Behind the Scenes at the Walt Disney Studios appears in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on these single-sided, double-layered DVDs; due to those dimensions, the image has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. As one might expect, the materials presented a mix of issues mostly related to their age, but the programs seemed reasonably attractive when I took that factor into account.
Both A Trip Through Walt Disney Studios and How Animated Cartoons Are Made presented very similar visuals. The black and white featurettes demonstrated fairly solid sharpness and accuracy, and they suffered from no signs of jagged edges, moiré effects, or edge enhancement. Black levels came across as acceptably deep and dense, while shadow detail was appropriately heavy but not too thick.
Unfortunately, these two pieces suffered from quite a lot of source flaws. They displayed a lot of grain and I also saw many examples of specks, grit, spots, thin lines, and other issues. However, I expected these sorts of problems for the two featurettes due to their age and obscurity, so I generally felt pleased with their appearances.
The image of The Reluctant Dragon seemed more disappointing, however. While not one of Disney’s major film releases, it remains part of their canon nonetheless, and most of those entries look substantially better than it does.
Dragon usually looked fairly distinct and crisp, but the picture could come across as somewhat fuzzy and ill defined at times. This seemed most apparently during the film’s two main animated shorts. The softness didn’t cause extreme concerns, but I felt the picture should have seemed more detailed.
The first 25 minutes of Dragon appeared in black and white; the movie went to full color after that point. The hues tended to look somewhat drab and messy. They presented acceptable tones at times, but they lacked the vivacity and vibrancy that I’d expect, and they generally seemed moderately lackluster. Black levels remained reasonably deep, however, and shadows were acceptably defined most of the time. However, some low-light sequences could be a bit dense, and the contrast seemed somewhat flat.
Print flaws popped up regularly throughout Dragon. Though not to the severity seen on the other DVD One programs, Dragon displayed a mix of speckles, grit, grain, scratches, marks, spots, dust, and streaks. No part of the movie featured them more prevalently than others, as even the film’s centerpiece – the “Dragon” short itself – suffered from the same concerns. Objectively, Dragon looked pretty good for a more than 60-year-old flick, but it didn’t match up to Disney’s usual standards.
The three programs on DVD Two came from episodes of the Disneyland TV series. The first appeared only in black and white, whereas the other two mostly featured color. The Story of the Animated Drawing tended to look somewhat soft and flat, and it presented a fairly drab image. Despite decently dark blacks, contrast favored the gray side of the scale and looked a bit mushy. The program also presented a fair number of speckles and marks. Interestingly, Story suffered from the heaviest amount of flaws during the sequence devoted to Emile Reynaud, which made me wonder if those were intentional to give the segment an “old time” appearance.
Totally in color except for its opening and closing credits, The Plausible Impossible presented the strongest image of the three Disneyland shows, mostly due to the relative lack of print flaws. As with Story, Impossible also demonstrated a moderately soft look at times, and it showed some noticeable edge enhancement as well. The colors tended to look rather brownish and drab, as they didn’t display much life or spark.
However, Impossible included fewer defects than any of the other pieces. While it still offered some grain, grit, speckles, marks and streaks, these remained relatively minor. The show never looked particularly good, but it seemed superior to its package mates.
Tricks of Our Trade mostly resembled Impossible, but it suffered from some heightened concerns. It also used color except for the opening and closing credits. The hues generally maintained the same brownish tint seen in Impossible, but a few scenes featured unusual tones. For example, at one point during the effects animation discussion, the screen favored blues rather heavily. Trade also suffered from elevated levels of print flaws when compared to Impossible, especially in regard to graininess.
It became hard to grade Studios because of the variations among the films. They spanned a period of decades and I also had different expectations for their quality. I clearly anticipate that a full-length film release like The Reluctant Dragon should demonstrate better visuals than an obscure promotional featurette or a TV show. Ultimately, that made Dragon the only real disappointment among the six segments of Studios. In the end, I felt that a “C-“ seemed apt for this collection as a whole.
All six segments of Behind the Scenes at the Walt Disney Studios featured monaural sound, but they also displayed some variations. Unsurprisingly, the sister productions Trip and Made presented the weakest audio. Scratchy and rough, those featurettes always remained acceptably intelligible, but they showed moderate pops and noise and seemed like the least pleasing of the different pieces.
As the most significant production of the six, I again maintained the highest expectations for Dragon. In regard to its audio, Dragon appeared adequate. Speech displayed slight edginess at times and could come across as a bit trebly, but the line always seemed acceptably distinct and intelligible. Effects and music seemed thin and tinny but they were clear and lacked any substantial distortion or flaws. Dynamic range was limited as one might expect of a more than 60-year-old soundtrack. I noticed some light hiss and pops and noise on occasion, but overall the mix sounded fairly clean.
