Running Time: 210 minutes
MPAA Rating: NR
Format: Standard 4:3
Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0
Languages: English
Subtitles: English
Region: 1
MSRP: $32.99

Own It!
Walt Disney Treasures: On The Front Lines (1941-45)

Ever since Saving Private Ryan, World War II in popular media has been inescapable - movies, TV series, video games - but all of these have focused more or less on the battlefield and the theater of operations. And although this latest Disney Treasures collection is titled On The Front Lines, the material is produced very much with the people back home in mind.

After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, as America quickly geared up for war, the Disney Studios were all but taken over by the U.S. Army. Using their skills and artistry, they produced a significant number of shorts and artwork, all designed to educate and boost morale - and much of which has been locked away, pined for by animation buffs and film historians - until now. Cracking open this set on a long Memorial Day weekend seemed only appropriate.

The first half of this two-disc set is composed of shorts, broken down into three categories, with the usual introductions and apologia by Leonard Maltin:

  • Proganda and Entertainment - is more or less standard Disney short fare, except transplanted into Army boot camps and the like (though in Commando Duck, Donald's penchant for disaster puts paid to a secret enemy air base). If, like me, you're not a fan of short-form Disney, this will do little to change your mind. Except for Goofy. Goofy rocks.
  • Educational - Disney employs existing characters and animation to teach us to fight disease, pay our income tax on time, buy more war bonds, and save our bacon grease ("Every skillet-full of grease is a tiny munitions factory!").
  • From the Vault is where the collection hits gold. Four examples of true propaganda, demonizing and ridiculing the enemy. From the surreal whimsey of Der Fuehrer's Face to the affecting grimness of Education for Death: The Making of a Nazi, this is the sort of ephemera the film history maven seeks.

Disc Two contains the full-length Victory Through Air Power, Disney's animated version of Major Alexander de Seversky's book, which (legend has it) convinced Roosevelt to ramp up the Air Force during WWII. It also includes examples of Disney-produced training films, like Four Methods of Flush Riveting and Stop That Tank! While the subject matter is dry, these films are still strangely interesting, which is a tribute to the men who made them. The lessons learned here by Disney would turn them into a major player in classroom films during the 50s and 60s.

The transfer is the usual superb Disney quality. The Maltin segments were apparently produced earlier, as many of the clips presented over his commentary seem to be taken from tape masters, with soft image and bleeding colors. This could lead the purist to worry about the quality of the shorts excerpted in these sections, but it's needless - the quality is universally pristene. Having a "Play All" option for each individual category, as well as the entire disc, is another plus.

Besides the shiny metal outer shell, there is also a handsomely illustrated eight page pack-in booklet, a postcard-sized reproduction of the poster for the Donald Duck short Fall Out - Fall In, and a Certificate of Authenticity (though one could wonder how truly limited is a Limited Edition of a quarter million).

Disc Two contains all other extras, starting with over five minutes of home movie footage on the set of the live-action portions of Victory Through Air Power, then the theatrical trailer. Then come seven art galleries, many with sub-galleries and the occasional Maltin comment. The galleries range from production art to sketches to a marvelous collection of the insignia for various military units created by a special section of Disney.

Rounding out the package are Maltin interviews with "story man" Joe Grant, artist John Hench, and once and future executive Roy DIsney on the trials and triumphs of suddenly changing gears from an entertainment complex to a virtual arm of the military.

This is interesting, informative stuff, that provides a sad echo for our time, underlying a unification and clarity of vision that seems sorely lacking as we stagger through the tumultuous first years of the twenty-first century.

Dr. Freex, 6/6/2004