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Dec. 22 – Mickey’s Christmas Carol

mickey-family

MICKEY’S CHRISTMAS CAROL
Original Air Date: December 10, 1984
(Theatrical Premiere: December 13, 1983)

SYNOPSIS:
Scrooge McDuck takes on the role he was born to play in Disney’s damn-near definitive version of Charles Dickens’ Holiday classic.

mickey-title

BACKSTORY:
As mentioned back in the Pluto’s Christmas Tree article, Mickey’s theatrical appearances sputtered to a halt in the early 50’s. Donald starred in a handful of cartoons on into the 60’s, while Mickey and the rest of Disney’s classic stable of characters continued their popularity on television. But the medium that prompted Mickey’s return to the big screen for the first time in thirty years is a rather unexpected one, indeed.

mickey-back

Turns out it was the record, cassette, and to a far lesser extent, the 8-track, that launched Mickey back into theaters. The album Dickens’ Christmas Carol, featuring “The Disney Players,” was released during the Holidays of 1975 in limited quantities, with new editions following each Christmas.


A vintage commercial for the Disney Christmas record

Of the many songs recorded for the album, only one would find its way into Mickey’s Christmas Carol when it premiered in theaters in 1983, attached to a re-release of The Rescuers. It was nominated for an Oscar that same year, premiered on NBC the following Christmas, and would eventually air on all three major television networks.

mickey-title-headBased on Mickey’s screen time, this is a bit of a lie

BREAKDOWN:
I know I’ve been playing fast and loose with the criteria of the “Animated Television Christmas Special,” but I’m fairly certain I can justify Mickey’s Christmas Carol here with some general knowledge that I can’t corroborate enough to include in the comparatively “professional” section above.

mickey-scroogeThousands were auditioned before McDuck won the role of Scrooge

Reportedly, this 24-minute short was supposed to premiere on CBS in 1982, but an animation strike held up production. So instead a special was assembled from archival animation, using footage from Bambi, Cinderella, some shorts, etc., and known as A Disney Christmas Gift. Which I’m only bringing up because I just found my old copy and my brain is currently exploding with the anticipation of writing it up. (Next year?!)

mickey-donaldMickey as Bob Cratchit and Donald as Scrooge’s nephew

I’ve been hesitant to write up any more adaptations of A Christmas Carol, because quite frankly, I find most of them boring, derivative, and literally the least an animation production house can do when cramming their characters into an uninspired Holiday presentation. (I’m looking at you Hanna-Barbera!)

mickey-signScrooge’s office is filled with lousy de-motivational signs

That said, not only am I absolutely batshit in love with Mickey’s Christmas Carol, I sort of do consider it the definitive adaptation.

mickey-richRich environments

Some of that has to do with the all-star cast, and the fact that this is the first one I can remember watching, but I also genuinely believe that Disney created the template for how A Christmas Carol has been adapted in family-friendly entertainment ever since.

mickey-tiny-timIs Tiny Tim played by Morty or Ferdie? The world may never know

Of course, I have no vested interest in the original story, nor do I give a shit about how faithful Disney was to it. Just so you know where I stand: I take far more issue with Pluto’s being completely left out of Disney’s triumphant return to short theatrical animation than I do with the omission of the Phantom Hearse or Mrs. Fezziwig.

mickey-chipmunksChipmunks bumpin’ butts

It took real balls to bother with presenting these characters again in the first place. Even after basically skipping a generation, the cast has shown unprecedented longevity, and although it couldn’t have been easy, Mickey’s Christmas Carol is a bold and wonderful bridge between two triumphant periods in Disney’s history.

mickey-minnieMinnie is distraught over not having a single spoken line

To start, Alan Young – best known as Wilbur from television’s Mister Ed - reprises his role as Ebenezer Scrooge (McDuck) from the record on which the film is based.

scrooge-daisyScrooge moves in on his nephew’s gal, Daisy

Prior to this, Scrooge McDuck was primarily a character from Disney Comics, having appeared theatrically as a rough Scottish caricature in the wartime propaganda short The Spirit of ’43, and showing up only once as the duck we’re all familiar with (well, outside of a cameo on The Mickey Mouse Club TV show) in 1967’s Scrooge McDuck and Money.

mickey-eyeEver get the feeling you were being watched?

