Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Get It While (or IF) You Can! DVD Review: Walt Disney Treasures: The Chronological Donald Volume 3 (1947-1950)


Posting my pre-written review of this DVD set was on the agenda for quite some time. Already, it has made the rounds from my e-mailing list, to fanzines and APAs for which I write my column THE ISSUE AT HAND, Customer Reviews at Amazon.com, and the like… and it was a nice thing to “have in the bank” for when I didn’t have a great deal of time to update this Blog with original material. (You know… kinda like tonight!)

The fact that the next and final volume in the series is due for release less than two months from the date of this posting – November 11, 2008 – was also a deciding factor.

But the real shocker was to come tonight, when searching online for an illustration of the set to accompany this post.
I found that Walt Disney Treasures: The Chronological Donald Volume 3 (1947-1950) IS NO LONGER AVAILABLE AS AN IN-STOCK, NEW ITEM AT AMAZON.COM!!!

As I write this, it is available from Amazon.com only through third-party sellers. And this set that retailed for 32.99 in December, 2007 now ranges in the “secondary market” from 89.98 to 159.99 on September 16, 2008!

There were 50,000 such sets produced, per the “Certificate of Authenticity” enclosed with the package, and the scarcity resulting from about ten months of sales is the most likely factor for such a jump in price. At TIAH Blog, we neither endorse nor condemn this practice of Limited Editions and secondary markups – but are rather taken aback at the fact that such a thing can occur in so brief a period. …And how can I do the same thing for my house?

The message in all this would be to get Walt Disney Treasures: The Chronological Donald Volume 4 (1951-1961) at retail or less when it is released in November – before its price is artificially inflated by its built-in scarcity by next August. Sure, there’ll be too much Chip ‘n’ Dale for most folks to stomach, but there will be some very good cartoons mixed in as well… and a surprise for Donald Duck comic book fans that (…if things properly come to pass) you’ll be hearing more about! YES, that’s a teaser!

Meanwhile readers, I hope you either already have Walt Disney Treasures: The Chronological Donald Volume 3 (1947-1950), or can still obtain a copy at a reasonable price. Here’s the Review… Enjoy!
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Walt Disney Treasures: The Chronological Donald Volume 3 (1947-1950)
(Released December 11, 2007) The Usual Long DVD Review by Joe Torcivia.

Thanks to this set, I have a new “hero” from the age of classic theatrical animation – and an unlikely one, at that… Director Jack King!

I won’t pretend to be an expert on King’s career, but I DO know that he was with Disney in 1929, then directed some very early Warner Bros. Cartoons for Leon Schlesinger (Buddy, Porky Pig, and others) and ended up at Disney after that. What little I’ve read about King’s efforts, over the years, paints him as an uninspired director – and it is probably as unfair to judge him strictly on his early WB output as it would be to judge the great Friz Freleng on his similar early, almost primitive achievements.

But, credible persons as varied as Donald Duck comic book legend / Disney animation writer Carl Barks and Disney Treasures’ “Official Host” film historian Leonard Maltin seem to share this opinion of King. Among Barks’ remarks in Thomas Andre’s 2006 book “Carl Barks and the Disney Comic Book”, page 56, were: “Old fashioned” and “Played it safe.” Maltin, on a previous Disney Treasures set, The Chronological Donald Volume 2 (1942-1946), describes King, as “An old hand [who] may not have been the most inspired director at the studio…

However, looking over the animated shorts on this particular set, Jack King is THE “King” of this collection. Of the 30 shorts included here, 23 are by revered Duck director Jack Hannah, and 6 are by King, with one remaining “Donald and Goofy” short directed by Bob Carlson. The entirety of Disc Two’s 14 shorts is Hannah’s.

The odd thing is, despite the criticism of his former writer Carl Barks, and others; King’s Donald Duck shorts are the most varied, the most entertaining… and, ironically, the most “Barks-like” of the collection! To be sure, Jack Hannah’s cartoons are well-crafted and very entertaining as well, but Hannah took a great series and steered it into repetitive formula and (…at least when compared to King’s efforts in this grouping) mediocrity.

Jack Hannah apparently “fell in love” with pitting Donald against cute little opponents – and did so far too often. This is certainly the case within the window of this collection. Bootle Beetle, Spike the Bee… and, in what is strictly my own personal opinion, the near-ruination of the series by Chip and Dale… who the aforementioned Leonard Maltin says were pitted against Donald over 20 times! …Yes, he said “…over 20 times!”

