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Disney Animation Bonanza

The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad/Fun and Fancy Free


Following Bambi, wartime hardships and diminishing returns forced Walt Disney Studios into temporarily abandoning feature-length animation for anthologies, including Saludos Amigos (1942), The Three Caballeros (1944), and Make Mine Music (1946). Two of the more beloved of these ‘packaged shorts’ are Fun and Fancy Free (1947) and, the last of the series, The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad (1949). Fun and Fancy Free featured two main stories – Bongo (based on Little Bear Bongo by Sinclair Lewis) and Mickey and the Beanstalk (based, naturally, on Jack and the Beanstalk) – each introduced by a wraparound starring Jiminy Cricket. Bongo is an easily forgotten distraction, but Mickey and the Beanstalk, which stars Mickey, Donald, and Goofy (and the second time Mickey fought a giant), has remained popular for generations thanks to regular television exposure (sometimes, it is re-edited to fit a different book-ended format). It is among the studio’s most beautifully animated shorts and is jam-packed with indelible, long-remembered images, like Mickey serving his friends slices of bread so thin that they appear transparent.

The Adventures Of Ichabod and Mr. Toad has also endured due to steady appearances on television. Like Fun and Fancy Free, it includes two stories – The Wind in the Willows (based on Kenneth Grahame’s book of the same name) and The Legend of Sleepy Hollow (based on Washington Irving’s similarly titled sotry) – surrounded by live-action bookends. Both are pleasantly mature tales built around low-key animation. The Wind in the Willows helped inspire a number of other adaptations of Grahame’s stories, while Sleepy Hollow became on of the studio’s Halloween season mainstays. Both stories run on a bit too long and will probably bore children raised on more fast-paced entertainment, but do incorporate a number of unshakable animated images – especially the enduringly eerie climax of Sleepy Hollow.

Disney has done fabulous things with the Blu-ray releases of their ‘A’ animated material, but their B-production (a strange term, considering the wide releases, cost, and popularity of these films) have been bowled-over with excessive DNR and other unnecessary computer enhancements. Generally speaking, they’ve tried to make old, hand-painted cartoons look like modern, computer-painted cartoons. In the worst cases ( Sword in the Stone and Oliver & Company), the process of softening the natural film grain and punching up the hue qualities has resulted in blobby, flat shapes and blurry, misshapen outlines. These two 1.33:1, 1080p transfers are not as problematic as those discs, but they have, unfortunately, also been over-smoothed with digital tinkering. The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad fares better, including earthy, darker hues alongside shades of grain and age. Textures do appear to have been over-cleaned and some of the edges have that unnatural brushed look, but the overall effect is pleasant, especially in terms of hue consistency (though the even colour qualities also appear quite flat at times). Fun and Fancy Free is a bigger problem in terms of over-amped colours, artificial tonal consistency, and more of those fuzzy, feathered outlines. The live-action scenes in both films are most the problematic of all – their waxy, over-cleaned qualities are much more obvious.. Both films were remixed for 5.1 at some point for foreign market DVD releases, but this is the first time the track has been included on a US version. The uncompressed, DTS-HD Master Audio mixes are relatively low-key and largely centered affairs, outside of Oliver Wallace (composer on both films), Eliot Daniel, and Paul Smith’s (composers on Fun and Fancy Free) musical contributions. Vocals and effects are clean, warm, and aren’t overwhelmed by the mutli-channel, LFE-enhanced music.

Extras include:
  • The Reluctant Dragon (1:13:40, HD) – Another feature-length, fully HD movie, directed by Alfred Werker (live-action scenes) and Hamilton Luske (animated sequences) with additional sequences from Ub Iwerks, Jack Kinney, and Jack Cutting. It’s sort of an extended propaganda/ad piece that includes a tour of the early ‘40s Disney production facilities and breaks into episodic cartoon fun (especially the Goofy-starring how-to ride a horse segment). It’s cute, very pretty in Technicolor-infused HD (it begins in black & white before changing over into colour) and an amusing cultural artefact.
  • The Story Behind Fun and Fancy Free                      
  • Mickey and the Beanstalk Storybook
  • The Legend of Sleepy Hollow Storybook

* Note that I had trouble with my screener Blu-ray disc’s menus. I was able to access/view The Reluctant Dragon, but none of the Fun and Fancy Free extras.
 Disney Animation Bonanza
 Disney Animation Bonanza
 Disney Animation Bonanza
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 Disney Animation Bonanza


