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Walt Disney Animation Studios Short Films Collection Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD Review

Walt Disney Animation Studios Short Films Collection Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Walt Disney Animation Studios Short Films Collection
Shorts, Blu-ray & DVD Details

Directors: Stevie Wermers-Skelton & Kevin Deters, Mark Henn, Mike Gabriel, Roger Allers, Dean Wellins, Nathan Greno & Byron Howard, John Kahrs, Lauren MacMullan, Patrick Osborne, Chris Buck & Jennifer Lee

Running Time: 80 Minutes (12 Shorts) / Rating: G, Not Rated

1.66:1-2.39:1 Widescreen (DVD Anamorphic)
(John Henry: 1.66:1; Get a Horse!, Feast, and Frozen Fever: 2.39:1; Everything Else: 1.78:1)
Blu-ray: 5.1 DTS-HD MA (English); DVD: Dolby Digital 5.1 (English)
How to Hook Up Your Home Theater, Prep & Landing: Operation: Secret Santa, The Ballad of Nessie, Tangled Ever After, Get a Horse!, Feast, Frozen Fever: Dolby Digital 5.1 (French)
How to Hook Up Your Home Theater, Tick Tock Tale, Get a Horse!, Feast, Frozen Fever: Dolby Digital 5.1 (Spanish)
How to Hook Up Your Home Theater, The Ballad of Nessie, Tangled Ever After, Get a Horse!, Feast, Frozen Fever: Dolby Digital 5.1 (Portuguese)
Prep & Landing: Operation: Secret Santa: Dolby Surround 2.0 (Spanish, Portuguese)
Paperman, Get a Horse!, Feast, Frozen Fever: Dolby Surround 2.0 (Descriptive Video Service)
Subtitles: English, English for Hearing Impaired, French, Spanish, Portuguese
Extras Subtitled; DVD Closed Captioned
Originally Released between 2000 and 2015 / Blu-ray & DVD Release Date: August 18, 2015
Suggested Retail Price: $39.99 / Two single-sided, dual-layered discs (1 BD-50 & 1 DVD-9)
Blue Keepcase with Side Snap in Embossed Cardboard Slipcover
Also available on Amazon Instant Video

Buy Walt Disney Animation Studios Short Film Collection at Amazon.com

One of the first things that John Lasseter did after Disney bought Pixar and placed him in charge of both animation studios
was to bring the short film back to Disney. Lasseter, like kids up to forty years his senior, had grown up with cartoon shorts being an integral part of Disney animation. After slowing for years, the format mostly disappeared after the 1960s.

Its return was not flashy headline-making news. But as fans of the Walt Disney Treasures line could tell you, shorts were a significant part of Walt Disney's legacy. The format had done well at Pixar: Tin Toy paved the way for Toy Story, Geri's Game and For the Birds won Oscars, and all of the shorts added brand-strengthening value to the company's brand in theaters and on home video. Disney's shorts program would be treated as a training camp of sorts. Those who proved themselves on animated films running ten minutes or less might then graduate to working on feature films.

A dog eyeballs his unusual meal in Disney's Oscar-winning 2014 animated short "Feast."

Today, Disney Animation Studios is at its strongest since its storied Eisner Era Renaissance of The Little Mermaid through The Lion King. Its last seven features have all been very well received critically and the three most recent of those -- Wreck-It Ralph, Frozen, and Big Hero 6 -- have also been remarkably successful commercially. Success has extended to the shorts, with theatrical accompaniment of each of those three blockbusters landing Academy Award nominations for Best Animated Short and two of the three (Paperman and Feast) winning the honor, something the studio hadn't done since 1969's It's Tough to Be a Bird.

Disney is proud enough of these short films to throw a now rare bone to the demographic of serious animation enthusiasts with today's Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD release of Walt Disney Animation Studios Short Film Collection, a compilation of twelve short films released from 2000 to 2015. This combo pack includes those two recent Animated Short Oscar winners, plus three additional nominees in Mickey Mouse's Get a Horse! and a pair of shorts conceived for an unreleased third Fantasia project: Lorenzo and The Little Matchgirl.

In "Lorenzo", a blue cat dances with himself, specifically his tail. Goofy gets acquainted with his new subwoofer in "How to Hook Up Your Home Theater."

