Cursed with a confusing title, Disney's "It's a Small World of Fun" discs have nothing to do with the classic theme-park ride. Instead they offer a handful of classic Disney cartoons, each loosely tied to a different international location. This disc takes viewers to the American West, Mexico, Great Britain, India, Switzerland and Hawaii. Most are pretty good.
"THE LEGEND OF JOHNNY APPLESEED" During the pioneer days, a God-loving but rather talentless young man travels throughout the West, planting apple seeds for settlers in this 17-minute cartoon, originally part of the 1948 compilation film "Melody Time." Using only verse, Dennis Day (a popular radio personality of the time) narrates the classic Christian tale that teaches that every person has value. There are no funny characters and no sight gags, but the short handles death deftly: when Johnny grows old, an angel takes him to heaven to plant apple seeds there. (Those clouds in the sky? Heaven's apple blossoms!) As for art, watch for the beautiful water scenes from Disney legend Mary Blair. No one has used white better.
"PUEBLO PLUTO" Pluto's expressive face is happy, sad, angry and scared as Mickey takes him along on a souvenir-shopping trip to Mexico. When his mouse master -- strange thought, huh? -- gets Pluto a buffalo bone, he refuses to share it with a smaller pup and soon finds himself stuck in a cactus fence. Shown in theaters in 1949.
"TIGER TROUBLE" Goofy with a gun? Now that's scary! Too bad it's not funny, at least not in this case. Mainly a series of chase scenes, this 1945 tale about tiger hunting is not one of Disney's best efforts. The story is weak, Goofy's voice never syncs with his mouth, and, if you look closely, he often doesn't have ears -- an unfortunate design experiment that would return in the 1950s. There's no real violence though, and the cartoon does have one great artistic moment: When the tan tiger walks in front of a thicket of tan bamboo, the animal becomes invisible except for its black stripes, nose and feet.
"THE FOX HUNT" Donald can't handle his hounds and Goofy can't control his horse in this 1938 short about the traditional upper-crust pastime of Great Britain. Alas, the two characters never meet. But as for Goofy, this is more like it! He's his old clumsy, clumpy self. A nice artistic touch: When Goofy and his mount go underwater, the surface above them has ripples.
"ALPINE CLIMBERS" My favorite Disney cartoons are those from 1928 to 1937, because the characters behave so badly! In this one, Pluto gets drunk! The characters in this 1936 cartoon also look different than their later incarnations: Mickey's eyes don't have pupils, Donald's head is too small and Pluto's still a little rough. The plot: As Mickey, Donald, and Pluto climb the Swiss Alps, each gets into trouble. Mickey faces the wrath of an angry eagle after he steals eggs from its nest; Donald has to deal with a head-butting goat.
"HELLO ALOHA" Like many 1950s Goofy cartoons, this 1952 short is just plain weird. Living in the suburbs, Goofy plays white-collar every-man George Geef, and every other character in the film looks just like Goofy! The plot? Vacationing in Hawaii, the Goof, I mean the Geef, decides to stay there forever -- until natives sacrifice him to the Gods and toss him in a volcano. Adults will enjoy the scene with the hula dancer, who performs just inches in front of Goofy's face, nearly giving our Mr G. a lap dance. And watch this segment closely: though the narrator says Goofy's eyes "follow her rhythmic hands," that's not what he's looking at! View the sequence frame-by-frame and it's hilarious -- as long as the kids are out of the room!
Except for some dust and scratches on "Johnny Appleseed," the shorts on this disc look as good as new: with crisp, bright color and sharp focus. Don't let the low sales ranking fool you. These "Small World" discs aren't bestsellers only because they're barely promoted and always available. Unlike Disney's movies and special collection DVDs, they never go back "in the vault."
Also check out Walt Disney's It's a Small World of Fun, Vol. 1.