John DeFore on DVD
Well, it was a long wait for the faithful, but they're finally here: The latest batch of four Walt Disney Treasures releases (Buena Vista), which were expected back in December, were delayed for months - a move that had the Internet rumor mill buzzing. At issue was the On the Front Lines: The War Years volume, which collects some of the studio's less warm-and-fuzzy material, including WWII propaganda films that paint an understandably unflattering portrait of the enemy. Animation fans have long sought these shorts, and some worried that the controversy-shy Mouse House was having second thoughts. Turns out that wasn't it; the delay was just a result of high demand for the sets, which are packaged in a custom-made metal case. The War set is joined a Tomorrowland feature and two lovely cartoon comps - Mickey Mouse in Living Color, Vol. 2 and The Chronological Donald, Vol. 1 - which treat these vintage films with the respect due to cultural icons.
'Toon fans hearing of the Popeye 75th Anniversary (Koch) 3-disc set may also expect some wartime material. Unfortunately, the "75th Anniversary" celebration only collects shorts from 1960-1961, presumably because those are in color. They're also not the freshest material in the Popeye canon...
War buffs aside, recent animation releases will also appeal to Beatlemaniacs: Just out is the Paul McCartney Music and Animation Collection (Miramax). From the title and cover art, you'd think old Paul himself drew these shorts, but they're actually by Geoff Dunbar. Paul just did music and voices. The cult favorite The Point (BMG), on the other hand, features music by Harry Nilsson and narration by Ringo Starr. This one, though, clearly owes its existence to the songwriter, whose theme album of the same title tells the whole story.
That "maybe on video" prayer goes double for Triplets of Belleville (Columbia/TriStar), one of the most charming (but not cloying) animated films I've ever seen. The French film is practically dialogue-free but is a feast for the ears, with found sound coalescing into a kind of Cabaret Stomp. It's visually sumptuous too, with director Sylvain Chomet finding ingenious ways of grafting his rustic, hilariously exaggerated two-dimensional drawing style onto the fluid movement allowed by computer-generated 3-D graphics. Story-wise, the tale resonates with the recent smash Finding Nemo while being utterly its own: The grandmother here who goes off in search of her kidnapped boy is a one-of-a-kind movie character, and she meets plenty of oddballs along her way.
The only worry here is that parents will pick it up indiscriminately for their kids. The film contains nothing to offend delicate sensibilities, but its wordless storytelling requires attentiveness not always possessed by five-year-olds. (That being said, Chomet's comic drawing style may win kids over to the degree they don't care about the story.) Like some of the adult-themed shorts in Disney's On the Front Lines, Triplets is a reminder that some cartoons - even ones containing nothing offensive - play best with mature audiences. •
By John DeFore