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Your Host, Walt Disney DVD Review

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Your Host, Walt Disney
TV Memories, 1956-1965


Disc 1: (Click title to view that portion of the review)
"Where Do the Stories Come From?", "The Fourth Anniversary Show", "Disneyland '59"

Disc 2: (Click title to view that portion of the review)
"Backstage Party", "Disneyland Tenth Anniversary Show"

Video and Audio

Bonus Material:
"My Dad, Walt Disney", Photo Gallery, "I Captured the King of the Leprechauns", "Disneyland USA at Radio City Music Hall", "Working with Walt"

Closing Thoughts

Running Time: 383 Minutes (6 hours, 23 minutes) / Rating: Not Rated
Disc Two: 165 minutes (97 - episodes, 4 - introduction, 64 - extras)
1.33:1 Fullscreen (Original Aspect Ratio), Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
Subtitles: English; Closed Captioned / DVD Release Date: December 19, 2006
Originally Aired April 4, 1956 - January 3, 1965
Two single-sided, dual-layered discs (DVD-9); Suggested Retail Price: $32.99

REVIEW CONTENTS
Page 1: Set Overview, Packaging, and Disc 1 Episodes
Page 2: Disc 2 Episodes, Video & Audio, Bonus Features, Closing Thoughts


DISC 2

"Back Stage Party": No, that's not Walt Disney, but Ray Bolger, who does a one-of-a-kind dance for Annette Funicello on the set of "Babes in Toyland." Walt shows Miss Tencennial Julie Reihm concept art at statues from a little ride called Pirates of the Caribbean in "Disneyland Tenth Anniversary Show."

"Backstage Party" (51:50) (Originally aired December 17, 1961)

This episode from the anthology series' eighth season (the first called "Wonderful World of Color" - yes, Disc 2's shows are in color) was timed to promote Babes in Toyland, airing shortly after the musical's theatrical release. It begins with a tour through the Disney lot, as some staff members give roundabout directions (taking us through Disney's go-to old-timey town set) to get us to the titled festival. Finally, we arrive at the colorful, fake-snow-covered sets of Babes for a scripted wrap party by the cast and crew.
Walt, who seems superimposed in front of some sets, hangs out with the Corcoran Brothers and the production's other young actors, before ducking out and passing on responsibilities to Annette Funicello.

With Annette serving as hostess, we are treated to a number of acts by the still costumed cast: the movie's bumbling crooks Henry Calvin and Gene Sheldon do some musical comedy, Ray Bolger demonstrates his Ida dance, Tommy Kirk presents Ed Wynn with a Mouse-car award from Walt Disney celebrating Wynn's 60 years in showbiz, Tommy Sands lives it up by playing the bongos and singing "Jeepers Creepers", the movie's choreographer does a dance, Little Bo Peep (Ann Jillian) sings with Calvin, and everyone comes together to give a surprise song and present to director Jack Donohue. There's cake, dancing trees, and lots of forced laughter. Of course, there are also some scenes previewing the movie. It ends with a preview for an episode on "The Great Cat Family" and one last promotional push for Babes. This episode certainly deserved to show up on Babes in Toyland's completely barren DVD, but the fact that it didn't makes its appearance here all the more special.

"Disneyland Tenth Anniversary Show" (45:21) (Originally aired January 3, 1965)

The gun is jumped again, as Walt and company celebrate the park's tenth anniversary six months prematurely. Walt Disney shows off artwork and elements from some of the new Disneyland attractions being developed to Miss Tencennial (a.k.a. Julie Reihm, the park's official 10th Anniversary Ambassador). Those attractions are It's a Small World, Pirates of the Caribbean, and The Haunted Mansion (then being called The Museum of The Weird), while artists discussing them include Mary Blair and Marc Davis. Then, celebrations commence, as characters from Snow White, Pinocchio, Cinderella, "Three Little Pigs" and more turn up, along with the newest member of the Disney family, Mary Poppins (a convincing Julie Andrews look-alike). There are ten singing, dancing candles who perform on a cake in front of Sleeping Beauty Castle; marching bands in a parade; even Tinker Bell makes an animated appearance.

The next stretch highlights past Disneyland achievements, from the park's development to attraction unveilings. We see the Eisenhower Family on Mine Train Through Nature's Wonderland, the Mills Family enjoying Swiss Family Treehouse, and ordinary park visitors on Flying Saucers and the Jungle Cruise. José the macaw gives a behind-the-scenes look at how Walt Disney's Enchanted Tiki Room comes to life. Then, night falls which makes it time to witness Dixieland at Disneyland with jazz emanating from riverboats. The episode ends with a look at next week's, the first half of Johnny Tremain. Walt is somewhat odd in this episode; it's unclear if he's pretending to be unrehearsed, or if his flirtations with Ms. Reihm and fumbles are genuine.

Sadly, this presentation is identical to the show's previous appearance on the Disneyland USA Treasures tin. That would be fine, if the episode wasn't said to be inexplicably missing several minutes of Tiki Room footage. Alas, disappointingly, the only difference is that the earlier set's 50-second Leonard Maltin intro has not been ported over (as individual program intros have been dropped in favor of disc-encompassing previews).