Disney Animation Bonanza

Bedknobs and Broomsticks


When profits started to decline in the 1970s, Disney attempted to recapture past glories by recycling formulas and, in some cases, actual animation. Despite being one of the studio’s finest achievements, no one had tried to recreate the Mary Poppins live-action/animation/musical hybrid model until 1971, when a struggling and Walt-less company set up a belated Poppins cash-in called Bedknobs and Broomsticks (based on The Magic Bed Knob & Bonfires and Broomsticks by Mary Norton). The reused staff included director Robert Stevenson, art director Peter Ellenshaw, songwriters The Sherman Brothers (Robert and Richard), and cast members David Tomlinson, Reginald Owen, and Arthur Malet. Despite the best efforts of everyone involved, especially star Angela Lansbury and the Shermans, Bedknobs and Broomsticks was not a success at the box office, nor was it particularly popular with critics. For years, it was remembered as a pale reflection of Mary Poppins, but, like so many Disney films, such prejudices were forgotten by generations of children who were rightfully unaware of the film’s reputation. I, too, looked down on it for some time, but revisiting it on Blu-ray has reminded me of its many virtues, including Angela Lansbury’s aforementioned central performance, charming visuals, a sardonic sense of humour, and kid actors that might rival those of Mary Poppins.

Bedknobs and Broomsticks has gone through a number of editing changes over the years. Initial reports put the director’s cut at somewhere near three hours, it premiered at 139 minutes, before being cut to 117 minutes for proper distribution. Then, it was cut further to 96 minutes for a 1979 reissue. Many digital home video versions featured the ‘reconstructed’ 139-minute cut, but this Blu-ray features the shortened ‘theatrical’ cut (though some sources list that version as being 119 minutes – I’m not sure why there is a discrepancy). At first, I assumed that this footage was not available outside of an SD source, but most of what was restored for the reconstruction appears in this disc’s special features and in HD, so I’m not sure why they decided to use the shorter version.

Fans have been clamoring for an HD release of Bedknobs and Broomsticks for some time now and should be very happy with this 1080p, 1.66:1 Blu-ray image. The studio’s live-action/animation hybrids have fared very well on Blu-ray over the years, partially due to Disney’s commitment to quality and because it’s very difficult to alter 35mm, live-action footage to cover age and grain without making it look ridiculous. There are no obvious signs of DNR enhancement, but still plenty of grain (perhaps a shade too much during the foggy scenes) and texture in the image, including shots that include more vivid special effects and animation-enhanced Technicolor hues. Having last seen the film on VHS, I was very, very impressed by the uptake in detail – especially the fine patterns of clothing and wide-angle backgrounds (the matte paintings are positively brilliant) – and the searing colours. Though originally mixed in mono, Bedknobs and Broomsticks was remixed into Dolby surround for its 25th Anniversary special edition release and has been presented in 5.1 on every DVD version. This Blu-ray includes that same mix in uncompressed, DTS-HD Master Audio sound and no mono option. As per usual (for type), the majority of stereo and surround enhancement is devoted to the Sherman’s music and Irwin Kostal’s underrated score. The vocalizations and instrumentations are warm, intricate, and nicely spread without any weird mixing artefacts (I noted a few very minor distortion effects on the high end strings). The centered effects and dialogue is all clean, but a bit flat and low volume compared to the boisterous musical tracks, which create some balance issues between spoken and sung sequences.

Extras include:
  • Music Magic: The Sherman Brothers (20:20, SD) – Concerning the Brother’s contributions to this particular film and including some camera tests and behind-the-scenes footage/stills. It also includes discussion about the deleted songs, some of which were rediscovered and digitally restored for the DVD.
  • Deleted & extended songs[/I] (23:50, HD) – Mostly completed sequences – in HD – alongside one audio recreation set against stills.
  • Deleted & extended scenes[/I] (10:10, HD) – More completed, HD sequences.
  • David Tomlinson recording session (1:10, SD) – Raw footage from the actor’s ADR recording session.                                                                                
  • The Wizards of Special Effects (8:10, HD) – A made for Disney Channel behind-the-scenes on the special effects.
  • Trailers        
  • Disney Song Selection      
  • Sing-Along with the movie

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Disney Animation Bonanza

Hercules


Hercules was released in the middle of a minor crisis at Disney. The seemingly unstoppable money bubble that was inflated by The Little Mermaid (1989) had popped when Pocahontas (1995) and The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996) made comparatively menial profits on high-cost production and advertising budgets. To make matters worse, Hercules was the third or fourth concept in a line of adaptations that directors Ron Clements & John Musker pitched to then-head Jeffrey Katzenberg, who told them they had to make a more conventional comedy before he’d greenlight Treasure Planet. No one really wanted to make Hercules, but the directors found inspiration in unlikely places, creating a tonally fun and graphically interesting blend of myths, gospel music, and screwball comedy. It’s certainly not the best of the studio’s ‘90s output, but there’s a lot to love about it, especially the comic-book-meets-Greek-myth character designs, super-speedy pace, and James Woods’ hyper-sardonic performance as the film’s big bad guy, Hades. For whatever reason, Hercules has become something of a cult favourite without ever having the post-release popularity resurgence of The Hunchback of Notre Dame or Mulan.

