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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 5: Wind in the Willows DVD Review

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Volume 5: Wind in the Willows

DVD Details

Running Time: 77 Minutes / Rating: Not Rated
1.33:1 Fullscreen (Original Aspect Ratio), Dolby Mono 2.0 (English)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, French, Spanish; Closed Captioned

DVD Release Date: May 12, 2009
Originally Released Between 1934 and 1949
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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By Kelvin Cedeno

Disney can be awfully fickle when it comes to its properties. They will milk one franchise dry while heavily ignoring another. Oftentimes they do a sort of combination of both where they'll eagerly start something but then lose interest too fast to finish it. With a track record like that, it's hard to drum up much enthusiasm for the new Walt Disney Animation Collection: Classic Short Films. It's wonderful to see the studio embracing its roots, to be sure, but one can't help but wonder how long this collection will actually last. Disney has abandoned other DVD compilations of short films after barely scratching the surface. There's nothing to suggest this new line will be much different.

With Volume 5: Wind in the Willows, the studio continues the current standard of featuring a lengthy short as the centerpiece and several smaller ones that have a vaguely similar theme. This time the theme seems to be classic morality tales
as each of these is based on an existing fable that teaches life lessons. The disc's title short, loosely based on the famous Kenneth Grahame novel, was originally the first half of the 1949 package feature The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad. The version that ends up here is the isolated version from the 1950s containing unique credits and a slightly altered opening.

Devotees to the original story may be horrified by what's presented as the filmmakers kept Grahame's names and locations but threw out most everything else. That said, the short is certainly a winner in its own regard. It feels like a warm-up for the more famous '50s features that followed it. The opening is reminiscent of Peter Pan, the madcap humor feels like an Alice in Wonderland trial run, and certain shots and editing choices foreshadow Cinderella and Lady and the Tramp. The material here is so strong, in fact, that it's almost disappointing that Disney decided to relegate it to package feature status and not expand it into its own full-length feature.

Mr. Toad and his horse Cyril Proudbottom gaze upon their first motorcar, the beginning of Toad's mania in "The Wind in the Willows." The Ugly Duckling embraces a toy duck who he believes has finally accepted him.

The other five shorts may not make as indelible an impression, but they're still entertaining. The strongest of these is 1939's Ugly Duckling, the only short on the disc told without dialogue. It's been said that in film, one should show instead of say. Disney has always excelled at that, as evidenced by this Silly Symphony. One effective sequence is when the two adult ducks argue over the duckling's appearance. Despite not uttering a single word of English, it's very clear what they're arguing about, more so for the adults watching than the children. The other Silly Symphonies included are charming despite not being as complex as this or as memorable as the main feature.

"The Wind in the Willows" (1949) (34:21)
The eccentric, well-to-do J. Thaddeus Toad develops a motorcar obsession. His friends Mole, Rat, and Angus McBadger do their best to cure him, but not before he's arrested for stealing an automobile for himself. To make matters worse, Toad has given the deed to Toad Hall to Mr. Winkie, a man with a special connection to the crime.

"Ugly Duckling" (1939) (9:01)
A mother duck's eggs finally hatch, but she's appalled to discover what appears to be a runt. Shunned by his family, the duckling goes out in search of a family that can accept him.

"The Grasshopper and the Ants" (1934) (8:26)
While a colony of ants prepares for the winter, a jolly, fiddle-playing grasshopper encourages them to have fun. Little does he realize that his antics aren't enough to get him through the harsh season.

The ant colony has a great feast despite the blistering cold (and the grasshopper popsicle) outside in "The Grasshopper and the Ants." King Midas isn't sure what's worse: being unable to eat anything or having an 18 karat gold turkey instead of a 24 karat one.

"The Golden Touch" (1935) (10:06)
A greedy king is given the power to turn anything into gold.
A dream come true at first, it soon becomes a curse he wishes to be rid of.

"The Robber Kitten" (1935) (7:50)
A young kitten who aspires to be a robber runs away from home to avoid his bath. His idealized pickpocket life comes screeching to a halt when he runs into a real-life one.

"The Wise Little Hen" (1934) (7:44)
When it's time to harvest her corn, a mother hen seeks help from Peter Pig and Donald Duck (in his screen debut). The two slothful friends feign illness to keep from working.

