Television Reviews

Disney Treasures: Mickey Mouse in Black & White – Share Memories with a New Generation

One of my fondest memories from elementary school was the days that were rainy, snowy, and/or cold. Those days, following our lunch in the cafeteria, we’d be sent off to the gymnasium where our gym teacher ran the projector showing all sorts of “old” cartoons and Little Rascals episodes. Now, I never was nor am I now a fan of the Little Rascals. If I found that it was a Little Rascals day, I’d usually find a teacher to help out. However, if the black and white animated shorts were showing, I’d sit through them.

When I finally sat down and watched Disney Treasures: Mickey Mouse in Black & White, I was somewhat startled to see some of those same animated shorts I’d seen all those years ago. I never associated the corporate icon, six-foot, kid-friendly mouse with the cartoons I’d seen all those years ago. And that’s the point of this boxed set release. Mickey Mouse has a much more colorful history than any of us remember, and a lot of it was in black and white!

Disney Treasures: Mickey Mouse in Black & White contains 34 fully restored and uncut animated shorts. The set of two discs came in a numbered collector’s tine – only 125,000 sets have been issued.

There is an introduction to the entire collection by Leonard Maltin. In this, he talks about the background of animation and the lack of any characters who really caught on in the early years of the genre. Many of the shorts are also preceded by an introduction from Maltin. A particularly interesting one is where he talked about the more controversial racial and ethnic stereotypes in the animated shorts which weren’t given a second thought at the time, such as the depiction of Native Americans in cartoons set in the old west, or characters in black-face who start singing “Mammy”. He brings up the question of whether these classics should be buried because of their message or should we learn from them? Could this be the testing ground for Disney finally releasing Song of the South here in the States? I sure hope so!

This brings up one of a few things that annoyed me about Disney Treasures: Mickey Mouse in Black & White. Some of the introductions by Maltin come off more as disclaimers. Mickey Mouse in a lot of these early cartoons isn’t the loveable icon he’s become more recently. Here he smokes, drinks, spits tobacco, and “abuses” animals. The same “disclaimers” are used over and over again, so it becomes “Hey, there’s something socially unacceptable coming up in this cartoon” every time we saw it before going directly into the animated short. The comments can be skipped by pressing the CHAPTER button when they come up if you don’t want to wait. Likewise, the introduction to the DVDs can be skipped after the first viewing by pressing the MENU button.

The second complaint I have is that there’s no way to just watch all of the cartoons on each disk. Once you get to the menu, all you can do is choose to view the episodes in chronological or alphabetical order and then play each one. I would have liked the ability to play all of them in chronological order without being brought back to the menu to select the next one each time.

However, Disney has done a terrific job restoring these old shorts. The images are very good for having not been seen in so long and printed at such an early time in the inception of animation technology. Most of the cartoons are clean with little to no speckles. The sound is good. It could have been better, but I suspect the little bit of mushiness to it comes from the technology of that time and can’t be blamed on the restoration process. Most of the cartoons it seemed like the final sequence, where THE END came up on the screen, the restoration had stopped and I could see all of the dirt on the print.

My kids watched this with me, and they enjoyed it a lot more than I thought they would. I guess some of the humor never goes out of style, and everything old does become new when you haven’t seen it before.

I’d highly recommend this DVD collection to anyone who has fond memories of black and white animation or who is interested in it from a historical perspective. It will be interesting to see if my children watch it with the same rabid interest they have for Toy Story – that I, over and over again! The lack of “political correctness” didn’t really bother them or me and I thoroughly enjoyed the trip down memory lane.

Titles on discs:

Steamboat Willie – 1928
The Gallopin’ Gaucho – 1928
Plane Crazy – 1928
The Karnival Kid – 1929
Mickey’s Follies – 1929
The Fire Fighters – 1930
The Chain Gang – 1930
The Gorilla Mystery – 1930
Pioneer Days – 1930
The Birthday Party – 1931
Mickey Steps Out – 1931
Blue Rhythm – 1931
Mickey Cuts Up – 1931
Mickey’s Orphans – 1931
The Duck Hunt – 1932
Mickey’s Revue – 1932
Mickey’s Nightmare – 1932
The Whoopee Party – 1932
Touchdown Mickey – 1932
The Klondike Kid – 1932
Building a Building – 1933
The Mad Doctor – 1933
Ye Olden Days – 1933
The Mail Pilot – 1933
Mickey’s Gala Premier – 1933
Puppy Love – 1933
The Pet Store – 1933
Giantland – 1933
Camping Out – 1934
Gulliver Mickey – 1934
Orphan’s Benefit – 1934
The Dognapper – 1934
Two-Gun Mickey – 1934
Mickey’s Service Station – 1935

Bonus Material

Frank and Ollie… and Mickey – Leonard Maltin interviews Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnson who were two of the “nine old men” of Disney animation who worked with Walt on these early cartoons.
• Pencil test of The Mail Pilot
• Story Scripts for Steamboat Willie and Mickey Steps Out
• Video Galleries of story sketch sequences
• Poster Gallery

*** On the first disc there is a hidden featurette you can access by clicking on Mickey’s cowboy hat in the Bonus Materials menu ***

4 replies »

  1. Watched Song of the South. The story was good and the meshing of live action and animation worked well BUT it had several uncomfortable scenes. That said it is an accurate snapshot of the racial climate when it was made…

    • That’s why I think that movie could be very good in context. Same as Gone With the Wind. I remember Song of the South because when the boy was sick he wanted Uncle Remus – he had such an attachment to him.

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