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Walt Disney Animation Collection DVDs:
Wave 1: Volume 1: Mickey and the Beanstalk Volume 2: Three Little Pigs Volume 3: The Prince and the Pauper
Wave 2: Volume 4: The Tortoise and the Hare Volume 5: The Wind in the Willows Volume 6: The Reluctant Dragon

Walt Disney Animation Collection: Classic Short Films - Volume 4: The Tortoise and the Hare DVD Review

Buy Walt Disney Animation Collection: Volume 4 DVD from Amazon.com Walt Disney Animation Collection: Classic Short Films
Volume 4: The Tortoise and the Hare

DVD Details

Running Time: 64 Minutes / Rating: Not Rated
1.33:1 Fullscreen (Original Aspect Ratio), Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, French, Spanish; Closed Captioned

DVD Release Date: May 12, 2009
Originally Released Between 1932 and 1961
Single-sided, single-layered disc (DVD-5)
Suggested Retail Price: $19.99
White Keepcase with Side Snaps in Reflective, Embossed Cardboard Slipcover

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Who doesn't know the story of the Tortoise and the Hare? There is something about the characters (that overly confident hare, that persistent tortoise) and the lesson (slow and steady wins the race) that make this Aesop fable so appealing and repeatable for elementary schoolteachers and so memorable for children who hear it. Frankly, I think it's the leading reason anyone today knows what a "tortoise" or a "hare" is.

Now, who does know that Disney made an animated version of the story? The company's feature adaptations of fairy tales often become far and away the most famous account;
think of Snow White, Pinocchio, Cinderella, or Sleeping Beauty, and it's Disney who comes to mind. Yet in the nineteen years that the Internet Movie Database has been online, only 344 registered users knowing Disney's Tortoise and the Hare have bothered to cast a vote for the short. Whereas Google searches for the other titles yield more pages pertaining to the films than their sources, IMDb's record for Tortoise currently doesn't show up in the first 25 pages of results for an unquoted "Tortoise and the Hare" query.

Disney seeks to bridge that gap in awareness with one of the second wave releases in its recently-launched Walt Disney Animation Collection DVD line. Volume 4: The Tortoise and the Hare grants title and cover billing to the Academy Award-winning 1935 short. While this marks the cartoon's third appearance on DVD, it is the first time it's ever been advertised as the primary attraction in any venue.

Toby Tortoise is quite pleased to creep past Max Hare, but we learn the latter is a light sleeper in "The Tortoise and the Hare." The Goddess of Spring will need to use more force than that if she wants to not become Queen of Hades.

Joining the ranks of the studio's countless one-hour cartoon compilations, this new disc includes five other vintage shorts alongside Tortoise. From the 1930s come Silly Symphonies Babes in the Woods, The Goddess of Spring, and Toby Tortoise Returns (a sequel to Tortoise and the Hare). From the turn of the 1960s, we get two slightly longer shorts in 1958's Paul Bunyan and 1961's The Saga of Windwagon Smith. Produced as the cartoon short format was dying out, these non-series two were appropriately included in the 2005 Walt Disney Treasures tin Disney Rarities. But since that 5+ hour set is still available on Amazon, it's tough to consider them too rare.

Along with two concurrent releases and the three forming last month's introductory wave, this Walt Disney Animation Collection DVD is more likely to appear at selectively-stocked mega retailers like Target and Wal-Mart.
Get 4 Disney Movies for $1.99 Each, Free Shipping!
And it's a clearly different audience being targeted with these impulse-priced discs than the Disney collectors and animation aficionados. The latter markets are the ones more likely to read this review and similar ones (which now outnumber the Treasures volumes). But hey, at least Disney's releasing DVDs again and not all of it's present-day Disney Channel fare.

"The Tortoise and the Hare" (1935) (8:38)
It's unclear what prompted it, but fan favorite Max Hare and "slow but sure" Toby Tortoise compete in a mismatched, two-animal foot race. Big on gags and rhymes like the other works of its time, the short follows the speedy Hare as he uses his big lead to impress girl bunnies and play against himself in other sports. Boy, is the excited crowd in for a surprise!

"Babes in the Woods" (1932) (7:43)
Hansel and Gretel wander into the forest, where they're entertained by merry dwarves, but whisked away by a feared witch to her house made of candy. She's not a very nice host, but all is not lost.

"The Goddess of Spring" (1934) (9:35)
Life is grand for the Goddess of Eternal Spring, with the gnomes, birds, and flowers around her all quite content. Then, an underworld king shows up with storm clouds and hobgoblins to make the Goddess his queen. While Hades welcomes her down below, cold grips the saddened Goddess' world above. Happily, the Devil is not opposed to compromise.

Unfazed by the dwarves' scurrying and the Witch's appearance, Hansel and Gretel are cheerful on their ominous broom ride past crows in "Babes in the Woods." Paul Bunyan finds a best friend in Babe the giant blue ox. Together, they'll make mountains.

