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Walt Disney Treasures: The Complete Pluto, Volume Two

Walt Disney Productions (1947-1951), Walt Disney Home Entertainment (December 19 2006), 2 disc set, 227 mins plus supplements, 1.33:1 original full frame ratio, Dolby Digital Mono, Not Rated, Retail: $32.99

Storyboard:

Mouse’s best friend Pluto returns in a second and final collection of his solo animated outings, bringing the cartoon filmography of Walt’s “original fantastic four” (the others being Mickey, Donald and Goofy, of course) closer to completion on DVD. Includes the sublime Wonder Dog and Plutopia but continues the trend set by volume one and misses out on several Pluto milestones.

The Sweatbox Review:

Whatever happened to The COMPLETE Pluto? With just a few more cartoons in his lengthy career than Disney’s other dawg Goofy, a total compendium of Pluto’s shorts could easily have sat in one double-platter set. But the powers that be at Mouse House Video Central decreed that the playful pup’s films be sliced and released in two sets…always a dicey issue when poor sales might lead to the cancellation of follow-up sets. We’ve waited years for another go at the Silly Symphonies, and Donald’s work has been spread over three collections so far. Thankfully, Disney doesn’t leave us hanging, and The Complete Pluto, Volume Two concludes this mini-series within the Disney Treasures even though “The Chronological Pluto” might have been the better phrasing, since even with two releases, these collections are anything but “complete”…

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With many of Pluto’s more recognisable and accessible cartoons already popping up in the first collection, I was interested to see what had been left for a second helping, since as so often with the Treasures, it’s these continuations that offer the rarities and real gold (though unluckily for me, it turned out that I’d seen all but two of the titles assembled here). Pluto was always great support, even becoming the main star of a number of Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck cartoons when those leads – particularly Mickey – started to play second fiddle to other characters in their own cartoons as their popularity dimmed. But as a central character, Pluto was sometimes a tough nut to crack, and while some of his vehicles are genuinely inventive, and his personality a corker, a great deal of these shorts get away from the straight cartooning of the Looney Tunes or even the comic escapades of Donald or Goofy. As with the Silly Symphonies, the Pluto films are more based in nature – the central character being a “real” dog, of course – and are as such among the slower of Disney’s theatrical output, the kind of craftsmanship that lent his product the tag of “animated shorts” rather than “cartoons”.

Pluto’s buoyancy continues to shine, however, and though the cartoons show off the limitations of providing adventures for an animal treated to all intents and purposes as an anthromorphised dog, he truly has an engaging personality that carries him through the series. Apart from being Mickey’s best pal, Pluto himself never seemed to be settled down: he flits between owners Mickey and Minnie, and acquires various girlfriends, adversaries and even siblings on occasion. Pluto started off, of course, as a sidekick to Mickey, and the films basically play as offshoots to the Mouse series, in which Pluto eventually began to feature more prominently in screen time. Mr Mouse, naturally became relegated to the sidelines in the Pluto films, making the odd bookend appearances, and eventually “retired” to company figurehead status. The cartoons featured here in Volume Two pick up from later in Pluto’s career, when we was a fully-fledged star of his own series. Unlike the first set, all the cartoons gathered are official Pluto entries, though that doesn’t mean that we’re still not missing some other series cartoons that should have also been featured here.

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Disc One opens, as usual for the Treasures collections, with an introduction from host Leonard Maltin, who expands on the fact that, as seen now, the Pluto cartoons are refreshingly dialogue-free. As always, and to take the best view in seeing a character develop over time, I went with the chronological listing available in watching these cartoons, though the alphabetical one is appreciated for easy locating of chosen shorts. Picking up in 1947, where we left off from Volume One, the first cartoon featured here is Mail Dog, opening with some great effects animation for an animated short. Here the pooch plays postal deliverer, making his way through the snow while dealing with the antics of Flutter Foot the rabbit. Mail Dog is typical of the cartoons gathered in this set and displays all that is good and not so good about the plotting of this era’s Pluto cartoons, but it is extremely well animated, and of course the pup and Flutter Foot end up as friends.

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Pluto’s Blue Note is next, and I have to be honest and say that it’s not one of my favorites, probably now because I sat through it too many times as a kid. I can almost sing you the score to this one (it’s the one where Pluto mimes The Three Caballeros’ hit You Belong To My Heart from the phonograph record to impress the ladies) and was tempted to skimp through it, but the quality of Pluto’s animation remains impressive, especially when he croons Sinatra style! Rescue Dog is another of the many snow-themed shorts to emerge from the Disney Studios in the late 1940s, and this one marks the return of the playful baby seal that cropped up throughout the Mickey and Pluto cartoons, so you can imagine the kind of japes the pair get themselves into.