In regard to the three Disneyland TV productions, they presented generally similar audio. Speech appeared somewhat stiff and flat but always remained intelligible and relatively free from roughness. Music could come across as a bit distorted at times, but the tunes usually sounded moderately bright and bouncy. Effects also were slightly harsh from time to time, but generally they appeared fairly clean and accurate. These shows also failed to deliver much bass response, but they also suffered from few instances of background noise. I felt that the different audio tracks of the six programs that make up Behind the Scenes at the Walt Disney Studios appeared quite average for their age, so I gave the set a “C” in that domain.
We get a nice roster of supplements spread across the two DVDs of Behind the Scenes at the Walt Disney Studios. The disc opens with an introduction from film historian Leonard Maltin. In this 73-second clip, Maltin discusses Walt as a public figure and sets up the background of the program.
Maltin also provides introductions for each of DVD One’s three features. In his 135-second snippet prior to Trip, he explains the film’s origins and also helps identify some of the Disney Studios talent we’ll see. For Made, Maltin offers a 119-second discussion of how it came to into being and the ways it differs with Trip. His most substantial intro, the four-minute and 51-second clip before Dragon also covers the project’s genesis as well as its reception, the identities of some actors who pretended to be Disney Studio talent, and a few other topics.
One cool feature appears along with Trip. You can watch that film with or without an Informational Subtitle Track. This identifies locations, the filmmakers we see, and the shorts they create. It adds a useful layer of information that makes it enjoyable.
Next we find a new featurette called Leonard Maltin’s Studio Tour. This 24-minute and three-second piece provides a quick history of the Disney Studios while it moves through various locations and buildings. It traces the expansions and moves of Disney Studios over the years and ends with a vintage first-person film clip that travels through the lot; the latter feels much like a Disneyland attraction. “Tour” seems slightly dull but it provides some good notes that don’t appear elsewhere in this set, so fans will want to give it a look.
For Behind the Boards on Baby Weems, Maltin interviews long-time Disney storyman Joe Grant. A reluctant participant, Grant chats with Maltin for five minutes, 50 seconds. They cover the genesis of the “Weems” short and Grant’s involvement in the film. Grant indeed seems somewhat uncomfortable as he discusses his past, but the segment features some nice material that makes it worthwhile.
DVD One finishes with two sets of stillframe packages. The Reluctant Dragon Gallery includes 45 black and white photos from the movie, while the Walt Disney Studios Gallery provides 13 shots. In the latter area, three of the stills include audio information from Maltin, who gives us basic comments about the Studio.
Like many Disney DVDs, Studios opens with an ad. This one touts the “Disney Treasures” line. Oddly, however, it touts last year’s four releases and doesn’t mention the 2002 batch.
When we shift to DVD Two, we locate a mix of additional supplements. The platter opens with a new 56-second introduction from Maltin. He briefly goes over this disc’s programs as well as some remarks about Walt’s willingness to discuss his past.
As with Disc One, each of this DVD’s three shows begins with additional Maltin introductions. These last between 98 seconds and two minutes, 33 seconds, and all cover similar territory. Maltin simply provides general overviews for each program.
An interesting archival piece, the Tour of the Disney Studio radio program offers a surprisingly compelling bit of audio from the late Forties. Recorded for Australian listeners, this one goes through the Studio and gives us a general look at the creation of the films. It includes little that sheds much light on the process that we don’t find elsewhere, but it seems tight and nicely factual. It reveals interesting tidbits as well; for example, at the time, Walt planned to make Alice In Wonderland as a hybrid live-action/animated film ala his early “Alice” comedies. This radio show definitely merits a listen.
The Kem Weber Gallery includes architectural designs for the Studio. Presented in the stillframe format, we get 36 of these. The first one features an optional audio track from Maltin, who offers a fairly lengthy biography of the designer. Finally, the DVD’s booklet includes a short text overview of the set from Maltin as well as some archival images.
A consistently entertaining package of programs, Behind the Scenes at the Walt Disney Studios doesn’t provide the best education in the creation of animation. However, it nicely mixes informative segments with entertainment and offers a charming look at Disney Studios in their glory years. The DVD’s picture generally looks fine for the age of the material, though The Reluctant Dragon seems less vivid and distinct than I expected. Audio quality also appeared average for the era, and the set includes a small but useful roster of extras. As with other specialized pieces like Disneyland USA, I don’t know how much interest Behind the Scenes will hold for casual Disney fans, but more heavily involved parties should definitely enjoy it.