Review by KC Carlson
I was happily surprised by Mickey’s Magical Christmas: Snowed in at the House of Mouse, a new Disney holiday DVD obviously aimed at kids. I found plenty of fun stuff here as well, due to a cool concept, some great voice work, and some heads-up joke writing. But before I jump into the main feature, perhaps some discussion of Disney’s House of Mouse (the first episode of which is a bonus feature on the DVD) is in order.
Originally airing on Saturday mornings from 2001 to 2003, Disney’s House of Mouse (HoM) featured the classic Disney characters — Mickey and Minnie Mouse, Donald and Daisy Duck, Goofy, and Pluto — all hosting a night club that provides entertainment to an audience made up of any and all Disney characters that you can think of, including the stars of Disney’s classic theatrical cartoons.
So you see characters like Ariel and Belle intermingling with Pooh and Tigger or even bad guys like Hades or or Jafar or Cruella de Ville — all served food and drinks by the penguin waiters from Mary Poppins! Even obscure Disney characters appear, such as Panchito and Jose Carioca (from The Three Caballeros), or Ranger J. Audubon Woodlore or Horace Horsecollar — who has my favorite line in the first episode: After being beaten and tied up by Pete, Mickey discovers him and exclaims, “Horace! What’s wrong!” Horace replies, “All the rain forests are being chopped down, nobody votes anymore, and the internet’s too dang slow!”
The “entertainment” largely consists of short cartoons (or excerpts) from classic Disney shorts or cartoons from the previous Disney show Mickey Mouse Works (the precursor to HoM). So, in essence, the House of Mouse material is just new wraparounds for the previous cartoons. But this is where most of the fun comes from, seeing all the various characters interact, using some very clever jokes, including inside jokes and nods to a more mature audience.
In the first episode, Mickey gets dejected after Pete (the club’s evil landlord) tries to shut the club down, and Donald, sensing his chance, attempts to take over the club — with disastrous results. Snow White is served a poison apple, Daisy tries to find a table that seats 101 (for the Dalmatians), and worst of all, Ariel is served flounder for dinner — her friend Flounder! Attempts to change the name of the club to House of Duck brings a series of misprinted signs, including House of Yuck, House of Buck (hmmm…), and House of Pancakes. Other bizarre jokes include a situation explaining that Mickey owes Goofy a big favor, then we see a “flashback” to an early Mickey Mouse short from 40 or 50 years ago when Goofy helped Mickey break out of jail! Later, when Pete is attempting to distract his pursuers from throwing him out of the club, he points and shouts, “Look! It’s Annette Funicello!”
It’s also worth noting that many of the movie characters are voiced here by the same voice talent who originally performed their voices in the features (unless they have passed away or are busy “superstars”). Also, House of Mouse has a very cool theme song, performed by Brian Setzer.
Snowed in at the House of Mouse was the first direct-to-video spin-off from House of Mouse, first released in November of 2001. It’s a 60-minute version of a typical HoM episode, incorporating Mickey’s Christmas Carol and Pluto’s Christmas Tree (Hey, didn’t I just see these?), as well as some newer cartoons (most likely from Mickey Mouse Works). Here, an unexpected blizzard has trapped all the Disney characters in the club and
they all have to decide who will eat whom in case help doesn’t arrive soon (Pardon me, someone is being silly. — Johanna) — and they all have to entertain each other while they are snowed in. Except Donald is obviously lacking the Christmas Spirit, so the others try to get him more in the mood. (Too bad they don’t serve liquor in the House of Mouse!)
The highlight here (other than seeing Ludwig von Drake bite off the head of a gingerbread boy cookie, and then have his gingerbread dad in the audience pass out — No, really!) is the whacked-out Disney version of The Nutcracker. It’s narrated by a flummoxed John Cleese, with a couple of Pythonesque flourishes — as when von Drake starts acting too silly, Cleese throws him out of the cartoon!
Minnie plays Maria, the little girl who is given a toy soldier nutcracker (Mickey) who comes to life after Marie is shrunken to toy size. The two then encounter the Mouse King (Donald, wearing mouse ears and buck teeth and looking inexplicably like Jerry Lewis) who traps Maria in the crystal ball of his evil scepter. Then Goofy appears, confused as usual and in his normal “street clothes” but actually playing the Magical Snow Fairy. This is all too much for Cleese, who can no longer keep everybody’s names straight, and he gets more and more exasperated as the cartoon goes on.
Donald releases Minnie, er, Maria and attempts to crown her his
Duck Mouse Queen, when Mickey and Goofy arrive and Mickey and Donald face off. Mickey succeeds in rescuing Maria, but Goofy is sucked into the evil Mouse King’s scepter. Donald the Mouse KIng makes one more attempt to capture the mice — with a death ray that turns a gingerbread man cookie into a gingerbread skeleton cookie (Note: Disney hates gingerbread!), but the mice prevail and the Mouse King is trapped in his own scepter, where Goofy is glad to see him (“I’ve got card games!” he says while shuffling). Oh, and while all this is going on, the Nutcracker Suite is playing in the background, sounding as if it’s being performed by the Trans-Siberian Orchestra on acid, at 78 RPM. Not your typical Disney cartoon.
Meanwhile back at the House of Mouse, Jiminy Cricket attempts to cheer up Donald (is that perfect, or what?), and everything is saved when Donald is allowed to put the star on top of the tree, rekindling his Christmas sprit and everybody sings a new Christmas song –“The Best Christmas of All”. Awww…
The DVD is topped off with a couple of animated singalong cartoons — for “Deck the Halls” and “Sleigh Ride” — and “The Sound of Christmas,” a short featurette about Wayne Allwine (the voice of Mickey Mouse and a former sound effects editor) teaching kids about sound effects. It only runs three minutes or so, but it is a very nice tribute to Allwine, who passed away earlier this year and seldom appeared on-screen.
Mickey’s Magical Christmas: Snowed in at the House of Mouse is a great Christmas video for the kids and actually has enough fun stuff so that adults won’t mind watching it either! Very rare in Kid-Vid!
I wish that I could watch more House of Mouse, but it’s not currently airing in America on any of the Disney channels. Nor is it available on DVD — something that drives me crazy as Disney has many great animated programs, both classic and modern, that I think would do well as season (or series) sets on DVD. Interestingly, House of Mouse was reportedly made in the widescreen HD format (but only shown here in standard format), so it would look great on DVD or Blu-ray! (The studio provided a review copy.)