Dec. 20 – Toy Tinkers

Toy Tinkers (1949)

We’re rounding the corner to Christmas. With just five days left until the big day, that means we have time for just five more specials after this one! And since we’ve hit another multiple of five, it’s time to do another retro-lookback (or whatever I’m calling these things) at an all-time classic: Toy Tinkers.

Toy Tinkers is forever linked with the Mickey Mouse cartoon Pluto’s Christmas Tree, which we covered earlier in this countdown. The premise for both is nearly the same, it’s just that Pluto’s Christmas Tree subs out Donald Duck in favor of Mickey’s famous canine. In both cartoons, Chip and Dale serve as the antagonists as they enter a home at Christmas and cause some mayhem. In Pluto’s Christmas Tree, they’re almost fully in the wrong in that they begin the cartoon behaving like assholes towards Pluto and end up in the home of Mickey merely by accident. It’s different from how they enter the home of Donald Duck in their official, named, debut Chip an’ Dale when Donald chops down the tree they live in for firewood. In this one, they’re just going to enter Donald’s house because they want what he has. It kind of makes them jerks, but at the same time, this world the characters inhabit is a weird one in which chipmunks are expected to live outdoors while a duck is important enough to own a home. And for some reason, chipmunks apparently haven’t mutated like mice have into human-sized creatures.

It’s a beautiful sight.

Despite being a self-admitted Donald Duck fan, I’ve always been partial to Pluto’s Christmas Tree, but that’s almost wholly due to exposure. That cartoon was featured on television at Christmas time when I was a kid and I had a copy of it recorded on VHS. Even since then, the cartoon has been released on various Christmas compilations while Toy Tinkers has been less represented. It was included on a pair of VHS and DVD compilations and is featured on the 30th anniversary release of Mickey’s Christmas Carol. Where it’s not featured is on Disney+ and I think that has to do with the level of violence in the short. I think that is also what has kept it from seeing repeated television airings. The two cartoons are so similar that Disney and other networks probably saw little reason to air both, so why not go with the one that doesn’t feature a gun?

The duck needs a tree.

Whether you’re familiar with Pluto’s Christmas Tree or not, Toy Tinkers is absolutely worth watching and is one of the best Christmas anythings ever created, so let’s get to it. The short opens with the catchy Donald Duck theme song added midway through the character’s solo run and settles on a scene of a snowy woods. Chip (Jimmy MacDonald) and Dale (Dessie Flynn) are snoozing in a hollowed out log when the ground beneath them begins to shake. It’s shaking so much that Chip starts to hop involuntarily and finds himself outside of the log under a pile of snow. He looks and spies Donald (Clarence Nash) chopping down a nearby evergreen. Apparently, Donald is so strong that just the mere act of driving an axe into a small tree is enough to shake the entire woods.

Wholesome, but kind of lonely too.

Chip runs back inside to wake Dale and the two watch as Donald ties the tree to a sled (while singing “Jingle Bells”) and proceeds to ride it down a hill towards a cabin. Intrigued, the two slide down the hill after him utilizing the tracks left in the snow by Donald’s sled. They reach the cabin and peer through the window to see Donald in his bathrobe trimming a Christmas tree. It’s a wholesome sight, but what really catches the attention of the chipmunks are the various nuts and desserts strewn about. Donald clearly must be planning on having company for Christmas, though it’s worth pointing out there’s no sign of his nephews.

Now that’s a sight.

Dale immediately starts trying to open the window, but he’s much too small to do so. Chip, always the wiser of the two, and also the more abusive, kicks his partner in the butt causing him to land on his head. He motions for Dale to be quiet and heads to the edge of the structure they’re on while Dale follows by walking on his hands. The two collide and Chip finds himself beneath the ass of Dale and blows his tail out of his face to illustrate his frustration.

Dale is feeling good about himself. It’s amazing what a new wardrobe can do for one’s confidence.

