Walt Disney Productions (1958), Walt Disney Home Entertainment (November 11, 2008), 2 disc set, 240 mins plus supplements, 1.33:1 original full frame ratio, Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono, Not Rated, Retail: $32.99
Walt’s hand-chosen Mouseketeer stars in her own serial. Fresh from a farm in Nebraska, orphaned Annette travels to the big city in order to meet her aunt and uncle for the first time. She makes some friends right away, but also develops a dangerous rivalry.
The Sweatbox Review:
When Walt Disney was preparing his children’s television show The Mickey Mouse Club, the search was on for a group of wholesome kids who would reflect Walt’s view of an idealized America. The times being what they were, the resulting group was rather homogenous in terms of complexion. One girl stood out, though. A young lady of Italian descent, looking more “ethnic” than any of the other kids, was a personal choice of Walt, who recognized her unique appeal. Her dark curly hair made her stand out from the rest of the bunch, but it was her personality and talent that drove her popularity as the most well-loved Mouseketeer.
Annette Funicello was so popular, in fact, that it was decided that she would star in her own serial in the third season of The Mickey Mouse Club, a season that saw the show shortened to a half-hour. This meant that she would essentially be carrying close to half of the show. In the previous two seasons, which sported hour-long episodes, serials such as Spin And Marty and The Hardy Boys had used outside child actors as their stars (though Mouseketeers like Annette did have significant roles). She was fifteen years old when the Annette serial was aired, with many more glory days still ahead of her, in a career that saw her become successful in the 1960s teen “beach” movies, a few Disney films, and some hit records.
The first chapter of the story is entitled An Introduction, but it’s really a preview of the first couple of weeks of the storyline. So, if you wish to be kept surprised by the plot points in the story, you may want to save the introduction for later. It’s still worthwhile seeing, as it has on-camera narration by character actress Mary Wickes, who played the maid in the serial. Wickes is just plain fun to watch, as one gets the distinct feeling you have seen her before, or more likely about a million times. Wickes appeared on many classic TV shows, from I Love Lucy to M*A*S*H, and later supplied the voice for “Laverne” in Disney’s The Hunchback Of Notre Dame.The best time to watch the introduction might be later on while you go through the bonus features, which include the entire Mickey Mouse Club episode that includes the intro.
The story really therefore starts in Chapter Two, The Newcomer, where we meet a pair of mature siblings, Archie and Lila McCleod, who appear to be reasonably well-off and decidedly single in a small city called Ashford. Their well-kept lives are turned upside-down by the appearance of a well-mannered farm girl from Beaver Junction, Nebraska, who happens to be a niece they had never known existed. Obviously taken aback, they nevertheless welcome the teenage girl, largely while being given prompts by their busybody maid Katie. Archie is the most flustered of the pair, and has little interest in becoming a father figure at this point in his life. He is played by Richard Deacon, another TV legend largely known for his work on The Dick Van Dyke Show as the bald-headed boss. Lila is somewhat more enthusiastic, as played by yet another well-known television actress, Sylvia Field. Lila turns out to be quite motherly, and seems to look forward to taking the girl out shopping and to set her up socially.
Buying clothes is easy, but fitting in with the much more sophisticated kids in her new neighborhood is more difficult. Annette finds a close friend in Jet, who is also from a farm but gets bussed in to attend Annette’s new school. The boys generally take an immediate shine to Annette, who is naïve and shy, but not square. Soon, the most popular boy in town, Steve Abernathy (Tim Considine, from the Hardy Boys and Spin And Marty serials) takes notice of her, along with a quiet boy named Mike who works at the ice cream shop (the other Spin And Marty guy, David Stollery). It is the interest of Steve, however, that proves to be Annette’s downfall, as Steve has a very jealous girlfriend— a pretty and talented, but very stuck-up, girl named Laura (Roberta Shore).
Laura does not like Annette at all. She takes every opportunity to belittle Annette, from small jabs to more obvious insults. Fortunately, Annette has her defenders, such as Steve’s sister Val and her friend Moselle (an early role for Shelley Fabares, later on The Donna Reed Show and as an adult on One Day At A Time). However, these girls are loyal to Laura, too, placing Annette in a vulnerable position. So, when all the kids are at a party being held in Laura’s honor, and Laura’s valuable necklace goes missing, Annette is accused by Laura, with varying degrees of loyalty shown from Annette’s new friends. The remainder of the story continues with the clashes between the kids, ramping up to a resolution where everyone finds out what happened to the necklace.
