The festive folks at Disney hastily assemble an archival Holiday present that was 20 years shy of “new” the day it hit TV.
According to legend, A Disney Christmas Gift exists only because of the hard times the studio underwent during the early 80’s. In those turbulent times between The Fox and the Hound and the developmentally challenged The Black Cauldron, Disney had decided it was high time Mickey returned to the medium he was born: Short-form Theatrical animation. The studio had long since abandoned the theatrical short, yet it had found success with the occasional 10+ minute short, generally adjoined with its theatrical rereleases of classic animated films, Winnie the Pooh being a notable example.
The special was heavily rerun on The Disney Channel up into the 90’s and eventually found its way to VHS and Laserdisc
But Mickey… hell, Mickey hadn’t been seen on the big screen in three decades. Obviously, shit had to be done right. Unfortunately, the same animation strike and internal strife that plagued production on The Black Cauldron caused unforeseeable delays in Mickey’s Christmas Carol, and it would fail to premiere in the Winter of 1982.
“Sorry I couldn’t make it, folks”
More interestingly, Disney had already inked a deal to premiere the thing on CBS, and they’d apparently gone so far as to send out promotional materials heralding something wouldn’t be finished until a year later. What’s a Disney to do? Why, pillage the archives of course! And hastily cobble together cartoons dating back as far as 1933.
Children raised on VCRs no doubt recognize what’s about to go down
A Disney Christmas Gift has held a special place in my heart for decades, because it certainly got played in heavy rotation in our household. I can still vividly remember the title – scrawled in my own handwriting! – on a yellow Kodak VHS spine, which, in spite of a consistent shortage of blank tapes, somehow made it through the entire VCR era without getting recorded over. I can’t tell you how overjoyed I was to unearth a version of it after all these years… and I can’t tell you how underwhelming I find it now.
The dogs of Christmas
Maybe in the days predating Youtube and chapter-skipping DVDs, Disney could get away heading into The Vault and cutting together sizzle reels together to be released wherever it wanted. I know I enjoyed the hell out of them – Disney’s Sing-A-Long Songs come to mind. But at least many of those variety sets adhered to some sort of overarching theme, and you’d think jukeboxing the archives into a coherent Holiday shell would’ve been no problem for A Disney Christmas Gift. No so, apparently…
Apologies for the screen quality, these are all ripped from a VHS
I know those pictures of the live-action opening might go a long way towards tricking you into thinking you’re getting a full-blown Disney Christmas Extravaganza… But it’s little more than Yuletide B-roll accompanied by original Christmas music so goddamned clichéd it’s approaching cynicism, then used to bridge a rather careless grab bag of largely unrelated animation.
Pretty, pretty winter
Which really sucks… especially because it kicks things off on a Holiday high note, beginning with the relatively obscure “Once Upon a Wintertime” short, originally featured as part of Disney’s theatrically-released Melody Time in 1948. Technically, it’s not even about Christmas, yet with its sleighbells, snow, and songs by Frances Langford scoring the comical courtship, it’s unarguably suited perfectly for it.
Leaving his mark of love on nature itself
Add to that, it’s got damn near everything that’s helped theatrical Disney animation continuously stand the test of time. To put it simply, “Once Upon a Wintertime” has simply everything you’d want to see in a Holiday cartoon. You’ve got romance, physical comedy, adorable animals and an utterly fantastic musical flourish from beginning to end. And then the creepiness of A Disney Christmas Gift sinks its teeth in…
“This is where you nightmares live”
A creepy chorus of overlayed narrators jarringly shatters the magic of the first abridged cartoon to bring you into the next. It’s not just cornball – lazy editing and cheesy wipes were just part of the eighties – it’s that it incredibly unnecessary unless they assumed their audience would’ve been 90% blind. Click here to hear it for yourself.
Better shots taken for a separate article
“Mickey, Pluto, and Chip and Dale! Christmas morning will never be the same!” That seems innocuous in text, but imagine it murmured to you by an overlayed horde of trickster demons hellbent on coaxing you away from your immortal soul! Sorry, that’s how it feels to me anyway. Yet before you can run screaming from the room, BAM: You’re in the middle of “Pluto’s Christmas Tree” one of my all time favorite Christmas cartoons! I’ve written about that short in depth, so forgive me I jump to the next clip.
I really should be capturing pics from my Bambi DVD
Que the satanic narrators: “Christmas mo-ooooorning, and it’s Bambi’s first Christ-mas Day!” Wait, what? And here’s where things get weird… The next clip is from Bambi, specifically that splendid sequence where Thumper teaches him to navigate the ice. So, perhaps I’m entering into nerd rage mode but… why you gotta rewrite history, man? We can see the snow – Bambi’s first, actually – so I’m fairly sure the audience can accept that it’s somewhere close to Holidays.
Thumper does his impression of me viewing A Disney Christmas Gift
Must you needlessly fabricate that these two friends are celebrating Christmas just to fit the needs of this slapdash special? By that criteria, are we to assume the forest creatures consider a cruel blanket of snow and ice, and the freezing over of their water supply… a gift?! Tell that to the decomposing carcasses of the animals that don’t make it through the harsh winter, mister! And we’re on to the next clip…
“Faaaaantaaasyy. In Never-Never laaaand. Oh what would Chriiiiistmas be, without Peter Pan?” Just because you sing it doesn’t make it true! And what the hell does Peter Pan have to do with Christmas, anyway?! Either way, here’s where we get to enjoy the otherwise wonderful, yet totally unrelated to Christmas, sequence from Peter Pan where the children take flight from the nursery.
