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Russi Taylor

 

Russi TaylorEven though they made their debut together, Minnie Mouse has rarely been celebrated as much as Mickey. Last year marked Mickey’s 90th birthday, a tremendous achievement, but seldom was it mentioned that his beloved Minnie was also celebrating a birthday too. Such has been the case with Minnie as she started off as a fixture of Mickey Mouse shorts, but slowly saw her star fade. When Mickey and the gang made their big return to the world of cinema with Mickey’s Christmas Carol in 1983, Minnie was there as always at his side. Unfortunately, she was the only one of the classic characters who appeared in that film to not have a single line or word of dialogue. She was practically invisible.

That changed in 1986 with the hire of Russi Taylor as the voice of Minnie Mouse. Taylor was already known to the world of Disney as the voices of Huey, Duey, Louie, and Webby on DuckTales. Taylor likely voiced Minnie for theme park segments and attractions initially, as the world would be properly introduced to her version of Minnie via Who Framed Roger Rabbit? in 1988 as well as the NBC television special Totally Minnie that same year. Taylor’s high-voiced, but sweet tempered, version of Minnie was an instant success, a perfect fit for the venerable mouse. And she held onto that role for the rest of her days, voicing Minnie on the small and big screen in hundreds of features.

totally minnie

Totally Minnie was essentially a reboot for the character.

Because of her contribution to the company and her role as the voice of Minnie Mouse, Russi Taylor was recognized as a Disney Legend in 2008. Also receiving that same honor that day was her husband, the late Wayne Allwine who had been the official voice of Mickey Mouse for decades. It was a tale too perfectly sweet for this world as the voices of Mickey and Minnie found happiness and love in each other’s arms.

I had never met Russi Taylor or had an interaction with her, but based on what I’ve seen in interviews over the years I get the impression she was a very humble woman. She would insist that Minnie is the star and she was just there to give her a voice. I must respectfully disagree for Minnie would not be the character she is today without Miss Taylor’s contribution. Her Minnie is wonderfully versatile. She can be the sweet-natured mentor to children everywhere via The Mickey Mouse Clubhouse as well as a songstress. She demonstrated more recently her knack for comedic timing with her more manic and bubbly version of the character for the present line of Mickey Mouse shorts. In those cartoons, Minnie has finally become her own character capable of being funny and entertaining without playing off another character. Her star rivals that of her famous partner and others – she’s that good! If you’ve been sleeping on those wonderful cartoons then you owe it to yourself to check them out.

martin pool

The role of Martin Prince may be retired following Taylor’s passing which has been the custom for The Simpsons.

Beyond Minnie Mouse, Taylor had many contributions to the world of voice acting. She was in-demand if you needed someone who could pull-off a convincing child or needed to provide words to a kind-hearted woman. Her most famous non-Disney role (well, until recently) is likely that of Martin Prince on The Simpsons. Martin was often called on during the show’s golden years to provide a laugh, often at the character’s suspense, and Taylor always delivered. She was also the voice of twins Sherri and Terri on the same show, a smaller role, but one still often proving to be very funny.

the disney fab four

People my age have grown up with these individuals serving as the voices for the iconic Disney characters. Left to right:  Tony Anselmo (Donald Duck), Wayne Allwine (Mickey), Bill Farmer (Goofy), and Russi Taylor (Minnie).

Russi Taylor has been a presence in the media I consume for basically my whole life. I’ve never really known another Minnie Mouse, and the same is obviously true of my kids. I have a daughter who will be turning 3 in the fall and Minnie Mouse is her world. She often requests, no demands, to wear a Minnie dress daily. When we took her and my son to Disney World for the first time this past winter, she was playfully shy with all of the characters she met, basically sticking close to mom or dad and waving from a distance. All except Minnie, of course. She ran to Minnie and gave her a big hug. I wasn’t sure we were going to be able to get her out of there. It was a heart-warming moment, and I have to believe part of my daughter’s love for Minnie can be credited to the performance of Russi Taylor.

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My own little princess would be devastated if she knew that Minnie Mouse had passed away.

Russi Taylor passed away this past Friday at the age of 75. I don’t know how the news was received by those who knew her in life, but for fans it came as a shock. Images of this happy, smiling, woman flooded my mind when I heard the news, then came the images of all of the voices she provided. Her legacy is incredible, and my condolences go out to her friends, family, and colleagues who must all be hurting right now. Many of them have expressed some wonderful sentiments all across social media and through entertainment channels. I encourage you to seek them out. I don’t think it’s hyperbole to say that Russi Taylor was the best Minnie Mouse yet. I mean that as no disrespect to the women (and man, as Walt himself once voiced her) who came before her. Someone out there is about to land the role of a lifetime, and they’ll have some big shoes to fill.

