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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 6: The Reluctant Dragon DVD Review

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Volume 6: The Reluctant Dragon

DVD Details

Running Time: 62 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 1938 and 1960
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 Aaron Wallace

The Reluctant Dragon seems like an odd entry into the new Walt Disney Animation Collection: Classic Short Films line, given that the 1941 release bearing that title is arguably the studio's very first live-action film. Of course at the heart of that pseudo-documentary
is a roughly twenty-minute cartoon about a friendly and somewhat epicene dragon who has stirred up unwarranted anxiety among the nearby townspeople. The oft-overlooked segment is given top billing in Disney's new DVD release, number six in the line, where it's joined by three other cartoon classics.

The roughly hour-long animated compilation disc is nothing new for Disney home video. Long-time collectors will recall Classic Cartoon Favorites, Walt Disney's Funny Factory, and Timeless Tales... all DVD lines that bear little distinction from the Animation Collection aside from a menu scheme and a cardboard slipcover. A very small handful of animated shorts, a minimum of supplementary material, and a low price tag make these great for a one-night babysitting gig but pretty ineffective for anyone who wants any sizable portion of the studio's rich cartoon catalog at their fingertips. That latter group is lucky to have an alternative in the deluxe, collector-friendly Walt Disney Treasures series. Incidentally, The Reluctant Dragon also appeared on a Treasures DVD, where the short was presented as part of the complete film -- but more on that later.

"The Reluctant Dragon" is in pretty bad shape on this new Walt Disney Animation Collection release. Walt Disney foresaw Steve Jobs' role in his company some forty years in advance!

If the simple and cheap format suits you, then Volume 6 does just what you want it to: string together a small dose of entertainment that is emblematic of Walt Disney's grand heritage. The four short subjects here are thoroughly enjoyable and often amusing. That's particularly true of the title feature, which is silly enough to be both hilarious and endearing without overdoing the humor that it clearly embraces as its strongest sense.

Dragon and the subsequent two shorts are clearly assembled together because of their shared theme: creatures acting contrary to their nature. Ferdinand is a bull who doesn't fight, Goliath II is an elephant of diminutive stature, and the title character is a dragon who refuses to terrorize villagers. The fourth cartoon, Johnny Appleseed, might be said to chronicle a farmer who doesn't do what most farmers do, an apple-seeing rebel. That's a stretch, but the theme doesn't matter much here because while you might want to watch an hour's worth of Christmas shorts, fairy tales, or Mickey and Minnie's most romantic moments, I doubt you'll ever be seized by the sudden urge to see various animals not living up to stereotypes.

And now, a closer look at the included cartoons:

"The Reluctant Dragon" (1941) (20:38)
Based on the 1898 story by Kenneth Grahame, this is a short laden with delightful, chuckle-inducing throwaways. It tells the plight of a dragon who faces off against an elderly knight sent to slay him, neither wishing to fight the other, and the boy who mediates that dilemma in order to ensure the fight-hungry townspeople's satisfaction. Absurd propriety keeping each of the characters from their calling, the conflict gives rise to a most amusing comedy of errors. The animated segment of the largely live-action film by the same name is presented here in isolation, sans any real-life footage.

"Ferdinand the Bull" (1938) (7:58)
Ferdinand is a bull more romantic than raging, preferring to take in a big whiff of any nearby flower rather than to fight. His violent reaction to a bee sting fools opportunistic bullfighters, though, and Ferdinand soon finds himself in the ring. Based on a short story written two years earlier, Ferdinand won the animated short subject Oscar. It's easy to see why.

Ferdinand the Bull likes to spend his days sniffing flowers, particularly the pansies. Goliath II faces off against an aggressive mouse who is really quite big for his kind, no matter how small Goliath II the elephant is.

"Goliath II" (1960) (15:07)
Picked on because he's so much smaller than the rest of his elephant herd, Goliath II makes every effort to fit in and win the respect of his father, to no avail. When the big elephants are frightened by an aggressive mouse, though, Goliath II is there to make sure the rodent agitator has to pick on someone his own size. This precursor to The Jungle Book bears a remarkable resemblance to the then-future feature film, at one point even previewing a few of the notes later heard in the score leading up to "Colonel Hathi's March".
It's also fair to say that narrator Sterling Holloway sounds eerily Pooh-ish here as well.

"Johnny Appleseed" (1948) (28:41)
Originally released as one of several animated segments comprising the 1948 feature Melody Time and later repackaged as part of the 2001 direct-to-video feature, Disney's American Legends, Johnny Appleseed tells one of folklore's best-known tall tales. One could argue that Disney's take on the partially-true legend is the definitive portrayal of Johnny's epic apple journey. (Apart from Martin Short's riotous turn in Shelley Duvall's 1985 "Tall Tales & Legends" episode.) Like Dragon, Johnny runs longer than your average Disney cartoon and is all the better for it. (The longer runtime of these two shorts accounts for there being a smaller total number of cartoons on the disc than one finds on most of these DVDs.)

