Walt Disney Treasures or Mickey Mouse DVDs? Animatophilia, Nostalgia, and the Competing Representations of Theatrical Cartoon Shorts on Home Video
Theatrical-era short animation has often acquired a complex, even contradictory, textual identity: most cartoons were originally produced for a general audience, but were then marketed almost exclusively towards children as repeats on television. The rise of DVD has further complicated the status of these films. On the one hand, the format has facilitated the release of a lot of rare animated material, most notably within a series of multi-volume special editions entitled the Walt Disney Treasures, explicitly aimed at the previously marginalized adult viewer. However, Disney has also produced lower priced, ‘family friendly’ discs featuring many of the same cartoons. Unlike the Treasures volumes, the latter sets tend to censor problematic content and generally lack contextualizing bonus features. The choice to watch one of these collections over the other can thus have a significant impact upon one’s interpretation of the collected films. Thomas Elasasser argues that film culture – embodied most fervently by the devoted cinephile (and, for the purposes of this study, the equivalent figure of the animatophile) – has often failed to recognize itself as a product of generational memory. It is frequently implied by such groups that DVD special editions are the most ‘authentic’ because they privilege the original cinematic experience, without acknowledging the degree to which the format itself serves to remediate its contents. For instance, while the Treasures discs generally present the films uncut – sometimes ‘restoring’ footage unseen since the 1930s and 40s – these are often prefaced with mandatory disclaimers providing historical context for contentious elements such as racism. The sheer volume of material that these collections provide, including opportunities for binge-watching with ‘play all’ functions, similarly alters the portioned availability of these texts in the theatrical sphere. This article will suggest that both the special edition and ‘family friendly’ DVD options ultimately reflect a nostalgic struggle to appropriate and define the present and future reception of the films, rather than to truly reclaim the past.