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Mickey's Twice Upon a Christmas
You know, I'm not quite as adverse to Disney's Direct-To-Video product as I used to be. I am of the type of thinking that Disney's creative personnel suddenly realized, while they were saddled with an executive mandate to flood the home video market with cheaply-made disposable product, that said product did not have to totally and completely blow.
And while there have been a ton of stinkers, the vast majority of these releases can be classified as inoffensive, unmemorable, and... uh... "cheaply-made disposable product". It's a simple equation, isn't it? Get your low-cost animation divisions to produce quick and dirty knockoffs of the company's most viable properties. Why develop a risky new venture when suddenly you've got Little Mermaid 3: The Gefilte Paradigm, made for a grand total $32.98 and guaranteed to sell like hotcakes at the local Wal-Pox to clueless parents who just see the Disney label and a mermaid on the cover, unaware that the proverbial wool has been vigorously manipulated with release?
That's why the label "cheaply-made disposable product" is so apropos. The House of Mouse has so diluted their brand name in the past decade with such excremental product as Cinderella 2, Hunchback of Notre Dame 2, Lion King 2, etc., that those big black mouse ears, which are supposed to reassure us of a fun and lively time, instead evoke images of paying $11.75 for half a grilled cheese sandwich at the Harbor House near Liberty Square (and if anyone who works there is reading, for Jeebus's sake please start serving the clam chowder in a bread bowl again. Honestly...) We've been getting ripped off, folks, and we've been feeding the beast with our own compliance.
Thankfully, Disney seemed to be aware of the perceived (read: actual) crapcan quality of their DTV releases, because there has been a remarkable improvement of late. Those video sequels, while nowhere near as good as their originals, have been getting better. Lion King 1 1/2 was an absolute hoot, a silly and glib little adventure which deflated some of the pompous self-importance of the original flick. Last summer's Three Musketeers was an engaging and entertaining little flick that not only reunited the Holy Trinity (Eisner, Ovitz, and Kesselbaum... er, I mean Mickey, Donald, and Goofy), but presented a wonderful adventure that would have been worthwhile as a feature film release.
Keeping along these lines, I had very high expectations for Mickey's Twice Upon A Christmas. This fully computer-animated DTV release looked like a rollicking and eye-popping feature in previews. Perhaps my expectations ran a bit too high, for instead of a single feature film this movie is made up of several vignettes, stories featuring the Disney characters and narrated by Saint Nicky himself, each of them featuring a (duh) Christmas theme, with a heartfelt, unifying epilogue to wrap everything up in a feel-good holiday message. We start out with Belles on Ice, in which Minnie and Daisy engage in an ice-skating competition so fierce that I will avoid the all-too-obvious Kerrigan/Harding analogy. Suffice to say everything turns out nicely in the end, but I give the creative talent credit for including the dancing gators and hippos from Fantasia as supporting players.
Huey, Duey, and Luey take center stage with Christmas: Impossible, in which the obnoxious little triplets are just a prank away from a plum-sauce ablution. They've been nasty little things all year, and Scrooge McDuck (which is Value Meal #8) admonishes them and warns them that they might not quite make it onto Santa's coveted list. So they do what any kids would do: they infiltrate the North Pole and try to get their name onto Santa's List. On the way, they learn a valuable lesson about themselves and the holiday season, and suffice to say everything turns out nicely in the end.
We move on with the shortest of the stories in Christmas Maximus, which showcases Goofy and his son Max. Max and his girlfriend are on their way home for the holidays, and Max is worried that Dad is going to embarrass the living hell out of him in front of his new piece. But Max learns that the holiday season is about loving and cherishing the ones closest to you, even your own family too, and suffice to say everything turns out nicely in the end.
Donald's the Main Man in Donald's Gift, in which the irascible pile of pants-less poultry is having just one heck of a bad day Christmas shopping. Like many of us, he finds himself unable to escape the inevitable onslaught of Christmas carols (specifically "We Wish You A Merry Christmas"), and just wants to be left the hell alone! But Christmas is about being with family and friends, and Donald eventually has a change of face. Suffice to say, everything burns trout icily with the bends.
Finally, the Head Honcho himself takes the center stage in Mickey's Dog-Gone Christmas. Mickey is decorating the house with overpriced tinsel he ripped off from Bullwhip Griffin when Pluto, who was acting like a dog, accidentally destroys Mickey's Christmas decorations before the Big Party That Wraps Up The Whole Film. Wracked with guilt, Pluto runs away to the North Pole and gets befriended by a group of Santa's reindeer. Naturally Mickey is distraught with the loss of his pup, and goes off on a madcap search for Pluto. Will he find him in time for Christmas? What, did you just tune into this review or something? Suffice to say, everything earns doubt feistily in the pen.