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Another recurring Disney character, a mischievous gopher, turns up in Bone Bandit to cause Pluto some irritation when he goes searching for a buried bone, and Pluto’s Fledgling is a very sweet cartoon in which our canine hero attempts to help baby bird Orville to fly. This is one of the least formulaic cartoons, even though most of them are under the supervision of the same director, Charles Nichols, who here employs the remarkably detailed backgrounds and uses them ingeniously for running gags. A terrific short, this one seems more delicately handled than most, and comes from a good-looking Walt Disney Pictures re-issue print.

Pluto’s Purchase is another I’ve probably seen too many times but still love, and features the first showings for both Mickey and Butch the bulldog in this collection. It centers on Pluto’s attempts to bring a sausage home while Butch does his best to grab it…little known to them both is that Mickey has intended it as a birthday present for Pluto’s adversary all along. The conclusion of the cartoon is an odd one: Butch seems very overly pleased at the slobbering kiss Pluto mistakenly smacks him on the lips with, and the musical score ends with the Goofy theme! At this point, the set seemingly misses out Cat Flap Pluto, but it’s actually included on Disc Two. However, I’ll speak more about several other oversights below.

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One can sense Nichols and the artists’ frustration in coming up with new Pluto material from the growing number of appearances from other series’ supporting cast members, and in the next featured cartoon, Bubble Bee, it’s a chance for Donald Duck’s old nemesis to get stuck into Pluto’s efforts to get some gum from the Bee’s hive. In Pluto’s Surprise Package, the pup plays mail dog again as he tries to get to grips with a boxed turtle, and in Pluto’s Sweater he’s trying to get out of wearing the not so flattering pink pullover that Minnie has made for him – much to the amusement of frequent series co-star Figaro the cat, from Pinocchio, and who went on to have a short-lived series of his own. Briefly, this one is little more than a set up for the usual gags to surface, though the resolve is sweet revenge for our favorite pooch.

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Pueblo Pluto sees the artists using more of their South American experience gathered on their early 1940s trip that resulted in the feature productions of Saludos Amigos and The Three Caballeros. Here Mickey joins Pluto for an excursion south of the border, where Ronnie The Pup returns to cause havoc when Pluto spots a delicious bone down Mexico way. When it came to crazy coyotes, no-one in animation had them sewn up better than the Looney Tunes gang’s Wile E, but Disney also had a demented, slightly lunatic coyote of their own who popped up in Pluto shorts more often than not. In Sheep Dog, Bent-Tail and his son (the dumb and dumber Bent-Tail Junior, natch) endeavor to relieve Pluto’s old west homestead of some lambs. In their earlier encounter The Legend Of Coyote Rock, Bent-Tail came up with some pretty ingenious gags to try and trick old Pluto, but here the tables are turned when the dog uses some disguises to his own advantage!

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Disc Two begins again with another intro from Maltin, who this time highlights the Pluto crew and addresses the way director Nichols and his story staff were able to keep the series feeling fresh even after running the same formula over and over again. The first cartoon on this disc, Camp Dog is one of the most handsomely drawn in the collection, with the Bent-Tails back again to score some food from Pluto’s stash in the great outdoors. It’s as close as Pluto got to being inspired by the type of lunacy that beset the Tex Avery cartoons, primarily because he plays second fiddle to Bent-Tail and Junior’s food-nabbing frolics.

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Grub crops up again as Chip ‘n’ Dale enter the fray in Food For Feudin’, where ownership of the chipmunks’ nutty stockpile comes into question when the nuts end up in Pluto’s kennel. The naturalistic backgrounds here show Disney’s continuing dedication to the artwork even in an the early 1950s era when the other studios were abandoning detail for brash, color blocked stylisation. Just as it’s obvious the inclusion of several co-stars helped to keep the Pluto cartoons going, it’s also clear that Nichols and his animators had great fun with the Bent-Tail coyotes, as they come back again in Pests Of The West, this time after the contents of a chicken coop. Junior upsets the plan for his Dad once again, though there’s always fun to be had with these characters, and this plays with some very usual gags, including one emergence from a puff of smoke by coming out from a side door that feels more MGM (particularly Tom & Jerry) than Disney.

