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Blu-ray Review: TARZAN, HERCULES, and Three More from the Disney Vault

That Disney Vault just likes to make us all wait, doesn’t it? But when it does open, at least lately, the titles just come pouring out. This week, no fewer than five different releases, containing six and a half different films, both animated and not, from various time periods in Disney history – two from the late-90’s, two made up of shorts from the late-40’s, one from just a couple of years ago, and one live-action/animation classic from 1971. That’s what we like to call “a wide swath.”

Leeeeeeeet’s go in chronological order, shall we?

First up, we have two-and-a-half films in one: The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad and Fun & Fancy Free make their way to Blu-ray for the very first time in a single-volume set.

The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad from 1949 is a brisk little 68 minute film made up of two half-hour shorts. The first is a quick telling of Wind in the Willows, narrated by the great Basil Rathbone and featuring the mania-fueled exploits of J. Thaddeus Toad, a millionaire who is easily enthralled by new things, in this case specifically a motorcar. His friends Ratty and Badger try to get him to cease his insane driving, but they simply cannot. This film is roughly told in Disneyland’s “Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride,” however in that ride you go to hell for a few minutes. Funny how these rides are for kids, isn’t it?

The second part is a comedic, though still quite frightening, version of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, narrated and sung by Bing Crosby. In it, we see just what a reprehensible little mooch Ichabod Crane was and how he practically begs to get his head cut off by the Jack-O-Lantern visage of The Headless Horseman.

This film is a delight and, as we’ll see with the rest of these, looks gorgeous in HD. Disney doesn’t spare any expense.

The other film in this set is 1947’s Fun & Fancy Free, which also contains two shorts made into a 70 minute film. Hosted by Jiminy Cricket, who sings the song for which the title is given, this package film features the two shorts. The first, Bongo, is about a circus bear who wishes more than anything to be able to live in the wild and not be made to perform on the daily (very sad). The second is the iconic Mickey and the Beanstalk, in which Mickey, Donald, and Goofy climb a beanstalk to fight a dopey giant. Bongo was narrated by Dinah Short and Mickey and the Beanstalk was narrated, in live-action, by Edgar Bergen and his two famous ventriloquist dummies Charlie McCarthy and Mortimer Snerd.

And I keep referring to this as two-and-a-half movies because the lone extra feature is the complete 20 minute short The Reluctant Dragon, made by Disney in 1941. In total, you get five stories in this one set. Pretty good if you ask me, and you clearly did.

Next we have a movie I grew up loving and you probably did too: Bedknobs and Broomsticks from 1971 directed by Robert Stevenson, the same man who directed many other Disney live-action favorites like Old Yeller, Mary Poppins, and The Love Bug.

In a very similar vein to Mary Poppins, this film (based on the book by Mary Norton) tells the story of children who end up living with and being cared for by a magical woman, in this case an honest-to-goodness witch (played by Angela Lansbury), and the various travels into animation and battles against the Nazis. You know, the Nazis; those people who murdered millions of other people. At any rate, this movie is a delight and features some amazing, and Oscar-winning, visual effects, not least of which include getting an entire army made up of museum-bound armor and military equipment floating around on their own. It’s a very impressive finale to any movie.

Special features include a retrospective on the film by the songwriting team of Richard and Robert Sherman and Lansbury herself, as well as several deleted scenes. If you like Disney live-action films, you can really only do one better than Bedknobs and Broomsticks in my book.

Next, we jump another 25 years to get to Hercules from 1997, the 35th animated feature from Walt Disney Pictures and probably the last one I truly loved until Wreck-It Ralph.

I think I like this movie so much because it’s just so gosh darned weird and mixes together a number of different genres and character types. It’s obviously based on the Greek myth (careful to take out all mention of any weird sexual stuff rampant murder that is usually in there), but you’ve got a wise-cracking satyr who’s a trainer of heroes, voiced by Danny DeVito, a bad guy voiced by James Woods who sounds like a used car salesman (or, more simply, James Woods), and a chorus of muses who sing gospel music. It’s just the strangest and for whatever reason, I’ve always enjoyed it.

Next we have a film from 1999, the 37th Disney Classic, Tarzan.

While this film certainly boasts amazing visuals and it’s impressive they got a whole soundtrack by Phil Collins (I imagine in a bid to re-capture the success of Elton John and Tim Rice’s soundtrack for The Lion King), I never really dug Tarzan all that much. It just never really grabbed me, and maybe that’s because I was entering high school and it wasn’t hip or cool to like Disney animation anymore, but it’s always felt like a lesser entry to me from the less-than-stellar period leading into the 2000s. Certainly better than a lot of the ones that came after, but not nearly on par with most of the ones that came before.

Finally we have another very short (68 minutes) film featuring Mickey, Donald, and Goofy; this one retelling The Three Musketeers.

It’s the tenth anniversary of this one, going direct-to-DVD in 2004, and clearly it’s for kids more so than families. There’s nothing particularly wrong with it, but if you’re an adult who’s a fan of Disney Animation, this one probably will be a pass for you. However, if you’ve got kids I’m sure they’ll dig it.

So there we have it – two firm recommendations and three tepid ones, but really, with Disney, you can always expect a certain high quality, it’s just a matter of degrees.

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