Walt Disney Home Video (1954-1957), CLV, 3 discs/6 sides, 315 mins, 1.33:1 original full-frame ratio, Digital Sound, Not Rated

The DisneyLand Anthology is a rare LaserDisc title that I didn’t even know made it to print! In the last few months of laser-pressing, collectors were more than used to titles being announced, only to then be withdrawn, cancelled or switched to DVD release instead. Such a set was this one, announced by Disney’s then distributor Image Entertainment for release in 1998. Despite much searching, it seemed that the title had been “indefinitely shelved”, meaning that it would probably never see the light of day. When the Disney Treasures DVD tins began to appear, I naturally assumed that the DisneyLand USA collection contained material intended for the Anthology disc. How wrong I was!

When I finally came across this boxed set edition online (as a result of another, non-related eBay search) I was amazed and delighted, and it remains one of my favorite discoveries. Featuring six full and uncut episodes of the DisneyLand television series, this is just simply Walt Heaven! Though not as lavish as some of the other laser sets (there’s no separate booklet inside, and the chapter stops are listed instead on the back cover) it’s the contents that very much outweigh the packaging. First up is the first ever episode, The DisneyLand Story (which was actually included in that DisneyLand USA Treasures tin), during which Walt himself introduces the audience to his Studio and lifts the curtain on what would become DisneyLand, the theme park. This is behind the scenes at its best, as we’re given a sneak peek at films in production at the Studio and a look at programs to come in the series.

A Day In The Life Of Donald Duck is a totally fresh episode that contains a great deal of newly animated footage (including that famous clip of Donald opening and reading his fan mail). Though these shows were originally shot in color, those original prints are thought to have been lost, so only the broadcasted black and white versions exist. I have seen some of the footage from this episode in color in the mid-1980s, although it may have been the result of the colorization process. The prints used are fine, and comparable to the episodes found on the Behind The Scenes At The Walt Disney Studios DVD Treasures set. The Donald episode also features a few shorts cut into the show, including Fire Chief and The Vanishing Private.

Disc two features two more shows: Along The Oregon Trail (a history of the old West with host Fess Parker) features the pre-production of the Disney feature Westward Ho The Wagons, while The Crisler Story/Prowlers Of The Everglades, follows the making of a True Life Adventure (and the final result). These two peeks behind the scenes are fascinating both for what they reveal, as well as the way “making of” documentaries were produced back then.

The final disc contains two of the best shows on the disc. Presented fully in color, Adventures In Fantasy is an exploration of how inanimate objects can come to life through the magic of the animated drawing. Featuring new animated sequences, Fantasy also contains the shorts Johnny Fedora And Alice Blue Bonnet, The Little House, Susie The Little Blue Coupe and Little Toot. Finally, on side six, is the icing on the cake – the complete edition of Ward Kimball’s previously rarely found special Mars And Beyond, in color! A curious little film (the last time I saw it I was around seven, when it played as a support to The Black Hole in the UK), it does feature some classic Kimball touches, from the supposed creatures of Mars to whatever else we might find “out there”. Featuring completely new animation, the film attempts to mix fact with fiction, presenting various theories and scientific possibilities on how we might actually reach Mars in a manned spacecraft as well as a comical look at man’s attraction to the stars.

Although over half of its contents have subsequently found their way on to DVD, or are natural inclusions for upcoming collectors titles, I have to say that this set was just fantastic, and a revelation to me that it actually existed at all! I’ve always enjoyed seeing Walt personally in action, and his intros set up each program in a clear and authoritative way. The shows themselves are always entertaining, be it a making of, a nature documentary, history, science-fact, or whimsical fiction – and this set packs it all in.

All the shows are presented in their correct 1.33:1 television ratios and the sound, while only in mono, is crystal clear with a strong presence. The 315-minute collection seems to have been pulled at the last minute, with just a few sets reaching stores and quick collectors. In Japan, where the LD format took much longer to die out, the same programs were given a little extra care and attention, with super-cool, black boxed cover art and four-page illustrated booklet. Alas, the actual shows had burnt-in subtitles which somewhat marred the overall enjoyment, so the US set reviewed here is the one to spring for – if you can find one, it’s still a great buy for the right price, and congratulations if you do!

As more of these shows make their way to DVD, it’s great that a wider audience can enjoy these historical and entertaining pieces of television again.