"Toby Tortoise Returns" (1936) (7:30)
Toby Tortoise and Max Hare square off again, this time in the boxing ring. In front of an audience that includes the Three Little Pigs, ready medics, sexpot wren Jenny (originally from Who Killed Cock Robin?, still inspired by Mae West), and those adoring girl bunnies, the one-sided match has a now-expected "surprise" ending.

"Paul Bunyan" (1958) (16:59)
Regional timber workers take turns telling the story of the American folk hero. Adopted as a giant baby by a whole town, Paul Bunyan grows up and becomes an expert woodsman.
Moving west to find more trees to clear, he meets Babe, a big blue ox who becomes a real pal. Together, they change the nation's landscape. The short concludes with a man vs. machine showdown.

"The Saga of Windwagon Smith" (1961) (13:24)
Riding into Kansas in a cloud of dust, proud Captain Smith excites the whole town with a horseless wagon that sails on the prairie wind. When he's not making time with the mayor's daughter Molly, Smith draws up plans for a vast windwagon with which to deliver goods to Santa Fe.

VIDEO and AUDIO

All six shorts are presented in 1.33:1 fullscreen, per their original Academy aspect ratio animation. As always, that's where the universality ends. Fortunately, though the shorts have different issues and appearances, all are fairly presentable here. Tortoise and the Hare looks pretty good; its sequel looks even better. Babes in the Woods's picture quality is satisfactory, although its harsh operatic narration is mostly unintelligible without the subtitles activated. Goddess of Spring is pretty rough and unsteady at first, but its flickers and shimmers are mostly limited to early scenes. Alas, its colors don't ever look quite right. Paul Bunyan has a few stationary and fleeting specks turn up. Despite being the youngest short on the disc, Windwagon Smith also has artifacts and never looks as sharp and clean as you'd like; it was one of the Disney Rarities cartoons that fell short of customer expectations and the line's high standards.

The audio is encoded as two channels, though it sounded to me like they were both streaming the same items, making this a monaural track. The recordings are roughest on the eldest cartoons, and by far worst on Babes (which fortunately features little dialogue). There's more life and action to the two later shorts. In light of the contents' ages, none of the soundtracks disappoint and none have shortcomings as noticeable as the mostly minor picture woes. English, French, and Spanish subtitles are provided.

Windwagon Smith likes what he sees -- both frothy beverage and waitress Molly. Who knew that Mel Gibson's "Pocahontas" character wasn't Disney's first blonde Captain Smith? Flowers, elves, AND sparkles?! By Grabthar's hammer, what a menu!

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS and PACKAGING

Following Wave 1's lead, the only bonus is a wide "collectible" lithograph print (7 1/8" x 4 3/8").
Babes in the Woods poster Flowers and Trees poster
The Skeleton Dance poster Steamboat Willie poster
Browse more classic
animated short posters
This one depicts the two title characters of The Tortoise and the Hare by the start line in stances reflecting their personality. It's truer to the short's look than the DVD's cover and better than nothing, I suppose. Joining it in the case are a Disney Movie Rewards code and a tiny booklet promoting Blu-ray.

Featuring clip art from the cartoons and random sparkles, the static menus look like the efforts of a young, first-time Photoshop user. Their maddeningly looped music doesn't help.

Preceding playback of the compilation are a number of promos for Disney, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, The Princess and the Frog, Monsters, Inc. Blu-ray (which isn't coming this spring as advertised), The Tigger Movie: 10th Anniversary Edition, and Disney Movie Rewards. Also available from the menu or automatically post-feature with FastPlay are ads for Race to Witch Mountain, Princess Protection Program, The Black Cauldron: Special Edition, Tinker Bell and the Lost Treasure, and Disney Parks.

Max Hare lets his tail and butt do the boxing in "Toby Tortoise Returns." Though diamonds are said to be a girl's best friend, the shadowed body language in "Goddess of Spring" suggests Persephone would rather be upstairs with the birds, flowers, and gnomes.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

The six cartoons of Disney's new Tortoise and the Hare DVD are winners. While collectors of the Walt Disney Treasures have no reason to repurchase this hour of vintage animation, those who haven't invested in the premium line could do a lot worse than this sampling. Of the six shorts, three Silly Symphonies are only elsewhere available on an out-of-print DVD and the other two are on a set whose dwindling inventory sells for $30. That renders this a fairly sensible purchase, even if the price tag is a bit higher than it should be.

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Related Reviews:
New to DVD: The Looney, Looney, Looney Bugs Bunny Movie Mickey Mouse Clubhouse: Mickey's Big Splash Imagination Movers
Walt Disney Animation Collection: Vol 1. - Mickey and the Beanstalk Vol 2. - Three Little Pigs Vol 3. - The Prince and the Pauper
Walt Disney Treasures: Silly Symphonies Walt Disney Treasures: More Silly Symphonies Walt Disney Treasures: Disney Rarities
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (Platinum Edition) Pinocchio (Platinum Edition) Bunnytown: Hello Bunnies! Popeye the Sailor, 1933-38
Pixar Short Films Collection, Volume 1 Schoolhouse Rock! Earth You're a Good Sport, Charlie Brown (Deluxe Edition)

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Reviewed May 8, 2009.