Your Host Walt Disney 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. With episodes that cover 10 years, I expected inconsistent visual quality, and that’s what I got.
The oldest wasn’t the ugliest. Sourced from a nearly 50-year-old Kinescope, “Kodak Presents Disneyland ‘59” presented by far the crummiest visuals of the bunch. This sucker was actually filmed off of a TV screen, and that’s not a recipe for appealing picture quality. Since this program was lost for years, however, it’s good to have it in any format.
But remember those caveats as you watch it. “’59” tended to be mushy and gray. Sharpness was never better than mediocre, and contrast seemed flat. Source flaws like lines and marks cropped up through the program. Note that some parts of “’59” looked pretty good, though. The live broadcast used some pre-shot film, and the Disney folks were able to resuscitate that original footage. Those pieces didn’t account for most of “’59”, but they provided significantly improved clarity and depth. Source flaws distracted a bit, though, as marks, specks and other debris appeared. Nonetheless, the pre-shot stuff worked best. Even with those stronger elements, though, too many problems materialized here to earn a grade above a “D”.
When I looked at the actual oldest episode found here, “Where Do the Stories Come From?” actually provided pretty solid visuals. Grain and minor specks were the biggest distractions, and they remained acceptably modest. I couldn’t describe this as a clean presentation, but it suffered from fewer concerns than I expected, and I never thought the source flaws created real distractions.
Everything else seemed pretty solid. Sharpness was reasonably concise and accurate, with no significant softness on display. Contrast also appeared positive, as the black and white image gave off an appropriately silvery tone. Blacks seemed dark and tight, and the smattering of low-light shots were clear. Chalk up “Stories” as a satisfying “B” for visuals.
I thought the “Fourth Anniversary Show” marked a decline in quality after “Stories”, though it improved as it progressed. Grain was a particular culprit here, as much of the first act suffered from an excess of it. This seemed less problematic after the Prokofiev segment, though. Sharpness was also iffier than with “Stories”, and that trend accompanied the whole episode. While most of the program displayed good delineation, softness became more prevalent, and some jaggie tendencies came along for the ride as well.
Other than the grain, source issues weren’t objectionable. A smattering of specks and marks appeared, but not to a significant degree; the grain remained the biggest distraction. Contrast was a bit weak, though, as the image often seemed rather dark. This was a denser image than its predecessor, as it lacked the same nice silver sheen. Objectively, “Fourth” was acceptable but not better, so I gave it a “C+” for visuals.
Note that one clear exception to that show’s rules occurred. The episode left the old 1950s programming to show a full color transfer of “Peter and the Wolf” around the eight-minute mark. Already found on the Make Mine Music DVD, it looked quite good. I didn’t factor it into my grade for the episode, though, since it came from different sources.
With the two 1960s episodes, we went to color. “Backstage Party” offered an erratic image. Colors were one of the concerns. Some shots – usually those that featured shots from Babes In Toyland - offered fairly good vivacity, but the pieces filmed expressly for the series tended to suffer from a rather brownish hue. Some brighter tones occasionally emerged, but I thought the colors looked a bit “off” much of the time; they sometimes looked like they came from a colorized production.
Sharpness was decent. Some softness interfered at times, but the show usually displayed satisfactory delineation and accuracy. Blacks were acceptably dense, but shadows tended to be murky. The low-light shots suffered from more density than I’d like.
Source flaws were another up and down circumstance. Many parts of “Party” emerged unscathed, but others could be noticeably dirtier. I noticed instances of specks, marks and scratches. Overall, the show was reasonably clean, though. This mix of good and bad left this episode as a “C+”.
Happily, “10th Anniversary” ended the set on a pretty good note. Sharpness still could be a bit soft and tentative at times, but largely the images looked reasonably accurate and distinct. Some minor moiré effects and jagged edges appeared, and I also detected a little edge enhancement.
Print flaws still occurred, but they were less problematic. Some grain cropped up, and I also saw periodic examples of speckles and grit. Otherwise, this show looked pretty clean and fresh; clearly it received decent care over the years.
Colors weren’t fantastic, but they seemed fairly bright and vivid for the most part. They could appear slightly heavy at times, and some blotchiness also occurred, but I generally found the hues to seem satisfying and clean. Black levels also came across as nicely deep and rich, and shadow detail was appropriately dark but not too thick. I liked this one pretty well and figured it earned a “B-“. That left Your Host with an averaged out grade of “C+”.
When I examined the monaural audio of Your Host, it also showed some variations among episodes, but I thought they were consistent enough that I didn’t need to examine the shows individually. Across the board, the sound was satisfactory but never better than that. Speech always came across as intelligible and usually demonstrated reasonable naturalness. However, more than a little edginess could interfere, as I noticed some brittle dialogue at times.