In addition to being far less “ethnic,” Alan Young’s portrayal was incredibly warm. So much so that when Disney decided to spin the duck off into his own cartoon series, DuckTales, Young got to don the top hat and cane once again for 100 episodes and the theatrical movie.

mickey-alan-youngAlan Young: The Most Important Entertainer of All Time

He’s far and away the voice most associated with Scrooge, and I was shocked to find out that Young is still alive AND voicing the character as recently as last year, at the ripe old age of 90!

mickey-stoveMickey, about to be torn a new asshole

Also of vocal note, Wayne Allwine, the man who voiced Mickey Mouse from 1977 until his passing earlier this year, made his first theatrical appearance as the icon. Before Mickey’s Christmas Carol, Allwine had only performed the character in brief television appearances.

mickey-allwineThe only Mickey my generation has ever know

But he’s since provided the voice of Mickey for literally everything, from toys to albums, TV shows and videogames. Not bad for a guy who started at Disney as a sound editor!

mickey-donald2Donald stole Ichabod Crane’s horse!

Sadly, and most notably, this marked the final time Donald Duck was brought to life by the remarkable Clarence Nash. Since Donald’s first appearance in 1934’s The Wise Little Hen, Nash was the only man to spit the Donald venom for 50 years! He personally trained a Disney animator, Tony Anselmo, as his replacement, and Anselmo has performed the voice ever since.

mickey-nashHalf a century in a sailor suit

Which I do think is  worth mentioning…because as much as Disney gets a reputation for being a cold, corporate monolith, the roles of its most famous characters were handed over to internal staffers with next-to-no previous voice credits. There’s just something so familial about that, and I think that many people forget it in their cynical views of Disney’s animation process.

mickey-family3Makes me feel like this

As you can no doubt tell, I’ve been pretty much rambling a super-elongated back story thus far. But there’s a timelessness to both the story and special itself that’s above any need for detailed analysis or explanation. You’ve undoubtedly seen it before and know the story, so really the most interesting thing about it is how well the Disney characters present themselves after such a lengthy hiatus.

mickey-nephewsHew, Dew, and Lou in a brief, silent cameo

But I do love a good crossover! And for me, the most rewarding thing about the film is that this was one of the first times Disney treated itself like a singular universe, casting animated characters from throughout the studio’s entire history. It’s now ridiculously common for the stable of characters to appear in ensemble, but prior to Mickey’s Christmas Carol it was actually quite rare.

mickey-goofyGoofy’s Jacob Marley is an undead klutz

You’d expect to see characters from the short cartoons, but for the role of the ghosts, Disney cherry-picked a couple of unexpected choices. On the album, The Ghost of Christmas Past was played by Merlin from The Sword in the Stone – but I think you’ll agree that Jiminy Cricket made a far better choice for the cartoon.

mickey-jiminyAlways let your conscience be your guide

And what may seem like an odd choice actually works unbelievably well comedically, as Willie the Giant pockets the role of The Ghost of Christmas Present (even though he’d only appeared once before, in 1947’s Mickey and the Beanstalk).

mickey-giantWithout a doubt, the funniest character here

And while in retrospect it seems like a no-brainer to cast Pete, Disney’s longest running character, as the menacing Ghost of Christmas Future, the album actually used Snow White’s Wicked Witch in the original role.

mickey-peteNo one does bad worse than Pete

But since our little blog/site/mess here is built on a backbone of screenshots, I thought it important to highlight the other Disney players who appear in the silent and supporting roles. You’ll find many a forgotten character from the heyday of the Disney short:

mickey-horseCocky Locky, Horace Horsecollar, Claribel Cow, and Gus Goose

mickey-pigsThe cast of Three Little Pigs (1933)

mickey-wolvesAnd two of The Three Little Wolves (1936)

But what’s odd are the choices the animators made in picking characters from their feature films. Instead of casting heavyweight stars from their most profitable movies, you’ll find many arguably more obscure characters here:

mickey-toadA familiar face from The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad (1959)

mickey-willowsAnd fellow Wind in the Willows cast members Ratty and Mole

mickey-lady-cluckThe bird from Bedknobs and Broomsticks (1971) dances with Lady Kluck

mickey-robin-hoodAnd about a billion other characters from Robin Hood (1973)

