Of all the great and gifted people making movies in the 1930s, the one who remains most relevant today is the guy who made cartoons for a living. Okay, that’s selling Walt Disney a little short: In truth, he was a visionary who popularized not only the feature-length cartoon but also the notion that a movie could serve as keystone for a larger marketing presence that itself would tie back to a corporate brand identity. That’s right: Walt’s the man who perfected the idea of pop culture as endless commodity, as lifestyle. Which is to say he created modern pop culture itself.
But he was also a guy who made cartoons for a living, and the fact is those cartoons are pretty damned amazing. Thankfully, they’re finally coming to DVD (albeit for a limited time only, after which they’ll be taken off the market and rereleased with all-new hype several years from now—remember, a commodity needs to be scarce to retain its value). Start with two in the just-out Walt Disney Treasures series: Silly Symphonies, which compiles 31 shorts from 1929’s groundbreaking “Skeleton Dance” to 1933’s “Three Little Pigs”; and Mickey Mouse in Living Color, which amasses 26 Technicolor shorts from the Mouse’s mid-’30s heyday.
Then move to the exemplary Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs DVD, with the restored film on one disc and an entire second platter of extras that make clear why the 1937 movie was so revolutionary, as art and commerce. After that, pick up 1940’s Pinocchio—the DVD has hardly any extras, but animation buffs know that, visually, the movie remains the peak of the studio’s craft (check out the Japanese woodcut influences in the Monstro sequences). Dumbo (1941) is out on disc too—if it’s less ambitious, it’s no less delightful. Warner Bros. may have had a hipper crew with Bugs Bunny and company, but Walt Disney defined the larger structure, substance, and goals of animated movies and, ultimately, family entertainment. The fact that the Disney studio still owns that turf owes everything to the man who made the Mouse.