The New ‘Walt Disney Short Films Collection’ Is Rather Charming

Although we expect some emotional junk food from Disney studios, this new collection boasts shorts that not only warm your heart, but dazzle you with impressive animation, as well.

There’s a sort of automatic sweetness that accompanies a Disney short, calculated or not. What is Disney other than a sort of saccharin emotional junk food? There’s something profoundly comforting to be found in a short, highly predictable storyline, and that’s not for lack of class or intellectual worth, it’s just the nature of a barely minutes-long video piece, and our love of storytelling.

So, Disney’s short film collection, starring 12 relatively recent releases, has an inherent worth. For a cartoon lover, this is a dream come true, and not because these sort of collections aren’t out there right now, because they are – it’s just good to know that there are more of them to explore. Each short is introduced by a brief conversation with the animators, which is a gift for those who wonder how some of their favorite little films came to be.

The disc begins with the gorgeously crafted 2000 piece “John Henry” which, although occasionally weighted down by slightly showboating vocals on the soundtrack, is a truly pretty little cartoon. Animator Mark Henn’s attention to detail when it comes to telling a traditional American folk tale through the use of quilt-based imagery, is, at times, truly stunning.

The ever-charming “Lorenzo”, crafted by Mike Gabriel, is based on an animation concept dreamt up by Disney’s own Joe Grant in 1949. Grant saw his cat dive into the midst of a fight between his two dogs, and he started to wonder how a cat would get along without a proper tail. The story revolves around Lorenzo, a truly corpulent cat with a tendency to show off his various privileges (including an in tact, overtly bushy, tail) to the street cats that gather by his bed, window side. Things go awry for Lorenzo, and a tango soundtrack accompanies all of that misadventure.

Gabriel explains before the short that he spent some $346 of his own money on tango CDs at a Virgin Megastore while trying to find the perfect soundtrack for the film. That perfect song ended up being the very first that he listened to: Juan José Mosalini and the Big Tango Orchestra. The short is a great example of how a simple story set to music can be just as engaging as some towering, huge masterwork of cinema.

And so goes the first portion, over even two-thirds of the collection. The cartoons are all good (especially the eternally charming “Lorenzo”, and the perfectly paced “Tick Tock Tale”), all of them are flawed in some way that is readily noticeable. “The Little Match Girl” is a perfect example of what really turns some people off of Disney on principal, and what makes it forever appealing to others. The story is the traditional Hans Christian Anderson tale of dreary woe, all about the dreams of wishes of a dying, impoverished girl.

By nature, this story is a sort of ticking time bomb – it can go either way and slide that way rather quickly. The underlying and always in-your-face message that something greater has to lie beyond death is a theme that some won’t readily accept, even if it is just to enjoy the depths to which our hearts can swoon over the misery of an imaginary person. Although the short is, by all technical definitions, “good”, and may genuinely cause some tears, there’s something bullheaded about it that really takes away from the quality of the animation and of the storytelling.

Maybe it’s the pastel colored animation, maybe it’s the storyline, but something feels just overt about this film, like it’s indulging in something that the rest of the shorts try to stray away from, and for a good reason. This short seems disingenuous in nature, and it loses that sense of sincerity that typically accompanies everything that the studio puts out. This doesn’t even mean that it’s horribly unpleasant, it just seems distasteful. Disney is, by nature, a classy, America-classic sort of act, whereas this short? Not so much.

Storytelling is what makes or breaks these shorts. “How to Hook Up Your Home Theater” might be the least enjoyable piece in the collection but, due to the strong visual story telling element that pervades throughout the film, there’s still something fun to be had in watching Goofy and his game day shenanigans.

Once you move into the depths of the disc, and especially past “Prep & Landing: Operation Secret Santa”, the collection moves quickly because the quality of the shorts improves vastly.

“The Ballad of Nessie” has charm that not only comes across as sincere, it also lends something truly Disney-esque to the story line. This short is traditionally animated, and lushly so. The deep greens and blues that the studio chose to help tell the story of the Loch Ness monster (in the most adorable way possible) immerse the watcher skillfully and completely.

“Feast” and “Paperman” might be the strongest cartoons on the disc, boasting not only truly eye-catching animation but also strong, very simple, storylines. “Feast” follows an awww-inducingly cute puppy from the time that his owner finds him as a stray throughout his owner’s relationship. You can guess where that one ends. And, yes, heart-warming baby-and-doggy antics do occur.

“Paperman” is a wonderfully stylized combination of CGI animation and hand drawn animation, resulting in a beautiful little short that takes your emotions alongside it’s eventually upturned ups and downs.

This collection is worth owning, if only for the easy access one could have to short films like “Paperman” and “Feast”. Are there flawed moments? Yes. Are they easy to overlook? Definitely.

Fans of these works will enjoy the commentaries with the various animators and directors. The shots with the brief interviews with those folks are clean and simple, and they provide very concise information and tidbits about the films. While commentary can sometimes feel burdensome, these remarks are always interesting and truly add to the experience of watching the shorts. Knowing how something was created is by no means necessary to enjoy it, but the bits of information from the creators go a long way in enriching an understanding of these little works.

RATING 7 / 10