This important collection includes the 13 surviving silent "Oswald" shorts (of 26). Many of them feel like rough drafts for later Mickey cartoons. When Oswald enters a trans-Atlantic race in "The Ocean Hop," the antics he performs in his airplane prefigure the ones in "Plane Crazy." In "Sky Scrappers," Oswald takes a job on a construction site where his girlfriend (an unnamed cat) sells box lunches, anticipating the Mickey and Minnie cartoon "Building a Building" (1933)--down to the opening shot of a dinosaur-like steam shovel at work. The silent "Oswald" shorts have rarely been seen since they were first released 80 years ago: Some viewers may grow impatient with these relatively crude cartoons, but they remain intriguing examples into Walt Disney's early work.
Leslie Iwerks' informative documentary The Hand Behind the Mouse: The Ub Iwerks Story (1999) traces the life of her grandfather. One of the greatest talents of the silent cartoon era, Ub Iwerks animated the first Mickey shorts and "Silly Symphonies" almost single-handedly. Iwerks left Disney to start his own studio in 1930. Although it attracted an impressive array of talent, it closed in 1938. Two years later, Iwerks returned to Disney, where he won two Oscars for innovations in visual effects technology. Hand suggests that the Iwerks cartoons were too sophisticated for the era of the Hays Code. But for all his talent as an animator and technical innovator, Iwerks was not an effective director: His studio's cartoons simply weren't very good. Included on this disc are three "Alice" comedies, "Plane Crazy," "Steamboat Willie," and "The Skeleton Dance," which showcase Iwerks' endearingly bouncy animation. (Unrated: suitable for all ages: cartoon violence) --Charles Solomon