Volume 1 of a celebration of the pioneering solo cartoon work of Ub Iwerks, Walt Disney's foremost animator/collaborator in the formative early years. The first fully animated color cartoon version of "Aladdin and the Wonderful Lamp" (1934)...the legendary Flip the Frog in the slapstick masterpiece "The New Car" (1931)...the original cartoon adaptation of "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow," "The Headless Horseman" (1934)...the little-known animation star Willie Whopper in the surrealistic sci-fi classic "Stratos Fear" (1933)...and a famous "lost" film, a full-color cartoonization of "Don Quixote" (1934). These are just a few of the 58 cartoons captured on these two DVDs (available separately) of rediscovered masterworks from the very beginnings of the Golden Age of American Animation.
One of the most talented animators of the silent and early sound eras, Ub Iwerks designed the physical appearance of Mickey Mouse. He animated the first Mickey shorts almost single-handedly, doing more than 700 drawings in a single day. Iwerks's animation was rubbery, weightless, and appealing, but his approach was at odds with the increasing realism Walt Disney sought. In 1930, he left Disney to start his own studio, but despite his talent--and the exceptional animators who worked for him--he produced old-fashioned, unfunny cartoons that couldn't compete with the more sophisticated storytelling and brash gags in the shorts from Disney, the Fleischers, Warner Bros., and MGM. In 1940, Iwerks returned to the Disney studio, where he won Oscars for his innovations in optical printing and traveling mattes.
The most entertaining films on this disc are the campy musicals such as "Humpty Dumpty" (1935), with its Busby Berkeley chorus of dancing eggs, and the jazz-inflected "Little Boy Blue" (1936). Typically, the title character in "The Valiant Tailor" (1934) is a round-headed nonentity who scares off the Giant by making a hive of bees sting him; he never comes alive, the way Mickey Mouse does in Disney's "Brave Little Tailor" (1938). --Charles Solomon