Kirk Douglas gets to be guest engineer on Walt's miniature train, as seen in "Where Do the Stories Come From?" Disney characters gather around the newest member of their family, Mary Poppins, in "Disneyland Tenth Anniversary Show." Wonder if hardcore fans then would groan then the way today's might at seeing Chicken Little welcomed.

VIDEO and AUDIO

Naturally, all the broadcasts are presented in their original aspect ratio, known today as "1.33:1 fullscreen." It's tough to make one all-encompassing judgment of the picture quality, since the contents vary in appearance and have been treated in different ways and at different times. "Where Do the Stories Come From?" looks rather good on the whole, but it's not perfect and at times, can be quite dirty. "Fourth Anniversary Show" looks better and is perhaps the best-looking episode on the set.

"Disneyland '59" does not boast especially satisfying picture, but it is said to come primarily from photographing off a TV.
To its benefit, it's been patched together for optimal quality; accordingly, the Kodak ad pitches hold up well as does the Submarine Voyage footage. Though there's a couple of minor breakdowns at points, on the whole, it's not as bad as you'd expect and fear for something thought to no longer exist.

"Back Stage Party" is scratched up and not so great looking for being one of the youngest episodes. The colors look a bit odd (perhaps partially reflecting the TV technology of the time) and it doesn't seem sufficiently restored. Aside from its missing minutes of material, "Tenth Anniversary Show" was capably restored for Disneyland USA and it looks identical to that here. Designated as a bonus feature means that it is not subtitled, but "King of the Leprechauns" marvels with nearly flawless picture, as the only the occasional white specks turns up.

Sound is, of course, presented as two-channel Dolby mono. It's slightly muffled at points, but for the most part, it is terrific, with the 50-ish-year-old recordings conveying Walt's voice and the various film soundtracks with little sign of distortion.

Per tradition, Leonard Maltin shows up to introduce each disc. "My Dad, Walt Disney" offers personal reflections from Diane Miller Disney. Note the family resemblance! A page from "Walt's Playground" finds Walt at Disneyland. The requisite photo gallery covers Walt's career, from his early days in animation through his work in TV.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS and DESIGN

Disc One opens with an introduction by Leonard Maltin (4:15) which discusses television as the medium which made Walt Disney a prominent figure with the public. Maltin outlines the content on the first disc, explaining quality issues on "Disneyland '59", pointing out celebrities to look for, and providing both background on the episodes and rationale for their inclusion.

The standout bonus of Disc 1 is "My Dad, Walt Disney", a 21-minute interview of Diane Miller Disney, conducted by Leonard Maltin. With a host of memories and some great home movies, Walt's only living daughter recalls the time she shared with her father. Among the topics discussed are family life,
Diane's weekends on the Burbank lot, her husband (one-time Disney CEO) Ron Miller, and her work today on the Walt Disney Family Museum. Much of the comments are relevantly specific to the anthology program and Disneyland TV specials that Walt hosted, as Diane compares the TV Walt to the real Walt (to Maltin's joy) and even addresses her father's off-screen smoking habit.

Disc 1's other bonus feature is a series of three photo galleries. With 53 stills (mostly black and white), "Hyperion Days" depicts a young Walt, his brother Roy, and others at the first Disney studio, which housed productions through the end of the 1930s. "Walt at Work" serves up 78 pictures of Walt, mostly filming introductions and other segments for his anthology series or making public appearances at awards shows and such. "Walt's Playground" provides 61 images of Walt at various spots of the Disneyland park.

In 'Ireland' in "I Captured the King of the Leprechauns", Walt Disney listens to a story from Darby O'Gill (Albert Sharpe). Walt Disney on film interacts with Mickey Mouse on stage in the neat bonus short "Disneyland USA at Radio City Music Hall." Mouseketeer Don Grady is one of eight former child actors who recall "Working with Walt."

Disc Two starts with another intro from Leonard Maltin (3:56) which serves up great insight on all of the second platter's featured and bonus content.

"I Captured the King of The Leprechauns" (48:50; originally aired May 29, 1959) would be at home in the featured content section; even though it's designated as a bonus, it's one of the best things on the set. This episode all about how Darby O'Gill and the Little People came to be made (in a straight-faced but not serious kind of way), already turned up on that fine 1959 film's surprisingly potent 2004 DVD release.
In it, at the suggestion of actor Pat O'Brien, Walt travels to Ireland and hooks up with legendary storyteller Darby O'Gill (Albert Sharpe) in the hopes of encountering some leprechauns. Walt meets King Brian himself and tries to persuade the little man to be a part of the movie. Though there's some footage from the movie (in black and white and featuring a young Sean Connery) and, as Maltin acknowledges in the disc's intro, it's somewhat of an hour-long promotion for the forthcoming film, this is one of the more entertaining "Disneyland" episodes ever made. It's especially cool to hear of Walt's personal attraction to the subject matter and to see him fully embrace an opportunity to pique audience interest a month prior to the film's release.

