June 17, 1985 12:00 PM


All right: So those of us who were kids in the ’30s, ’40s and ’50s weren’t smarter or bigger or faster than today’s youngsters, and now we can’t work computers as well as our 5-year-olds. Our cartoons were better, as these cassettes reaffirm.

The Limited Gold Edition II Cartoon Classics series offers another collection drawn from the rich library of the Disney Studios—there were, after all, 128 short cartoons featuring Donald Duck alone.

What they have in common is a whimsical (though not always innocent) wit and a devotion to the aesthetics of film animation that is vastly superior to what prevails today. In modern cartoons a character’s mouth is often the only thing that moves on the screen; the rest of the scene is static. But when, say, Goofy went catapulting into space, not only were all the parts of his body moving, but his clothes even rippled in the wind.

These cartoons also depend very little on dialogue. The sight gags were so good, words really weren’t necessary.

Parents may like it too that the hero-villain themes, inescapable in even the gentlest of modern animation—Rainbow Brite, Care Bears. Smurfs—rarely show up in these old cartoons. That’s not to say they’re without their nasty moments. Who could be more malicious than Donald Duck when he’s in a bad mood? But the tension is not so full of us-against-them preoccupations. It’s possible to laugh at and with these characters without immediately having to choose sides.

There are seven tapes in the Limited Gold II series (they retail for $29.95 each and will be available only through Aug. 31, 1985); all include brief introductions.

•Disney’s Dream Factory—The six cartoons on this tape, released from 1933 to 1938, are from the Silly Symphonies series. They’re interesting examples of early Disney sophistication in animation techniques in their use of color and music. They seem incredibly busy at times though. And the music, an especially important part of these cartoons because so much of the action involves dancing objects, is so dated that modern children are going to have a tough time enjoying them. It doesn’t help that these cartoons feature characters who haven’t had the long public life of Mickey Mouse and his fellow cartoon celebrities.

•Donald’s Bee Pictures—These seven cartoons pit Donald Duck against his frequent nemesis, Spike the Bee. Donald’s mean streak shows in Inferior Decorator (1948) when he tricks Spike into a glue can just for a laugh. But DD was never funnier than when he was exasperated, and Spike kept him that way most of the time. (The introduction also features a delightful clip from A Day in the Life of Donald Duck, a 1956 cartoon in which Clarence “Ducky” Nash, Donald’s voice until he died last February, appears live onscreen, arguing with the animated Mr. Duck.)

•From Pluto With Love—Pluto, probably the least known spin-off from Mickey Mouse’s entourage, was the Charlie Chaplin of cartoon characters. Because his only vocal effects were those of a real dog, there is almost no dialogue in these seven cartoons. But Pluto’s perennially befuddled look and wild-legged antics are all any child needs.

•How the Best Was Won—Four of the five cartoons on this tape were nominated for Oscars. Two won—Three Orphan Kittens (1935) and Ferdinand the Bull (1938)—and they are still among the most endearing of animated films The three kittens were cute before that word acquired a pejorative tone, and Ferdinand, the bull who really wanted just to sniff the flowers, is as memorable a screen character in his way as Sam Spade or Rhett Butler. (The introduction to this tape points out that the bullfighter who takes Ferdinand on is a caricature of Disney himself.) Goliath II, a 1960 tale about a little elephant, is also charming. If you buy only one tape in this series, this is the one to get.

•Life With Mickey—The Founding Mouse of the Disney stable changed a lot over the years spanned by these six cartoons, 1931 to 1951. He came to look less and less like a mouse, more and more like the round-faced, sunny-dispositioned guy we all came to love. The highlight of the set is Mickey’s Polo Team from 1936, in which Mickey’s team takes on a squad of caricatures of then popular, real-life movie stars, including Laurel & Hardy, Chaplin and Harpo Marx. In the stands, Clarabelle Cow tries to put the make on Clark Gable.

•An Officer and a Duck—All from the World War II era, these six cartoons mostly show Donald in the Army. The Army life in-jokes might make some of the humor obscure for today’s kids, though Donald’s basic-training frustrations will be familiar to a lot of dads. (This set does not include Donald’s famous wartime efforts Der Fuehrer’s Face, in which he dreams he is living in Nazi Germany and then wakes up in time for a little flag-waving. The Disney people aren’t explaining its omission, but the anti-German propaganda may have appeared too strong for today’s audiences. It’s a shame it’s not here in any case.)

•The World According to Goofy—There was a long series of how-not-to cartoons featuring Goofy. (Director Jack Kinney refers to him as “the Goof” in the introduction, much as Donald’s favorite director, Jack Hannah, calls him “the Duck.”) The Disney Studios’ ability to create unique personalities for its animated performers has never been more clearly shown than in, say, How to Be a Sailor or How to Dance, where Goofy’s earnest determination and blithe good nature are balanced by his pervasive lack of expertise.

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