The two head for the front door and Chip indicates to Dale they can use the mail slot to enter the cabin. The two peer through and we see the shadow of Donald pass by indicating he’s no longer in the door’s vicinity. The two quickly sneak in and head for the walnuts. Chip fills Dale’s arms with nuts and sends him on his way. As the little chipmunk runs he collides with a teddy bear knocking it over and the top hat from its head. Dale quickly positions it as he found it, but then stops to regale the hat. It’s sized right for a chipmunk, so he puts it on and takes the cane from the bear for good measure.

I suppose it’s important to remember that Dale is not the smart one.

Dale struts around like a big shot twirling his cane and mugging for the camera. His preening leads him between a doll and a clown, and as he bows to greet each they tumble over slightly as if they’re returning his bow. He continues strutting and twirling the cane, which accidentally strikes an elaborate music box causing it to turn on. Two figures move along the toy that also are dressed in fancy clothing. It’s clearly a duel scene, but Dale being an ignorant chipmunk, hops on the toy and returns their bows. The two toys then fire pop guns at each other knocking Dale’s head around. He tumbles away like a punch-drunk boxer and collides with Chip who literally slaps some sense into him.

Oh, you clever duck!

In another room, Donald is getting more Christmas ornaments when he hears a peculiar sound. He looks into the living room and sees Chip using a toy to load walnuts into the back of a toy truck. Dale is driving the truck and he heads out with a full load. Donald seems amused by this, but he being Donald, he’s not about to make merry with some chipmunks. Instead, he heads over to a toy train set on the floor and lowers the gate before Dale reaches it. He pauses to let the train go by, while Donald sneaks behind him and empties the contents of the truck into a bowl. When the train passes, Dale resumes his travels and Donald has a laugh at his expense only for Chip to then come along on one of those hand-pump cars on the tracks. Before Donald can react to the sight of the chipmunk, Chip snatches the bowl, places it on the car behind him, and promptly thanks the duck before taking off.

I know I just called him a clever duck, but this is legitimately clever of Donald to play the two against each other.

Donald begins to throw one of his classic tantrums while Chip and Dale celebrate, but before he goes too far into his fit he appears to get an idea. He disappears for a moment only to then reappear as Santa Claus! Chip and Dale seem confused, but Santa Donald runs up to them bringing gifts so they let their guard down pretty quick. Donald produces a walnut for Dale wrapped with a red ribbon. He seems happy with the gift until Donald hands Chip his gift: a walnut the size of a football wrapped with a green ribbon. Dale looks at Chip’s nut, then his own, and tosses his own to try to steal Chip’s. As the two bicker, Donald has a laugh, but then things get serious.

Is this why we can’t have this on Disney+?

This whole time, Donald’s hand has been in the giant nut he gifted Chip. When Chip swats Dale away and removes the green ribbon, Donald’s hand is revealed holding a revolver! Chip reacts in a comical manner by having his body go stiff and parallel to the ground. He then tries pointing the gun at Dale, who pushes it back towards Chip, and so on. Donald then discards the Santa guise and forces the two to put their hands up and marches them into the back of a toy paddy wagon. It’s self-driving, and as it speeds away with the chipmunks inside, Donald races out in front of it to cause it to crash into his foot.

That car must have really been flying!

We see the wagon spin, but we don’t see the actual impact as it crashes into the wall leaving the car wrecked and Chip and Dale looking a bit worse for ware. Donald, not satisfied, grabs a pop gun and taunts the pair by saying, “So you want some nuts?!” as he pours a bowl of them into the barrel of the gun. It basically turns into a machinegun as Donald blasts walnuts at Chip and Dale forcing them to seek cover as nuts and Christmas ornaments (I guess they were mixed in with the nuts?) rain down on them.

They sure do look smug now that they have a gun.

The two chipmunks take refuge behind some wrapped gifts. It turns out to be a great spot because a toy canon happens to be setup there as well. It even has a seat for Chip to sit in while he aims it. Donald soon creeps over to see what the two are up to and gets shot in the face with a tomato for his curiosity. I don’t know where the chipmunks got that tomato, but they apparently have more as they hit Donald again forcing the duck to flee.

