These cartoons are from the early days of animation, and show an obvious crudeness. They are entirely black and white and, in the era of silent films, would have been accompanied by live music. A silent film style soundtrack has been re-recorded to provide that authentic feel. You can tell (and are told by several of the experts on this DVD) that the purpose of these films is to really get the crowd laughing more than anything. Oswald does one silly thing after another, really, and there's often not much more to it. You can still see the potential here, however, for some really brilliant things that were yet to come in the Disney world.
The short that seems to be everyone's favorite for this foreshadowing is "Oh What a Knight," and it is one of my favorites as well. Not only did they do some technically impressive things with the shadow fight, it was actually genuinely funny. Oswald fights a knight, but keeps interrupting the fight to steal kisses from his love interest. Sometimes he's quite leisurely about it too, which shows him being almost a cocky bad-boy type of character. His character only seems to solidify in certain areas and is not very consistent. However, when it happens, it can result in some entertaining scenes.
As amazing as these shorts were for the time period, they really only remain "amazing" for that time period. It seems this was realized, and a lot of extras fill out this DVD and help explain the significance of these shorts. Several episodes feature optional audio commentaries from animation experts and animators themselves. These are surprisingly not as Disney-centric or pc as you would expect, and it feels like you're getting some real insight into the era at times. There was one story they told about literally lighting a fire under one of the animator's, er, chairs. That's definitely a prank that probably wouldn't fly under the watchful eyes of HR nowadays. Also included are several cartoons by Ub Iwerks. These come from the time before and after Oswald. What I found fascinating is that live actors coupled with animation were actually something that they were trying to break away from in these early days. It's surprising, considering the handful of more recent movies that seem to want to claim "groundbreaking" status for having live actors coupled with animated characters.
It's also refreshing to see the amount of attention given to Iwerks on this collection. Walt Disney and his famous mouse might never have been if it weren't for Ub Iwerks, who actually designed the character. He is given due credit here for his animation work in general and for his enormous contributions to Disney. An hour long documentary dedicated to him is a real treat on the second DVD. Also included are several of his related works that date from before and after the period of Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. These include some Alice cartoons, which featured the live actor in an animated environment that I spoke of earlier. The later works include the all-important "Steamboat Willie" as well as "Skeleton Dance," one of the "Silly Symphony" shorts.
If the Oswald shorts were the only content on this DVD, it would probably be a pretty dull offering for many people. The extra content and the explanations packaged with them are what make this a worthwhile deal. You could safely assume you'll enjoy this if you want some insight into the early days of animation, or if you want to know more about the roots of Disney, or if you're actually just a fan of Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. As for getting this as a present for a kid, you may want to wait until they are older. With the colorful and more exciting cartoons that are out there today, this will probably seem dull in comparison.