There are likely more cartoons to come featuring Taylor, as well as episodes of The Simpsons. A new attraction will be opening at Disney World’s Hollywood Studios soon, a ride featuring Mickey and Minnie which is something that is long overdue. Her voice will be featured there likely for many years to come. It wouldn’t surprise me in the least if the ride ends up being dedicated to her and will hopefully serve as one of many enduring tributes. The last Mickey cartoon released before her passing, Carried Away, also strikes me as a fitting farewell. It features Russi Taylor’s singing as Minnie, something the writers of these shorts seem quite fond of because she does it so well. It contains a great twist of an ending that encapsulates the modern spirit of Minnie Mouse so see if you can watch it without having a tear come to your eye. I know I can’t.
wayne and russi


Dec. 6 – “Have Yourself a Goofy Little Christmas”

goofy christmas dvd

Original air date December 5, 1992

Goof Troop was part of that next wave of Disney Afternoon shows following the likes of DuckTales and Rescue Rangers. And unlike those shows, this one starred one of the original Disney cartoon stars from the company’s early days – Goofy. Following a career in short films, first as part of Mickey Mouse cartoons and eventually his own line of toons, Goofy had mostly laid low like the rest of the gang. Those later shorts he starred in though often placed him in a suburban setting, and sometimes even with a son who was sometimes referred to as Goofy Jr. Those cartoons seemed to be the basis for Goof Troop, an animated sitcom in which Goofy (Bill Farmer) is a single dad raising his son Max (Dana Hill) while the Pete family lives next door. Old Peg-Leg Pete and Goofy were not frequent adversaries in the old shorts, and I actually can’t think of a solo Goofy short that featured Pete, but Pete has always been a natural foil/villain to the various Disney toons out there.

goof troop

Goof Troop was the story about a dad just trying to raise his son in the wacky 90s.

In Goof Troop, Goofy is basically the character we’ve come to know and love. He’s got a heart of gold and child-like appreciation for the small things and most importantly he loves his son. He’s also not very bright and an extreme klutz. Max is the opposite and is often embarrassed or at odds with his dad. He seems to know he’s not particularly bright so he’s careful to not hurt his father’s feelings, but it can be a struggle. Pete (Jim Cummings), on the other hand, is the polar opposite. He’s the next door neighbor who has everything and he can’t stand the Goof. He has a family of his own. His wife Peg (April Winchell) is a buxom bombshell who hardly resembles an animal, save for her little black nose, that Pete always answers to. His daughter Pistol (Nancy Cartwright) is a fast-talking little girl that exhausts him, but he otherwise seems to have great affection for. Son P.J. (Rob Paulsen) is a sweet-natured kid and Max’s best friend. He may look like his dad, but he doesn’t really act like him and it seems to disappoint the short-tempered Pete.

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Being a true special and not an actual episode, this is kind of like an encore for Goof Troop.

Goof Troop premiered on September 5, 1992 and would eventually total 78 episodes and this one Christmas special. There’s also a Goofy and Max segment in Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmas that seems to exist in this universe, and a sequel featuring a grown-up Max in Twice Upon a Christmas. Because it was a weekday afternoon show, it ran through all of its episodes in 1992 though it remained on the air for years after and even spawned a couple of movies:  the 1995 theatrically released A Goofy Movie and the 2000 direct-to-video An Extremely Goofy Movie. The show is no longer on television anywhere nor does it appear to be streaming as part of a packaged service. It can be digitally purchased through Amazon, which is the only way to see the show in its entirety now as, like many Disney cartoons, it has received an incomplete DVD release.

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Three minutes in and we’ve already decapitated Santa. This one is off to a good start!

“Have Yourself a Goofy Little Christmas” was first-run on or around December 5, 1992 and is considered a television special, so it’s not technically part of season one or two. It was essentially the series finale, though there is no finality to it. And even though it’s a special it does not appear to have any additional bells and whistles in terms of its presentation, nor is it any longer than a typical episode. Disney must have just felt the show needed a Christmas special and commissioned one.

The special opens with Goofy and Max decorating for Christmas. A mishap with a Santa decoration causes an explosion rocketing Goofy through the snowy scenery to crash into the Pete household via the chimney causing daughter Pistol to mistake Goofy for Santa Claus. After the decorative title card, Pete and his daughter Pistol are decorating a rather pathetic looking Christmas tree. Pistol correctly points out it more resembles a toilet brush than an actual tree, and she even drops a Bart Simpson line on her dad (Nancy Cartwright voiced both characters, so I’m guessing that’s why they gave her such a line). Pete is clearly not in the holiday spirit and dislikes decorating for Christmas. Meanwhile, next door Goofy is the opposite (I’m noticing a theme here) as he’s loading up the house with various decorations. Max isn’t really feeling it, but Goofy is oblivious as usual.

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Just being neighborly.

Seeing that his neighbor doesn’t have any decorations on his house, Goofy decides to loan Pete a light-up snowman. He brings it over and plugs it in which just annoys Pete. He orders the Goofs off of his property and then tries to remove the snowman, but cartoon law dictates that anything that lights up and is plugged in will shock a bad-natured character and Pete gets his fill. Angry and sick of Goofy, Pete decides he wants to spend Christmas without his annoying neighbor next door and packs up the family and heads for Aspen. Max, seeing his best friend P.J. leave, is bummed that he’s stuck with just his dad for the holidays. Goofy sees his son’s distress, and decides to take him on a trip to the mountains too for a wilderness Christmas vacation which delights his son.