The DNR-dumping problems suffered by other Disney B-release animated Blu-rays doesn’t really affect the post-digital films, which are often already scanned into computers and coloured & inked with minimal pen & brush influences (the backgrounds were still hand-painted on paper for years). As a result, Hercules looks great on this 1080p, 1.78:1 transfer. Edges are sharp and elements/shapes are crisply separated without any signs of haloing or bleeding. Colours are rich, vivid, and don’t appear to have been altered at all from previous digital releases (besides the hues being generally brighter). The ethereal glow that surrounds the various god characters and the soft shading effects blend without any notable banding or digital noise effects. The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack, which is based on the already-existing theatrical mix, is just as lively and rich as it was on the DVD – just louder with a lack of compression. The stereo and surround enhancements aren’t vulgar or overwhelming, but tastefully dynamic, including a nice mix of organic, canned nature and stylized fantasy noises. The track’s clarity helps highlight some little aural in-jokes hidden throughout the action scenes. Alan Menken’s music (including lyrics from David Zippel) is nicely balanced with warm LFE enhancements and brassy directional movement.

Extras include:
  • The Making of Hercules (9:30, SD) – A made-for-TV EPK featurette
  • 'No Importa La Distancia’ con Ricky Martin ('Go The Distance' music video with Ricky Martin, 4:50, SD)
  • 'Zero To Hero' Sing-Along

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 Disney Animation Bonanza


Disney Animation Bonanza

Tarzan


Disney closed out a decade of ups and downs with a sophisticated, simply told, and beautifully animated adaptation of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ most popular story. Tarzan gets a bad wrap for its ‘X-treme’ sports inspired vine-‘surfing’ sequences, loud Rosie O’Donnell performance, and its genuinely horrible Phil Collins songs, but the last fifteen years have been really kind to it. High on its list of achievements is a wordless prologue sequence (well, wordless aside from those bloody Phil Collins songs…) that tells the ape-man’s origin via impressionistic editing and super-dynamic, hand-drawn animation. The character animation hits the sweet spot between cartoony and realistic, and the entirely CG-crafted elements are among the most deftly integrated in any largely hand-drawn production. The cast is also top-notch. ‘Name’ actors like Tony Goldwyn, Minnie Driver, Glenn Close, and Lance Henriksen disappearing into their roles, instead of defining them with their live-action credentials. Nestled among action highlights is an easygoing romance between Tarzan (Goldwyn) and Jane (Driver) that ranks among the best animated love stories since Beauty and the Beast – though Brian Blessed is the film’s all-star as Clayton, the cruel, great, white hunter. Even considering the damage done by Phil Collins’ annoying lyrics, Tarzan has become one of my favourite of all the Disney animated features and my preferred movie version of Burroughs’ oft-adapted tale (though I’ve never been convinced the young Tarzan sequences need to carry on as long as they do, especially considering how well the filmmakers use montage as a story shortcut elsewhere).

Tarzan’s

1.78:1, 1080p Blu-ray debut is comparable to the Hercules disc in terms of digital paint-enhanced clarity. The fact that it’s an even more recent vintage doesn’t hurt. The moody jungle setting certainly isn’t as vivid and colourfully eclectic as Hercules, but it makes up for its lesser vibrancy in lush greens, cool blues, and subtle hue shifts. The foreground animation is more or less a Disney standard – solid colours, tightly separated elements, and soft shading layers (more shades than Hercules) – while the backgrounds are less airbrushed than the majority of the studio’s post-digital output. The complex blends of these expressionistic backgrounds (inspired in part by the Frank Frazetta oil paintings that appeared on Tarzan paperback covers) are the biggest upgrade over the already relatively impressive anamorphic DVD releases. Also, like the Hercules disc, Tarzan features an uncompressed, DTS-HD Master Audio version of an original 5.1 digital mix. The name of the game here is hyperrealism and the organic blending of natural, immersive sounds of the jungle and Mark Mancina’s drum-heavy musical score. The sound designers’ efforts are well-represented in this equal parts boisterous and subtle mix. The dynamic ranges are wide, the dialogue levels are consistent, and the directional enhancements are aggressive.

