Mickey's Christmas Carol (1983) was something of a Big Deal when it was new. It was a rare venture into featurette animation for the studio, the film running just 25 minutes, and it marked the theatrical return of Mickey Mouse, making his first appearance in a new cartoon in more than 30 years (the 1953 one-reel cartoon The Simple Things being the previous one). Moreover, Mickey's Christmas Carol features an "all-star" cast of iconic Disney characters, some of whom hadn't done anything new for even longer, as well as star Uncle Scrooge, the beloved comic book character brought to life by artist Carl Barks in the best Uncle Scrooge comic book stories, and who'd only appeared in a single short cartoon before this, Scrooge McDuck and Money (1967).
Originally paired with a holiday season reissue of The Rescuers (1977), Mickey's Christmas Carol is a breathlessly paced adaptation of Charles Dickens's famous novella, as well as a Disneyland Records adaptation of the same material, recorded in 1974. It's attractively animated and generally pleasant but it's also fatally short. The film races through the story faster than the average CliffsNotes study guide, playing like an abbreviated selection of highlights and having none of the emotional impact it obviously aspires toward.
Mickey's Christmas Carol should have been expanded into a full-blown feature, but probably because of its limited, seasonal appeal was considered too risky a venture. The later The Muppets Christmas Carol (1992), running just under 90 minutes, gets this same approach to the material exactly right, integrating the Muppets' brand of humor in a surprisingly faithful and emotionally powerful musical form (thanks largely to Michael Caine's superb Ebenezer Scrooge). That film became an instant classic where Mickey's Christmas Carol merely puts the Disney characters through the expected paces.
Disney's Blu-ray is problematic, though not too bad. The down side is that Mickey's Christmas Carol, which featured a rougher style of animation popular since 101 Dalmatians (1961), has with excessive DNR been scrubbed into a drippy, waxy mess. It brings out the color well, but clearly looks wrong, wrong, WRONG. On the plus side Disney wisely packages this pricey disc with five holiday-themed short cartoons, bringing the total running time up to 58 minutes. One of these is the bafflingly bizarre Yodelberg, actually a segment from a new (2013) Mickey Mouse TV series, but the other four are classic cartoons remastered in high-definition, and which don't go overboard on the DNR.
The familiar tale opens in Victorian England on Christmas Eve, where greedy moneylender Ebenezer Scrooge (Scrooge McDuck, voiced by Mr. Ed's Alan Young) chastises poor Bob Cratchit (Mickey Mouse, Wayne Allwine) and crabbily refuses nephew Fred's (Donald Duck, Clarence Nash) annual invitation to Christmas dinner. (Donald's feast includes a "plump goose with chestnut dressing," making him sound like a cannibal.)
Later, at home, Scrooge is visited by the ghost of his old business partner, Jacob Marley (Goofy, Hal Smith), the clumsy ghost doomed to wear the heavy chains he forged in life. However, Marley informs Scrooge that he'll be visited by three more ghosts in the hope that Scrooge might find redemption before it is too late.
The Ghost of Christmas Past (Jiminy Cricket, Eddie Carroll) whisks Scrooge into his own past, hurriedly showing him shadows of a happier times working for Old Fezziwig (Mr. Toad) and his unhappy break-up with Isabelle (Daisy Duck, Patricia Parris) over Scrooge's greedy ways. (He forecloses on her mortgage over a payment one hour late.)
The Ghost of Christmas Present (Willie the Giant, Will Ryan) shows Scrooge the effects of the meager wages he pays Bob Cratchit, who nonetheless celebrates Christmas merrily. The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come (Black Pete, also Will Ryan) paints a dark future for the miserly Scrooge, who, terrified, vows to change his ways.