The only justification I can see for the Xmas inclusion is their pajamas are a bit Dickensian
As one of my favorite scenes from any movie, period, this one’s hard to knock in just about any context, except that it makes me want to watch the rest of the movie immediately. Perhaps the producers assumed that the ambiguity of night left them plausible deniability. “You don’t know it’s not Christmas in London.” That shit may’ve flown in Hook, but… fuck I don’t want to talk about Hook.
In any other place, at any other time this cartoon rocks
And we’re off to the next clip… Cool, a Donald Duck cartoon! Okay… but why this one exactly?! “The Clock Watcher” is certainly a fine short, involving Donald’s frustrations with his job as a department store gift wrapper. However, it’s more about the shenanigans of workaday drudgery, and I know for a fact Don’s got better Christmas cartoons than this one. Oh well, on to… Sword and the Stone?! Goddammit!
Nothing says “Christmas” live divine absolutism
“Christmas in Merry Old England…” No it isn’t, satanic storytellers! It’s just snowing, plus your lead has an American accent! Whatever, they spoil the climax of that movie and briefly show Wart transform into King Arthur with an incredibly abrupt fade right when the sword is yanked free. And if you thought that segment was a little tacked on….
“Bibbidy Bobbety boo?!” I’m a fairly amateur Disney archivist, but I believe I owned – at the time – a billion other Disney shorts better suited for Christmas than Cinderella’s Ball transformation. A fucking pumpkin is the only thing you’ve got to even remotely signify the latter quarter of the year, and even then… oh, wait a minute. Look what’s next…
Oh yeah, it’s Christmas. Not a company highlight reel
Before I could even fly off the handle at the throwaway Cinderella inclusion, A Disney Christmas Gift caps off the whole shebang with “The Night Before Christmas,” almost redeeming itself for all prior sins. This melodic Silly Symphony from 1933 could very well be one of the most classic pieces of Christmas animation since the Holiday retired Jesus and learned how to draw.
Toy Parade! With a cameo!
It’s just a joyous vision of the Holiday’s, depicting Santa as a magical creature, who not only represents Christmas, he uses it as a superpower! BANG: Tree Decorations! ZAP: care-hung stockings! BOOM: toys come to life! Good God, I can’t wait to focus an entire days entry on this short someday.
Santa brings the toys to life to do his decorative bidding
The special caps itself off with a pretty great sequence actually, involving antique Disney Toys long unseen at the time A Disney Christmas Gift originally aired, just clanking about the Christmas tree as if magically brought to life by the absence of humans.
An Earlier Toy Story
Come to think, I wouldn’t mind if the imagery in the finale played in my head all December long, and the same can be said about most of the special, provided you remove the ungodly narrators and horrifyingly dated bridge sequences.
Hardly a horrible finale
Even if Mickey’s your closest messianic approximation, he gets surprisingly little animated screentime.
Not a whole helluva lot, but the attention he gets during “The Night Before Christmas” more than makes up for it.
I’m aware that Disney had already recycled much of its Christmas-related footage into earlier specials, but the bizarre choices made here just to pad the hour irk me to no end. Disregarding the of-the-era production values, A Disney Christmas Gift still comes off as remarkably shameless and halfassed. Believe me, as a special I used to hold dear, I was overwhelmed with joy to obtain it once again… However, I can guarantee it won’t be receiving another airing in my house around the Holidays anytime soon.
PRODUCT INFORMATION (Shop Amazon through us – it helps!)
A Disney Christmas Gift has never been available on DVD, but can found on VHS, used, for next to nothing. However, all of its recycled components can be found separately and of a superior quality, which is how I’d recommend you pick them up anyway.
A far better purchase for those hankering for short-form Disney Christmases should pick up the reasonably priced, Disney Animation Collection 7. This includes the vastly superior work that A Disney Christmas Gift served as the placeholder for, Mickey’s Christmas Carol, as well as Pluto’s Christmas Tree, and other Yuletide Toons. Both of the aformentioned cartoons are also miraculously still available from Amazon sellers at great prices in the Walt Disney Treasure set, Mickey Mouse: In Living Color, Volume Two which I thoroughly recommend for collectors who desire complete, uncut animation sets.
If you’re like me and would prefer to own the movies features in A Disney Christmas Gift in their entirety, Bambi is soon to be released on DVD and Blu-Ray Platinum Edition sets this March 1st. Peter Pan and Cinderella have been returned to The Vault, yet can still be purchased through Amazon sellers, but The Sword in the Stone is still available on DVD. Unfortunately you’re pretty SOL on “Night Before Christmas” until Disney rereleases its Silly Symphonies again (although I believe it’s featured as a special feature on certain versions of The Santa Clause.)
Previous Christmas Special
HOW THE GRINCH STOLE CHRISTMAS
2009’s Dec. 1st Christmas Special
MR. MAGOO’S CHRISTMAS CAROL