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The gopher is back in – hey! – Pluto And The Gopher, and Pluto’s dream date Dinah appears as Pluto’s Heart Throb, both of which I’ll admit to skipping through, again because I’d seen them way too many times in the past. But there are several strong gags contained within them, especially the gopher burrowing through the carpet, and Pluto’s rivalry with Butch for Dinah’s affections. Primitive Pluto is the first cartoon among the ones brought together here that I don’t ever recall catching before, and it’s a good one, with Pluto’s animal instinct manifesting itself as Primo, a smart-talking wolf out to get Pluto to heed the call of the wild. Naturally, Pluto’s innocence proves him to be no hunting killer, and a close call with a grizzly bear ends up scaring Primo into extinction!

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Puss Café is another cartoon that I haven’t seen in a long while, but came flashing right back to me when I saw Melvin and Milton: a pair of goofy Siamese cats that caused multiple disruptions in Disney cartoons long before Si and Am came to plague Lady’s life in Lady And The Tramp five years later. Here, the dopey pair play more like suburban feline versions of the Bent-Tail coyotes as they try to take their pick of Pluto’s backyard delights. A delight in itself is the brilliant Wonder Dog, perhaps my pick of this set’s offerings. When Dinah’s affections for circus dog Prince are clear, Pluto dreams that he would be able to win her heart if he could accomplish Prince’s amazing feats. When Butch catches Pluto training and starts to chase him, the fright gives Pluto the adrenaline he needs to complete the course in record time!

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Wonder Dog is the Bone Trouble of the later Pluto shorts: terrifically directed once again by Charles Nichols, with wonderfully evocative backgrounds and circus inspired artwork, and economical storytelling packing in some top-notch animation and gags. Best of all is perhaps the warm and fuzzy feeling of hearing some of the Dumbo score in the music cues, which don’t detract at all, complimenting the action perfectly and only adding to the overall enjoyment of this exceedingly entertaining cartoon. The chronological collection comes to an end just as we hit 1951 for Cold Storage, an otherwise run of the mill Pluto short that has him battling a stock-company stork for his cosy kennel in the winter weather.

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A series of cartoons From The Vault closes out this collection. Our friend Leonard makes a quick note of why these titles were kept separate from the general running order, highlighting the stereotypes and potential cruelty sprinkled among them. The aforementioned Cat Nap Pluto is the first of three cartoons presented from 1948, and one of two featuring Pinocchio’s Figaro the cat. After a rough night out, all Pluto wants is some shuteye…something the wide-awake Figaro is well against allowing, until Pluto’s sandman calls in some help. 1951’s Cold Turkey has Milton the cat back in a television satire that has both cat and dog salivating over a commercial for Lurkey’s Turkey, leading them to raid the refrigerator and spar for its contents. Although Pluto would continue to feature in other cartoons, this was the last one to carry his own title card. In later years, director Charles Nichols would move into television himself, most notably becoming an animation supervisor for The Flintstones.

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Also from 1951 is one of the finest Plutos, Plutopia, again directed by Nichols and suitably “left for last” in the chronology of this collection. It’s a good one to go out on, with animation from Norm Ferguson, Fred Moore and Les Clark among others, and some feature-quality sequences. Particularly good is Pluto’s dream, where all usual conventions are reversed and Pluto is master of his own world. This great-looking cartoon is the closest the artists get to minimalist 1950s styling and its wacky nature always reminds me of the earlier Donald Duck cartoon Duck Pimples from 1945. With the iris closing out on guest star Mickey Mouse, it seems a nice, full-circle way of closing out this collection, and a fitting end to the Pluto solos.

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However…we have some final treats to go, and although these are listed as Bonus Cartoons, I’m going to include them here in the line up, hopping back almost ten years to 1943 for Figaro And Cleo, the first of three cartoons to feature the itty bitty kitty from Pinocchio. The playful cat featured in a number of Pluto shorts and was even intended for his own series, of which this was the first. Here he’s reunited with Cleo the goldfish and given his own theme song. The cartoon is linked from both the Bonus Cartoons and From The Vault menu options due to one stereotyped character, and plays with Maltin’s short disclaimer once more. Coming from an earlier era, this is a sumptuously animated short and even gets itself a couple of its own songs. Running nearly eight and a half minutes, it’s easily the longest cartoon in the set and the heaviest plotted of them all, providing real quality.