Admittedly, each such Donald Duck short, if taken individually and on its own merit, is cute, funny, and entertaining… but, when you consider the impact on the series as a whole to continually “work this angle” to the exclusion of all other things that could involve and engage a character like Donald Duck, the series, alas, became the poorer for it. All but three of the 14 shorts on Disc Two feature Bootle, Spike, or the rapidly chattering chipmunks. To my mind, that is far too much repetition at the expense of the varied richness that could have been Don’s world in animation, as it was in comic books!

But, while Hannah’s Duck suffered ‘Munk Madness, Bee-trayal, and (dare I say it) Beetle-Mania, Jack King’s Donald came as close as the animated Duck had ever come to the splendor of his comics world.

In chronological order King has Donald do the “perilous sleepwalking bit”, with Daisy going through ducky-hell to protect him. Sure, Max Fleischer did it better with Olive Oyl in the POPEYE classic “A Dream Walking”, but this was good fun too!

Donald becomes a world class crooner, to Daisy’s consternation.

Exhausted Don attempts to sleep in the “great outdoors”, with a superb twist ending!

Still sleepy from King’s previous cartoon, we witness Donald go to extraordinary lengths to silence an incomprehensibly loud leaky faucet. Leading to what appears to be King’s last two Donald cartoons before the Duck completely succumbs to the sensibilities of Jack Hannah… and they are simply two of the BEST!

The classic “Donald’s Dream Voice” is probably the most innovative Donald cartoon of them all, playing on (…and with) Don’s defining attribute – his VOICE! This is the “voice pills” cartoon that nearly everyone has seen sometime or other, and it succeeds wonderfully (…even though we wonder why Donald doesn’t simply buy a “lifetime supply” of the wonder drug – perhaps it was outlawed by the FDA, or something!).

King’s final outing is “The Trial of Donald Duck”. In my opinion, the best and most “Barksian” of any Donald short I’ve ever seen – and I’ve not seen them all, mind you. Donald is brought before a judge, sued by a crooked restaurateur. The story is told in flashback form, with BOTH Don and his accuser acting in ways that are less than “on the up-and-up”, but Don ends up as more of the victim than the perpetrator in the end. Don loses the case, but prevails in another good twist ending. With some minor editing, this could easily have been a “ten-pager” in WALT DISNEY’S COMICS AND STORIES!

After making this cartoon, King appears to have retired, as best as I can piece events together from Internet snippets, leaving this Duck fan to wonder what might have been.

Lest this look like a valentine letter to Jack King, I must point out that Jack Hannah had his share of superb moments beyond Bootles and Bees – not to mention ‘munks! There are a few fun-fests with Huey, Dewey, and Louie (…though, not nearly enough) an ant-invasion cartoon that you’ll never see on TV or anywhere else, two great appearances by a rascally mountain lion… and then there’s “Clown of the Jungle”.

Clown of the Jungle” just may be the zaniest, outright funniest Donald Duck cartoon ever!!! Imagine if the more sedate, though still quite volatile, post-war Donald met the early forties wild and out of control version of Woody Woodpecker, or the Do-Do Bird from Bob Clampett’s “Porky in Wackyland”… and that just barely describes what goes on here. You’ll have to see it for yourself! It doesn’t even look like a Disney cartoon, but more like the product of another studio entirely!

Despite the appalling lack of ANY sort of voice acting credit for Clarence “Ducky” Nash in any of the cartoons – though other credits abound by this time, Walt Disney Treasures: The Chronological Donald Volume 3 (1947-1950) is a great collection, and is highly recommended by your humble reviewer… aw, even the Chip and Dale cartoons are “kinda good”
…IF you’re in the mood for THREE characters you can’t understand!
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To my review, I should also add that Jack King directed most of the superb “Donald joins the Army” series of shorts that were released during World War II. Though he did not direct the distinctly memorable “Der Fuehrer’s Face”, King’s work DID include the hilarious “Donald Gets Drafted” and “The Vanishing Private” – both of which were largely written by Carl Barks. These appeared on Volume 2 and the “Walt Disney Treasures: On the Front Lines” set.

And, just to put another plus in Jack Hannah’s column, Hannah directed the uproariously fast paced “Dude Duck”, to be released later this year in Volume 4. (Pictured Below… Oh, did I say get it?!)

