Walt's Tomorrowland / Walt Disney on the Front Lines / Mickey Mouse in Living Color Volume 2 / The Chronological Donald Volume 1

The Disney brand is, by now, a synonym for safe and innocuous — I mean, was anyone surprised they refused to distribute Michael Moore's anti-Bush doc Fahrenheit 9/11? — but it was not always so. During the 1930s, '40s and '50s, Walt used his not inconsiderable power to influence the masses and with "wave three" of the limited-edition double-disc Walt Disney Treasures series, today's audience gets to see how the house the mouse built got so big. The Donald and Mickey collections are pretty good, though the latter's Volume 2 range of 1939-1995 means it's saddled with some later-era cartoons like Mickey's Christmas Carol and The Prince and the Pauper, which hold little of the genius of Mickey and the Beanstalk or The Sorcerer's Apprentice. The Donald collection fares better, largely due to its racier content, though his anger-management issues and proto-Cartman voice get a little repetitive. But the real treasures here are Walt's Tomorrowland and On The Frontlines. The first chronicles Disney's efforts to take the space race into his own hands by creating a series of still-fascinating educational programs for his Disneyland TV show that mixed animation and film to educate the public and get them behind the then fantastic notion of space exploration. With progressive but easy to understand shorts like "Mars and Me" and "Our Friend The Atom," Disney practically defined '50s futurism (an idea discussed in a bonus interview with friend of Walt and sci-fi icon Ray Bradbury). For Frontlines, the urgency was obviously much greater. As we learn in the bonus features, the army set up camp in Disney's Burbank studios (and one general, allegedly, even slept in Walt's office) and all the animators joined the war effort by switching to educational and propaganda filmmaking, best exemplified by the public policy-influencing full-length feature Victory Through Air Power. Disney's role was to demonise the enemy and reassure the anxious wartime public, whether by using Goofy to address the rubber and gasoline shortage, turning Japanese soldiers into cruel caricatures or making patriotic propaganda, such as the academy award-winning "Der Fuehrer's Face," in which Donald Duck wakes up in "Nutziland." Let's just say that seeing animated swastikas while Donald quacks "Heil Hitler" — even if it happens during a Lucille Ball-style assembly-line slapstick bit while trying to screw warheads onto bombs — is rather disconcerting. Some of the shorts, such as the how-to films produced exclusively for the military (and recently declassified) or the educational films on, say, bacterial disease and the importance of not taking a dump in your cornfield, are of interest largely to archivists and Disney-o-philes like Treasures narrator Leonard Maltin. But all four sets have been beautifully packaged in numbered tins and assembled with interesting bonus interviews, rarely-seen (and occasionally racist) animation and a reaffirmation that Disney cartoons were once every bit as vibrant and funny, and far more influential, than the Looney Tunes gang — at least when Walt was running the show. Screw that Michael Eisner dude. He sucks. Plus: art stills, more. (Disney/Buena Vista)