We just saw him decorating a tree by himself and now we see how happy he is to receive a phone call, I am starting to feel pretty bad for Donald Duck.

Donald creates his own wall of presents and puts on a soldier’s helmet as he calls out, “Prepare to defend yourselves!” The battle is on as both parties appear to be armed with Christmas ornaments as ammo. While Chip gleefully blasts away, Dale grabs a telephone and carries it behind enemy lines. He returns to his shelter and calls Donald on the phone who just can’t help himself. He answers it with an excited “Hello?” only for Chip to blast the receiver on the other end ringing Donald’s head like a bell.

Who gets stuck with all the bad luck?

The battle resumes until the phone rings again. This time, Donald answers it, but holds the earpiece away from his head. When he hears the pleasant sound of a waltz coming through it, he places it against his ear and enjoys the music. Until he doesn’t, for Chip simply blasts the other end again. Donald throws the phone down in anger and shakes his whole body at it before racing off-camera. He returns with dynamite! He shoves a stick into the receiver on the phone and dials Chip and Dale. Once it starts ringing he lights the fuse of the dynamite which is just barely sticking out of the phone. When he doesn’t hear an explosion, he gets frustrated and hangs up. The phone then rings and Donald gets excited once again for a phone call. He answers it, only for the dynamite to finally go off leaving behind a charred duck waving a white flag beside a ruined Christmas tree.

Dale might be embellishing his injuries just a tad.

With Donald’s surrender, Chip and Dale emerge from their hiding spot. Dale has a bandage wrapped around his head while he limps along playing a flute though Chip looks no worse for ware. They lead a line of toys all carrying nuts and other things while the camera moves outside of Donald’s house and back to the top of the hill where the cartoon began. From there, we can see the small army exiting the house as the ending title card comes into view.

I guess they’ll be eating good this winter.

Toy Tinkers is just a fun, slapstick, cartoon set at Christmas time. There are multiple instances of “Jingle Bells” utilized and Donald’s home is very much decorated for the holiday. No one is clearly in the right, and no one is clearly in the wrong, and no one learns a lesson. Chip and Dale wind up with a bunch of nuts and assorted junk food for the long winter ahead and I guess they also have some toys too. Donald, on the other hand, loses everything, sees his home ruined, and probably suffered some serious burns too. There was not a happy Christmas in the home of Donald Duck in 1949.

What makes this cartoon so enduring is it’s just fun. Donald and Chip and Dale work so well together which is why they starred in numerous shorts against each other. The cartoon is able to have a lot of fun with the setting by turning to toys as a framing device. The all-out war in the final act is probably what keeps it from Disney+. Is it offensive to see Dale act like a wounded soldier in the end? Perhaps for some, though not personally for me. Instead this is just an entertaining cartoon with terrific animation. The characters are so expressive and the gags are humorous. I love seeing Chip and Dale amongst the toys so much that I wish Disney had returned to it without Donald. Just Chip and Dale trapped in a toy store has a lot of potential.

I don’t know why Chip and Dale are small like real chipmunks as opposed to Mickey, but I do like seeing them inhabit a world much bigger than they are.

Even today, I’m still partial to Pluto’s Christmas Tree, but recognize Toy Tinkers as being an indispensable Christmas classic as well. Toy Tinkers just brings the funny, while Pluto’s Christmas Tree has those enduring images from within the tree that just puts me in the proper mood for the holiday. What’s great is I don’t have to choose between the two, though Disney does make it slightly more challenging to watch this one. And that has everything to do with it not being on Disney+ like Pluto’s Christmas Tree and if they haven’t added it yet I’m not sure we can expect the company to anytime soon. Which is a shame, because this should be there. There’s plenty of cartoon violence already on the platform and if they need a disclaimer or something then so be it. The only positive about it not being there is it seems to mean the company is less protective of it so if you don’t have one of the out-of-print DVD releases this short is featured on then at least you can stream it on YouTube for free. And since Pluto’s Christmas Tree can also be found there, why not make it a double feature?!


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