7 comments:

Mark Arnold said...

Yeah, they keep reducing the amounts for each of these Disney Treasures sets. The earlier ones had print runs of about 150,000 and those are the sets that Disney is still stuck with (never mind the fact that they issued a lot of stuff nobody wanted. "El Fego Baca" and "The Hardy Boys" indeed!)

The cartoons always sold well, but their still stuck with extras of the first two Donald sets, so they cut it back extremely on the last wave of sets. The Donald set was relatively easy to find when it came out and the Oswald the Rabbit set VERY easy to find (as no one was buying it), while the Disneyland set was virtually impossible (though you can still find that one through the Disney Movie Club).

ramapith said...

Thad's going to bash me for defending Oswald yet again, but...

Oswald wasn't easy to find because nobody bought it. It was easy to find because it was the one set from last wave unaffected by the cutbacks. Disney produced 120,000 tins (compared to 50,000 of the others), the point being to have the set around for awhile and keep the character in the public eye.

New Oswald merchandise spinoffs continue to appear, so the trick seems to have worked!

Joe Torcivia said...

Mark:

Being around comics for all the years we both have, helps us understand the forces at work behind the situation. The surprise, for me, is not that it happened… but that it happened so quickly and dramatically.

I paid a “third-party premium price” for the Goofy and two of the earlier Mickey sets – but they were out for a long while, and I ignored them when they were new… so, in that case, too bad for me. That’s also way I don’t own Silly Symphonies Volume 1… I won’t pay the asking price.

But, only ten months later for Donald Volume 3? I dunno ‘bout that…

Oh, and Mark’s fine publication, The Harveyville Fun Times, is one of the places that my Donald Volume 3 DVD review has appeared.

I can’t imagine that anyone reading my Blog wouldn’t already know this, but… Go visit Mark and his fine magazine at http://thft.home.att.net/

You’ll be glad you did!

David:

No need to “defend” Oswald around here. I thought it was a great set – and I’m nowhere near the fan of the really older stuff that you are.

I was taken aback by at the discrepancy in the press runs of the Oswald and Donald-3 sets, when I opened them both on the day of their release. I get the strategy for keeping Oswald in the public eye… but, at the same time, I feel Disney was really (and literally) selling Donald short!

It’s a shame that all those great Jack King and Jack Hannah cartoons have just become “that much harder” for the casual viewer to see and enjoy.

If a fan with MY level of interest saw many of these shorts for the first time on this DVD set, what chance does the general public now have?

Jack King may NEVER get the respect he deserves…

Joe.

Achille Talon said...

"Still sleepy from King’s previous cartoon, we witness Donald go to extraordinary lengths to silence an incomprehensibly loud leaky faucet." —> This cartoon I consider one of the funniest, too. I have also a particular fondness of the Mountain Lion (named Louie, actually).

On the whole, I perfectly agree with you about this: Jack Hannah could be good too when he wanted to, but in those days — gah, WAY too much Chip'n'Dale. While Jack King was original. I really don't see how on Earth he got dubbed as "unoriginal". Chip'n'Dale lovers could say he missed the point of the Donald Duck series, if for them Donald Duck was supposed to be about Donald facing cutesy critters. But how could anyone pretend it wasn't original ?

Joe Torcivia said...

Achille:

That DVD set, and the one before it with the “Army Service” cartoons, gave me an appreciation for Jack King I never had before, based only upon his early Warner cartoons.

I can’t help but wonder why both Carl Barks and Leonard Maltin, two individuals with whom I would never presume to differ, would feel the way they did.

Indeed, I feel Barks’ Donald was the outgrowth of King’s Donald. Though, that could easily be because Barks had been a gag man for King. …We’ll never know.

Comicbookrehab said...

You're absolutely right about King's work with Donald. Hannah's Donald became what Don Rosa called, "A hothead who threw walnuts at Chip and Dale". That's kind of sad, especially since King's cartoons cast Donald in a sympathetic light, whereas Hannah's cartoons become all about losing sympathy for Donald. Slightly better quality animation than the Daffy Duck vs. Speedy Gonzalez cartoons, but it's 'apples and oranges'.

Joe Torcivia said...

‘Rehab:

The dominance of Chip ‘n’ Dale in the shorts, while entertaining individually, was a tragic short-selling of what a character like Donald COULD have been in animation – and actually DID become in the comics of Carl Barks and others!