Short [1999]

Disney Rarities lives up to its title: It's been impossible to see many of these shorts for decades. Walt Disney bankrupted his fledgling Laugh-O-Gram studio making "Alice's Wonderland," but the short earned Disney his first national distribution contract. Films featuring animated characters in live-action settings were common during the silent era; Disney reversed the situation, placing a live actress (Virginia Davis) in a cartoon world. The "Alice" series ran from 1923-1926, and several girls played the title role. These silent films have been handsomely restored and given upbeat musical tracks by Alex Rannie. The Oscar-winners "Ferdinand the Bull" (1938) and "Toot, Whistle, Plunk and Boom" (1953) rank as genuine classics, and have been unavailable for far too long. The wartime cautionary tale "Chicken Little" (1943) displays more imagination than the 2005 feature adaptation of the same story. "The Truth About Mother Goose" (1957) reflects the influence of Sleeping Beauty (1959), which was in production then; the elephants in "Goliath II" (1960) anticipate the ones in The Jungle Book (1967). "Noah's Ark" (1959), Disney's first stop-motion film, features cleverly designed animals made from pencils, erasers, corks, pipecleaners, and other found objects, but the obstrusive '50s songs quickly cloy. Many of the films from the '50s and early '60s ("Pigs Is Pigs," "A Cowboy Needs a Horse," "Paul Bunyan" ) reflect the look of the UPA Studio. The characters are flatter, simpler, and more angular; the backgrounds, more stylized. Although Disney had dominated the cartoon short during the '30s, the studio largely shifted to feature and television production during the '40s and '50s. Disney Rarities is a set fans and students of animation will want to own. (Unrated, suitable for all ages: cartoon violence, tobacco use, ethnic stereotypes) --Charles Solomon

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