UltimateDisney.com: The Ultimate Guide to Disney DVD

2004: The Year in Review

Part 3
The Lists: The Best & Most Popular Disney DVDs of 2004


Top 10 Overall Disney DVDs of 2004



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10) Gargoyles: The Complete First Season - Not the usual formula for a successful Disney animated TV series, "Gargoyles" takes its fascinating premise and weaves some surprisingly mature and well-written stories. Though dark and dramatic, Gargoyles also knows how to be entertaining, and its massive fanbase is a testament to its appeal. Ten years after it aired Fridays on "The Disney Afternoon", Gargoyles has become the first of the studio's cartoons to land on DVD in a season form.

From its gripping 5-part pilot "Awakening" to its eight standalone episodes, Gargoyles engages and delights. This 2-disc set delivers just about everything you'd hope for (except chapter stops): audio commentaries, the original network pitch, a featurette on the fans, and most importantly, all 13 episodes uncut and well-preserved. Many hope strong sales of this 2-disc set will encourage Disney to release more of its treasured TV shows to the format in a similar fashion. Fingers crossed.

 



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9) Darby O'Gill and the Little People - The top catalogue release of the year manages to be one of the best Disney DVDs of 2004, period.

One of Disney's earliest and most magical live action films, Darby O'Gill and The Little People holds up forty-five years later and its long-awaited DVD illustrates how much personal interest Walt held in the film. It also illustrates how it was presented to the public, a nearly-hour-long special "Disneyland" episode reveals Walt asking royal leprechaun King Brian to let him make a movie about him.

Even if you only buy a handful of the more than 200 live action Disney films, Darby O'Gill merits a spot in your DVD collection.

 



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8) Mulan: Special Edition - With a newfound appreciation for DVD collectors, Disney seems set upon getting a respectable 2-disc set out for its most popular animated films. Mulan fits into the lower end of that class. Released in 1998, a time that many would label an artistic recession for the studio, Mulan retells a Chinese legend in just the manner you would expect from Disney: with music, laughs, drama, and animation which takes several steps forward.

With a fragmented featurette style that calls to mind The Lion King's DVD, Mulan's supplements disc is never as thorough or well-organized as you'd like. But in the course of watching the standout deleted scenes, music videos, hours of additional bonuses, and the remastered presentation of the film, you certainly gain a deeper appreciation for the film and its various strengths.

 

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7) Walt Disney Treasures: Walt Disney on the Front Lines - After many years guarded from the public and six additional months of waiting, Disney's wartime animation finally broke through the vaults last May. Those hoping for juicy controversy that decades of rumors have anticipated might have been disappointed. (The same way the inexperienced viewer will probably be let down should they see Song of the South, a release that some say this Treasure paves the way for.)

Still, one cannot deny the unusual experience of seeing Donald gone Nazi in "Der Fuehrer's Face." Or the amount of contrast one finds comparing Disney's allegorical 1943 short "Chicken Little" to previews of their upcoming computer-animated comedy of the same name.

Hotbed "From the Vault" shorts actually make up a small component of the set, but it's just as fascinating to discover the educational shorts on subjects like saving waste kitchen fats, stopping malaria mosquitoes by spraying oil, and not relieving your cramps on the family's crops. Rounding out the collection are more genial cartoons set during World War II which feature Donald and company, plus the hybrid propaganda film Victory Through Air Power, about as odd as "Disney" gets.

Anyone with an interest in Disney or World War II will find this limited edition tin an interesting chapter of history.

 

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6) The Lion King 1 - With the release of this tongue-in-cheek "in-between-quel", Disney showed that their direct-to-video films can do way better than recycling discarded TV pilots. Featuring theater-worthy visuals, a clever retelling of the masterful original film, and that silly but catchy song "Digga Tunnah", The Lion King 1 does right in every way that past Disney sequels have failed.

As if being the most entertaining direct-to-video Disney creation to date wasn't enough, the 2-disc set also features some of the most inspired and fun game extras seen on DVD. The making-of the film is covered in a brisk featurette and seven deleted scenes, but "Timon & Pumbaa's Virtual Safari 1.5" (which lampoons many a beloved Disney theme park attraction) and "Who Wants to Be King of the Jungle?" (a version of "Millionaire" on the three Lion King films) offer a great deal of amusement for young and old alike, revealing a level of thought and design beyond some DTV sequels!

While we all generally frown upon unnecessary sequels (which The Lion King 1 surely is), this inspired production deserves praise. The public could have done far worse than this, which was the top-selling Disney DVD of 2004.

 


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5) Alice in Wonderland: Masterpiece Edition - Another one of the animated Disney films which is popular but not popular enough to be among the top 10 sellers that comprise the Platinum Edition, Alice in Wonderland instead launched a new collection bearing the name "The Masterpiece Edition." Sometimes, a name is just a name. There may not be any other DVDs in this line for some time, nor does it matter, since it's quite similar to any other Disney Special Edition.