Though attractively animated with many nice little moments, Mickey's Christmas Carol is just too short to make any lasting impression. After roughly two minutes of opening titles, what follows are nine minutes of set-up, nine minutes for all three ghosts, with the last five-and-a-half minutes racing through Scrooge's celebration of Christmas morning. The Ghosts of Christmases Past and Present are particularly short-changed. The core of Dickens's story isn't Scrooge's moneygrubbing but rather a bitterness stemming from his youth, personal tragedies that he associates with the holiday. To him Christmas is a humbug in the dictionary sense, not the way the word is usually misinterpreted: a humbug is something insincere and fraudulent, not sentimental rubbish, and in all the good adaptations of the story, Scrooge views Christmas as the former, not the latter.
Mickey's Christmas Carol doesn't have the time to make this distinction. Indeed, it uses clumsy shorthand to get across as much of Dickens's plot as possible. Virtually none of the author's classic monologues are present. In its place are blunt declarations about the characters, like Jiminy Cricket's introduction to Fezziwig's party: "That [was] before you became a miserable miser consumed by greed!" Again, it's really a shame this wasn't expanded during development into a full-blown feature. It had more potential, certainly, than The Black Cauldron (1985), then in production, or Oliver & Company (1988), an adaptation of Dickens's Oliver Twist.
It was probably also unwise to title this Mickey's Christmas Carol in as much as Bob Cratchhit is a supporting character, and Mickey's screentime is limited. (Then again, everyone's screentime is limited!) The movie is almost like watching a stage production featuring the "Disney Players," with some like Mickey, Goofy, and Donald playing parts that deviate from their usual personae. Instead of Mickey, the all-star cast of favorites should have been emphasized in the advertising (see poster above). For animation buffs, the picture packs in cameo appearances by characters not seen (at least not in anything new) in some cases going back to the mid-1930s, including Horace Horsecollar and Clarabelle Cow, Clara Cluck, The Big Bad Wolf and the Three Little Pigs, etc. Chip & Dale and Huey, Dewey, and Louie are glimpsed, and even less familiar characters from Robin Hood and The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad turn up.
The film slows down briefly a couple of times to allow a few clever little touches, such as when Willie the Giant, emerging from Scrooge's dollhouse-like residence, plucks a street lamp with his tree-like fingers, fashioning it into a kind of mini-flashlight. Alan Young, who had voiced Scrooge McDuck for the earlier Disneyland record, which he co-wrote as well, gives the film what soul it has as Ebenezer, which he performs with a relatively thick but authentic and pleasing Scottish accent. The film was Clarence Nash's last performance as Donald Duck. He died in 1985.
Video & Audio
Mickey's Christmas Carol is presented in 1.75:1 widescreen, in a transfer that overdoes the DNR badly, resulting in everything looking like waxy wet paint scrubbing away all the film grain and some of the rough edges of the original animation while making lines heavier in appearance than they originally were. Fortunately, the Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo mix compensates a bit. Its musical score shines here, as do some of the directional sound effects. The region-free disc offers similar audio in French and Spanish, and includes optional English, French, and Spanish subtitles.
Supplements include five short cartoons, all in high-def. "Yodelberg" is a truly weird cartoon segment from the new Mickey Mouse TV show, one that sort of emulates Mickey's black and white period (though this is in color), but also has frantic pacing and is super-stylized like SpongeBob SquarePants and in line with the Disney universe not in the slightest. Better are the classic one-reel cartoons, all in high-def: Pluto's Christmas Tree (1952), The Hockey Champ (1939), The Art of Skiing (1941), and Corn Chips (1951). All are very entertaining. Of much less interest is Disney's "Intermission" feature, which might keep the children at bay while adults run to the bathroom or answer the phone, but it also denies viewers the opportunity to freeze-frame and study the original animation, DNR'd to death though it is. The package includes a DVD and Digital Copy.
Not as good as it might have been, Mickey's Christmas Carol is still enjoyable on its own terms, while the bonus shorts, four out of five anyway, help justify the disc's high SRP. Recommended.
Stuart Galbraith IV is a Kyoto-based film historian whose work includes film history books, DVD and Blu-ray audio commentaries and special features. Visit Stuart's Cine Blogarama here.