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The two other Figaro cartoons finish off the collection proper. Bath Day, from 1946, concentrates exclusively on the character and despite Charles Nichols as director, plays as so much more than a re-cast Pluto cartoon, showing Figaro’s feisty attitude off after he’s been cleaned up by owner Minnie. Figaro And Frankie is the third and final of the Figaro shorts, even though he would continue to show up in other series. In this one, Cleo is substituted for singing canary Frankie, who gets on the little cat’s nerves. When Figaro tries to stop Frankie’s singing once and for all, the bird escapes from its cage and becomes the prey of bulldog Butch. With the Voice Of Reason ringing in his ears, Figaro does the good thing, much to the appreciation of Minnie as the cartoon fades out.

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Missing Cartoons: While the inclusion of the three Figaro series shorts is a major plus, it doesn’t help the nagging feeling that we’re not seeing the full Pluto picture. “Missing” cartoons from Volume One turn out to be omitted again here too, even as extras. These included Pluto’s real first: The Moose Hunt from 1931 in which he was officially named, along with Norm Ferguson’s influential Playful Pluto (1934, with the famously celebrated flypaper sequence). Though both of these cartoons turned up in the Mickey Mouse In Black And White, Volume Two collection along with other early Pluto appearances, there’s no excuse for the no-shows in a fully “complete” Pluto, even allowing for overlap. Then there is Pluto’s Judgement Day (1935), plus the cartoons Donald And Pluto and Mother Pluto (both 1936) which again although entries in other series (Donald Duck and the Silly Symphonies, respectively) should and could have made shows in these sets too. Their dropping from the chronological lists is simply baffling, especially considering the series was drawn out over two releases, and it seems outrageous that Judgement Day should be passed over when it was the pooch’s first color appearance! Since the first set even included some extraneous Mickey and Donald cartoons (as I asked then, what gives with these selections?), where are the character’s last few guest slots in the cartoons R’Coon Dawg (1951), Pluto’s Party and Pluto’s Christmas Tree (1952), or the final Mickey and Pluto short, The Simple Things (1953)? As you’ll note below, even the extras here feature footage from a few of these and otherwise unseen titles.

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Instead of being skimpy with the number of shorts and extras in these two sets, it certainly seems that, give or take a cartoon or two, Pluto’s works could have been assembled in one collection, Goofy style, or bolstered by the additional suggestions above. I’d have been more than happy to see certain cartoons appearing again to provide a fully rounded look at Pluto’s career, and the choice of what got included and those that got left off remains a curious quiz. Those caveats aside, The (almost) Complete Pluto, Volume Two does nothing short of what it promises on the tin (quite literally!) and completes Pluto’s short films on DVD. Running them again has been a joy. Even for someone who isn’t as big a fan of the character as I am of Mickey, Donald or especially Goofy, Pluto continues to win me over.

Is This Thing Loaded?

As with the first, fairly light, volume, the bonus features here are, if anything, even less substantial affairs, yet I have pointed out the known cartoons that have gone “missing” in this “complete” compendium and should have been included.

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For a Disney Treasure, there simply isn’t a lot here. On Disc One, as well as Maltin’s introduction, we get two Master Class session featurettes. The first has animator Randy Cartwright discussing Bone Trouble, the Jack Kinney cartoon from 1940, and which doesn’t appear here but on the first volume. Secondly, Andreas Deja discusses Hawaiian Holiday, a Mickey Mouse cartoon that bizarrely doesn’t appear on either Pluto set and has otherwise never been known for being a strong Pluto appearance. Imagine the screen sliced in two, with the cartoon playing left and the animator on the right, and you’ll get the idea when I say that these are little more than “video commentary” versions of the cartoons. After a brief intro, the screen flits between full-image cartoon (with the animator continuing to talk, audio commentary style) and split screen.

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What’s different to a regular track is that here Cartwright and Deja are armed with remote controls and can paws…oops, sorry…pause the action to point out prominent keyframes and poses as well as repeat specific actions. This also has the effect of stretching out the eight minute Bone Trouble to almost 15, and Hawaiian Holiday to just over nine. I was going to say that though they both have obvious admiration for the animators’ performances, the character acting and the material itself, there are no great revelations to be found, but the odd added bit of info – some in joke explanations, pencil test snippets and modern day references come to mind – did lend these just the right amount of weight to be worthwhile. Though both Cartwright and Deja resort to filling space by merely describing what’s happening onscreen, both speak with clear enthusiasm as the cartoons run. These are light extras, to be sure, but it’s always a pleasure to sit and listen to experts of their craft.

