Of the four initial releases in the “Walt Disney Treasures” collection, I eagerly anticipated three of them. As a big fan of Disney animation, I looked forward to the two sets of shorts, Silly Symphonies and Mickey Mouse in Living Color; between the two packages, we got nearly 60 vintage cartoons. Also, since I love the Disney theme parks, I was excited to check out Disneyland USA compilation; it included four episodes of that series, and these offered a fun look at the exceedingly early days of that landmark attraction.
However, the fourth “Disney Treasure” didn’t look very promising to me. In fact, Davy Crockett seemed so unappealing that I nearly skipped it. Since I’m a completist at heart, I figured should give it a look just to wrap up the “Disney Treasures” collection.
I’m glad I did. No, I didn’t experience any form of true revelation as I watched Davy Crockett. However, they seemed much more entertaining and compelling than I expected.
The “Walt Disney Treasures” set includes all five episodes of Davy Crockett from 1954 and 1955. That fact shocked me when I first learned it. Since I wasn’t born until 1967, I wasn’t around for the Crockett fad of the Fifties, but I’d always assumed that it spawned a long-running TV series. I had no idea that they entire thing spanned a mere five sporadically-aired episodes!
But that was the case. Crockett premiered on December 15, 1954 as part of Walt’s then-new Disneyland TV series. That show rotated its focus among the four lands of Disneyland: Fantasyland, Tomorrowland, Adventureland, and Frontierland. Crockett fell into the latter category, but Davy was originally intended to appear only three times; the final one actually killed off the character!
However, his popularity was too much for Walt and company to ignore. They brought him back for two more episodes in the fall of 1955, and Disney later combined the various shows to form big screen cinematic spectaculars. 1956’s Davy Crockett and the River Pirates marked the formal end of the character’s association with Disney, at least as the subject of new material. I have no idea how it performed at the box office, but it didn’t spawn any additional adventures, so I guess the Crockett mania had ended by that point.
As noted, Davy Crockett presents all five episodes of the series just as they appeared in 1954-55. The first three episodes feature events from Crockett’s life in chronological order:
Davy Crockett, Indian Fighter (aired December 15, 1954) shows Davy as he hooks up with the military to deal with the Red Menace. No, not the Communists - the Injuns! Crockett and sidekick George Russel (Buddy Ebsen) encounter famous folks like General Andrew Jackson (Basil Ruysdael) as they help make the west safe for all sorts of white folks;
Davy Crockett Goes to Congress finds Crockett’s Tennessee home in need of representation. Davy’s not very interested in the job, but since the only competition would be bad for the people, he goes for it, and the show follows him as he works through the ranks of state politics to the national stage. While in Washington, his honesty and determination to do the right thing don’t sit well with many of his fellow congressmen, and he encounters opposition to his thoughts;
Davy Crockett At the Alamo shows our hero’s demise. A patriot at heart, Crockett decides to take up the cause in Texas, so he and George head southwest. There they meet Jim Bowie (Kenneth Tobey) and all the others who met their maker at the place that inspired some of the best scenes in Pee-wee’s Big Adventure. Many noble battles ensue; none of them end well for our heroes.
Since “Alamo” killed Crockett, it seemed odd that Disney brought him back for more adventures. However, they did so under the guise of “tall tales”. While Disney took definite liberties with the facts of Davy’s life in the first three episodes, at least they had some basis in reality. The final two shows went more with a cartoony tone and spun off into a life that Crockett could have led:
Davy Crockett’s Keelboat Race introduces an almost literally bigger-than-life character in Mike Fink (Jeff York). The loud and blustery “king of the river” tries to bilk Davy for big bucks when Crockett needs to transport some materials. After some brawls, they agree to a competition; the first to reach the end gets all of the goods, winner take all. Since he’s a sleazy sort, Fink tries to sabotage Davy on many occasions, but Crockett’s no fool, so the ultimate victor won’t surprise you;
At that show’s end, Crockett and Fink form a grudging friendship, mainly because Davy doesn’t stick it to Mike as badly as he could have. In Davy Crockett and the River Pirates, they join forces to fight the titular bandits. Some scummy dudes pretend to be Indians for their own gain, but this creates serious tensions between red and white folk. Davy knows there aren’t real Indians behind the nastiness, but he needs to ferret out the real culprits to ease social worries. Fink poses as a tycoon to lure the crooks, and this leads to some river-bound adventure.
If for no other reason, I was glad to see Davy Crockett because I finally learned who Mike Fink was. As a big fan of the theme parks, I’d seen the Mike Fink Keelboats but didn’t have the slightest clue why the dude warranted his own attraction. Now I know - hooray for me!
But that wasn’t the only pleasure I took from Crockett, as I thought the shows were all quite entertaining. To be sure, they seemed dated at times, but they remained reasonably fast-paced and compelling. Parker appeared somewhat flat as Crockett, but I thought he came across as appropriately stolid and square-jawed in the part; he had to dispense a lot of awkward material, and Parker did so about as well as I could imagine. Ebsen also made George a fine presence; the character could have degenerated into plain comic relief, but Ebsen helped bring a modicum of humanity to the part.