"Disneyland USA at Radio City Music Hall" is a real treat. This six-minute CinemaScope short from 1962 finds Walt Disney on film interacting with Mickey Mouse, a costumed performer on the stage of the nation's largest indoor theatre. The gist of the movie is that a New York telephone operator is looking to talk to Hollywood, but gets connected to everywhere else. She finally gets through to Walt, who is not expecting company. Ever the showman, he puts on his coat and talks about taking Disneyland from a dream to a reality, occasionally addressing his star rodent from afar. Announced for the long-delayed but now-scheduled Disneyland DVD Secrets, Stories & Magic, this piece is expertly presented, terrifically combining the elements from different sources in a way that recreates the original performance.

"Working with Walt" (8:43) offers a group love fest for Walt from those fortunate enough to perform for him in their adolescences. Commenting briefly on their experiences of working with and knowing Walt Disney are Mouseketeers Tommy Cole, Cheryl Holdridge, Don Grady, and Bobby Burgess; "Hardy Boys" Tim Considine and Tommy Kirk; live action model for Snow White Marge Champion; and Babes in Toyland actor Tommy Sands. Alas, it's too brief, as the piece ends too shortly after it begins. Nevertheless, the anecdotes and memories are fascinating, which makes one wish it wasn't so trim.

The menus achieve appropriate simplicity, depicting black & white imagery of Walt Disney and his beloved theme park, while old-time instrumentals play on selected screens. Though there are no scene access menus, all the featured programs (even the bonus one) are divided into reasonably-timed chapters. The names (and perhaps logos) of the sponsors of "Where Do the Stories Come From?" have been lopped off from the opening.

Walt's time at the "Disneyland" desk gets interrupted by some Mouseketeers in "The Fourth Anniversary Show." Walt hangs with Brian and Kevin Corcoran, the Arnold Twins, and Ann Jillian in "Backstage Party."

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Your Host, Walt Disney isn't the perfect Walt Disney Treasures set. Some episodes could use a bit more restoration work and some prospective customers will be dissatisfied to see repeat appearances made by pair of episodes already available on other DVDs instead of two non-released shows in their place. These can't even be labeled shortcomings, however, based on lacking source quality, program relevance, and the fact that many people don't have those other DVDs. Once these facts are accepted, most should agree that while not flawless, Your Host does come close as an excellent collection of vintage television specials and episodes from Walt's historic anthology series.

The dictionary defines "treasure" as "valuable or precious possessions of any kind" and that definition fits this stellar collection accurately. Historical and nostalgic factors figure into the appeal, but the selected shows also still serve as good, old-fashioned entertainment. The content offers many rewards, whether it is in discovering the climate of television programming in the '50s and '60s, looking back at what the Disney company had to offer at the time, or merely getting to see Walt Disney -- not described by others or retrospectively glamorized -- the man himself, in action as a showman and weekly TV personality. The fine bonus features range from the neat to the rare to the newly-produced and all add to one's enjoyment.

In short, both the "Disneyland" anthology and this DVD presentation of it fall a little short of perfection, but both deserve copious amounts of praise. As such, this set garners a strong recommendation.

More on the DVD / Buy from Amazon.com

Related Reviews:
Walt Disney Treasures: Disneyland USA • Walt Disney Treasures: Legendary Heroes - Elfego Baca & The Swamp Fox (1958-1960)
Walt Disney Treasures: Davy Crockett - The Complete Televised Series (1954-55) • Walt Disney Treasures: Tomorrowland (1955-59)
Walt Disney Treasures: Behind the Scenes at the Disney Studio • Walt Disney Treasures: The Mickey Mouse Club - Week One (1955)
Walt Disney Treasures: The Adventures of Spin and Marty (1955-56) • The Shaggy Dog: The Wild & Woolly Edition (1959)
Darby O'Gill and The Little People (1959) • 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954) • Johnny Tremain (1957) • The Best of The Mickey Mouse Club
Davy Crockett: Two-Movie Set (1955-56) • Third Man on the Mountain (1959) • Make Mine Music • Walt Disney's It's a Small World of Fun! Volume 2
Babes in Toyland (1961) • Old Yeller & Savage Sam: 2-Movie Collection (1957, 1963) • Hans Brinker, or The Silver Skates (1962) • My Dog, The Thief (1969)
A Musical History of Disneyland: 50th Anniversary (6-CD Box Set) • Walt Disney's Legacy Collection: True-Life Adventures, Volume 1

Related Interviews:
Leonard Maltin - Film Historian/Critic, Disney Fan, and Walt Disney Treasures Host
Don Grady, Former Mouseketeer and Current Disney Musician • Hank Jones, Actor in 8 Disney Comedies

REVIEW CONTENTS
Page 1: Set Overview, Packaging, and Disc 1 Episodes
Page 2: Disc 2 Episodes, Video & Audio, Bonus Features, Closing Thoughts

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Review posted December 18, 2006.