The evolution of Pluto differs from the other famous Disney icons, in that the character didn’t change in appearance too much, and he’s the only character that doesn’t speak.
To be honest, I was never a big fan of the Pluto cartoons. The strange part of watching this collection, unlike the Mickey Mouse one I reviewed earlier this week, was that I had actually seen many of these cartoons. I started from the beginning, watching “Chain Gang”, which is considered Pluto’s first appearance, even though it’s not really him. Since Disney approaches these characters as if they were real people, it’s been generally accepted that Pluto made his first appearance in that short as two different bloodhounds. It wasn’t until a few shorts later in “Moose Hunt” — which is on the Mickey in Black & White: Vol. 2 DVD set — that Pluto actually got his name, and only then does he begin to fill the role he is famous for — as Mickey’s loyal sidekick.
What I never really liked about Pluto were the stories. They were all pretty much the same, where Pluto would either cause chaos chasing after something, or he would get into some kind of pseudo confrontation with a kitty or other cute and fuzzy creature. Sure, it’s funny in small doses, but otherwise gets old a bit quick.
As a result, while I did enjoy some of the shorts here, such as “Pluto’s Playmate” and “Lend a Paw” (the Academy Award-winning short), what really affected me was the behind the scenes features. First there’s “Pluto 101”, that features Disney animator Andreas Deja, who not only discusses Pluto and his genesis, but also shows by example how to draw the character. This exploration was fascinating, especially since I’ve gotten into an animation kick lately.
“The Life and Times of Pluto” is also a fun exploration of the character, charting his first appearances and what set the dog apart from the rest of Disney’s collection.
Again, through the use of Leonard Maltin, Disney has carefully made a point about some of the questionable elements to some of these shorts. Like Mickey in Black & White, Vol. 2, the shorts that feature characters or story points that could be offensive are found in the “From the Vault” section. The Pluto cartoons generally don’t contain as much ethnic stereotyping that was found in other shorts featuring Mickey, so I’m not sure it was terribly important so make such a statement on this set, but I suppose it’s good to have it there.
Honestly, these features caused me to rethink my view of the pooch. I went back to watch a few of the shorts again, and sort of understood what led him to become so popular. I still think some of the stories he’s featured in aren’t that great, but as a character he does represent an important creation and deserves a place in animation history.