Walt Disney Animation Collection: Classic Short Films, Vol. 5 - The Wind in the Willows [DVD]

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The Wise Little Hen
Donald Duck makes his screen debut in this delightful Technicolor "Silly Symphony." With winter approaching, the Wise Little Hen searches for someone to help her plant her corn. But her neighbors Peter Pig and Donald Duck avoid hard work with the same excuse: "Who, me? Oh no. I gotta bellyache." So the Hen plants the corn herself, with assistance from her brood of chicks. Once the corn is grown, the Hen looks for someone to help with the harvest--but Peter and Donald once again beg off with yet another "bellyache." Guess who gets to eat all the corn bread, corn fritters and corn soup in the final scene...and guess who gets the castor oil instead? ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

The Grasshopper and the Ants
Ideally suited for its target Depression-era audience, this 1934 cartoon begins in Springtime, as a carefree, top-hatted grasshopper fiddles away while a colony of ants industrially stores away food and provisions for the winter (a project that requires saws, carts, and a full marching band). The Ant Queen warns the Grasshopper that "You'll change your tune when winter comes," but the Grasshopper merely laughs and reprises his signature song "The World Owes Us a Livin'." Come wintertime, and the Grasshopper starves and freezes outside while the ants enjoy a rich banquet in the warm comfort of their tree-trunk domicile. Fortunately, the Queen is merciful, and invites the Grasshopper inside to join the festivities--but only if he has truly learned his lesson. Among other highlights, the transition from Spring to Winter is brilliantly conveyed in early three-strip Technicolor. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

The Robber Kitten
Ambrose is a little kitten with big plans. He wants to be a bold, brave highwayman, just like his idol, the notorious Dirty Bill from Cootie Hill, who "never took a bath and never will." Alas, Ambrose's mom not only regularly gives him baths, but refuses to address him by his chosen nickname "Butch." Running away from home, Ambrose aspire to a life of carefree banditry--and much to his delight, he soon crosses the path of Dirty Bill himself. At first feigning friendship, Dirty Bill quickly turns murderous when he's led to believe that "Butch" has just robbed a stagecoach full of bejewelled passengers. The gimlet-eyed bandit demands that "Butch" hand over his swag--OR ELSE! Will Ambrose learn his lesson in time, or will the knife-wielding Dirty Bill claim another victim? ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

The Golden Touch
Walt Disney once claimed that The Golden Touch was the only "Silly Symphony" cartoon deliberately designed to convey a moral message. As he greedily counts his stash of gold coins, chubby King Midas sings "I never care for women/I never cared for wine/But when I count large sums of money/Heh, heh, it's divine." But Midas wants even more wealth, wishing that everything he touches would turn to gold. A grinning goblin named Goldie grants Midas his wish, warning "To you the golden touch would prove a golden curse". Before long, everything in Midas' castle--cats, statues, fountains, apple trees, his own teeth--have been given the 14-K treatment. Alas, Midas' food supply also turns to gold, and though a golden banana may look wonderful, you can't eat it. Envisioning his own skeletal corpse in the mirror, the now-chastened King Midas screams "My kingdom for a hamburger!"--with onions, of course. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

The Ugly Duckling
The second of two Disney cartoons based on Hans Christian Andersen's touching fable, the 1939 version of The Ugly Duckling begins as Mama Duck waits for her eggs to hatch, while Papa paces nervously. The blessed event arrives, yielding four perfect little ducklings--and one grotesquely homely and hopelessly clumsy one. Making matters worse for his parents by honking instead of quacking, the Ugly Duckling is soon abandoned by his Mama, leaving him to weep at the sight of his own reflection in the water. . .and to try unsuccessfully to bond with a bluejay and a wooden duck decoy. But there's a happy ending in store when the outcast duckling finds a new home with a family of swans. The Ugly Duckling earned another Academy Award for Walt Disney's increasingly cluttered shelf-full of honors. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

The Wind in the Willows
Wind in the Willows was originally released as the second half of the 1949 Disney animated feature Ichabod and Mr. Toad. While the first portion of the film was devoted to a sprightly adaptation of Washington Irving's "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow", the second portion was a cartoonization of one of Kenneth Grahame's whimsical "Toad of Toad Hall" tales. Eric Blore sublimely provides the voice of the aristocratic Mr. Toad, an amiable, childlike sort with a passion for automobiles. Framed on a car-theft charge by a gang of weasels, Toad is shuttled off to prison. He is rescued from durance vile by his faithful chums Mole, Rat and Badger. One of the most popular and enduring of Disney's late-1940s efforts, Wind in the Willows was in constant reissue as a entity separate from Ichabod and Mr. Toad, and was also a frequent visitor to the various Disney TV anthologies of the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

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