Father and son (and cat, Waffles) arrive late in the night to find a rickety old cabin. A bear (Frank Welker), which looks like an off-model Humphrey Bear, was enjoying the abandoned cabin until the Goofs showed up and is forced to pretend he’s a bear-skin rug. Goofy is pretty happy with the cozy cabin, but Max less so. After some physical comedy with the “bear-skin rug,” Goofy sets to unpacking their belongings which are piled high on Goofy’s car and covered with a tarp. When Goofy unravels the tarp it’s revealed that he brought all of his outdoor Christmas decorations and incorrectly assumes Max will love it.

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That star gag is rather conventional. Why not reindeer? Get in the spirit!

Up on a hill above Goofy and Max’s cabin is another, much nicer, cabin. To no one’s surprise it’s being occupied by the Pete family and the entire family is asleep except for Pete, who is enjoying cold chicken and cable TV in bed. After polishing off a bowl of drumsticks, he turns off the tube and settles in for some sleep, only to hear someone singing Christmas carols outside. He heads for the window and screams for them to shut up, and in the process tumbles out and crashes to the ground. This is par for the course for this show; Pete gets mad, Pete yells, Pete gets hurt.

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Sledding!

Pete is horrified to see Goofy and Max occupying the cabin next door while Goofy is pretty happy to be able to spend Christmas with his neighbor. Max emerges from the cabin to see the garish decorations and is none too thrilled. The next day, Pete is suffering from a cold, possibly because of his trip through the snow the night before, when Goofy and Max show up to invite the family sledding. Pete has no desire to go sledding with the Goofs, but the rest of the family does. They all head down the mountain on various sleds with Goofy on a toboggan. Everyone encounters some mishap that throws them off of their sled, only to land on Goofy’s. Eventually everyone is on the toboggan, including our Humphrey look-a-like, the bear from last night who was awakened when the toboggan crashed through his cave. A tree limb clothes-lines the poor bear, which draws attention to him being there, and a little chase ensues that results in the bear ending up on a ski jump (cartoons, baby!). The toboggan does as well, and the whole gang ends up crashing into Pete’s cabin wrecking his jigsaw puzzle he was happily piecing together alone. Pete’s ready to annihilate Goofy, but Peg reprimands him and reminds him to be festive, which is apparently enough to prevent him from killing Goofy.

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Horrified Goofy is actually a rather unsettling sight.

That night, Goofy leads everyone on a walk through the woods with their eyes closed – he has a surprise for everyone. He leads them to his cabin where he unveils a colossal Christmas tree that he’s decorated. He offers Pete the switch to turn the lights on as a way of cheering him up. Goofy, you don’t know how right you are, buddy. Pete turns on the lights and everybody “ooo’s” and “ahh’s” for a moment until the lights short-circuit and the whole tree goes up in flames. Max and Pistol appear to be pretty impressed with the burning tree, until it topples over onto Goofy’s car and cabin. Goofy panics realizing Max’s presents are still in the car and manages to save one, but everything else is lost. Pete though is feeling a lot better and enjoys the misfortune of Goofy. At least he does until his wife invites Goofy and Max to stay in their cabin (which apparently is in good-enough shape following the accident from earlier). Goofy excitedly offers to cook which just further concerns Pete since he’s likely the only one smart enough to know that Goofy in the kitchen is going to lead to disaster.

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Peg extends an invite to the dejected Goofs.

At the cabin, Goofy is preparing Christmas dinner while everyone else is getting cozy by the fire. While Goofy retrieves food from Pete’s car, Max awkwardly thanks the Pete family for taking them in and apologizes for how “wrapped-up” his dad gets during Christmas. Meanwhile, that bear is back and notices all of the food Goofy is bringing into the house and follows, since Goofy left the door open. Goofy doesn’t notice, but feels the bear’s presence behind him and assumes it’s just Pete. As the bear tries to grab food or inflict harm on Goofy, Goofy mistakenly swats him or opens cabinet doors in his face. When the bear growls he assumes it’s the sound of Pete’s stomach and crams a pickle in his maw. Pete eventually lumbers into the kitchen, as the laws of comedy dictate, and asks Goofy who he’s talking to. When he sees the bear he freaks out and eventually Goofy realizes the bear is there as well. They flee the kitchen, leaving the bear all of the food the family was going to eat. All except a lone pot of cranberries Goofy places on the fire.

goofy and bear

Just a bear in a kitchen.

Goofy tries to cheer everyone up with various Christmas traditions. He proposes singing carols or retelling “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas” which no one is up for (those cynical 90s!). Goofy then decides it’s time to unveil The Reindeer Dance. He puts some horns on his head, and even has a pair for Max, and goes into a song and dance routine that’s actually neither funny nor catchy. Max is embarrassed, but gets roped into the routine when he tries to get his dad’s attention. As the duo dance, the pot of cranberries on the fire begins to rumble eventually exploding at the dance’s conclusion covering everyone in gooey cranberry sauce. A dejected Goofy is reprimanded by Pete for ruining Christmas, and points out how Goofy even ruined it “for your stupid kid!” Max doesn’t jump to his defense, and a dejected Goofy heads off into the wilderness mistaking their cat Waffles for a scarf.