All of these appearances are immensely rewarding for an animation dork like myself. Of course, such levels of nerd-dom can be a double-edged sword, as I found myself almost angry that there weren’t more. “Where’s Peter Pan, Sleeping Beauty?!”  Etc…

mickey-scrooge-graveThe end is still a little scary

At first, I cynically assumed that the cameo casting was based around choosing characters from the more recent Disney films. But once I pondered the matter further (I seriously did!) it seems the idea was more to pick characters who wouldn’t appear out-of-place in the mid 19th century, or need to change outfits to fit the time period. And the last criterion to occur to me? Duh… no humans!

mickey-family1What, no tree upgrade?

But such thorough care is taken with the animation, and the characters are so well cast, that there’s almost nothing to complain about… aside from the LACK OF PLUTO, YOU DICKS!

mickey-graveGets me every time

Every time I think I don’t care much for Mickey Mouse because he isn’t funny or he’s a bad dancer, I watch him crying at the grave of Tiny Tim and tear up in a manner most unbecoming. He’s no longer an extremely kinetic character, but when something affects him he sure has a beautifully expressive way of showing it.

mickey-endIf this doesn’t do it for you, you have no soul

jesus template

No Christ here! But give Mickey a couple more centuries of public worship and I may have to amend the score…

santa-mickey

Claus isn’t present anywhere in A Christmas Carol. According to legend, Dickens cut him out of the first draft, along with several kickass car chases.

spirit-mickey

Sorry, Disney: There’s no reason for A Christmas Carol to be longer than half an hour…you got it right the first time.

mickey-perfectPerfect

Every piece of Disney’s legacy is put to excellent use in this soaring comeback, all executed remarkably well, especially given how out-of-practice the animators were at the time. Both the source material and the famous players are treated with the utmost care and respect. A timeless tale that’s been retold a thousand times is still impressively unique; simultaneously heartwarming and funny without ever veering into the overly sentimental or slapstick… Fuck, I really can’t say enough good things about Mickey’s Christmas Carol.

PRODUCT INFORMATION (Support the Site!)

Mickey’s Christmas Carol is made available for purchase pretty consistently, with DVDs going in and out of print on a nearly annual basis. I highly recommend you pick up the Walt Disney Treasure: Mickey Mouse in Living Color Volume 2, as it’s still available used and will undoubtedly soon be impossible to find inexpensively. It contains the special, plus 5+ more hours of Mousy goodness, including shorts like Pluto’s Christmas Tree and Mickey’s latter-day resurrection in The Prince and the Pauper and Runaway Brain. The single-disc Disney Animation Collection Volume 7: Mickey’s Christmas Carol is a pretty good deal as well, mostly because it also comes with stacked with the various Disney Christmas shorts that used to accompany the 30-minute feature on television years ago. I can’t vouch for the quality of the many other direct-to-video Mickey Christmas specials made this decade, since I haven’t seen them, but if I’m still doing this next year, expect a thorough examination! More surprisingly, I’m delighted to discover that Amazon also has a super-cheap mp3 of the original record on which the special was based!

21claymationYesterday’s Christmas Special:
A CLAYMATION CHRISTMAS CELEBRATION

Comments

Comment from Beezn
Time December 22, 2009 at 3:11 pm

This was one of my favorite golden rule book/tape combo that I had as a kid. It’s suprisingly scarry stll too.

Comment from squidhead442
Time December 23, 2009 at 2:21 pm

Man, I’d like to see this one, but I’m almost out of time! You’ve convinced me to check it out though. Almost there!

Comment from Klaus Disney
Time January 14, 2010 at 10:50 pm

Mickys Weihnachtserzählung

Comment from Chris Capel
Time December 21, 2010 at 10:37 pm

I JUST prefer The Muppet Christmas Carol as that manages to weave between utterly hilarious gags and tragedy so well, but this is a very close second.

Comment from Cory Stoczynski
Time November 24, 2011 at 12:56 pm

RIP Charles Dickens

Comment from floor
Time December 21, 2012 at 3:29 am

oh I have found someone who loves this carol by disney, enormous, like i do!
menn me and my family we always (since kids on) watch this video with christmas. I love all the characters. Oh yes and when tiny Tim dies..men i sob and sob! greets from the netherlands

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