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Disney Delights: Short and Sweet

Short subjects are mainly the domain of film festivals and the Internet nowadays, except when Disney and Pixar spotlight them as curtain-raisers for their new feature films. Millions of people got to see the musical mini-sequel to Frozen, called Frozen Fever, before the new live-action Cinderella earlier this year. Millions more enjoyed the Oscar-winning Feast prior to last year’s Big Hero 6. And yes, there will be a new short featuring the main character of Inside Out called Riley’s First Date that will debut this fall when the film comes to VOD and home video.

Shorts-Collection-1But a number of terrific shorts that never got that kind of exposure are now available on a new Blu-ray/DVD release called the Walt Disney Short Films Collection, offering twelve films in all and produced by Walt Disney Animation Studios. (Some of them have turned up, without fanfare, on other Disney home video releases.)

If you’ve never seen John Henry (2000), narrated by Alfre Woodard, or the beautifully rendered tearjerker Little Matchgirl (2006), set to the music of Borodin, or Lorenzo (2004), based on a quixotic idea by legendary Disney story-man Joe Grant, you’re overdue.

Because the charming Winnie the Pooh (2011) wasn’t a box-office hit, few people saw the wonderful short that accompanied it, The Ballad of Nessie, five minutes of pure delight narrated by the irresistible Billy Connolly.

How to Hook Up Your Home Theater

How to Hook Up Your Home Theater (2007) – Courtesy of Disney

One of my favorites is How to Hook Up Your Home Theater (2007), which was designed to replicate the look and feel of a Goofy cartoon that Walt Disney might have made in the 1940s or early ’50s. It’s laugh-out-loud funny.

The forward-looking Paperman (2012) won an Academy Award, and the innovative Get a Horse!, featuring Mickey Mouse and his pals (and originally screened in 3-D) earned an Oscar nomination the following year. Feast (2014) took home the Oscar at the most recent ceremony.

Disney's Get A Horse

Get A Horse! (2013) – Courtesy of Disney
All twelve of the shorts on this disc are worth seeing and savoring. Some of them were made by the same directors, writers, and artists responsible for major Disney features. (The Frozen gang reunited for Frozen Fever, including the cast and songwriters Kristin Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez.) Others were made by promising talents who may go on to more ambitious endeavors. On the Blu-ray disc you can even watch the filmmakers—including producers, directors, animators, and art directors—introduce their short subjects.
The disc includes a lively conversation in which comedian T.J. Miller, one of the voices in Big Hero 6, discusses the medium of cartoon shorts with some of these directors. Please note that although the Short Films Collection is a combination DVD-Blu-ray package the special features only appear on the Blu-ray.

Thank goodness for John Lasseter, the big kahuna of Pixar and chief creative officer of Disney. He believes in short subjects and actively supports them by encouraging his artists to pitch him ideas; we are the lucky beneficiaries.

Leonard Maltin is one of the world’s most respected film critics and historians. He is best known for his widely-used reference work Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide and its companion volume Leonard Maltin’s Classic Movie Guide, now in its third edition, as well as his thirty-year run on television’s Entertainment Tonight. He teaches at the USC School of Cinematic Arts and appears regularly on Reelz Channel and Turner Classic Movies. His books include The 151 Best Movies You’ve Never Seen, Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons, The Great Movie Comedians, The Disney Films, The Art of the Cinematographer, Movie Comedy Teams, The Great American Broadcast, and Leonard Maltin’s Movie Encyclopedia. He served two terms as President of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, is a voting member of the National Film Registry, and was appointed by the Librarian of Congress to sit on the Board of Directors of the National Film Preservation Foundation. He hosted and co-produced the popular Walt Disney Treasures DVD series and has appeared on innumerable television programs and documentaries. He has been the recipient of awards from the American Society of Cinematographers, the Telluride Film Festival, Anthology Film Archives, and San Diego’s Comic-Con International. Perhaps the pinnacle of his career was his appearance in a now-classic episode of South Park. (Or was it Carmela consulting his Movie Guide on an episode of The Sopranos?) He holds court at leonardmaltin.com. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook; you can also listen to him on his weekly podcast: Maltin on Movies. — [Artwork by Drew Friedman]

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