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Leonard Maltin Pays Tribute to Disney

7 Nov, 2002 By: Joan Villa

Probably more than any other studio mogul, Walt Disney was a marketing genius who grasped the value of his company's extensive library long before video transformed a lot of old movie reels into a gold mine.

As the host of the TV show “Disney Land” in the 1950s, named after the soon-to-open Anaheim, Calif., theme park, and later “Walt Disney Presents” and “Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color” in the 1960s, the studio chief mesmerized adults and children with the art of animation and behind-the-scenes tours of The Walt Disney Studio.

The show was a rare view of how animation comes to life, using clips from Disney's feature films and cartoons, while the live-action host interacted with the likes of Mickey Mouse and Goofy, who walked right off the animator's page.

Aside from having a lot of television time to fill, Disney was astute enough to realize that all his endeavors -- from children's books and records to comic books and merchandised characters -- benefited from the continued and renewed exposure of these cartoons on national television, observed film historian Leonard Maltin.

“Before anyone invented that buzzword ‘synergy,' he was doing it,” Maltin noted. “Some of his critics use it as a jab against him, but I can speak as a member of the audience, and it wouldn't have worked if people didn't want to see it.”

Maltin, in fact, was so enthralled with watching Disney as a child that he has now produced his own DVD series to preserve the magic for today's audiences.

“Walt Disney Treasures, Wave 2” streets Dec. 3 from Buena Vista Home Entertainment with three two-disc sets: Mickey Mouse in Black and White, The Complete Goofy and Behind the Scenes at The Walt Disney Studio at $32.99 each. While the sets are numbered, packaged in embossed collector's tins and signed by Roy Disney and Maltin, they aren't just for animation buffs, he said.

“That would be my dream, to introduce this to a new generation, to get younger people hooked the way I got hooked,” he said. “You can take them home to your kids and just put them on, and they'll have a wonderful time watching great cartoons and learning how cartoons are made. Then if you're a Disney aficionado or buff, there are many layers to enjoy. But I don't think one precludes the other.”

The discs feature the first appearances of Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Pluto and Goofy, with introductions and special features by Maltin.

Mickey Mouse in Black and White contains 34 cartoons, including “Steamboat Willie” in 1928, the first animation to synchronize voice and sound, through the last of his black-and-white shorts, “Mickey's Service Station,” in 1935. The set also includes early storyboards called “story scripts” that show animation coming to life, and interview footage with animators Frank Thomas, Ollie Johnston and, more recently, Mark Henn and Andreas Deja.

Maltin also introduces rare footage of a rough pencil animation sequence used to review action and staging prior to final inking, painting and photography -- the only such Mickey Mouse footage known to exist.

The Complete Goofy contains 46 cartoons and featurettes on the creation of Goofy's voice by Pinto Colvig and a description by 1930s animator Art Babbit of the characteristics and behavior of Goofy. Maltin also shows behind-the-scenes story drawings and background paintings and discusses the finer points of being Goofy with the comic actor who has been his voice since 1988, Bill Farmer.

The last set, Behind the Scenes at The Walt Disney Studio, contains TV episodes, radio programs and behind-the-scenes shorts, including the 1939 How Walt Disney Cartoons Are Made and the 1941 feature The Reluctant Dragon. Maltin also uses Disney's own TV programs to create a unique tour around the lot from 1954 to today.

“In so many things he was way ahead of his time and certainly ahead of the curve,” Maltin said. “DVD is the perfect medium to showcase all this stuff.”

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