With Goofy out of the way, the Pete family decides to open their presents on Christmas Eve. Pistol reminds Max that his dad managed to rescue one gift from their burning car and gives it to him. Max unwraps it to find a framed picture of he and his dad doing The Reindeer Dance, which just further saddens him. He grabs his coat and lets everyone know he can’t let his dad be alone out there on Christmas Eve, and Peg declares they’re going with him – even Pete.

sad cave scene

Some sad Goofs.

Goofy is shown solemnly walking through the rising snow with Waffles the cat feeling sorry for himself. Behind him, the rest of the gang are marching through the snow when Pete declares that he should be the leader if he has to go on this silly mission. That just allows him to be the one to fall off a little cliff so everyone can land on him when they do the same. Goofy had passed through the same area and wound up buried in the snow and they find his feet sticking out of a bank up ahead.

reindeer dance finale

Yay Christmas!

Having found Goofy, they all pile into a nearby cave and get a fire going. It’s there Goofy and Max get to have a bonding moment and everyone learns a lesson. Goofy apologizes for messing up everything, while Max just lets him know he’s growing up, but he still loves Christmas and his dad. Goofy understands that Christmas isn’t about decorations and all that, but in who you spend it with. It’s also about bears, because it turns out they’re in the bear’s cave from earlier and he’s not interested in sharing his space with them. Peg tries to pull a tough mom routine and boss the bear around, but seeing as they’re in his cave she realizes she doesn’t have much of a leg to stand on. Max then comes up with the (bright?) idea of distracting the bear with The Reindeer Dance. Goofy joins him and the dance of the two Goofs proves too intoxicating as everyone eventually joins in – including the bear.

When the song and dance number is all through, we fade out and reappear on a makeshift Christmas tree. It’s more like a Christmas twig adorned with ice and items characters had in their pockets or on their person like car keys and jewelry. They’re all singing “Silent Night.” Goofy puts an arm around his son and wishes him a merry Christmas, while Pete suggests they spend next Christmas in the Bahamas. He lets out a mighty sneeze as our Christmas special comes to a close.

some tree

I think this one has Charlie Brown’s tree beat in the pathetic department.

When I was doing research for this feature I was looking over the episode list for Goof Troop and I was initially surprised to not see a Christmas episode. Christmas with a single dad in a suburban setting just feels like shooting fish in a barrel, and for Disney to not take the lay-up came as a surprise. Of course, then I realized they did do a Christmas episode, but it was outside the episode guide as a “special.” Fair enough, as it is basically just another episode of Goof Troop that happens to involve Christmas. It largely plays as expected, with an excitable Goofy inadvertently making things hard on his son and neighbors via his Christmas enthusiasm. What I didn’t expect was for a large part of the message to take a swipe at what many of us have come to think of as simple Christmas cheer. The characters shun Goofy’s decorations, carols, and overall enthusiasm and in the end have the take-away be that Goofy was in the wrong. I guess it’s obvious that basically every position Pete takes is wrong as well, since he is often swiftly dealt with in the form of violence and mayhem, but it was bizarre nonetheless. I get the message that family and togetherness are what matters most, and Goofy is obviously bad at reading a room, but I guess I just don’t really go along with this particular special. In its message though, I suppose it ends up being the most authentically 90s animated Christmas special.

Visually, Goof Troop is a little behind a show like DuckTales. It has a more “toon” look to it with lots of exaggerated movements from the characters and mouths that flap all over the place. Perhaps it was the Tiny Toon Adventures influence or maybe this is just what networks thought the “outrageous kids of the 90s” wanted. It might have also been cheaper, which is certainly possible. It mostly looks fine though, and the snowy backdrops are also really well done. This is one of those cartoons where I feel cold just watching the characters trudge through the snow, especially during the night scenes. The music is fairly understated though, and even that silly Reindeer Dance isn’t punctuated with much instrumentation, just some saxophone.

fake humphrey

If we were to assign an MVP for this one I guess it would go to the Humphrey look-alike.

“Have Yourself a Goofy Little Christmas” kind of let me down. I went into this one expecting something emotional that would resonate, but instead I just got a lot of physical comedy. The disappointing aspect of the comedy is that it was all stuff that had been done before, and done better. Nothing felt inventive. The emotional aspects also weren’t leaned into very heavily. I expected something that would lead to a lump in the throat, but I was largely unmoved in the end. A lot was riding on people connecting with The Reindeer Dance and Max’s Christmas gift, but both fell flat. If you want to spend Christmas with Goofy and the gang, I’d recommend just watching “A Very Goofy Christmas” from Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmas as opposed to this.

If after reading all of that you feel compelled to watch this special holiday edition of Goof Troop, then you’ll have to resort to streaming or purchasing it. Disney is really bad at celebrating its old TV properties. Even though they have multiple cable channels, they never re-air their holiday specials at this time of year which is a source of frustration for me. You can purchase this digitally or on DVD, or you can just watch it for free online. It’s even on YouTube, though the quality isn’t great, but at least the price is right!


