DVD Review: Walt Disney Treausres Wave VIII: The Mickey Mouse Club Presents "Annette" (1957-1958 Season)

Walt Disney Treasures: Wave VIII
The Mickey Mouse Club Presents Annette
(1957-1958 Season)

Available on DVD
(For a Limited Time)


During a Burbank, California ballet recital in 1955 that found the twelve year old Italian-American ballerina Annette Funicello performing Swan Lake, Walt Disney became enchanted by the young girl and global history was made. "I'd like to meet the little dark-haired girl. Bring her to the studio," Walt requested following the show and thus began the adorable Annette's induction as one of the original members of his popular television series, The Mickey Mouse Club.

The only Mouseketeer handpicked by the studio head himself and undoubtedly the most popular cast member in the history of the long running show, the sweet yet incredibly shy Annette Funicello soon skyrocketed to the status of a young teen idol. Ultimately receiving 6,000 fan letters per month and later going on to star in numerous Mouseketeer serials, Annette Funicello also appeared in this twenty-episode classic named after its star that is captured in this wonderfully nostalgic, collectible tin as part of the latest wave of Walt Disney Treasures. In the series, Funicello further made Disney history by singing "How Will I Know My Love" which received such a wonderful reception by viewers that Disney later signed the young girl to a musical contract, despite her fear that she wasn't much of a singer.

That number, along with numerous other beloved moments from the 1957-1958 Annette serial are included in the digitally masted vintage monaural track to recreate the show as it aired fifty years ago. Hosted by the Walt Disney Treasures series co-creator and Disney expert Leonard Maltin-- the critic's enthusiasm and knowledge of the material throughout all three Treasures sets is downright scholarly as he breathlessly rattles off endless facts so quickly it's hard to keep up without rewinding it again and again. While there's many intriguing extras such as a lovely ode to Annette's career and life including her private battle with M.S. which compelled the actress to open the Annette Funicello Fund for Neurological Disorders at the California Community Foundation in 1993 called "To Anette With Love," for fans of Disney history and those who fondly recall the show like my very own mother, there's no substitute for the episodes themselves.

Although, admittedly they're a bit overly simplistic by today's standards, it's a tailor-made special crafted completely to appeal to Annette's fans and showcase the darling girl that captured Walt's heart. Described as both a "mentor... [and] almost... second father," by her good friend and fellow Mouseketeer Sharon Baird, Disney's relationship with Annette flourished throughout their work together, whether it was helping encourage her to keep her "virginal image" in the numerous popular beach movies she made with Frankie Avalon in the '60s or giving her a sweet sixteen birthday present of a three-episode story arc in Zorro because of her hopeless crush on the show's star Guy Williams.

Encouraging Annette to believe in herself whether it was discouraging her from changing her ethnic last name to something more "American" sounding and easier to pronounce as he showed his appreciation for her heritage by allowing her to "narrate the 5-part travel serial Italian Correspondent on the first season of The Mickey Mouse Club," or telling her not to try and combat her shyness with therapy, Walt's endless refrain was to stay true to herself since otherwise "Then you wouldn't be Annette; that wouldn't be you."

In staying true to Annette or Walt Disney's idealized version of the young girl loved by millions, in this Mickey Mouse Club serial spin-off, The Pokey Little Puppy children's book author Janette Sebring Lowrey's novel Margaret was adapted specifically for its young star. However, initially it was to co-star Annette along with Spin and Marty Mouseketeer Darlene Gillespie but soon rewrites and shakeups found Annette and Darlene turning instead to Annette's solo vehicle.

Ultimately, renamed Annette, the easily relatable and still identifiable plot-line centers on a young country girl named Annette MacLeod (Funicello) who goes to live with her estranged aunt and uncle in the city. Finding it hard to adapt to her new surroundings following rural life as the fast-living and cliquish city kids including the insecure, rude, popular and wealthy Laura (played in what couldn't have been an easy role by Roberta "Jymme" Shore) tries to discourage others to befriend her.

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And soon Annette's transition is further complicated when Laura's necklace goes missing and she tries to finger Annette as the thief. Of course, viewers know that sweet Annette would never do such a thing and the story evolves into a mystery until the aptly named concluding twentieth episode "The Mystery is Solved" which aired on March 7, 1958 completing the plot arc and finding everything tied up nicely. Along the way, of course, there are some terrific musical numbers and Mouseketeer enthusiasts will want to look for favorites like Funicello's good friend Sharon Baird, also Spin and Marty stars Tim Considine and David Stollery along with Doreen Tracy, and Shelley Fabares.

While it's a bit dated and some will find it a bit too corny to live up to today's standards, for devotees, it's a wonderfully wholesome set, complete with the added bonus of including the first and last episodes of The Mickey Mouse Club and another special called "Musically Yours, Annette" which was derived from Funicello's '92 interview as she fondly recalls her recording career in a mini-documentary which manages to work in great candid interviews by her "fellow teen idols Paul Anka, Frankie Avalon and Fabian."

An earnest, sentimental and feel-good salute to the woman who brought smiles to everyone who encountered her onscreen or in real life, however it's also one that makes for sometimes emotional viewing considering concern about her health today. Still, it's vintage, excellent Disney with a lovable Mouse Club of kids who gleefully wished upon a star and did much more with their lives than some of my generation's Mouseketeers and former Disney idols who instead have found arrests and child custody battles clouding their legacy instead of the charm and grace possessed by Annette who humbly notes on the DVD that she owes everything to those Mouseketeer ears.

However, I think it's safe to argue that any child of the baby-boomer generation would say that the ears would've been nothing had they not been worn by Annette Funicello, the young Italian-American girl with a great big heart.