Mouseker-hey, Mouseker-hi, Mouseker-ho!
Not one of the better Mickey Mouse Clubhouse DVD releases. Just in time for Christmas, Disney has released Mickey Mouse Clubhouse: Choo-Choo Express, a new "full-length" (47 minutes) adventure from the popular Disney Channel series for pre-schoolers. With a holiday theme that seems tacked on to merely an extended commercial for one of Disney's high-end toys this Christmas, Mickey Mouse Clubhouse: Choo-Choo Express will still entertain your little tube watchers, but you won't have much fun when they're pestering you for that train the next time you're at Target.
It's summertime at the Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, but Professor Von Drake has a brilliant idea: wouldn't it be great if he could invent a snow that never melts? Then, the Clubhouse gang could have a wintery ball all year long. The Professor tells Mickey he thinks he can find the snow at the top of a big mountain, but he'll need Mickey and the rest of his pals to take the Clubhouse Train up there to haul back the snow. But Mickey wasn't aware they had a Clubhouse Train, so he, Donald, Goofy, Daisy, Minnie and Pluto set out to reassemble the various parts of the train that have been stored away, so they can meet the Professor. Obstacles of course, stand in their way (including Pete the Conductor who wants a toll for traveling through his park - you can't even escape today's higher taxes in a Disney cartoon), but old friends show up to celebrate the "Easy-Freezy" snow, too, including that big fella with the white beard and the red suit we all know so well.
I've written several times before about these full-length Mickey Mouse Clubhouse releases, and as a long-time viewer of the series, I've had nothing but positive things to say about the show. It's entertaining and it's educational in a straightforward but delightful way that immediately connects with the small fry watching out there (I love it when Mickey or another character smilingly looks into the camera and confidently guides a little viewer to take part in the adventure). Each episode of the series involves solving some kind of problem, and to do so, various "Mouseketools" are used. The little viewer is then invited by Mickey and the gang to pick which tools will work best for the individual tasks at hand, while other concepts such as shape and size recognition, color identification, numbering, patterns, and step-building problem solving. The little adventures that Mickey and his pals go on are surprisingly well constructed, packing a lot of preschool excitement (in a gentle Disney way) in their short running times. The visual design of the show is eye-catching, as well (this is Disney, and they always try to deliver a top-of-the-line, polished product). The primary colors and the bold, simple, smooth graphics of the characters and their backgrounds really "pop" off your TV set or monitor, giving the small viewer a blast of color and movement that's unusually well coordinated for this kind of series (as one would expect from Disney).
Too bad the same couldn't be said for Mickey Mouse Clubhouse: Choo-Choo Express. Again, just to be clear: this new mini-movie is perfectly acceptable for your child (particularly if they already enjoy the series or have any of the other movies). It's just not top-of-line, which I had come to expect for these special Mickey Mouse Clubhouse DVD movie releases. Watching Mickey Mouse Clubhouse: Choo-Choo Express, particularly when I think back to the previous release, Disney's Mickey Mouse Clubhouse: Mickey's Adventures in Wonderland, which was so imaginatively scripted and designed, all that came to my mind was, "toy tie-in." The story itself is simple, which is exactly how it should be for preschoolers: Mickey puts the train together, goes up to the mountain, gets the snow, and comes back down with Santa. Fine. However...not much else is fleshed-out during this simple little journey. We get lots of shots of that train in action ("Come on, kids - ask Mom to buy me!"), but not much else. Now don't get me wrong: I support 100% the idea of product tie-ins (a concept that old Walt perfected to almost supernatural levels) and Disney's right to make a buck. But if you're going to make a commercial, make it worth my while. The previous Mickey Mouse Clubhouse DVD releases no doubt where synergetically allied with other Disney products - but they came wrapped in superior packages, with better thought-out stories and more creative, inventive staging and animation.
Mickey Mouse Clubhouse: Choo-Choo Express, on the other hand, is executed in a flat, offhanded way that seemed perfunctory, if anything. As I wrote, the story is sparse, while bringing in Santa Claus at the end seemed like nothing more than calculation for a story that didn't feel very Christmasy in the first place (he doesn't really do anything in the film, either - another mistake). Even the animation design seems uncharacteristically bare, with the backgrounds and set pieces flat and un-involving, particularly noticeable in the snowy scenes on the mountain (quite a departure from the last release, Disney's Mickey Mouse Clubhouse: Mickey's Adventures in Wonderland, which was visually quite opulent in the context of these smaller-budgeted CGI-animated efforts from Disney). All of those factors - script problems, staid visual design, tacked-on Christmas theme as an afterthought/selling tool - make Mickey Mouse Clubhouse: Choo-Choo Express the least successful of these usually reliable releases.
Paul Mavis is an internationally published film and television historian, a member of the Online Film Critics Society, and the author of The Espionage Filmography.