Dec. 3 – Duck the Halls: A Mickey Mouse Christmas Special

Duck_the_Halls_-_TitleBy the time 2016 drew to a close I got the sense that people were ready to say goodbye to the year. It may have brought some bad times, but lets at least remember it for one of the good things it contributed to society:  a brand new Mickey Mouse Christmas special! Not since 2004’s Mickey’s Twice Upon A Christmas had television been blessed with a new holiday special starring Disney’s world renowned mascot, and best of all, it was a Donald Duck special!

“Duck the Halls:  A Mickey Mouse Christmas Special” is a roughly 21 minute Mickey Mouse cartoon set in the new Mickey Mouse cartoon universe which launched in 2013. Most of those cartoons are around 4 minutes in length making “Duck the Halls” by far the longest of the bunch. The series has a distinctive look that’s well animated using modern techniques and features the voice cast you know and love. And for basically the first time ever, Mickey himself is actually very funny and the series is reliant on visual gags more so than jokes to induce laughter. It feels like an animator’s show which naturally draws comparisons to 90’s animated shows like Ren & Stimpy, Rocko’s Modern Life, and Animaniacs.

GOOFY, DONALD DUCK, MICKEY MOUSE, MINNIE MOUSE

Donald is looking forward to celebrating his first Christmas with his friends.

The cartoon opens with an intentionally classic Christmas vibe. There’s shots of the various characters welcoming Christmas set to song which is being sung in a crooner style meant to evoke memories of Bing Crosby. We see Goofy (Bill Farmer) sloppily wrapping gifts, Pluto pulling Donald (Tony Anselmo) around in a make-shift sleigh, and Minnie (Russi Taylor) baking fruit cake. The sequence ends on Mickey (Chris Diamontopoulis) trimming the tree with the reveal that he’s the one singing with his voice suddenly shifting from the Crosby-esq voice to a more traditionally high-pitched Mickey. Daisy (Tress MacNeille) then shows up to spoil all of the fun as she reminds Donald they need to get the hell out of there and migrate, despite Donald’s protesting to stay and enjoy Christmas just once.

Mickey and the gang are borderline cruel in talking up Christmas as Donald struggles with his reality. Mickey recounts the Christmases of his youth when he strangely spoke with an old english accent. We get to see images of Mickey’s family, which I don’t recall any other short ever doing before. It’s probably not considered canon, but it is pretty neat. Goofy chimes in to talk-up Christmas too and his toes even turn into “missile-toes” and explode. None of this stops Daisy from dragging Donald out of there, but not before Mickey can give Donald his Christmas present:  a snowglobe that says “Wish You Were Here.”

MICKEY MOUSE, GOOFY, DONALD DUCK

Mickey wants Donald to experience everything Christmas has to offer.

Donald has a crisis of conscious as they head down the highway, the present from Mickey and a billboard proclaiming X-Mas is Awesome!! being the last straw to cause him to jump out of Daisy’s SUV and send him running back to Mickey’s house. The gang is delighted to have Donald for the holidays, while down south Uncle Scrooge (John Kassir), Professor Ludwig Von Drake (Corey Burton), and the nephews (Taylor) are all bummed that Donald isn’t there for them to pull pranks on, experiment on, and do other activities Donald likely won’t miss. Back north, we get a montage set to song sung by Mickey all about his enthusiasm for sharing Christmas with Donald. Throughout the song they’re doing “Christmasy” things while Donald gets progressively sicker and sicker, due to the cold, culminating in his beak falling off while singing carols.

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The southern gang, all wondering when Donald is going to give up on Christmas and show up.

Following the musical number, Donald is in rough shape. His feathers are falling off and he had to tape his beak back on. Goofy makes the obvious observation that he looks like death, before giving him some hot coco that is much too hot. Meanwhile, Daisy and the gang miss their duck and all have begun to worry about Donald’s well-being. They had expected him to give up on Christmas by now. Mickey is worried about Donald too as he’s getting really bad, and when Daisy calls it’s decided that Donald needs to get south pronto, the only problem is Donald is so close to Christmas morning at this point that he’s not giving up. He snaps, and runs out of Mickey’s house featherless wearing a tree skirt as a cape and other trimmings as an outfit. They chase after him and Donald eventually crashes through a barn and ends up in a manger in a scene that might border on sacrilege for some, but not me as Donald is bigger than Jesus.

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Donald’s finally lost it.

They get Donald back to Mickey’s house where things look dire. Mickey makes a Christmas wish to save his friend’s life, and on cue, Santa arrives. He promptly gets stuck in the chimney, so Mickey and the gang steal his sleigh resolved to get Donald south. It’s at this point that “Duck the Halls” passes my personal reindeer test as the sleigh has all eight reindeer, plus Pluto for good measure (so many specials are too lazy to animate all eight reindeer, nine if you include the one with the shiny nose). They get south, and it includes a pretty good “warp speed” gag that I appreciate (since a warp speed button as exhibited in other specials makes no sense, even for flying reindeer), just as Daisy and the others were getting ready to head north to rescue Donald. They crash into the resort and it appears for a minute that Donald is dead, but he rises from a hot tub reborn! Santa even shows up to use some Christmas magic to clean up the mess and even turn Pluto into an actual reindeer. He explains to Donald that Christmas doesn’t have to be celebrated exclusively in cold climates, Christmas is in your heart and is to be shared with the people you love! After these wise words, everyone has a wonderful Christmas celebration.