VIDEO and AUDIO

All six shorts are presented in their original 1.33:1 aspect ratio. As with other volumes in this series, image quality is a mixed bag. As part of the Ichabod and Mr. Toad DVD, Willows suffered from some problems, but not nearly to the extent shown here. A very old, worn-out print of the isolated half is used, and the results are ghastly. Colors are so dark that backgrounds often fade into blackness. Contrast is off since despite the ever-present dimness, whites tend to be blown out. Print flaws such as speckles and hairs are noticeable, and outlines appear too soft.

Thankfully, despite being older, the other five shorts are much more satisfactory in appearance. Of these, Wise Little Hen impresses the most with its brightness and clarity. The Grasshopper and the Ants looks the weakest, suffering from what appear to be Technicolor registration problems. Some light grain and minor speckles appear in all five of the Silly Symphonies, but these aren't distracting. Sharpness ranges from decent to great, and colors all around seem accurately replicated.

The Dolby 2.0 mono tracks are serviceable. Wind in the Willows sounds hollow and muffled. The Silly Symphonies offer more clarity and less hiss, though it's occasionally hard to make out the dialogue (Ugly Duckling excluded for its lack of speech, and The Wise Little Hen for having characters with speech impediments like Donald). Otherwise, the non-Willows tracks are about as good as they can get given the source limitations.

This robber kitten's idea of play time would do Sid Phillips proud. Angus McBadger isn't given much love on the quickly-assembled DVD main menu featuring Toad, Mole, and Rat.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS and PACKAGING

As with other Walt Disney Animation Collection discs, Volume 5's only supplement is a 7 1/8" x 4 3/8 lithograph print.
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The Ugly Duckling movie poster The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad movie poster Fantasia movie poster
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It depicts the four lead characters of Wind in the Willows shortly after the high-strung climax. With a release that seems targeted towards children rather than collectors, the inclusion of this piece is a bit of a head-scratcher.

Via Disney's FastPlay, the disc opens with trailers for Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, The Princess and the Frog, Monsters, Inc. on Blu-ray, The Tigger Movie: 10th Anniversary Special Edition, and Disney Movie Rewards. After all the shorts play consecutively, more trailers show up for Race to Witch Mountain, Princess Protection Program, The Black Cauldron: Special Edition, Tinker Bell and the Lost Treasure, and Disney Parks.

The retro, hodge-podged clipart bears no resemblance to the more understated design of the packaging. The main menu contains the noteworthy score from The Grasshopper and the Ants but has no animation. The same applies to all other submenus, though the Sneak Peeks menu has some limited background activity.

The gray disc comes housed in a white Amaray case with side snaps which in turn has an embossed, cardboard slipcover. Inside the packaging is a Disney Movie Rewards code and a Blu-ray pamphlet.

The wise (but not so little) hen shares a corn-filled meal with her offspring. Angus McBadger explains his plan to free Toad while Rat, Mole, and the cross-dressing Toad listen intently.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Without a doubt, the content of this Wind in the Willows DVD earns a recommendation. The titular short remains fresh and lively,
and while some of the other shorts admittedly feel a bit dated (The Golden Touch), others hold up remarkably well (Ugly Duckling). The disc's presentation itself is split down the middle. It's amazing that the poor image and sound of the Willows short got past quality control. The other five shorts, however, replicate the fine transfers found in the Walt Disney Treasures line. Those who collect that series have no reason to give this a release a second thought. This only comes recommended to those interested in the Silly Symphonies. People who want Wind in the Willows on DVD are better off tracking down a copy of The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad instead or waiting for it to get a better edition.

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Related Reviews:
New to DVD: Volume 4 - The Tortoise and the Hare Mickey Mouse Clubhouse: Mickey's Big Splash Galaxy Quest: Deluxe Edition
The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad Walt Disney Treasures: Silly Symphonies Timeless Tales, Volume One Timeless Tales, Volume Two
Timeless Tales, Volume Three Walt Disney Treasures: The Chronological Donald Chicken Little It's a Small World of Fun! Volume 4
Walt Disney Animation Collection: Vol 1. - Mickey and the Beanstalk Vol 2. - Three Little Pigs Vol 3. - The Prince and the Pauper

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Reviewed May 11, 2009.