That’s the basic plot, but it’s not what the story is about. The themes of the story will be familiar to anyone who has ever grown up with other teenagers. Oh, how I do not miss high school! Though I enjoyed my high school years at the time, I have no desire to revisit a time of life where so many people behave so foolishly. Backstabbing, pettiness, jealousy, and class divisions are all on display here, seen through the filter of unrestrained teenage emotion. It is not as melodramatic as a soap opera, but it is about as addictive. Each ten-minute chapter advances the story and keeps you fully involved with what is happening. A large cast of characters gives plenty of opportunity for fine performances by a number of teen actors. Any small step away from the main storyline remains powerfully entertaining, due to the charisma of the many interesting young actors, such as Rudy Lee’s incorrigible, diminutive Steady Ware.
Director Charles Lamont did a superb job of moving things along, but the professionalism of his work here should come as no surprise. Lamont directed nearly countless comedies for the film industry, including some starring Abbott & Costello. Credit must also be given to screenwriter Lillie Hayward, who also wrote the script for My Friend Flicka, for managing to keep all the characters so likeable, even when they do unlike-able things. Though many of the scenes involve class conflict, it is shown that “rich and poor” does not mean “evil and good”; every person has faults and is prone to having prejudices. In the end, everyone can only be happy if class differences are put aside. Even Uncle Archie and Aunt Lila learn a few lessons in that regard. It is likely that the wholesomeness that Hayward got out of the material was inherent from the source. Annette was based on a book called Margaret, which was written by Janette Sebring Lowrey, the author of the children’s classic The Pokey Little Puppy.
Annette is corny, wholesome, Disney greatness. I loved taking this trip in a time machine to enjoy Walt Disney’s idealized America, a land that still reflected the problems of the real world, but that could be solved with some pluck and a cheery disposition. While watching the serial, I couldn’t keep the smile off my face. Every performer is delightful, the direction is impeccable, and the story entertains immensely despite being the exact opposite of what we supposedly normally embrace in this current age of family entertainment. Annette is never rude, is far from hip, and exudes cleanliness. What a breath of fresh air!
The twenty-episode serial, which ran Monday-Friday for four weeks, is presented with ten chapters each on this sets’ two discs. Each chapter includes the brief introduction by Mouseketeer Karen.
Is This Thing Loaded?
Leonard Maltin is again on hand to serve as host to this set. He does introductions to both discs, each one running just under four minutes. He gives some nice background on Funicello and the other members of the crew and cast.
Two complete episodes from The Mickey Mouse Club are included, one on each disc. These would be the February 11 and March 7 episodes, the ones that saw the introduction and conclusion of the Annette serial. The shows are just as good as the serial itself, showcasing the substantial talent of the singing and dancing Mouseketeers.
There are two very nice featurettes on this set, one on each disc. Musically Yours, Annette (12) is an excerpt from a video made for Walt Disney Records in 1993. Annette looks back on her own career, with additional comments from the likes of Paul Anka, Shelley Fabares, the Sherman brothers, Frankie Avalon, and more. To Annette, With Love (16:06) is a new tribute to the one-time child star, tracing her career from her Mickey Mouse Club days to her later Disney and non-Disney endeavors in film, television, and music. There is lots of 1985 interview footage with Annette, plus interviews with former Mouseketeers, her mother, husband Glen Holt, and other admirers. Lots of special bits are here, including footage from her Disney Legends ceremony, magazine covers, and much more. Both featurettes here are fitting and appreciated tributes.
The Treasures set comes in the requisite tin, with a pasted-on paper back cover describing the contents. The thin cardboard band that decorated the earlier waves of Treasures remains absent. The discs are held in a double-thick Amaray, with both discs overlapping on one side. Inserts include the usual 8-page liner notes, a Disney Blu-ray/Disney Movie Rewards ad insert, a photograph of Annette Funicello from a 1957 publicity still, and a numbered certificate of authenticity. This set has been limited to 39,500 copies.
Ink And Paint:
The fifty-year old elements are in typically good shape. Disney has almost always been good about preserving their stuff, and these episodes look very nice. A little detail is lost where blacks exist, and there is a mild dust presence, but one still has to be impressed with the sharpness of the picture. Very nice.
I continue to surprised at just how good fifty-year old soundtracks can still sound, including this mono one, presented over two channels. Dialog is distinct, and music maintains good pitch. Annette Funicello sings an original song in this serial, How Will I Know My Love, an important milestone in helping to launch her singing career. English subtitles are provided, but no other languages are given audio or subtitle tracks.
Cornball? Yes. Overly earnest? Yes. Incredibly entertaining? Yes!!! Annette Funicello remains an engaging presence after all these years, with an earnestness that embraces an audience and makes you want to be her fiend. The other actors— adults and teens alike— are also terrific. The Fifties may not have been exactly like this, but this is just how we remember them, thanks to Walt Disney. It is hard to think of another set of Mickey Mouse Club segments that would have been more perfect to showcase the vibe that Walt was trying to crate with his programs, or another Mouseketeer more deserving of her own set. The bonus features do her career and her legacy justice, and it is nice to see her so honored.
Animated Classic or Back To The Drawing Board?