Never underestimate the resourcefulness of the House of Mouse. Just in time to cash in on the Yuletide spirit, Disney has released Mickey's Magical Christmas: Snowed in at the House of Mouse, a 2001 episode from the defunct Disney's House of Mouse TV series. But why be a Scrooge about it? The show highlights a handful of vintage Disney cartoon shorts, after all, which means even this hastily thrown-together disc still makes for entertaining family-friendly viewing.
For those unfamiliar with House of Mouse, which aired on the Disney channel between 2001 and 2003, America's favorite rodent is the emcee at the House of Mouse, a nightclub that specializes in cartoons and resembles a sort of House of Blues for two-dimensional characters (insert House of Blues clientele joke here). Talk about your impressive ensemble casts - a wealth of Disney characters, past and present, comprise House of Mouse employees and patrons: Donald, Goofy, Minnie Mouse, Daisy Duck, Pluto, Winnie the Pooh, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, the Three Little Pigs, Ariel, Pinocchio, Tinkerbell, Belle and the Beast,
Timon and Pumbaa, etc. It's a cheap novelty, sure, seeing Disney heroes and villains of yesteryear rubbing shoulders, but anyone who grew up on this stuff is bound to be at least a smidgen charmed by the conceit that Tigger and Cruella de Vil inhabit the same universe.
Still, the parade of Disney characters provides window dressing for what is essentially a collection of
Christmas-themed clips. In "Donald on Ice," the cranky duck is skating on a frozen pond when he is targeted for some mischief by nephews Huey, Dewey and Louie. Mickey, Minnie, Donald and Ludwig von Drake appear in an amusing 1999 Nutcrackerparody featuring the wry narration of John Cleese.
The mayhem factor is amplified a bit in "Pluto's Christmas Tree." Mickey's loyal dog goes ballistic when chipmunks Chip and Dale wreak havoc on Mickey's Christmas tree. This Fifties-era 'toon presents a short-fused Mickey Mouse who bears little resemblance to the kinder, gentler version of today's Mickey Mouse Clubhouse. Mistakenly blaming Pluto for creating a mess, Mickey admonishes, "You dumb mutt!"
Easily the best cartoon is the finale, "A Christmas Carol," in which Scrooge McDuck is Ebenezer Scrooge and Mickey takes the role of the long-suffering Bob Cratchit. Also featuring Goofy, Jiminy Cricket, Willie the Giant and Pete, this 1983 featurette is top-notch Disney, boasting rich animation bathed in luxuriant blues and purples. And it also happens to be a straightforward and fairly uncompromised retelling of the Charles Dickens classic.
The plastic keepcase fits in a sturdy cardboard slipcover.
The full-frame picture quality is very good, with strong lines and colors that leap from the screen. All the cartoons have been well-preserved.
Viewers can select Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround or DTS 5.1. Both are clear and crisp, if not quite as robust as one might expect. There are also English subtitles for the hearing-impaired.
The primary extra is the premiere episode of House of Mouse (23:07). It's a mixed bag. Some limp clips from the Disney vault are forgiven by a terrifically clever - and quasi-hallucinogenic -- cartoon in which Mickey Mouse is tormented by an alarm clock.
The Sounds of Christmas (2:35) is a throwaway but interesting bit on how Disney's sound techs created some of the sound effects of classic animation. Rounding out the disc are animated sing-alongs for the songs "Deck the Halls" and "Sleigh Ride."
Most of the clips in Mickey's Magical Christmas: Snowed in at the House of Mouse have been released in previous DVDs, but casual Disney fans looking for something to entertain young children could do much worse than this intermittently inspired collection.