While all five shows were interesting, I definitely preferred the first three. “Race” and “Pirates” were fun in their own way, but they got a bit too silly and cartoony at times. No one will mistake the first three episodes as documentaries, but they offered a stronger sense of reality, and they benefited from that tone.
I was also impressed with the surprisingly even-handed presentation of the Indians. Even when portrayed as bad guys in the first episode, they never came across as evil or genuinely bad; they always seemed fairly real and broadly-portrayed. This approach seemed even stronger in the subsequent shows when Crockett more actively had to defend them from negative while folks. During an era when many programs painted Indians as generic villains, it seemed quite progressive of Disney to portray them in such a positive light so much of the time.
I don’t know if I’ll ever want to watch Davy Crockett again, for I’m really not much of a fan of the genre. However, I did enjoy the time I spent with the shows. I thought I’d have trouble sitting through all five episodes, but as it happened, they went by enjoyably. Crockett didn’t offer the best work ever produced by Disney, but the series was a lot of fun nonetheless.
Davy Crockett appears in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on these single-sided, dual-layered DVDs; due to those dimensions, the image has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. While the programs often showed their age, as a whole I thought this was a pretty satisfying production for its vintage.
Sharpness varied but usually seemed acceptable. Most of the shows demonstrated reasonably crisp and distinct visuals. At times, however, the picture could seem somewhat soft and fuzzy. This problem occurred most frequently during interior shots, which meant episodes with many scenes of that sort - such as “Congress” or “Alamo” - suffered the most. Crockett never looked badly blurry, but it did display moderate softness at times.
Jagged edges and moiré effects presented no substantial concerns, but I detected mild edge enhancement on occasion. Print flaws offered a mix of issues, most of which stayed relatively minor. Throughout the shows, I saw occasional bouts of speckles, grit, blotches, streaks and lines, but these rarely seemed to create any serious problems. More persistent was grain, as that concern appeared throughout much of the program. The grain never appeared overwhelming, but it offered a consistent presence a lot of the time.
For the most part, colors looked subdued but acceptable. Crockett favored a fairly brownish palette, so the shows didn’t offer many bright tones. As a whole, the hues seemed acceptably clear and distinct, but they were somewhat flat. Note that on a few occasions, the image reverted to black and white for no apparent reason. Right in the middle of a show, the picture would suddenly become monochrome; it would stay that way briefly before it again went back to color. These instances didn’t last long, but they seemed pretty distracting. Most of Walt Disney’s introductions and end notes also appeared in black and white, but those instances didn’t cause any concerns.
Black levels came across as acceptably deep and dense, while shadow detail looked appropriately heavy but not excessively opaque. The low-light scenes could have displayed stronger delineation, but they seemed fine as a whole. Overall, Davy Crockett showed a mix of concerns, but I still thought the presentation appeared adequate for a nearly 50-year-old TV show.
Also good but unexceptional was the monaural soundtrack of Davy Crockett. Dialogue consistently sounded reasonably natural and distinct though somewhat flat; I heard no problems related to edginess or intelligibility, however. Effects were similarly lackluster but still seemed reasonably clean; they betrayed little range but they showed acceptable clarity with no appreciable distortion. Music seemed decently bright and bouncy, though low-end remained light. At times the track offered some boomy and indistinct bass, but for the most part, it stayed mired in the mid-range. Ultimately, the audio for Davy Crockett was more than acceptable for its age.
Davy Crockett doesn’t pack a wealth of extras, but we find a few nice tidbits, most of which reside on DVD Two. On both discs, we get introductions from film historian Leonard Maltin. He opens the first DVD with a quick 22-second overview of the Crockett series, and he also adds some good background information prior to each episode.
On DVD Two, we get two new documentaries. The Davy Crockett Craze mainly features a discussion between Maltin and Paul F. Anderson, author of a book by the same name. The 19-minute and five-second program covers a minor history of the series as well as the show’s merchandise and some information on the culture of the time. Mostly it offers talking head shots of the two men, but there’s some archival footage as well, such as snippets of kids in the coonskin caps. The feature provides a somewhat dry but still interesting and informative look at an era.
Next we find A Conversation With Fess Parker. For this 17-minute and five-second piece, Maltin visits the actor at his vineyard and restaurant, and the two reminisce about the series. We learn factoids that relate to the production, Parker’s casting, his memories of the actors and Walt, and a mix of other elements in this decent little interview. In addition to the shots of Maltin and Parker, we see some behind the scenes footage as well as stills and clips from the series. Note that though the DVD’s case lists interview pieces with Buddy Ebsen, these don’t appear.
Finally, we discover a Gallery. This thumbnailed location includes a mix of elements. We see both candid and publicity stills as well the drawings seen in the shows, merchandise related to the program, and a few other pieces. All in all, the domain provides 87 reasonably interesting images.
Of the four releases in the “Walt Disney Treasures” collection, Davy Crockett remains my least favorite, but that was inevitable; given my affection for Disney animation and their theme parks, the other three were destined to be preferable for me. Nonetheless, I rather enjoyed the time I spent with Crockett. The series was fun and vibrant and offered an entertaining experience. The DVDs provide decent but fairly mediocre picture and sound plus a smattering of moderately interesting extras. Fans of Disney’s live-action material should be very pleased with Davy Crockett.