DVD Review – ‘Disney True-Life Adventures Vol. 1: Wonders of the World’

     December 15, 2006

Reviewed by Rob Klein

The Disney True-Life Adventures is the first release in the new “Walt Disney Legacy Collection”. Most of the films released in this series have rarely been seen and have never been released in the home video format until now, unless you count Japanese releases, which always seem to be ahead of the curve on anything media related and have had some of these films available for years. The True-Life Adventures were documentary style films spear headed by Walt Disney that investigated the fascinating aspects of nature, the world of animals in their natural habitat, and focused on the importance of conserving our outdoor heritage. These Academy Award winning films are some of the finest gems of the Disney film library.

The True life Adventures Series: Vol. 1 Wonders of the World two- disc collection features a multitude of programming including the films: “White Wilderness”, “Water Birds”, “Beaver Valley” and “Prowlers of the Everglades”. Disc 2 features “Mysteries of the Deep”, “Wonders of the Water Worlds” and the “The Crisler Story”. Mysteries of the Deep” (1959) was one of the first films that Roy Disney, (Walt’s nephew, who of course started his career at the Disney Studios) worked on, writing the narration to this short film. Though this film was nominated for an Academy Award, Roy Disney remembers that it was not an easy project to put together, and he tells the noteworthy tale of one of his first assignments in the bonus features.

It does not come as a surprise that Disney studios were able to take the nature documentary format to new levels of excellence through expert musical scoring, as they were able to add enormous entertainment value using a technique the company had perfected for years by adding accompaniment to their own animated features. The music in these films is so well crafted that it becomes as much a part of the emotional impact of the animal characters as their antics on screen. Adding music to animation or to this type of film was a term the Disney studios called “Mickey mouse-ing” a way to use music to underscore each action by the subject, adding valuable characterization, drama, and at best humor. Studying this technique would be a valuable lesson in film scoring, calling to attention what composers like to call “painting with sound”.

The cinematography is beautiful and glowing with Technicolor brilliance, and it comes as no surprise that these films were awarded honors at their time of their release. Beaver Valley took two years to film alone, as capturing any animal in their natural environment takes incredible patience, especially trying to find a moment where said animal is doing anything interesting or film-worthy. Literally hundreds of feet of film a day would be wasted on filming nothing but beavers eating or sleeping.

There are several bonus features on the discs, including several pieces featuring Roy Disney reminiscing about the making of the True-Life Adventures. There is also a tribute to James Algar, who was the writer and director of the series, and who also had one of the most diverse careers at the Disney Studios. He started with Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and eventually went on to write Disneyland’s legendary Attraction “Great Moments With Mr. Lincoln”. The disc also features theatrical trailers and “Collector’s Corner” a look at the merchandise inspired by the True-Life Adventures films. These days, a film released as a Disney property would be incomplete without a look at the collectibles, both past and present, that have been made available to rabid Disney fans.

The True-life Adventures series are fully restored and the transfers are beautiful. As a completely unexpected surprise the packaging is unique and lush, the DVD’s are encased in a faux film reel tin that rests inside of a green velvet base. The booklet is a striking passport style map indicating in which part of world the documentary takes place. This set is definitely one for the true Disney connoisseur and to anyone wishing to educate him or herself as to the world that surrounds them. With their packaging, stunning cinematography and sweeping scores, these films say, to quote Roy Disney “ain’t nature grand.”

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