals to achieve a desired result. In this chronologically-arranged compilation, though, one can observe his transformation into a more respectful (and domesticated) protagonist. At heart, not too much has changed. Even in his earliest days, Mickey is an appealing and fun-loving rodent; it's easy to see why audiences took to him the way they did. Whether he's wooing Minnie, knocking heads with the bullying Pete, or simply engaging in the typical music or mayhem, Mickey has our full support and attention. These cartoons may be dated in their settings, styles, formulas and timing, but the passing of nearly eighty years hasn't invalidated their charm and good-natured humor. That is why they endure and they especially do so in a hour-long sampling where there are no lulls and you are in a certain frame of mind to enjoy them in succession.

A little lovers' spat in "Plane Crazy." Oh no! Mickey pulled off his ears! The dancing hot dogs don't seem to mind too much, though. Mickey tickles the keys for some seals in "The Castaway."

The nine shorts included are presented in chronological order, as follows:

Steamboat Willie (1928) (7:41)
Mickey makes a memorable debut in this enduring short as a steamboat worker who finds amusement by getting a variety of barnyard animals to perform the catchy old number "Turkey in the Straw." Minnie also makes her debut, and the nemesis that would evolve into "Pete" is also present as the Mouse's imposing supervisor.

Plane Crazy (1928) (5:55)
After reading about "Lindy" (the famed American pilot Charles Lindbergh), Mickey tousles his hair and sets for the sky, with an airplane and some help from his fellow animals.
However, the flight doesn't go as smooth as planned when Minnie refuses his airborne romantic advances.

The Karnival Kid (1929) (7:40)
This short surveys antics at a carnival. Mickey plays a hot dog vendor whose product sings, walks, and barks. Minnie, a "shimmy dancer", is a customer he tries his hardest to please and then woo, resorting to the assistance of two serenading cats when night falls.

The Birthday Party (1931) (7:28)
Minnie throws Mickey a surprise birthday party in this, the first cartoon of the set to employ a steady flow of dialogue. Singing and dancing ensue among the guests when Mickey and Minnie perform a duet with his present, a piano. More music and sight gags are provided via Mickey and a xylophone that he eventually loses control of.

The Castaway (1931) (7:22)
In this short, Mickey finds himself stranded on a deserted island and his series of misadventures are the focus. A piano washes ashore and Mickey plays for both a bothersome little tiger cub and a destructive gorilla. He later has some run-ins with a lion and a crocodile.

"Are you Santy Claus?", asks this mischievous runt in "Mickey's Orphans." "Mickey's Revue": Making the most of his body in the name of music. After giving him a free box lunch, Minnie admires Mickey's corn-eating skills in "Building a Building."

Mickey's Orphans (1931) (7:05)
As Mickey and Minnie prepare for Christmas, a mysterious figure drops off a basket filled with countless young orphans. Mickey tries his best to give his unexpected guests a festive time, even dressing himself as Santa and Pluto as a reindeer, but the rowdy little ones create nothing but mischief. The setup distinguishes this as a splendid short, and even the gags on display seem more inspired than usual.

Mickey's Revue (1932) (6:54)
Mickey orchestrates a musical show with a number of acts including Minnie and him, some cow ballerinas with a dash of fake snow, a pair of dancing dogs, those boisterous orphans, and Pluto. The most distinguishing feature of this short is that it introduces Goofy as an older, shaggier, and bespectacled audience member whose laugh irritates those around him.

Building a Building (1933) (7:09)
Minnie visits a construction site to sell box lunches and Mickey, who is working there, can't seem to take his eyes off her. This gets him in trouble with his unscrupulous boss (Pegleg Pete) and has him succumbing to the laws of gravity on several occasions. Battle eventually ensues between Mickey and Pete, with all of the tools of the site being put to use.

Mickey's Steam Roller (1934) (6:52)
While taking two children out for a stroll, Minnie happens upon Mickey, who is at work operating an impressive steam roller. When Mickey and Minnie quickly move towards some good-natured flirting, the two young ones engage in a bit of reckless mischief in the massive vehicle. Mickey's efforts to rescue the lads soon put him in the destructive path of the steam roller. Oh no! Mayhem ensues.

Mickey plays his newly-received piano, and Minnie plays her for the musical gaiety of "The Birthday Party." Minnie and two littl'uns stop and check out "Mickey's Steam Roller."

VIDEO and AUDIO

The first and most obvious thing that needs to be stated when evaluating the audio/video quality here is that the disc's shorts are among the oldest filmed materials in Disney's catalogue. Expecting the sharpness, clarity, and vitality of a recent feature film with high production values would be silly, but so would be excusing any faults of the transfer due to age. After all, the thoroughly-remastered presentations offered in the Walt Disney Treasures series and the Platinum Collection have shown us that animation older than your parents can still look pretty remarkable on DVD.

Though the package gives "1.33:1 Full Screen" as the aspect ratio of the disc, that's a bit of an oversimplification. The first three shorts are mildly windowboxed ("Steamboat Willie" most severely) and each is slightly narrower than the Academy Ratio presentation that subsequent shorts and features would employ. On the later cartoons, only the title screens (if anything) are windowboxed, and the additional black bars on all fours could well be rendered invisible on a television with overscan.