Most of the bonus material here is of the archival variety, ported over from the film's laserdisc release. The highlight is "One Hour in Wonderland", the first Disney television special in which Walt throws quite the Christmas party with clips from other Disney films (including Song of the South) and constant promotion of Alice the following summer's release. Another treat is Disney's old silent short "Alice's Wonderland."

The substantially better-looking and sounding transfer of the film would be reason enough for anyone to upgrade their old Gold Collection disc, but the vintage supplements certainly attract, even if the newly-produced material (like the "Virtual Wonderland Party") leave a bit to be desired.

 


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4) Walt Disney Treasures: Mickey Mouse in Living Color, Volume 2 - What could have been just another chronological shorts collection wound up being much more, in this excellent extra-filled set.

The remaining Mickey cartoons from 1939 to 1953 are all aptly presented and showcase the likable everyman that curiously fell out of favor with audiences who preferred the more flashy Donald and Goofy. Accompanying the shorts are feature film appearances from Fantasia and Fun and Fancy Free, the charming featurette-length "Mickey's Christmas Carol" and "The Prince and the Pauper", and 1995's hip post-modern short "Runaway Brain."

In the winning bonus features, Leonard Maltin talks with animators and Mickey and Minnie's voice actors, and an assortment of interesting bits rounds out this satisfying guide to the past 65 years of Mickey.

 





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3) Brother Bear: 2-Disc Special Edition - If you forget drawing obvious parallels to more satisfying works like The Lion King and Tarzan, you'll notice Brother Bear has plenty of values to stand on its own. With a modestly successful box office performance, the film wasn't 2-D's savior. But as the 10th most sold DVD of 2004, the film struck a chord with plenty of people.

The DVD also hit most of the right notes. As Disney's first double-disc release for a new Feature Animation film in three years, Brother Bear's set recalls the solid Collector's sets the studio regularly used to put out for their latest animated production. It's not quite perfect: an odd, unsightly cropped version found a place on the disc most likely to be inserted first (One) and the only commentary was a humorous in-character piece from the Canadian moose Tuke and Rutt. Still, the thorough documentary and art review do justice to the film, which in turn serves to remind one of some of the greatness that marked many of last decade's Disney hits.

 

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2) Mary Poppins: 40th Anniversary Edition - Even four decades later, this musical comedy cannot be topped for jubilant and dazzling entertainment. Digitally remastered and with hours of supplements featuring the original filmmakers, Mary Poppins shines far greater in this 2-disc set than it did in its two previous DVD releases.

Stars Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke have a jolly holiday as they recall making this classic in a musical reunion alongside songwriter Richard Sherman. That trio is joined by an all-grown-up Karen Dotrice on an upbeat commentary. Galleries, trailers, a new animated short adapted from another P.L. Travers story, and one splendid documentary provide unparalleled accompaniment for what is surely one of Walt's finest films.

That said, the DVD is not without problems. The 1.66:1 transfer seems to irrationally lose some of the sides and the Home Theater remix track offers a rather different sound mix than the film originally featured.

If the film and bonus features were any less delightful, those drawbacks might be cause for more fuss. But like the title character, this 40th Anniversary Edition should satisfy as being "practically perfect in every way."

 

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1) Aladdin: Platinum Edition - After the disappointing, disorganized, and overly promotional Lion King DVD the fall before, Aladdin's potent 2-disc debut emphatically steered the Platinum Collection back on course. The film, a charming rags-to-riches comedy set in Agrabah, is as good as Disney films get. The laughs run rampant, and its moviegoing thrills - like a high-speed magic carpet ride over boiling lava - are incomparable. Not to mention, Robin Williams' lively impression-laced tour-de-force as the slick Genie.

The DVD is well-designed, but more importantly, it delivers content. Disc 2, with over two hours of material, covers all the bases as it bounces between a present-day reunion of the filmmakers at Disney's California Adventure and archival footage of the masterpiece in the making. The DVD's in-depth look at the cast, the animators, the music, and the story paints a thorough picture of an interesting production. Deleted scenes, music videos, games, galleries, and even (gasp!) trailers round out this terrific package.

The presentation of the film also dazzles with a practically flawless digital transfer and a souped-up Home Theater Remix (plus a more faithful purists-friendly theatrical soundtrack). And the snazzy-looking Gift Set is the ideal offering for those willing to spend a bit more for something special on their shelves.

It took a long time for Aladdin to come to DVD, but the wait yielded a truly satisfying set which improved upon the previous Platinum Edition in every way. It's our pick for the finest Disney DVD of 2004!