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Pluto living his dream.

“Duck the Halls” is a lot of fun. It has laughs, music, Santa, a wholesome Christmas message, and the production values to wrap it all up in a nice package. Tony Anselmo shines bright in his familiar role as Donald Duck as he’s able to capture Donald’s enthusiasm and joy for the holiday as well as his deteriorating physical condition throughout the show.  John Kassir debuts as Scrooge, and is notable as this was basically the first performance of Scrooge by someone not named Alan Young, who was one of 2016’s many victims. Interestingly, they could have given the role to David Tennant who is now voicing Scrooge in the DuckTales reboot, but perhaps they wanted to save his debut for that show’s premiere. Also, Young had voiced Scrooge previously in some shorts for this series and they may have wanted to cast someone who sounded like Young’s Scrooge as opposed to Tennant who is basically doing his own thing. Russi Taylor also gets to voice Donald’s nephews again, as they were also recast for the new DuckTales. They don’t really say or do much in this special, but it’s cool to hear Taylor’s version of the nephews once more. I also really like the look of Santa Claus in this one, as he basically looks like the old Santa from the Silly Symphony short, red nose and all.

Duck_the_Halls_Mickey_Mouse_final_shotBeing a relatively new addition to the Christmas television landscape, “Duck the Halls” is likely airing multiple times this year on television, which is why I wanted to feature it early in this year’s countdown so you had a chance to find it on TV for yourself if you missed it in 2016. It’s also available on DVD as part of a collection that includes a Halloween special and some other shorts from the Mickey Mouse series. The set was released in August in limited numbers before receiving a wide release in September. I assume it will be well-stocked throughout the holidays should you desire to add this one to your collection. And why wouldn’t you? Mickey Mouse and Christmas go together like egg nog and bourbon. Actually, even better, because you can never have too much Mickey around the holidays where as too much egg nog can go south real fast. As for where it ranks among other Mickey/Donald Christmas cartoons? That’s hard to say as the old shorts are among my all-time favorites and I also adore Mickey’s Christmas Carol. This one is so decidedly different in its brand of humor that it really stands on its own, making comparisons difficult. Just the fact that it stands among those without feeling inferior is a good enough endorsement.


The Scariest Story Ever – A Mickey Mouse Halloween Spooktacular!

Scariest_Story_Ever_Mickey(1)The new Mickey Mouse cartoons are pretty spectacular. They’re funny, look great, and best of all they’re keeping Mickey and the gang relevant as television stars and not just amusement park fixtures. And best of all, they seem to be embarking on a trend of holiday specials! I adore holiday themed specials, in particular Christmas and Halloween. They’re the two holidays that lend themselves the best to a special because they’re so visual. Last year, we received a brand new Mickey Mouse Christmas special called “Duck the Halls” and it was pretty great. As a follow-up, this year we’re getting a brand new Halloween special:  The Scariest Story Ever – A Mickey Mouse Halloween Spooktacular! The new special will debut on television this Sunday, October 8th, on the Disney Channel, but you can check it out right now by heading to your local big box retailer and picking it up on DVD as part of the Merry and Scary collection which includes “Duck the Halls” and an assortment of spooky shorts.

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Mickey’s house all tricked out for Halloween.

The special opens with Mickey, Donald, and Goofy out trick or treating with the nephews Huey, Dewey, Louie and the seldom seen mouse nephews Ferdi and Morty. Right away, this special is after my heart as the duck nephews are sporting the same costumes they wore in the classic Donald Duck short “Trick or Treat.” A nice little bobbing tune plays as the group does Halloween stuff before returning to Mickey’s house which is decked out in full Halloween decor. It’s there the story comes into focus as the kids demand a scary story from Uncle Mickey who is happy to oblige.

The special takes on an anthology format and parodies three classic tales:  Frankenstein, Dracula, and a take on Hansel and Gretel. The Frankenstein one features Goofy as Dr. Frankenstein and Donald as his assistant as they construct a monster who’s not quite what the kids are expecting. Unsatisfied with Mickey’s ability to spin a scary tale, Goofy and Donald assist with the second one which casts the trio as vampire hunters after Dracula. The Hansel and Gretel tale is the third and final one as the kids weren’t scared by either of the first two. In that one, the kids are inserted into the tale as a gang of rotten kids who steal pies and find themselves seduced by the tastiest pie of all which happens to be baked by a witch who wants to eat them.

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Mickey trying to scare the kids.

By and large, this special is designed to induce laughter. They’re more joke-reliant than the usual Mickey cartoons which tend to heavily rely on visual gags. That’s not to say there are no visual gags to be found. In fact, there are some pretty good ones especially in the Dracula portion in particular. I really liked the one where the vampire places Donald’s stretched out neck in a hot dog bun as he prepares to indulge himself in some duck blood. The more traditional jokes involve Goofy freaking himself out with a sock puppet and Donald trying to tell a scary story but no one can understand him.