Extras include:
  • Commentary with directors Chris Buck & Kevin Lima and producer Bonnie Arnold
  • 3 deleted scenes with introduction (10:00, SD)
  • Backstage Disney:
    • History and Development
      • From Burroughs To Disney (2:40, SD)
      • Early presentation reel (2:00, SD)
      • Research trip to Africa (3:00, SD)
    • The Characters of Tarzan:
      • Creating Tarzan (4:00, SD)
      • Animating Tarzan (6:40, SD)
      • Creating Jane and Porter (3:00, SD)
      • Creating Kala and Kerchak (3:00, SD)
      • Creating Terk and Tantor (3:00, SD)
      • Creating Clayton (3:20, SD)
    • Animation Production:
      • The Deep Canvas Process (2:40, SD)
      • Deep canvas demonstration (5:10, SD)
      • Production progression demonstration (each part is 1:10, SD)
      • Intercontinental Filmmaking (2:00, SD)
    • Story and Editorial:
      • Building the Story (3:10, SD)
      • Storyboard to film comparison (3:20, SD)
    • 3 trailers
    • DisneyPedia: Living in the Jungle (6:00, SD)
  • Music & More:
    • The Making of the Music (2:50, SD)
    • Tarzan Goes International (2:20, SD)
    • You'll Be In My Heart' music video by Phil Collins (4:20, SD)                                                                            
    • 'Strangers Like Me' music video by Phil Collins (3:00, SD)
    • ’Strangers Like Me’ music video by Everlife (3:30, SD)                                                                          
    • 'Trashin' The Camp' studio session with Phil Collins & 'N Sync (2:10, SD)
    • Original Phil Collins song demo (1:50 intro, 20:10 demos, SD)
               

Among the extras that appeared on the Collector’s Edition DVD, but which are not included here are Tarzan Read-Along, an interactive trivia game, voice talent behind-the-scenes, original story treatment, and concept art gallery.

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Disney Animation Bonanza

Mickey, Donald and Goofy: The Three Musketeers


Every time Disney does one of these multi-film Blu-ray dumps, they include something no one really wants. In this case, the runt of the litter is Mickey, Donald and Goofy: The Three Musketeers – a direct-to-video retelling of Alexadre Dumas’ already plenty well told story. The release is made all the more silly with the inclusion of a ‘10th Anniversary’ banner. As if anyone had been counting the days until this particular film had aged a decade. The Three Musketeers matches the expectations set by most Disney Toon Studio releases in terms of brevity (it’s only 68 minutes, including credits), cheap but clean animation, and over-simplified storytelling. It’s all very ‘made of TV’ and viewers willing to accept its limitations should be amused by its comedic, kid-friendly adaptation (it’s sort of a sequel to the original stories), impressed by its character touches, and relatively clever use of anachronisms – a pretty common Disney animation tradition throughout the decades – though, rhythmically, The Three Musketeers has more in common with Chuck Jones’ Looney Tunes tradition.

This first-time Blu-ray release looks bright and shiny in 1.78:1, 1080p HD. The cell animation features CG-assisted outlines (of varying hues) and solid colour fills. The lack of blends and shading make for consistent and tight hue separation, but not a whole lot of variation. The watercolor (or at least faux-watercolor) backgrounds are more dynamic, including fine paper textures, seeping pigments, and varying tones. The contrast between the two types is pretty severe, but in keeping with other ‘budget,’ STV Disney releases. The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack is based on a well-mixed and surprisingly aggressive original track that features plenty of directional enhancements. The effects work is shallow in terms of layers, but the vocals and incidental noises are given quite a bit of space over the stereo and surround channels. Bruce Broughton’s musical score, which borrows many traditional classical melodies, is deeper and more complex, including a number of fine instrumentations, decent LFE enhancement, and plenty of motion throughout the speakers. I’m pleasantly surprised that the orchestrations appear to have been recorded with live instruments instead of recreated by synthetic means.

Extras include:
  • Cast commentary with Mickey, Donald, Goofy, and Pete over a single scene (5:10, SD)
  • Get Up And Dance! (1:50, HD)
  • Deleted scenes with optional commentary (5:00, SD)                                                    
  • Get The Scoop featurette (9:40, SD)
  • Disney Song Selection
  • Sing-along mode

 Disney Animation Bonanza
 Disney Animation Bonanza
 Disney Animation Bonanza
 Disney Animation Bonanza
 Disney Animation Bonanza

* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.


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