VIDEO and AUDIO

The shorts are each presented in 1.33:1 fullscreen, roughly matching their original Academy ratio presentation. Picture quality is quite the mixed bag. Reluctant Dragon looks rather dreadful: grainy, littered with artifacts, and faded in color. The excellent restoration afforded the animation on its Walt Disney Treasures release has certainly not been carried over here. On the other hand, Goliath II actually looks quite a bit better on this disc than it does on its Walt Disney Treasures release (where Goliath II stood out with an uncommonly lackluster transfer) -- in fact, its presentation here is exactly what one would normally expect from the Treasures collection. The same is true to a great extent for Ferdinand, which looks decidedly better here than it does on its Treasures release, though it's still not quite as clean or vibrant as is typically seen in Disney's better restoration efforts. Johnny Appleseed is the best-looking of the bunch, despite not having been released on a Treasures set before. With vibrant color and very few unwanted artifacts, it leaves little room for complaint.

The packaging claims that the cartoons are presented with "Dolby Digital Surround Sound". That's just not true. Instead, each short is presented with a two-channel mono track. That's not a problem, though, as surround sound wouldn't lend a thing to these productions except an unnatural stretching out of the original sound. I suppose the musical numbers in Johnny Appleseed might have resonated a little more in the other speakers with a multi-channel mix but as it happens, Appleseed is the best sounding short here and its audio presentation is actually quite excellent as-is. The audio isn't problematic for the other shorts either, mind you, as each one gets the job done.

It's fitting that on a disc themed around animals not living up to their stereotypes, there are incidental stereotypes like this "Ferdinand" crowd shot on display too! The entire disc's contents are visible on this one screen.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS and PACKAGING

There's not a single bonus feature on the disc itself, which is what we've come to expect from such compilation DVDs.
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The Animation Collection at least takes the packaging a step above its predecessors, offering not only a very attractive foil slipcover, but also a lithographic print (this one of the title dragon holding a sandwich) inside. There's also a Blu-ray flyer and a Disney Movie Rewards Magic Code inside (currently worth 75 points).

The 4x3 main menu screen is underwhelming, given the utter lack of animation or movement of any kind. The green and yellow pastels against myriad squares in the background do evoke a bit of 1950s charm, however, as does the enjoyable bit of score that loops here. Despite its simplicity, this wasn't a menu I minded leaving running for a while.

The disc features Disney's FastPlay, in which the "Music. Magic. More." promo plays automatically when the disc is inserted, followed by a sampling of previews and the four cartoons themselves unless you use the "Menu" button to cease the content stream and visit that simple menu I just described. Disney sneak peeks available on the disc are: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (the upcoming Diamond Edition DVD and Blu-ray release), Monsters, Inc. on Blu-ray, the Disney Movie Rewards program, The Princess and the Frog, The Tigger Movie: 10th Anniversary Special Edition, Race to Witch Mountain on home video, Princess Protection Program on home video, Tinker Bell and the Lost Treasure, The Black Cauldron: Special Edition, and the Disney Parks.

The Reluctant Dragon is, well, reluctant to fight. Johnny Appleseed's guardian angel turns out to be an enabler.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

If you already have the Walt Disney Treasures sets and Melody Time DVD covering these cartoons, you won't find any new content on this disc. For two of the shorts, though, you will find considerable improvement in video quality. Whether that is alone worth a purchase is up to you but the low price tag for this Walt Disney Animation Collection DVD should help. If you haven't yet added these particular titles to your collection and don't mind the unfortunate condition of top-billed The Reluctant Dragon here, then you really can't go wrong with this collection of four winning short subjects.

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Related Reviews:
Walt Disney Animation Collection: Vol 1. - Mickey and the Beanstalk Vol 2. - Three Little Pigs Vol 4. - The Tortoise and the Hare
New to DVD: Wind in the Willows The Looney, Looney, Looney Bugs Bunny Movie Mickey Mouse Clubhouse: Mickey's Big Splash
Walt Disney Treasures: Behind the Scenes at the Disney Studio Melody Time Walt Disney Treasures: Disney Rarities
It's a Small World of Fun! Volume 1 It's a Small World of Fun! Volume 3 Timeless Tales, Volume 2 Funny Factory: Volume 4
A Bug's Life: Blu-ray Disc Popeye the Sailor: 1933-1938 Warner Bros. Home Entertainment Academy Awards Animation Collection

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Reviewed May 23, 2009.