Similar concerns crept into the other elements. Music lacked much range and could be a bit rough. Some songs became a smidgen crackly, though most offered acceptable clarity. Effects demonstrated more harshness on occasion. They varied from clear and fairly accurate to somewhat distorted. Background noise sometimes crept into the proceedings, as I noticed occasional examples of pops and clicks. Dynamic range was modest, though to my surprise, a few parts of “’59” – generally the worst reproduced episode – provided a decent sense of bass. In the end, the audio seemed mediocre and deserved a “C”.
A smattering of extras fill out this set. On DVD One, a featurette called My Dad, Walt Disney lasts 20 minutes, 59 seconds. It provides an interview between Leonard Maltin and Walt’s daughter Diane Disney Miller. She discusses life with her famous dad. This covers his home behavior as well as her experiences at the studio. Inevitably, this offers a sunny view of things, so you shouldn’t expect dirt. But that’s fine with me, as the show doesn’t need to indulge in the darker side to inform and entertain. We get some nice reflections on Walt along with some excellent archival footage.
Also on DVD One, we get some Galleries. These offer photos of Walt in three domains: “Hyperion Days” (53 stills), “Walt at Work” (78) and “Walt’s Playground” (61). All are excellent, though I think I most like “Playground” since it offers a lot of glimpses of the early Disneyland.
Going to DVD Two, we start with I Captured the King of the Leprechauns, a bonus TV episode that runs 48 minutes, 50 seconds. In this 1959 program, Walt tells Pat O’Brien that he wants to make a flick about leprechauns. O’Brien insists that if Walt wants to do this, he must go to Ireland and capture an actual leprechaun. Incredulous at first, Walt comes to believe O’Brien enough to jet to Ireland and attempts to catch himself the king of the “little people”.
Ultimately all of this exists to promote Darby O’Gill and the Little People, but unlike programs such as “Backstage Party”, it doesn’t feel like an extended ad. Much of the charm comes from Walt’s active involvement; not only do we see him through most of the show, but also he actually acts. And he’s pretty good, too, as he provides nice comic timing as a straight man. Film clips bog down the show’s second half, but this remains a fun and enjoyable program.
Curious footnote: why is “King” regarded as a “bonus episode”? Why not just make it part of the main set? I have no idea.
For something unusual, we head to Disneyland USA at Radio City Music Hall. As we learn from an opening text, Disney staged a production at Radio City Music Hall in 1962, and as part of it, audiences saw a short film that allowed a recorded Walt to “interact” with a live-action Mickey Mouse. This six-minute and eight-second piece shows the Cinemascope flick with Walt. It’s silly, of course, and often little more than an ad for Disneyland, but it’s highly entertaining and a blast to see.
Acting footnote: if I’m not mistaken, Walt did a rare turn as Mickey’s voice here. It sure sounds like him in the role, so if it isn’t, someone did a poor job. Walt originated the part, but he stopped playing Mickey many years before 1962. That’s part of the reason I think it’s him; not only does it sound a lot like Walt, but also it just doesn’t sound much like the Mickey we know. I think a professional actor would do a better job of capturing the “usual Mickey” sound.
Working With Walt lasts eight minutes, 44 seconds and allows for some reminiscences from those who knew Disney. Hosted by Maltin, it includes statements from actors Tommy Cole, Cheryl Holdridge, Tommy Sands, Marge Champion, Don Grady, Tim Considine, Tommy Kirk, and Bobby Burgess. The participants tell us what it was like to work at Disney and with Walt. As usual, the tone stays fluffy, but we get some decent insights along with enough fun archival footage to make it worthwhile.
Potentially catty notes: Grady gets the “Aging Gracefully Award”, as he looks like he’s about 42 here even though he’s actually 62. On the other hand, someone needs to swat that ridiculous wig off of Sands’ head. Dude, you’re almost 70 years old; stop trying so hard to look like you’re 25.
As always, we get some introductions from Leonard Maltin. On DVD One, he chats for four minutes, 15 seconds as he tells us about the nature of the Disney series and gives us some details about the episodes included. Over on DVD Two, Maltin provides a three-minute and 57-second look at that platter’s contents.
Finally, the DVD’s booklet includes a short text overview from Maltin as well as some archival images. An insert card also displays a publicity photo of Walt Disney.
Not all of Your Host Walt Disney entertains, as some of the episodes feel like little more than generic promotional reels. However, there remains more than enough cool historical content to make the package worthwhile for fans. The DVDs offer erratic but usually acceptable audio and sound plus a few good extras. I don’t think Your Host will do a ton for the casual Disney fan, but more ardent partisans will enjoy it.