The shorts are presented, as follows, in chronological order, from oldest to newest:

1. John Henry (2000) (10:19)
Originally released with vintage cartoons in the 2002 compilation video American Legends, this musical short tells the legend of a mighty former slave who uses his great strength to build up the nation's railroads. To save his friends' jobs, he vows to prove he can drive steel faster than a steam engine.

2. Lorenzo (2004) (4:50)
This artsy, speechless would-be Fantasia 2006 segment that wound up playing before Kate Hudson's Raising Helen tells of a pampered blue fat cat with little regard for
less fortunate felines who ends up tangoing with his own tail.

3. The Little Matchgirl (2006) (6:40)
Another short intended for the nixed Fantasia and driven by music rather than dialogue, this depressing adaptation of a Hans Christian Andersen story tells of a girl struggling to sell matches and stay warm while dreaming of a better life in a snowy land of yore.

4. How to Hook Up Your Home Theater (2007) (6:20)
In the style of the classic Goofy "how to" shorts, this cartoon uses narration and the Goof's inability to do anything gracefully to demonstrate how to -- i.e. how not to -- set up a state-of-the-art home theater system. This slapstick cartoon bizarrely preceded National Treasure: Book of Secrets in theaters.

Lanny and Wayne have to snatch a wooden box without waking a sleeping Santa in "Prep & Landing: Operation: Secret Santa." Nessie and her rubber ducky friend hit rough times in "The Ballad of Nessie."

5. Tick Tock Tale (2010) (6:03)
Probably the most obscure and least-seen item on this set, this mostly silent CG-animated short shows us what happens in a clock shop after it closes at night: the ornate clocks come to life and get mixed up in shenanigans involving a burglary.

6. Prep & Landing: Operation: Secret Santa (2010) (6:55)
This "stocking stuffer" made in between ABC's two CG-animated holiday specials has Mrs. Claus ask North Pole elves Lanny and Wayne to retrieve a wooden box while Santa sleeps.

7. The Ballad of Nessie (2011) (5:32)
Narrated by Billy Connolly, this Winnie the Pooh accompaniment tells the Scottish tale of a mild-mannered "monster" and her rubber ducky friend, who discover Loch Ness after being forced out of their home by a golf course.

8. Tangled Ever After (2012) (6:29)
Rapunzel and Eugene's perfect wedding is upended by a runaway ring that thrusts animal sidekicks Pascal and Maximus into the foreground.

A man shrugs off workplace protocol to pursue love in 2012 Oscar winner "Paperman." Elsa's cold gives life to merchandisable little snowmen in 2015's "Frozen Fever."

9. Paperman (2012) (6:35)
This imaginative partly hand-drawn, mostly black and white Oscar winner finds an office worker chasing after a fellow commuter who may his dream girl, using paper airplanes to try to track her down.

10. Get a Horse! (2013) (6:01)
This short that many millions saw before Frozen opens like some long-lost black and white Mickey Mouse short, but becomes something else when Mickey and friends burst through the screen in 3D computer animation. While I still blame the absurdly frightened boy who spoiled my first viewing in theaters, this Parks-ready 'toon is a lot more enjoyable in theory than in execution.

11. Feast (2014) (6:12)
This short which played theatrically before Big Hero 6 centers on a dog whose diet and attention earned are directly affected by his owner's relationship status.

12. Frozen Fever (2015) (7:57)
Playing before the live-action Cinderella, this spin-off to the best-attended animated movie since The Lion King sees Elsa throwing Anna a surprise birthday party, only to have it complicated by a cold. It shows too much effort to be classified as a blatant cash-in, including a new song from the original's award-winning music team.

Animal comic relief Pascal and Maximus must save the day in "Tangled Ever After." Things get remarkably bleak for "The Little Matchgirl" in Disney's depressing 2006 Hans Christian Andersen adaptation.

VIDEO and AUDIO

21st century animation tends to look glorious in Blu-ray and you can apply that adjective to most of these shorts without hesitation. The eldest of the lot, John Henry,
sports a pencilly look recalling 101 Dalmatians that some mistake for imperfect but seems pretty clearly by design. The other eleven boast the vibrant colors and pristine element you expect new Disney cartoons to display in 1080p.

