WALT DISNEY TREASURES:
ON THE FRONT LINES
Review by Michael Jacobson
Audio: Dolby Digital Mono
Video: Full Frame 1.33:1
Studio: Walt Disney
Features: See Review
Length: 210 Minutes
Release Date: May 18, 2004
I glad to be a citizen of the United States of America!!"
initially reviewing the limited edition "Treasures" tins for Walt Disney's
Silly Symphonies and Mickey Mouse: In Living Color, I thought that
would be enough...Disney fans and animation buffs could get the gist of what
these collector's items offered; they could therefore pick and choose which
sets meant the most to them personally and get a good idea of what to expect.
when I watched Walt Disney: On the Front Lines, I was so blown away that
I couldn't resist adding one more piece to the others.
This is probably both the best and most important collection the studio
has come out with so far, for many reasons.
Mostly, because it documents a critical time both in American history and
the history of the Disney studios, but also because it includes a wealth of
material many die hard fans have been clamoring for over the years, but have
been denied up until now.
true highlight is arguably the long missing classic Victory Through Air
Power, a stunning full length animated achievement based on the book by
Major Alexander de Seversky, who also appears in a few linking live action
sequences. This 1943 gem starts off
entertainingly with a history of aviation, chronicling the major developments in
air travel up to that point, and even humorously outlining how the airplane grew
from a novelty to an instrument of warfare.
Major's book was a plea for America to develop a full fledged and independent
Air Force, and the Disney animators outlined his arguments brilliantly by
bringing his analysis to life. It's
a spectacular offering that ranks amongst the studio's finest works.
In its day, it was popular with both civilians and the armed services.
Winston Churchill loved it, and even introduced it to Franklin Roosevelt.
But once the war had been won, Disney felt the picture was no longer
topical, and it remained in their vaults unseen (except for the opening segment)
for far too long. Now, modern buffs
have a chance to see what a remarkable piece of work it was and still is.
there's a lot more in this collection, and it ranges from the hilarious to the
strikingly somber. Walt Disney led
Hollywood in the effort to win the war and drum up popular support here at home.
The output of production during those years included everything from
lighthearted romps to educational pictures, even to stark propaganda shorts.
To see them all together in one set is to really marvel at the way the
studio's patriotism was a stronger motivating force than even profit (Disney
didn't make much off of these efforts; they were mostly a labor of love for
most entertaining bits are the Donald Duck short films.
Donald got drafted, as you may remember, and served in the Army as a
private, getting into all kinds of trouble with his gruff drill sergeant Pete
while dreaming of flying. The best bits are "The Vanishing Private" and "Sky
Trooper", where Donald's dream of flying comes true, even if he wasn't
expecting to be in a paratrooper drill! There
are also a couple of classic Pluto shorts, including "Private Pluto" and "The Army Mascot".
perhaps the most striking sub-collection of shorts are the ones categorized as "The Vault". It starts with
"Der Fuehrer's Face", an Oscar winning short that had been unseen for far
too long...even Disney's earlier collections of award winning shorts and
Donald's Army pictures failed to produce this piece, to the dismay of fans.
Now, it can be seen in all its funny and disturbing glory, as our
favorite duck has a nightmare of being in a Nazi munitions factory...the classic
song as performed by Spike Jonze even became a hit in its day!
for Death" has to be one of the most disturbing films Disney ever produced.
It's a dark, unsettling look at how an innocent boy in Germany grows up
brainwashed by Hitler's vision until he becomes an unthinking machine, fit
only for death on the battlefield. A
bit of comedy showing Hitler as Prince Charming rescuing a fat sleeping beauty
(Germany) from the wicked witch (Democracy) is welcome, but doesn't offset the
potency of the message.
the film that struck me the most was "Chicken Little".
Sound like one of Disney's lovable Silly Symphonies?
Think again. Here was a tale
that seems just as applicable to our situation today as it did to World War II,
if not more so. It shows a society
where the chickens, ducks and geese live protected by fences and the wise
leadership of their rooster. The
fox wants to snack, but how can he possibly penetrate such a well structured
society? By slowly rotting it from
the inside out.
he reads from a psychology book (it was originally supposed to be Mein Kampf,
but Disney changed it with the possible intuition that we might one day need
to learn the lesson again), he preys on the fear of the most gullible in the
society (Chicken Little). Then,
with a whispering campaign, he gets all the fowls to start doubting their
leader's ability to keep them safe. Eventually,
they give up on the one who could protect them and follow the emotional,
unreasonable, and power-hungry Chicken Little, who thinks he's leading his 'people' to safety, but instead, they end up as somber rows of wishbones
laid out like tombstones after the fox has his feast.
about a shake-up...as host Leonard Maltin remarks, this is one parents may want
to peruse before letting their children see it.
But even more than the stark imagery is the fact that Disney depicted in
the early 40s something that's equally apropos today: we're once again facing a war with a brutal enemy bent on
our destruction, but the whispering campaign of the media and political
opportunists are undermining our resolve and our ability to steer the straight
we battle today would like nothing more than to weaken us from the inside out,
so this film suggests we need to think about that and pose the question:
do we maintain our resolve, or do we boot the rooster out of the coop and
follow Chicken Little right into the fox hole?
TRIVIA: In the 80s, Donald Duck was
officially given an honorable discharge from the Army and a ceremony to
recognize his service to his country. On
hand to receive the honors was the legendary late Clarence "Ducky" Nash, who
provided the voice for the plucky duck!
has preserved their precious catalog of titles better than most studios, so even
despite their age and the fact that so many of these films have been out of
circulation for so long, the DVD results are delightful.
Colors are still rich and vivid, detail level still striking...only an
occasional mark or spot here and there, or a touch of flicker every now and then
belie the picture's ages (well, okay, that and the subject matter).
I was especially pleased to see how well Victory Through Air Power translated
to DVD. Modern audiences are in for
a treat with this collection.
believe everything on these discs are presented in two channel mono.
The sound has held up pretty well; there are still bits of noticeable
background hiss and scratchiness from time to time, but nothing terribly
two boasts the extras, starting with a trailer and an on-the-set featurette for Victory
Through Air Power. There are
also a couple of art galleries, and interviews with Roy Disney and two of
Disney's pioneering artists, Joe Grant and John Hench.