Disney's AMERICAN LEGENDS is a compilation of several great legends of America's past, celebrating stories of great men doing great (and not so great) deeds. The selection of stories is interesting, and each has a definitive place in American (and Disney) history. While the stories may be a bit different from what you were told (if you were told them at all, considering most of the heroes are not what one would call politically correct), all in all, it's an enjoyable collection that my family watches about once a month.
James Earl Jones ties the collection together with live action narrartion putting an actual historical context to the proceedings. His delivery and tone strike a balance between serious education and tongue-in-cheek understanding.
The first story is JOHN HENRY, directed and lead animated by Mark Henn, the animator who brought Jasmine (from Aladdin) and several other major Disney heroes to life. With narration by the great Alfre Woodard and a stirring rendition of the "John Henry" song by the Sounds of Blackness Choir, the short is first-rate. From the backgrounds intended to give the feel of folk art and quilting, to the rough animation occasionally showing through (the rough lines haven't been "cleaned up," showing the power of the animator's original drawings, and giving it a less "pretty" look), JOHN HENRY is a fantastic short, and the primary reason Disney released the collection in the first place.
JOHNNY APPLESEED (originally from MELODY TIME, a compilation feature released in the early 1950's) is told and sung by Irish tenor Dennis Day. Some nice animation, including some great stylized moments designed by Disney artist Mary Blair (whose distinctive look inspired most Disney features of the 1950's), plus the great "The Lord is Good to Me" song, make JOHNNY a nice treat.
PAUL BUNYAN was released as a short in the early 60's and features the catchy title song sung by the Mellomen. Great bass voice actor Thurl Ravenscroft brings Paul's booming voice to life, and there are some genuinely humorous bits based on Paul's exploits in creating some of our most famous natural landmarks (Pike's Peak, Yellowstone Falls, etc.). Paul is definitely not a hero in this day and age, since his claim to fame is massive deforestation. Oh, for a simpler time.
THE BRAVE ENGINEER is the story of CASEY JONES, who really wasn't very bright and gained fame for crashing his train into another one. The short itself isn't very heroic (unlike John Henry, who gives his all to show humanity can best machinery; Paul Bunyan, who helped clear the way for settlement in the West; or Johnny Appleseed, who helped feed hungry settlers), mostly being an excuse to have Jerry Collona (the voice of the March Hare in Disney's ALICE IN WONDERLAND) to do a myriad of voices, bad puns, and the like. It's quite entertaining in itself, but not at the level of the rest of the shorts.
There are several reviews here who take umbrage with factual problems, but they appear to be getting their tall tales mixed up (it was Joe Magarac who melted himself into steel, NOT John Henry), and those who view the release as bit of shrewd marketing by Disney miss the point that Disney had planned to release JOHN HENRY with other heroic shorts long before the events of 9/11.
While it is somewhat lacking at the end, and could have used PECOS BILL (from MAKE MINE MUSIC, narrated by Roy Rogers and the Sons of the Pioneers) to make a really smashig conclusion, on the whole, the collection is excellent, and quite enjoyable.