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Pluto’s Judgement Day – a cartoon that gets a lot of exposure on this collection but perplexingly doesn’t appear in full on either set – is highlighted in two Pluto’s Process deconstructions. Each run the cartoon’s full 8:15 minutes, and the first split screens the short into pencil test, story sketch and completed color versions, though often into sizes so small that none of them are particularly easy to pick out. Some attention is drawn away by the constant video box manipulation that automatically switches views, usually away from whichever one the viewer might want to focus on. An additional commentary on this cartoon – which goes unmentioned as being a Pluto landmark for being his first showing in color – would have been great, but even better would have been the full cartoon itself! For those that do want to see the pencil test version, it’s provided in its entirety as the second entry, though surely this is what the angle option is for and has worked so well on previous production stages/final version splits.

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When we get to Disc Two, the much hoped for additional content vaporises once we realise that the three Figaro cartoons, although listed as Bonus Cartoons, have already been covered. Since these three shorts are really not much more than series extensions, the only real bonus of worth is a Gallery, sliced up into Pluto Backgrounds, Pluto In Progress and Pluto Published. We are offered a total of over 170 images, covering all manner of production art, story sketches, design sheets and comic magazines, including around 60 dedicated to “Pluto’s Nightmare”, eventually released as the non-included Pluto’s Judgement Day. Without checking, I had the sneaky suspicion that more than a few of the images also appeared in the gallery collection on the first volume. I found no additional hidden “Easter Egg” features.

Case Study:

Like other recent Disney Treasures, The Complete Pluto, Volume Two comes housed in an embossed tin. Inside, a certificate replicates Roy Disney and Leonard Maltin’s signature and confirms a print run of just 65,000 copies. The back-sheet featuring the set’s contents is once again a cardboard slip instead of being printed directly onto the back of the tin, again gummed onto the tin, and allowing for quick, non-rip removal to be tucked away inside for safekeeping. A reprinted lithograph presents the original poster art for Rescue Dog and the eight-page booklet announces that we can watch the progression of one cartoon, Pluto’s Judgement Day, from start to finish. Well, we would, if the finished cartoon was actually included!

Ink And Paint:

All of the cartoons in the set are presented in their correct 1.33:1 aspect ratio, with no windowbox formatting. Some of the cartoons offer very pleasing high-contrast prints, though I must make note of Pluto’s Purchase, which especially looks a little over saturated but is the only cartoon to exhibit this appearance. Wonder Dog seems to have been zoomed in a bit, cropping a noticeable amount from along the top. It’s not enough to detract from the enjoyment, but sufficient to warrant a question on how much more we should be seeing. Apart from those issues, there’s a consistency in keeping with other Treasures releases: nicely remastered, with solid color, but not cleaned up so clinically that they lose the essence of their film origins.

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Scratch Tracks:

As always, the boisterous menu music selections are mastered much louder than the accompanying cartoons, making the jump back to a main menu an unexpectedly eventful moment. Thanks mainly to Oliver Wallace’s wall to wall music scoring, the toons sound as lively as anything shown these days, and kudos goes to Disney’s recording team of the time for their sterling reproductions. My one note would be that Pluto’s Fledgling sounds a little hissy, odd in that this was from a re-issue print, so perhaps it has degraded over the generations? That was the only cartoon I picked up anything but exemplary work from though, and the rest of the set holds up incredibly well.

Final Cut:

Though there isn’t the repetition of material from others in the Treasures line that plagued the first volume of Pluto’s exploits, there is still the feeling that both these collections have been short-changed not only in their spreading out over two releases, but in the lack of some of the more important character milestones not being included in either volume. The lighter than air extras don’t count for too much either, particularly when the two best additions refer to cartoons that don’t appear for comparison in either set! The lack of the landmark Playful Pluto, with its flypaper scene, and the pup’s color debut Pluto’s Judgement Day are particularly painful in their omission. Collectors of all the Treasures should not hesitate in the slightest, of course, but those only interested in Pluto from a fringe point of view would be better off sticking to the initial volume only. I was hoping that this set would include the missing cartoons from Pluto’s filmography, but for a Walt Disney Treasure, second go around still feels more than a little bare bones.

Animated Classic or Back To The Drawing Board?

MAIN FEATURE
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OVERALL DVD

 

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