Visually the show looks great. I love how vibrant the colors are and the backgrounds have a gritty quality at times that lends itself well to the Halloween vibe. Mickey is in a costume that features a sunflower on his hat and the flower always takes the place of one of his ears, which is a fun visual treat to follow throughout the episode. Goofy is in his Super Goof attire which is a nice callback as well to that version of the character. There’s a musical number early on that’s pretty silly and thus amusing and the usual voice cast appears. If you like your duck nephews voiced by Russi Taylor, as they were in the 80s, then you’ll be happy to know she voices them in this special, as she did in the previous one as well. The special also has some genuinely spooky imagery, but not enough to frighten my 2 and half year old (he refers to this as the Scary Mickey Cartoon and has been watching it incessantly the past week) so I wouldn’t be too concerned about it being too scary for kids. As always though, if you have an easily frightened child you’re best off watching it by yourself first to see if you think it’s something that will frighten your kid. The only thing about the special I don’t particularly care for is the obvious “made for TV” breaks inserted into it when scenes just end and fade to black. They could have created transitions and just edit them out for TV. I always appreciate it when a retail version of a TV special has slightly more content than what ends up on television.

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Can’t wait for the TV broadcast? You can pick this one up on DVD with the Christmas special as well.

“The Scariest Story Ever” is likely to be repeated quite a bit this month. As of this writing, I’m not aware of any non cable airings planned, but it would be nice to see this paired with the “Toy Story of Terror” TV special and aired on a major network so more people can see it. I love that Mickey and the gang are being revived for a new audience so getting them on major networks would really help boost the popularity of the brand. Every kid should get to grow up with Mickey, Donald, Goofy and all the rest. Here’s hoping more holiday specials are on the way in the years to come.


Mickey Mouse Season One

disney_mickey_mouse_vol_1For many years Mickey Mouse was the star of Disney’s theatrical shorts. As his popularity grew he started to shift into more of a supporting role while the likes of Donald Duck, Goofy, and even his dog Pluto stepped in to do more of the heavy lifting with the shorts business. Mickey Mouse became more than just a cartoon character, he became a symbol of the Walt Disney Company which soon branched out from the movie theaters to television, merchandising, theme parks, and now own Spider-Man, Luke Skywalker, and have an omnipresence unlike any other. Through it all, Mickey has remained the top figurehead, especially after the passing of Walt Disney who has really been the only public face associated with the company that the average person could pick out of a line-up. With Mickey in that capacity, his animated outings dwindled. He’d show up here in there, most famously in 1983’s Mickey’s Christmas Carol and 1995’s Runaway Brain. His presence was bolstered on television, but mostly in the realm of programming for the very young. Perhaps someone at Disney was unhappy with the status of the company’s mascot, and the characters associated with him, as in 2013 he was brought out of his forced retirement to resume the role he was born to play.

Simply titled Mickey Mouse, the 2013 “show” isn’t much of a show at all, but just branding for a new line of short cartoons. They primarily air as filler on the various Disney cable platforms and can be easily found on various Disney websites. They’re also packaged together in groups of three for more traditional block programming, but considering their short run time of approximately 4 minutes, even these blocks are quite brief. The first season of shorts was released on DVD in August of 2014. Now three years later, it’s still the only season of the program to receive a physical release (a holiday collection was just released on August 29th, 2017 in limited quantities) and may end being the only one to receive such.

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Goofy’s new look comes across as the most drastic of the main cast.

The series is credited to Paul Rudish who was long associated with Cartoon Network before developing this program. Most of the voice actors associated with the classic Disney characters were brought on to voice their respective character. Bill Farmer is Goofy, Tony Anselmo is Donald, Russi Taylor voices Minnie Mouse, and Tress MacNeille does Daisy. The only exception was with the star character himself:  Mickey Mouse. Mickey had been voiced by Brett Iwan since the passing of Wayne Allwine who had been voicing Mickey since the late 70s. Someone involved with the casting of this show felt Iwan’s portrayal of Mickey wasn’t suited for a more cartoon-like portrayal so Chris Diamantopoulos was hired to voice Mickey. This basically means that for the first time in Mickey’s 80+ years existence he has two official voice actors. While it’s true a number of individuals stepped in during the Walt years to voice Mickey here and there, none were ever considered an official voice of The Mouse. It’s strange and somewhat upsetting for Disney historians (I tackled the subject in this post about Donald Duck suddenly having two voices) for Mickey to have more than one official voice, but I suppose it is what it is.

