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Walt’s Vault


When the Disney Channel premiered as a pay-cable network in April 1983, it had a veritable smorgasbord of programming at its fingertips. There were documentaries, dramas and comedies that aired during the long-running Wonderful World of Color TV anthology, as well as animated short subjects from the 1930s to 1950s, such as raconteur-author George Plimpton serving as the tongue-in-cheek host for Mouseterpiece Theater. By the time the network moved into the basic-cable realm, however, the Disney classics were slowly being phased out in favor of newer tween-age series, starting with a revamped Mickey Mouse Club with juvenile talents Justin Timberlake and Britney Spears, and followed later with kid-oriented sitcoms including Lizzie McGuire and That’s So Raven.

For those in search of real-deal Disneyana, Walt Disney Home Entertainment, naturally, has been filling the bill with collectible DVD tins of goodies. The Walt Disney Treasures line began in December 2001 and mostly has continued as an end-of-year treat for aficionados, with 22 limited-edition volumes in release. Each two-disc set is hosted by Disney historian (and annual guest at the Syracuse Cinefest) Leonard Maltin, who reels off factoids before every cartoon, serial or TV program, all presented in pristine condition.  

Make no mistake that these are limited editions. Every tin carries a certificate of authenticity that details the scant amount produced; the new More Silly Symphonies, Vol. 2, 1929-1938 only has 65,000 copies to go around, furthering a gotta-have-it cachet. Each Treasure retails at $32.99, but shop around at various discounters for deals hovering around the $20 mark.

You get plenty of bang for your bucks, too: The new Your Host, Walt Disney, with its plentiful selections from the 1950s Disneyland TV series, runs a whopping 388 minutes, or nearly seven hours devoted to the guy who started it all. The other recent Treasure entries are The Complete Pluto, Vol. 2, a roundup of the pooch’s misadventures from 1947 to 1951, and The Mickey Mouse Club Featuring the Hardy Boys, with Tim Considine and Tommy Kirk as the junior Sherlocks in the 1956-57 serial “The Mystery of the Applegate Treasure.”

Beyond these buried Treasures, the Mouse House folks have also unleashed a second DVD franchise, Walt Disney’s Legacy Collection. The initial quartet of two-disc sets pays homage to the True-Life Adventures series of 13 nature documentaries and short subjects that ran from 1948 to 1960, snagging eight Academy Awards along the way. Also retailing at $32.99 (search for bargains!), the sets feature scads of extras ranging from behind-the-scenes vignettes to new footage of critters at Disney’s Animal Kingdom compound. The Legacy tins also have different packaging than the Treasures, with the discs ensconced in a metal geegaw that resembles a projectionist’s can of film.

The first volume, Wonders of the World, groups the Oscar-winning Beaver Valley, Water Birds and White Wilderness, plus Prowlers of the Everglades. More Oscar honorees turn up in Volume 2’s Lands of Exploration, including Seal Island, The Vanishing Prairie and The Living Desert. Volume 3’s Creatures of the Wild has Olympic Elk, Jungle Cat, African Lion and the Oscar winner Bear Country. Wrapping the foursome is Nature’s Mysteries, with Secrets of Life, Perri and the Oscar champ Nature’s Half Acre.

Some critics carped about the comic relief routinely inserted in these documentaries, especially when 1953’s Living Desert turned the interplay of two scorpions into a do-si-do dance number. Still, Disney earned both an Oscar and the last laugh: Desert amassed $5 million on a $500,000 budget.

The Legacy Collection also turns out to be something of a catch-all title. Subsequent entries will include Disneyland: Secrets, Stories and Magic, more stuff about the creation of the California theme park, and Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, a pre-Mickey Mouse collection of 26 black-and-white cartoons from 1927 and 1928 that were produced by Disney—who then, to his ever-lasting regret, sold the rights to Universal. Incidentally, the Disney company managed to regain rights to the character from NBC/Universal in exchange for sportscaster Al Michaels’ contractual duties. Animation buffs can now ask each other, “Do you believe in miracles?”         





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