The video quality is a bit of a mixed bag and almost perfectly proportional to the age of the short. That means that using the "Play All" option to view the compilation in order, each short will look better than the one before it. The first four cartoons look particularly beat up; scratches, digital artifacts, and other tiny intrusions frequently appear, practically without pause. Softness is also an issue, with some shots conveying an "out-of-focus" look and others where background compositions seem to break up. Obviously, these shorts are the oldest and most susceptible to print flaws, but I have no doubt they could look better (without belying their roots) if they were remastered using today's best technology. The shorts first appeared on DVD in 2002, and while I'm not sure if the presentations here are similar or identical to the Treasures where they debuted, they lack the generally pleasing picture quality that most vintage shorts in that series boast.

Things get significantly better with "The Castaway", where the print stays mostly clean and consistent. The elevated presentation continues to the end of the disc. There are still scratches and other intrusions here and there, but the video remains mostly satisfying, especially in consideration of the source's age.

In the audio department, the keepcase claims the DVD offers a Dolby Surround track, but of course, these shorts were originally presented in a monaural format, and there's no real way to tweak that without re-recording soundtracks, which naturally has not been done here. As such, the broad mono track is sufficient on the whole, and is generally as satisfying as the picture quality is. On earlier shorts, where the video is a bit messy, the music, effects, and rare bits of dialogue are somewhat shrill sounding. By the final few cartoons, the elements are still certainly dated and limited in range, but they're much easier on the ears. Like the picture quality, the audio leaves room for improvement, but in light of the age, one imagines the presentation could be a lot worse.

The just over 64 minutes of video are spread across a single-layered disc, yielding an average bitrate of 7.21 Mb/sec. While that measure isn't particularly indicative of what to expect in terms of transfer, that's fairly solid rate and likely comparable to the Treasures, which employ two layers but usually pack in a bit more than twice as many shorts.

Celebrate Christmas with Mickey in the charming cartoon "Mickey's Orphans." You know you want to. The Vintage Mickey Main Menu.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS and DESIGN

Not surprisingly, there are no bonus features whatsoever included. The disc opens with sneak peeks for Cinderella, Chicken Little, Old Yeller: Special Edition (which really appears to be a two-movie collection with sequel Savage Sam), and Lilo & Stitch 2: Stitch Has a Glitch.
The menu provides additional promos for Disneyland's 50th Anniversary celebrations and another for two 50th Anniversary audio CDs, A Musical History of Disneyland and Happiest Celebration on Earth.

The disc's 4x3 menus are still screens, but feature old-fashioned instrumental selections that seem appropriate enough. The nine cartoon shorts are presented as individual chapters; choosing one from the Cartoon Selection menu plays only the desired short and then returns you to the menu. The "Play All" option satisfyingly cycles through all 64 minutes of content as listed above. No descriptions of the shorts are offered anywhere in the packaging, and there's no proper insert inside the black keepcase, only an ad for the four new DVDs celebrating Disneyland's 50th Anniversary (including the delayed but presumed pick-of-the-litter Secrets, Stories & Magic of the Happiest Place on Earth) and an enrollment form for the Disney Movie Club.

The $19.99 suggested retail price seems $5 too high, since that's how much more Vintage Mickey is than the two concurrent (and lengthier) "Mickey Mouse Club" DVD debuts and the similar-in-design Classic Cartoon Favorites. While these animated short films may be higher in cultural prestige than weekday television programming, there doesn't seem any particular reason for this disc to exceed bargain bin rates.

Mickey and Minnie revel in musical fun in "Steamboat Willie", their debut short. Pegleg Pete has long been Mickey's nemesis. Here, in the Oscar-nominated "Building a Building", he strangles the little guy.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Though they are 70 to 80 years old and products of a time when animation sensibilities were much different than today's, the nine shorts which comprise Vintage Mickey hold up surprisingly well. They provide 64 minutes of solid entertainment by most standards and not even some spotty audio/video presentations or a questionable price tag can mar that. Looking for Mickey's complete canon with bonus features? You'll have to stick to the Walt Disney Treasures line, which has devoted four tins to all the shorts the Mouse headlined. If, however, you just want a taste of the finer cartoons from Mickey's earliest days, then Vintage Mickey is for you. While the disc does not exceed expectations, it also does not disappoint, delivering important and entertaining Disney shorts from the infancy of animation.

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Related Reviews
Walt Disney Treasures: Mickey Mouse in Black & White Walt Disney Treasures: Mickey Mouse in Black & White, Volume 2
Walt Disney Treasures: Mickey Mouse in Living Color Walt Disney Treasures: Mickey Mouse in Living Color, Volume 2
Classic Cartoon Favorites: Volume 1 - Starring Mickey Disney Learning Adventures: Mickey and the Beanstalk
Mickey, Donald, Goofy: The Three Musketeers Disney Learning Adventures: Mickey's Around the World in 80 Days
Mickey's Twice Upon a Christmas Walt Disney Treasures: The Mickey Mouse Club
Blast to the Past #2: Disney's Dream (children's book)
Also coming on July 12: Mickey Mouse Club: The Best of Britney, Justin & Christina The Best of The Mickey Mouse Club

Walt Disney Treasures DVDs with Mickey Mouse's Shorts
Mickey Mouse in Black & White Mickey Mouse in Black & White, Volume 2
Mickey Mouse in Living Color Mickey Mouse in Living Color, Volume 2

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Reviewed July 8, 2005.