Review by KC Carlson
Disney is reissuing some of their great Christmas cartoons in new editions this year, just in time for the holidays.
Disney Animation Collection: Mickey’s Christmas Carol
Mickey’s Christmas Carol is a new entry in the Walt Disney Animation Collection: Classic Short Films series that I reviewed earlier this year. The lead feature is an all-star adaptation of the classic Charles Dickens’ tale, originally theatrically released in 1983 as a special feature with the re-release of The Rescuers. It was the first new Mickey Mouse cartoon made in over 30 years, and the first ever to include all of Disney’s classic characters (except Pluto, for some reason).
The cast includes Uncle Scrooge (playing Ebenezer Scrooge, in the greatest no-brainer casting ever done by Hollywood). Mickey plays the Bob Cratchit role, Goofy plays the ghost of Marley, Jiminy Cricket is the Ghost of Christmas Past, Willie the Giant is the Ghost of Christmas Present, and Pete (Mickey’s frequent nemesis) is the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come.
Donald Duck also appears as Scrooge’s nephew Fred, voiced by Clarence Nash in his last theatrical appearance as Donald before his death in 1985. Donald was the only character in the film to be voiced by his original voice, although several voice actors made their first appearance as classic Disney characters in this film — most notably, Alan Young as Uncle Scrooge, Wayne Allwine as Mickey Mouse, Eddie Carroll as Jiminy Cricket, Willie the Giant by Will Ryan, and Patricia Parris as Daisy Duck. And, as a matter of curiosity, current Chief Creative Officer for Pixar and Disney Animation, John Lasseter, has an early creative credit on this film.
The film also includes dozens of cameos from across the history of Disney animation including The Three Little Pigs and the Big Bad Wolf, Max Hare, Daisy Duck, Minnie Mouse, Donald’s nephews, Gus Goose, Clarabelle Cow, Horace Horsecollar, Grandma Duck, Chip ‘n’ Dale, and many more from the cast of Robin Hood and also from The Wind and the Willows (which had roughly the same time and place setting as A Christmas Carol, Victorian England).
The film is pretty faithful to the original Dickens story, but at just 24 minutes, not every scene is as fleshed-out as it could be. The characters play it pretty straight, but there’s some occasional humor — Willie the Giant climbing out of the top of Scrooge’s house and wandering around town is very funny, and Marley Goofy has some great moments, as well as a Goofy Holler! The animation is crisp and the backgrounds, especially in the opening sequences, are gorgeous. Some of the more notable Disney talents on the film include animators Glenn Keane, Mark Henn, Randy Cartwright, creative consultant Eric Larson, and director Burny Mattinson. The film is very historically important and also one of Disney’s best short features.
Other Classic Holiday Shorts
Also included is The Small One, originally released in theaters in 1978 with the re-release of Pinocchio. It’s also the last Disney production featuring the work of producer and director Don Bluth, who left Disney the following year to start his own animation company, best known for The Secret of NIMH (1982). He also produced animation for the popular Dragon’s Lair (1983) and Space Ace (1984) video games and provided the memorable animated segment in Xanadu (1980 — one of Johanna’s favorites).
The Small One, based on the book by Charles Tazewell, is a tremendously moving film and one of the very best examples of character animation. It’s truly one of Disney’s “hidden gems”. It’s the incredibly poignant story of a poor young boy who cares for his father’s donkeys. His favorite is “Small One”, an undersized and older donkey who struggles to keep up with his chores. Ultimately, the father determines that Small One is too old to work and must be sold to raise money for the poor family. So the boy accompanies Small One to the marketplace, but he finds selling the old donkey is much more difficult than first thought.
This is the first time that I’ve ever seen this cartoon, and initially thought that things were going to go in a much different way than they actually do, as this film has a very surprising resolution. In fact, you’ll wonder why this is part of a holiday collection until you see the very last minute of this memorable short film.
Rounding out the collection is Pluto’s Christmas Tree (1952), a fun romp as Mickey and Pluto inadvertently bring home a Christmas tree that Chip and Dale (Disney’s trouble-making chipmunks) are living in. Hilarity ensues. Plus, cameos by Donald, Goofy, and Minnie Mouse. Also included is Santa’s Workshop, a 1932 Silly Symphony cartoon where Santa and his elves are preparing for Christmas Day, and all the toys come to life! And since it’s an early Disney cartoon, everybody sings and dances! Yay! And there’s an early appearance of the “checkered paint” gag! I’ve seen it a billion times, yet I laugh each time I see it! (NOTE: this cartoon has been edited to remove a racially stereotyped caricature.)
All in all, a great collection, although it’s unfortunate that Mickey’s Christmas Carol is not presented in its original letterbox format. There are nice film transfers on all the cartoons, even the relatively ancient Silly Symphony.
Winnie the Pooh: Seasons of Giving
Also available in a new 10th Anniversary edition is Winnie the Pooh: Seasons of Giving. This release combines three Pooh shorts that were originally made-for-TV, including A Winnie the Pooh Thanksgiving (1998) and two shorts originally from The New Adventures of Winnie the Pooh (“Groundpiglet Day” and “Find Her, Keep Her”), into one “film”. Also on the disc are two bonus cartoons from the New Adventures series, “Magic Earmuffs” and “The Wishing Bear”. All of these short cartoons are from the 1988-89 season of the show.
This is probably a perfectly fine release for young children, although I did see a few comments around the ‘net that some very young kids might have problems with some occasionally scary scenes. Even I was a little disturbed by seeing Piglet in a pretty tense situation in “Magic Earmuffs”, when he’s skating from ice floe to ice floe while on the edge of a big waterfall! Adults will have a tougher time with this release, as by this time the Disney cartoons have drifted farther and farther away from the the original A. A. Milne books. They added many new and uninspired characters, while some of the originals (most notably Kanga, mother to Roo) disappeared. Also, the hodge-podge of cartoons offers up a number of confusions — stylistic differences from cartoon to cartoon, different voice actors portraying characters (sadly, many of the original voice actors had passed away prior to these cartoons), and even Christopher Robin’s accent switching back-and-forth from British to American! “Oh, bother!” might exclaim Pooh.
If you have no problem with your Pooh not being all that Milne-like (or even as good as the original Disney Pooh shorts!), then this will be fine for your kids’ holiday viewing, although they will have to tolerate the characters frequently acting like idiots. In the long-standing Disney DVD tradition, there are a couple of Pooh games to play as bonus features. If you’re a Disney or Pooh collector, the Gift Set version of the DVD comes with a very cute baby-sized Christmas stocking featuring Pooh, Tigger and Piglet.
(Complimentary copies for this review were provided by the studio.)