Walt Disney Treasures - The Mickey Mouse Club Presents Annette Review
After sets devoted to the Hardy Boys and Spin & Marty, plus the entire first week of The Mickey Mouse Club show, the Walt Disney Treasures line has now given similar attention to the "Annette" serial that aired in February and March of 1958 on the daily Mickey Mouse Club series. "Annette" ran in the third and final season of the Mouseketeer-populated programme, when the show was cut down from a full hour to just half of one. After advertisements and such, there was only about twenty minutes of airtime, and roughly ten of those were occupied by each installment of "Annette." You can see the balance for yourself with this set, as both the first and last episodes that included the serial are presented in full. For my part, I could hardly wait to see Annette's cherublike little face in some semblance of a story instead of the thimble-sized talents of the Mouseketeers and their entirely creepy chaperones/hosts dressed in too-tight shirts, mouse ears, and fake smiles.
"Annette" was based on a book entitled Margaret, published in 1950 and written by Janette Sebring Lowrey, whose story of The Poky Little Puppy has become a timeless favourite for generations of children. The Disney team adapted it for popular Mouseketeer Annette Funicello, famously handpicked by Walt himself for the show, and added several recognisable faces to the cast. The plot is both predictably simple and forever relevant. Funicello is Annette McLeod, a Nebraska farm girl being raised by a friend of the family after the death of both her parents. When it's decided that she would be better off living with relatives, Annette goes west, to the city (really the suburbs), and moves in with her Uncle Archie (Richard Deacon, from Leave It to Beaver and The Dick Van Dyke Show) and Aunt Lila (Sylvia Field), neither of whom expected her or even knew she existed until her arrival at their doorstep. There's some initial discontent about what these incredibly stiff adults should do with a teenage girl, but housekeeper Katie (Mary Wickes) immediately takes to Annette and helps quash any idea of sending her off to boarding school.
From that set-up, it's a bit like the 1950s version of Mean Girls, boiling over with polite exploration of class and popularity amid a high school where the kids seem to spend more time at the neighbouring malt shop than actually in the classroom (a location we don't even see once). Annette likes everyone she meets, but her Aunt Lila is insistent that she make friends with the right kind of people, meaning the popular, and by extension well-to-do, kids. So achievers like Steven (Tim Considine) and his steady girl Laura (Roberta Shore) are encouraged as friends while the plain country girl Jet Maypen (Judy Nugent) shouldn't be a social acquaintance. Annette is robotlike in her perfection, making everyone peachy keen and swell in her book. Soda jerk Mike (David Stollery) and Steven both seem interested in Annette, earning her constant jealousy from Laura, but the tease basically lasts throughout the entire serial. This isn't a romance, but a mystery! Some business with Laura's missing necklace, and blame placed at Annette's heels, provides the central excuse for conflict.
I must admit to being a generation removed from the original "Annette" viewers. It's easy enough to declare how silly everything seems here. The acting from Funicello is stilted at best, talentless at worst. The mini-plots are entirely contrived and transparent. No matter the path the destination is always certain in productions like this. Especially grating were some of the songs. That number about the malt shop is stuck in my head with all the sickly sweet aftertaste of an actual visit there. The thing is, though, I actually really liked watching these little installments. Once the barrier of my own cynicism was cracked so that it felt safe to give over entirely to such an innocent and idealised version of entertainment, I was anxious to see where each episode would end up. It gave me the same feeling I developed as a child watching the Nickelodeon channel's Nick at Night programming when Mr. Ed, The Donna Reed Show and The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis would air. I think that probably facilitated my love of older movies and, later, film history so I'm extremely cautious to characterise "Annette" as merely aimed at nostalgia hounds.
I do think some sense of the difference in audience expectations is required to appreciate "Annette," but the issues explored are largely timeless and the serial is compulsively watchable. For what it is, meaning a simplistic and heavily dated breach into waters that may not have even existed at the time of air, "Annette" is close to being as good as it gets. You have a cast that's fairly well known (also including Shelley Fabares, Rudy Lee, and Mouseketeer Sharon Baird) and an involving story both fast-moving and intended for young teens. Disney is still doing this sort of thing with its various shows like Lizzie McGuire, Hannah Montana, and whatever else the little ones watch these days. In several ways "Annette" was the equivalent of the programming now found on the Disney Channel. Creatively, there's little to recommend, but "Annette" at least has some appeal for being so absolutely earnest and unironic. Everything is a crisis and even the small stuff gets trumpeted, though not so loudly as to take away from the next non-event calamity.