The shorts' 5.1 DTS-HD master audio soundtracks are also highly satisfying, having the sonic impact of their feature-length counterparts. Get a Horse! is especially lively with its fourth wall-breaking sound effects. Though the menu suggests a host of dub options, only some of the cartoons actually offer those dubs, with the rest of them only triggering subtitles in that language, many of which are hardly needed in these typically dialogue-light cartoons. Those given proper dubs, however, take the further step of seamlessly branching to versions with onscreen text either redone or simply translated in the selected language.

Mark Henn introduces "John Henry", the oldest short on this set. T.J. Miller talks with five of the short filmmakers in "@DisneyAnimation: The Short Story About Shorts."

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

You could easily see a set like this coming up empty in the bonus features department, but Disney has kindly spared us that design.

First up, each short is preceded by an even shorter intro from the makers, most of them running slightly under a minute. We hear from director Mark Henn on John Henry (0:44),

writer-director Mike Gabriel on Lorenzo (0:45), artistic coordinator Dave Bossert and production supervisor Tom MacDougall on The Little Matchgirl (0:42), writer-director duo Kevin Deters and Stevie Wermers-Skelton plus art director Ian Gooding on How to Hook Up your Home Theater (0:49), writer-director Dean Wellins on Tick Tock Tale (0:44), Deters and Wermers-Skelton with producer Dorothy McKim on Prep & Landing: Operation Secret Santa (1:00) and The Ballad of Nessie (1:02), writer-director Nathan Greno, producer Aimee Scribner, and head of story Mark Kennedy on Tangled Ever After (0:45), head of animation Patrick Osborne and producer Kristina Reed on Paperman (0:47), McKim and heads of animation Adam Green and Eric Goldberg on Get a Horse! (0:57), Reed and Osborne on Feast (0:44), directors Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck, and producers Scribner and Peter Del Vecho on Frozen Fever.

As exciting as those intros and nearly as long as them added together is "@DisneyAnimation: The Short Story About Shorts" (7:18). In this featurette, Big Hero 6 voice actor T.J. Miller talks with Get a Horse! director Lauren MacMullan, producer Kristina Reed, Mike Gabriel, and writer-director duo Kevin Deters and Stevie Wermers-Skelton, about the form, its history, and its modern applications.

Those who weren't clear on the press release's mention of Runaway Brain as a "DMA debut" will be disappointed to learn that Mickey Mouse's 1995 short is in fact, a Disney Movies Anywhere exclusive and thus still not available on Blu-ray. It's high time that this and other classic Mickey jams make it to BD.

John Henry gets his moment on the Short Films Collection's menu.

The discs open with ads for Disney Movies Anywhere, Aladdin: Diamond Edition, and Born in China, followed by a Pinocchio-themed anti-smoking spot. The menu's Sneak Peeks listing plays a Disney Movie Rewards promo before repeating the others.

The tasteful main menu showcases concept art from the shorts while an excerpt of Paperman's score plays.

Topped by an embossed slipcover, the side-snapped keepcase holds a Disney Movie Club ad and a Disney Movie Rewards/Anywhere booklet (Digital HD is included) alongside the plainly labeled blue and gray discs.

New and old methods collide in the Oscar-nominated 2013 Mickey Mouse short "Get a Horse!"

CLOSING THOUGHTS

The Walt Disney Animation Studios Short Film Collection poses the same dilemma for animation fans that the two Pixar short compilations have: is it worth buying this set to gather shorts you may own on a variety of discs in one place? At least this collection includes a number of modern-day rarities that have not been found on any widely-owned DVD, let alone in the fantastic high-definition presentations found here. The filmmaker intros and fitting new featurette add further value to this set, which is Disney's first home video release aimed squarely at animation buffs since the Walt Disney Treasures line unceremoniously ended.

I'm not enamored enough by any one of these shorts to single them out as achievements on the order of Wreck-It Ralph and Big Hero 6, but they range from mildly diverting (most of them) to even better than that (Paperman). At the right price, this set is worth adding to your collection of Disney Animation's contemporary hits.

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Reviewed August 18, 2015.



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