Honorable Mentions:
The Princess Diaries: 2-Disc Special Edition (
Review) and Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl: 3-Disc Gift Set (Review) - Most of what was in these sets had already been released and upgrading is not essential. Still, these two reissues offered a satisfying amount of supplemental substance.
The Lion King II: Simba's Pride: Special Edition (Review) - While it's marked by missed opportunities and few of the extras actually deal with the movie, this 2-disc re-release nonetheless blows away its first DVD, houses the intriguing animated short "One By One" (intended for a kind of third Fantasia installment that never materialized), and exceeds almost all of the rest of Disney's direct-to-video fare both as a film and as a DVD.
Home on the Range (Review) - Neither an affirmation of 2-D animation nor a robust 2-disc set like many Disney enthusiasts expected, the latest (and for the moment, last) traditional film from Feature Animation does contain better-than-average extras.
Miracle (Review) - There's just something by-the-numbers about both the movie and the DVD that doesn't reach the greatness aspires for. Still, many will find both the film (a compelling dramatization of the 1980 US Olympic hockey team) and the DVD (a 2-disc set which documents the unorthodox practice of casting hockey players instead of actors, as well as the real Herb Brooks prepping filmmakers before his untimely death) worth a look.

Top Direct-to-Video Debuts

1) The Lion King 1 - A pleasing production and a most entertaining DVD. See above or read the full review.
2) The Three Musketeers - A cut above direct-to-video fare, this feature-length story mostly stays true to its stars (Disney's most enduring cartoon personalities) and provides capable animation and a number of laughs, too. The sampling of Mickey's appearances over the years is interesting. (Review)
3) Where the Red Fern Grows - Though it lacks the colorful appeal of its animated kin, this skillful live action adaptation of Wilson Rawls' poignant novel finally found a home on Disney DVD, where it should be enjoyed by a large audience. (Review)
4) Mickey's Twice Upon a Christmas - This collection of five shorter holiday-themed shorts makes more of an impression for its three-dimensional CGI renderings of Mickey and company than it does for its passable but unspectacular writing. (Review)
5) Winnie the Pooh: Springtime with Roo - In spite of the misleading title, this Rabbit-centered Easter carol provides Hundred Acre Wood merriment for the most part. (Review)

Most Popular Reviews of 2004:

1) Walt Disney on the Front Lines
2) Alice in Wonderland: Masterpiece Edition
3) Mickey Mouse in Living Color, Volume 2
4) Aladdin: Platinum Edition
5) The Lion King: Platinum Edition
6) The Little Mermaid
7) The Chronological Donald, Volume 1
8) Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs: Platinum Edition
9) Brother Bear
10) Mickey, Donald, Goofy: The Three Musketeers
11) Beauty and the Beast: Platinum Edition
12) The Incredibles (Screening)
13) Toy Story & Toy Story 2: The Ultimate Toy Box
14) Sleeping Beauty
15) Fantasia & Fantasia 2000: The Fantasia Anthology
16) Tomorrowland
17) Peter Pan: Special Edition
18) Mickey's Twice Upon a Christmas
19) Mulan: Special Edition
20) Dumbo

UltimateDisney.com's Top Selling DVDs of 2004

1) Mickey Mouse in Living Color, Volume 2
2) The Chronological Donald, Volume 1
3) Walt Disney On the Front Lines
4) The Complete Pluto, Volume 1
5) Mickey Mouse in Black & White, Vol. 2
6) Tomorrowland
7) The Mickey Mouse Club
8) The Little Mermaid
9) Fantasia
10) Fantasia 2000
11) Aladdin: Collector's Gift Set
12) Sleeping Beauty: Special Edition
13) Home Improvement: The Complete First Season
14) Aladdin: Platinum Edition
15) Beauty and the Beast: Platinum Edition
16) Darby O'Gill and the Little People
17) Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
18) Alice in Wonderland: Masterpiece Edition
19) Mary Poppins: 40th Anniversary Edition
20) Mickey Mouse in Black & White, Vol. 1

NOTE: Counting both the Platinum Edition and Gift Set together, Aladdin was the 8th highest seller for the year.

UltimateDisney.com's Top Selling International DVDs of 2004:

1) Zorro: Season 1 (FR)
2) Melody Time: Unedited (UK)
3) Pinocchio: Special Edition (UK)
4) In Search of the Castaways (UK)
5) Peter Pan: Collector's Edition (FR)
6) Rocketman (UK)
7) In Search of the Castaways (DE)
8) So Dear To My Heart (UK)
9) Countdown to Christmas (UK)
10) Walt Disney's Fables - Volume 3 (UK)
11) DuckTales: Treasure of the Lost Lamp (UK)
12) One of Our Dinosaurs is Missing (UK)
13) The Adventures of Bullwhip Griffin (FR)
14) Wild Hearts Can't Be Broken (UK)
15) Shipwrecked (UK)

(UK - United Kingdom, FR - France, DE - Germany)

Full list of 2004 Disney DVD releases (over 100 in total)

Discuss Disney DVD 2004: Year in Review

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