1 The Mickey Mindset: Retro Reviews: The Fighting Prince of Donegal DVD Review

Monday, January 27, 2014

Retro Reviews: The Fighting Prince of Donegal DVD Review

Disney today, is more known for its animation and fairy tales, and it’s branding. Such things as the ‘Disney Princess” and “Disney Fairies” franchises leave many feeling that Disney is a very girl-based company (of course there is the Pixar’s Cars and the Marvel productions, but those are acquisitions). It may surprise many of the public, that in the hey-day when Walt Disney was alive, Historical adventure pictures (especially those set in Ireland and England around the medieval period) were a common genre.

When Disney first started into live action with “Treasure Island” (1950) he decided to film many such historical pictures, using funds that were legally locked up in the UK. In the 50’s this brought us Treasure IslandRobin Hood and his Merry MenThe Sword and the Roseand Rob Roy: the Highland Rouge. Fast-forward to the 60’s, and we are brought to The Fighting Prince of Donegal (1966).

When the young Hugh O’ Donnell’s father dies, he becomes the Prince of Donegal (his Irish clan), and brings seemingly all of Ireland to memory of a prophecy that the Prince of Donegal would free them from England’s grasp. Queen Elizabeth I apparently has different ideas, as she sends out for O’Donnell’s capture, out of fear that Spain would attack through the Irish coast and gain an allay there.  Once brought to Dublin, O’Donnell learns that the Queen sympathizes with him, having been held captive in the Tower of London during her youth. However, his captors do not, especially the villainous Captain Leed– whose ego will not let him be bested by the fire-headed O’Donnell. Fate would seem to be on O’Donnell’s side as the Irish prisoners are willing to help him escape. This further infuriates Captain Leed, who thanks to a traitorous Irishman captures O’Donnell again. O’Donnell seems to be in a very bad spot, but soon learns that Captain Leed’s own prisoners are his worst nightmare. Of course this leads to a very climatic end, which you’ll have to see to enjoy.

The Fighting Prince of Donegal arrived in 2007 as part of the Disney Movie Club’s exclusive “The Wonderful World of Disney” Collection. I personally ordered my copy through Disney Movie Rewards, and just in case you missed “Disney Exclusive” repeating itself in the yellow bordered background or the spine, a yellow sticker on the wrapper proudly proclaims “A DISNEY EXCLUSIVE DVD”. It’s the most amusing, being the least subtle thing I’ve seen Disney do on a DVD release. The cover image has to be one of the better ones DMC has done, apparently this is the second cover they’ve used, the first previously used the image now on the back cover (O’Donnell fighting Captain Leed, in a rather horrid looking Photoshop). The DVD is housed in an uncut white eco-case, and boasts no inserts (Some have mentioned receiving a Disney Movie Reward insert, however mine apparently is old stock or was packed without one, there is also no DMR star on the cover).  Inside the disk resides, with the now standard grey label, with the “Wonderful World of Disney”, and DMC star fighting the title for room. 
The Image:
Disney Exclusive DVDs are notorious for using the first master on the shelf, often leading to transfers that would have any other studio reconsidering a release. This being Disney, this doesn’t apply, as several of their Exclusive DVDs boast pan and scan, worn VHS masters from the 80’s. Happily, Fighting Prince skips the master from its late 80’s VHS release, and instead sources a “Buena Vista International Releasing, Inc.” print, that going by the logo must have been made for European television in the 90’s.
The print is lush, and extremely clear, and clean. Colors seem balanced, and despite the very earthy, and dull colors used in the film, the movie shines. While not without the occasional dirt, and specks, the film could have easily passed for a “Vault Disney Collection” transfer given to Disney Classics like Pollyanna. Popping it into my Blu-Ray player, it leaves a completely astonishing image. The silk behind the main titles practically glows with vibrancy, and one can literally count out the wrinkles. Colors seem much clearer and brighter here as well. With the up-conversion some stock nature footage sticks out like a sore thumb, being foggier, and dull in appearance. But that’s going back to the original source material. I’m still astonished how well this transfer picks up on my Blu-ray player, furs, leather, stone, wood grain are all present. In close-ups you can literally see the pores in everyone’s faces, and even make out the dull reflections of the studio lights and rigs in metals. It has me wishing Disney would do a proper Blu-Ray of this title in order to get the full effect.
By 1966, most films were already releasing in widescreen, per industry standard. The original release press book, gives the screen dimensions of “1:85 to 1” (or widescreen). However,Fighting Prince is given a 1:33:1 fullscreen transfer on the DVD. The titles fit perfectly, and the framing seems roomy and correct, there are a scattering of shots that look either cropped (people off on the side, not being the frame), or too roomy (too much space over the head of a character, or really empty shots). This transfer is either a very well done Pan and Scan, or an Open Matte transfer. Unlike other Disney films (Westward Ho! the Wagons I’m looking at you!) This doesn’t at all ruin the experience of the film.
Menu and Extras:
This being a Disney Exclusive, extras are pretty scarce and here, non-existent. While I have little to go on about the film’s history, a trailer most certainly existed, as well as a comic adaptation, and is likely  to have had some kind of  advertisement for its television premier on “Disney’s Wonderful Worlds of Color’.
The only thing that could possibly count as extras are the rather worn looking “The Wonderful World of Disney” intro that automatically plays before the film. I pin it around post 1978 (it includes clips from The Rescuers), and looks a little hot, as reds come out as blues and greens look very washy (It looks even worse on Blu-Ray, coming off extremely grainy in spots, though colors seem a bit better in hi-def). It makes little sense in its inclusion, as The Fighting Prince of Donegal was originally aired in 1967, under “Disney’s Wonderful World of Color”, and that was in 3 parts (thankfully presented in its original theatrical form here). It seems Disney just used a random intro to lead into each film in the series, however why not something that doesn’t look like it sat next to a heater that lasted 30 years? Why not use the rather cool 1997 intro you get the collection’s logo from?  It would make more sense, and look much better than Disney presented here.
The menu itself is an unexciting silent and frozen screen, with an image I could have made in Paint (in fact it shows up pixilated on Blu-ray), with the simple option of “Play”.
Final Conclusion:
A wonderful movie, is given an equally wonderful transfer (which should have been standard), and a rather bare-boned and bland DVD release.  I would encourage anyone with a taste in Classic Disney, history, or adventure to check this film out.
The DVD is currently out-of-stock on Disney Movie Rewards, but you can purchase it from the Disney Movie Club website here 

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