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Laser Archive Editions Show the Wonders of Disney

Home entertainment: Five sets of animated films stretching across five decades include deleted scenes, storyboards and documentaries on 'the making of. . . .'

February 09, 1996|BARBARA SALTZMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Who would have thought that Mickey Mouse would turn out to be the great film archivist of the 20th century? Mickey proves to be without a doubt the master pack rat, ferreting away every bit of treasure, trivia, even trash, and repackaging every bit in the perfect format: laser disc.

To wit: five recent archive editions that start with beautiful standard-play (CAV) masters of Walt Disney animated films stretching across five decades: "Cinderella," "Alice in Wonderland," "The Lion King," "Tron," and "Saludos Amigos" and "The Three Caballeros."

The films, of course, are just the beginning. All of these editions, which come with hefty price tags ($100-$125), include deleted scenes and/or songs, early renderings of characters and storyboards in either animated or computer animation form, documentaries on "the making of . . .," supplemental audio tracks and in some cases "collector's" prints or other bonus material in that curious format--paper.

The most impressive package accompanies the 1950 animated favorite "Cinderella." A hard-cover book on "A Dream Come True: The Storybook and the Making of a Masterpiece" is a 44-page equivalent of liner notes, including early concept and character sketches and essentially a written narrative of the "Making of . . ." documentary. Of special interest are the audio tracks that include half a dozen unused songs, many pieced together and digitally edited from demo acetate discs, some in such disrepair that they were broken over the years.

The 1951 "Alice in Wonderland" includes storyboards and concept and character design art along with a restored soundtrack. Clearly obvious from the supplemental "One Hour in Wonderland" broadcast of Walt Disney's television debut is Uncle Walt's mastery of promotion and his immediate understanding of how the upstart medium could be used to promote movies.

The 1982 live-action "Tron," featuring Jeff Bridges and Bruce Boxleitner, brings us into the early world of computers and computer animation. The story of a young computer genius sucked into a computer and forced into a deadly video game with the fate of the world in his hands is remarkable for its special effects, including 17 minutes of computer-generated effects.

Supplemental materials are all standard play, making for some interesting freeze-frames when looking at visual effects and computer-generated imagery. Once again, there are the requisite deleted scenes, along with storyboards and supplemental audio tracks that include commentary from writer-director Steve Lisberger, Harrison Ellenshaw and Richard Taylor, co-directors of special effects, and producer Donald Kushner.

"The Three Caballeros" and "Saludos Amigos," produced as part of an effort to build good will with Latin America during World War II, need to be looked at in context of their times. Otherwise, they can easily seem dated, even stereotypical. They introduce the animated Brazilian parrot Jose Carioca and Panchito the charro rooster, who sing up a storm with the ever-popular Donald Duck. The early blend of live action and animation is well worth viewing in the freeze-frame mode.

By 1994, when "The Lion King" came along, Disney had learned about preserving every bit and byte along the way. As a result, the legion of lion hearts did not have to wait long for this THX laser set, which comes with a portfolio of half a dozen concept art lithographs.

"The Making of . . . " documentary, narrated by Robert Guillaume, brings us into the creative process early on, including the Elton John/Tim Rice music and the animation process.

There are four sides of supplemental material, all standard play, totaling nearly two hours of detail on storyboards, including pitches, development of sequences and comparisons of storyboards to the actual film in the "Circle of Life" segment. The final side, which details both traditional and computer animation, includes a supplemental commentary track.

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