Since 1923, the Walt Disney Animation Studios has churned out hundreds of cartoons, earning a trophy case-full of Academy Awards and millions of fans worldwide for generations. Their output, like many animation studios, dwindled in the 1960s, but more and more lately a "bonus short" has been attached to the latest toon blockbuster, a tradition revitalized by the Pixar Animation Studios in the 90s and now even more common at Disney since Pixar head honcho John Lasseter took over the reins at the Mouse House. And now, like Pixar, Disney has gathered these shorts together on one DVD/Blu-ray for diehard Disney collectors and casual family viewers alike.
Amassing twelve acclaimed shorts from the past 15 years, the Walt Disney Animation Studios Short Film Collection runs the gamut both in animation (traditional hand drawn to state of the art computer) and storytelling styles. As the shorts are featured chronologically, from 2000 to the present, this does result, unavoidably, in some jarring shifts in tone, most noticeably from the heartbreaking The Little Matchgirl to the gut-busting How To Hook Up Your Home Theater starring Goofy. Now, the bulk of the set is light-hearted, but Disney should be commended for included their more serious efforts in the mix, such as their beautifully rendered take on the legend of John Henry.
A major treat for longtime Disney enthusiasts is the inclusion of two rare, until now hard to see shorts, Lorenzo and Tick Tock Tale. The former, a surrealistic delight about a snobbish feline who gets his comeuppance when a curse is put on his tail, was previously only seen by those poor unfortunate souls who had to sit through the Kate Hudson "comedy" Raising Helen. The latter, which I frankly had never heard of before, is a Toy Story-ish charmer starring a cast of clocks.
Along with The Little Matchgirl and Lorenzo, the collection also features fellow Oscar nominee Get a Horse!, the zany old school-meets-new school hybrid starring a mouse named Mickey, and two Oscar winners, the sweetly romantic Paperman and the adorable puppy tale Feast. The Rapunzel sequel Tangled Ever After (which finds the animal sidekicks taking center stage and is filled to the brim with hilarious visual gags), The Ballad of Nessie (a cute "origin story" of the fabled Loch Ness Monster) and the Christmas-themed Operation Secret Santa starring the Prep & Landing elves fill out the bill. (Why the latter TV toon was selected over the joyous One by One is beyond me.)
Despite the presence of Mickey and Goofy, the headliners here are Anna and Elsa. The Frozen favorites are front and center on the cover, which will more than likely push the majority of the disc's sales even if their contribution, the musical short Frozen Fever (screened in theaters earlier this year with Disney's live action Cinderella) is slight. It's Princess Anna's birthday, and boyfriend Kristoff, snowman pal Olaf and big sister Queen Elsa go all out to make it a memorable one. They get their wish, but not in the way they intended, for Elsa's cold (how does a Snow Queen catch a cold?) causes her sneezes to magically create tiny snowball critters (ready-made for a toy store shelf near you) that wreak havoc, Gremlins style, on the festivities. Like their Disney theme park attractions and Once Upon a Time guest appearances, this Frozen outing, although generally entertaining, feels rushed and forced, and the song "Making Today a Perfect Day" is no "Let It Go". (Thankfully it sounds like Disney is taking it's time with the two big extensions of the Frozen franchise, the big screen sequel and Broadway musical adaptation.)
All in all, this Short Films Collection will be a welcome addition to the video library of any Disneyphile, amateur or professional. Here's to a "Volume 2".
MD Rating: B+
The Walt Disney Animation Studios Short Film Collection is now available on DVD/Blu-ray:
Review by Kirby Holt, creator and editor of Movie Dearest, The QuOD: The Queer Online Database and the Out Movie Guide.