There's even an interesting connection to make between "Annette" and Twin Peaks, if you really think about it. Truly appreciating David Lynch's wonderfully bizarre exploration of small town America requires looking at his influences, intentional or not. Lynch and co-creator Mark Frost probably didn't see or at least remember "Annette," but it's the exact type of almost uncomfortable normalcy that Twin Peaks raised the fingernail of in its best outings. Both centre around a group of high school teens, including a similar recurring location of a malt shop for "Annette" and a diner on Twin Peaks. Both also have a central mystery that sort of drives the plot, though less so for "Annette." What's especially fascinating is viewing "Annette" with the knowledge of Twin Peaks. The Lynch series absolutely nailed the tone of things like this and it preyed upon that unspoken undercurrent that no one wants to acknowledge. Perfect towns aren't perfect and tragedies are inevitable. Whereas most every depiction of 1950s small town life chose to avoid showing any sort of true evil despite its universality, Twin Peaks obviously exploited that reluctance by inserting such into the idealised towns we'd seen in programme after programme of the era. Thus, in its own way, you get the sense that Twin Peaks really couldn't have existed without things like "Annette."
With that in mind, "Annette" and this Walt Disney Treasures release shouldn't be construed merely as nostalgia-friendly filler. It's a time capsule of, at the very least, the type of television watched by a previous generation, but the serial is also a reminder of how we can still entertain general audiences with the most simple and basic ideas. By taking the well-hewn route of fresh faces, a little song, a little dance, and some sense of an overarching plot line, "Annette" maintains many of the most classic ideas on how to keep an audience interested. It is, indeed, timeless, and fairly undemanding. Queue it up, watch out for a total lack of self-consciousness, and enjoy.
I complained heavily about the devolving packaging of these releases while reviewing the last wave of Disney Treasures. It seems to change slightly every year and, guess what, it's a bit different again this go-around. The back card is still glued on to the back of the tin with two blobs of sticky gunk. Still no cardboard bands or embossed cases. The difference is with the DVD case itself, which is now a figure-eight style with the two discs overlapping one another. Criterion very briefly used this type of case just before switching to the most recent design, and it can be a real pain to dislodge the discs. The case is still extra thick and comes with an eight-page booklet, individually numbered certificate of authenticity, and collectible art all tucked inside.
Each tin in this wave is limited to only 39,500 units, though the text of the certificate lists the print run at 35,000. Either way, that's the lowest of any in the Walt Disney Treasures series thus far and these are sure to become hard to find sooner rather than later.
Transferred progressively in the 1.33:1 aspect ratio, the "Annette" serial looks more than acceptable. A stray mark of damage or flurry of speckles pops up on occasion, but everything is mostly on the pleasant side. There's little contrast to speak of because this is more grey than black and white. What's here comes across with flying monochrome colours. Nothing overly manipulated or neglected, and a fine overall transfer, presented on a pair of dual-layered discs.
Audio is sidled with just an English Dolby Digital two-channel mono track. It's bland, but effective. Hiss and pops are low in the mix and largely unnoticeable. The volume levels are relatively strong and consistent. Any deficiencies seem to be the product of the origins and not the presentation. Not ambitious certainly, but good enough. Subtitles are optional in English for the hearing impaired, and yellow in colour.
The extras are extremely limited in this set, and disappointing as a result. Disc one begins with a very warm Leonard Maltin introduction (3:42). Maltin is an easy target, but I'm always glad to hear his informed input on these Treasures discs. The first Mickey Mouse Club episode (22:19) in the "Annette" series is apparently mislabeled as being from February 11, 1958 when it was really the 10th, but it's here regardless. It's a bit annoying to watch this installment, billed as an introduction, since the serial doesn't really kick off until the next episode and the introduction basically gives away the entire plot of the whole deal. The first disc's other main bonus feature is a short featurette prepared for the 1993 release of some Annette Funicello music. It's given the title of "Musically Yours, Annette" (12:02) and features Funicello as well as friends Shelley Fabares, Paul Anka, Fabian and Frankie Avalon in short interviews mostly concerning her music career. Very fluffy, but still not bad.
Disc two has another Maltin intro (3:52) and the final Mickey Mouse Club episode featuring "Annette" (22:16), from March 7, 1958. There's a young girl who sings terribly and is still given the honorary Mouseketeer status. It's dreadful. Better is a featurette made just for this release and called "To Annette, with Love" (16:07). Fabares is again interviewed, as are Funicello's husband Glen Holt and fellow Mouseketeer and co-star Sharon Baird. Interview footage of Annette from 1985 is also generously utilised. I thought this was an improvement over the piece from the first disc, but it too focusses more on her career as a whole instead of the "Annette" serial. It's entertaining enough, though.
As with all the Walt Disney Treasures, there's an individually-numbered certificate inside the tin, as well as an eight-page booklet and a piece of collectible art, featuring Annette at her most Annette-like.
Last updated: 08/06/2018 22:41:45