Brett Iwan probably could have handled voicing Mickey just fine for these shorts. Ignoring that though, Diamantopoulos’ Mickey is similar in that he’s still a high-voiced character with a smooth delivery. This Mickey is more manic than what we’re accustomed to seeing. He often overreacts to simple slights and obstacles and is prone to screaming. Most of the characters are interpreted through this more outlandish lens as the toon quality of the show is emphasized in almost every scene. Minnie is very similar in attitude to Mickey as she’s more or less a female version of the same character. That doesn’t mean she’s uninteresting as she still possesses a personality, it just happens to be very similar to Mickey’s making the two feel like a natural couple who’s been together for decades – which they have! Daisy, on the other hand, is snobbish and materialistic and often likes to brag about her man, err duck, Donald. Goofy is more dim-witted than ever, and he’s also seen the most extreme redesign. The other characters are basically just stylized takes on their classic looks, but Goofy almost looks like a different character. His model reminds me of the George & Junior 90’s “What A Cartoon” show designs. He’s kept his hat and vest, but ditched his pants and even grew a tale. He’s pretty gross too, with stinky feet and is seen scratching himself and picking lint out of his belly button. Donald actually comes across as slightly more mellow than his usual persona. He’s sometimes dismissive of Mickey, but still has his meltdowns. He’s a bit mean-spirited too and isn’t above laughing at another’s misfortune, and that’s pretty much in tune with his classic portrayal. Appearing sporadically is Peg-Legged Pete voiced by Jim Cummings. For the first time in a long time, Pete is even portrayed with his old peg leg. This is also the most cat-like his appearance has been outside of his earliest appearances.

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Mickey’s ears sometimes have a mind of their own.

Visually, the show is very 90s in its looks. Mickey and gang are still fundamentally cute in appearance, but they’re also shown in ugly lights too. When Mickey is worn out or sad his snout will droop making him resemble Mortimer Mouse more than Mickey. It’s a part of Mickey’s anatomy I’ve never seen emphasized before. His eyes and coloring are consistent with his first run of shorts in color. The only real change there is in his over-sized shorts which impossible stay around his waist. The artists and animators love playing with his ears. They slide around on his head, pop-up off of his skull when he screams, and at times they’re even detached. The physics in play are very much of the Looney Tunes variety, with that 90s twist popularized by the likes of Ren & Stimpy, Rocko’s Modern Life, and Animaniacs. The animation is done in a modern way, meaning it’s likely all CG, but it resembles classic animation with its 2D look and backgrounds.

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The animators do not shy away from portraying Mickey in an unfavorable light when the situation calls for it.

The show is very visual, with gags being the name of the game in a great many episodes, especially the season one shorts. Some of these gags are a play on the world and characters. The first broadcast short, “No Service,” tackles the age old question of why it’s permissible for Donald to strut around pants-less and Mickey without a shirt when the two are denied entry into Goofy’s burger joint. Donald ends up taking Mickey’s shorts so he can go inside and order food, leaving Mickey naked and vulnerable outside as he tries to hide from Minnie and Daisy. It’s one of the more hilarious shorts and lays the groundwork for basically all of the others in that Mickey is often presented with a simple obstacle or objective and he has to go through an awful lot to get around it. In “Stayin’ Cool,” Mickey, Donald, and Goofy have to try and beat the heat somehow. When they get tossed out of some guy’s pool they’re forced to search all over the city for a way to stay cool and wind up in an ice cream truck. You get some weird visual gags such as Goofy filling his shorts with ice cream. In “Third Wheel,” Goofy invites himself out on a date with Minnie and Mickey, and through some rather crazy machinations, the duo end up inside Goofy’s stomach enjoying a romantic dinner. When the camera leaves Goofy’s innards just as the two kiss, Goofy’s outer stomach starts a moving and a grooving. These suggestive visual gags are a bit shocking for those accustomed to only a certain brand of humor from Disney, and Mickey especially, but it’s hard to deny their effectiveness.

The music is appropriately upbeat for many of the high energy scenes in this collection of shorts. There’s also a nice sampling of low key jazz and big band music which is evocative of the classic shorts. And where appropriate, the shorts will even dig into Disney’s rich catalogue of original music here and there. There’s even cameos from classic Disney characters I won’t spoil, though some of my favorite cameos actually occur in later seasons. Some of the shorts take place in foreign countries, and in an interesting move, Mickey and his co-stars will speak the native language when the setting changes. Usually these shorts end up having minimal dialogue, but it’s a pretty neat attention to detail and down-right bold as well.

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Mickey’s mocking of Donald in “No Service” makes me laugh every time I see it.

Mickey Mouse is a great return for the ageless mouse and his cast of friends and foes. There’s an infectious energy in this cartoon series that can’t be ignored. Watching it, one gets a sense of appreciation for these characters on the part of the creators as well as a desire to re-imagine them to a point and place them in new settings and new situations to see how they would respond. I can understand if some longtime fans of Mickey and Goofy, especially, are uncomfortable with this take or find their look unappealing, but I do hope they can appreciate the humor in this series. Really, for the first time in his existence, Mickey Mouse is actually a funny character on his own. He’s been the straight man for so many years, and prior to that he was somewhat of a thrill seeker and even a trickster, but rarely comedic. The series is still ongoing and is in the midst of its fourth season with over 60 shorts released, plus the holiday specials. I hope more is on the way and a physical release is considered for the episodes that have been stranded on cable and the internet.  Season One includes 18 shorts, plus a brief making of type of feature that’s not really worth watching, and is readily available for less than 10 dollars. If you’re a Disney or animation fan it’s basically a no-brainer at such a low price point, and considering my own offspring is addicted to this disc, I can safely recommend it for children and adults alike.


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