And that's just about it, folks. No one is ever going to confuse Mickey's Twice Upon A Christmas with a classic piece of Disneyana, or even a really compelling movie in and of itself. Yet I found the entire affair moderately entertaining and, if not as good as recent Disney DTV flicks, generally a decent movie. Some of the stories work better than others: the skating battle between Daisy and Minnie features some nifty animation, but it doesn't quite present anything really compelling or memorable. The Huey, Duey, and Luey infiltration of Santa's bunker complex is probably the weakest story in the film. It's also one of the longest, and almost derails the entire movie. Thankfully, it's over with near the beginning, which leads us into the final three stories, which are easily the most entertaining. None of them are really fantastic; in fact, all of them are right around the "pretty OK" range. Still, as a family Christmas flick you could do a lot worse. A lot.
Mickey's Twice Upon A Christmas is presented in a "family friendly" widescreen transfer of 1.78:1, and it has been anamorphically enhanced for your widescreen-viewing splendid moments. The overall look of the film is extremely engaging and often eye-popping, but not quite up there in the near-perfect range. First and foremost, colors are magnificently rendered. This is to be expected in most animated DVDs, but the beautiful hues and tones richly come alive. Contrasts are deep and rich, with thunderously solid blacks and excellent shadow delineation. The image seemed acceptably sharp and finely detailed, but some haloing and line noise is detectable throughout the transfer. While the transfer is free of pixelation, blocking, and other compression artifacts, the edge-enhancement and shimmering keep the video from garnering a higher rating.
The audio is presented in both Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1 soundtracks, with optional 5.1 soundtracks in both French and Spanish. The DD and DTS mixes are mostly similar, with higher volume levels and a slightly more expansive soundstage that significantly distinguish the DTS mix. The audio isn't exactly engaging and aggressive, but it does a successful job at conveying the action on screen. Dialog is crisp and clear, with no discernable hiss or distortion. The action is primarily located frontstage, with some active use of separation and discrete imaging, while surrounds are rarely utilized in an aggressive, enveloping manner. LFE throws some punch every now and then, but at times the soundtrack seems more like a really impressive 2.0 one than a moderately decent 5.1.
The extras begin with some sneak peaks for upcoming Disney releases, including Bambi: Special Edition, Pooh's Heffalump Movie, Mulan II, Eloise at Christmastime, Mary Poppins: 40th Anniversary Edition, and The Aladdin Trilogy (do two crappy DTV really constitute justify a trilogy?). Next up are some deleted scenes. There are five of them in all, as well as an introduction and final thoughts provided by the production team. Many of these really aren't deleted "scenes" per se, but storyboards and rough animation coupled with annotation from the filmmakers. Still, an interesting extra.
It wouldn't be a Disney DVD without some nifty games and extras, and here we have three of them: Santa's Workshop Challenge, Guess What Donald Is Singing?, and Santa's Sort. I don't really play these, and if I did I would have no idea how or even if any of your young ones would appreciate them. Suffice to say that if they have enjoyed these games in the past, they will probably get a kick out of the new ones. The DVD-ROM activities allow your kids to create their own holiday cards and print out a "Great List" certificate. Whippee...
Finally, there is a three minute video featurette entitled "Inspiration On Ice", in which these insatiably lovely Michele Kwan discusses her involvement in the film (she provided an ice-skating model for Minnie and Daisy). The animators and choreographers are also featured in this bit. As a straight male with compensation issues, my interest in ice dancing is non-existent, and this almost-forgettable segment did nothing to alleviate that particular deficiency. However, Kwan's a hottie, so there is some redemption here.
Make no mistake: Mickey's Twice Upon A Christmas is aimed squarely and directly at the littlest of kids and their parents. Older Disney fans will probably be interested in viewing these iconic characters rendered in computer animation (and quite successfully so), but the ham-handed morals and rather simplistic storytelling won't impress too many people above the age of 9 or so. Still, the animation looks superb, and the presentation on the source material is quite appealing. If you have kids in your house and want to spread some holiday cheer around, especially after the third or fourth iteration of the Yule Log presentation, give this disc a spin. Otherwise, I'd leave this as a Christmas Eve rental.