Today we’re doing the second look-back to one of the best Christmas specials ever conceived, as chosen by yours truly, and it’s one of my all-time favorites: Pluto’s Christmas Tree. Despite being titled Pluto’s Christmas Tree, this Jack Hannah-directed cartoon short from 1952 is actually considered a Mickey Mouse cartoon. Mickey apparently had it written into his contract with The Walt Disney Company that anytime he had a speaking role in a short it was to be considered a Mickey Mouse cartoon, because this could have easily just been a Pluto cartoon. Also showing up in this one is the duo of Chip and Dale. The chipmunks seem to be mostly associated with Donald Duck, but the pair’s unofficial debut came in the short Private Pluto where the two agitate the canine. In that short, they looked more like generic chipmunks and they were identical, it wasn’t until the 1947 Donald Duck cartoon conveniently titled Chip an’ Dale that the pair was more developed.
Pluto’s Christmas Tree is also interesting for being the first Mickey Mouse short with the second, official, voice of Mickey, Jimmy MacDonald, doing the voice of the mouse. Walt Disney famously voiced that character to start, and over the years there was the occasional fill-in, but the role was never handed off to anyone else until Walt did so with MacDonald during the production of Fun and Fancy Free. Walt Disney was a pretty busy man with his hands in all kinds of projects and being the voice of Mickey just wasn’t a priority come the 1950s. MacDonald was already an accomplished sound effects engineer and provided voice work as well, in fact, he was the first voice of Chip.
Pluto’s Christmas Tree is the Disney short most likely to put the viewer in the Christmas mood. It opens on a softly lit title card with “Deck the Halls” playing over it. It then zooms in on a Christmas card featuring a home that just happens to be Mickey’s house all covered in snow. The mouse and his dog are about to set out to find a Christmas tree. These were simpler times when a man, or mouse, could just walk out the back door with an axe and find what he was looking for. Pluto (Pinto Colvig) is especially excited to go running through the woods in search of the perfect tree and Mickey lets him go out ahead.
It’s not long before the dog is spotted by some would-be agitators. Chip (MacDonald) and Dale (Dessie Miller) are foraging for nuts and they take interest in mocking the dog. One of them pegs Pluto in the butt with an acorn, and the two mock him by jumping around a twig that resembles a Christmas tree and barking. This, of course, gets Pluto’s attention and he chases after them with the two forcing him to smash into a snow drift. On the opposite side, a perfectly formed “snow Pluto” slides out with the real dog behind. Pluto is unnerved by his snow doppelganger and seemingly forgets about the chipmunks. Meanwhile, the pair have taken refuge in a tree. As they have a laugh at Pluto’s expense, the tree begins to shake! It soon falls down as we see the two happened to pick the tree Mickey also settled on. He calls for Pluto, still checking out the snow dog but quickly gets freaked out when it collapses, who is happy to follow Mickey back home. As the pair march along, Dale tries to sneak out of the tree, but upon seeing Pluto trotting along behind him, immediately jumps back into it.
At home, Mickey sets up the tree and he and Pluto get down to decorating it. He starts hanging candy canes and ornaments as Chip and Dale come out of hiding from deep within the tree to check out their new surroundings. The two stroll along in the tree with Dale remarking, “Well, what do ya know?” as he takes in all of the pretty lights and colors. He then sees the candy canes getting placed on the tree and gets excited. Grabbing a twig, he stick it out of the tree in hope that Mickey will hang a candy cane on it, but he instead places a glass, blue, ornament. Dale inspects it, and while he may have preferred the candy, he seems pretty impressed with the bauble (after momentarily getting freaked out by his own reflection) and retreats deeper into the tree to go show Chip. He finds his fellow chipmunk inspecting a tiny bell, and dangling the ornament over his head, he whistles for his attention. Chip pops up and his head smashes through the bottom of the ornament. Dale, embarrassed, pulls open a cracked portion of the ornament to check on Chip, only to get punched in the face! Chip collapses into a pile of broken glass and then runs over and punches Dale on the top of the head for good measure as Dale gives a sheepish shrug.
Mickey declares his work as done and leaves Pluto to admire the pretty tree. As he lays on a nearby rug, he then notices a light has started to blink. Apparently their lights are not the blinking kind, so Pluto goes over to the tree to check it out. There, we see Dale is twisting a light bulb to make it turn off and on. Pluto sticks his nose through the brush and Dale mistakes it for another bulb. He gives it a twist, causing Pluto to recoil from the tree with the chipmunk still attached. Dale spins around and finds himself eye-to-eye with the canine, and Pluto immediately starts to growl. Before he can snap his jaws shut on the rodent, Chip happens to walk by and uses a candy cane to snatch Dale from harm’s way.
Pluto and Dale then bark back and forth at each other before Dale gets an idea. Grabbing an ornament, and tapping on it first to make sure it’s as fragile as the last one, Dale hurls it towards the ground. Pluto, apparently quite fond of Christmas trees, refuses to let the ornaments hit the ground. He dives for it, but Dale quickly tosses another one, and then another, forcing Pluto to stand on one leg with an ornament in each foot. Mickey then comes strolling in with gifts to place under the tree. He takes one look at this awkward position Pluto has gotten himself into and gives a chuckle. Playfully telling the dog to “cut it out,” Mickey places the ornaments back on the tree, only he hung one from Dale’s nose. Pluto points and stammers at the tree hoping Mickey will turn and see the chipmunk, but of course by the time he does Dale has already ascended the tree and retreated inside. Mickey just brushes aside Pluto’s behavior with an “Ohh, Pluto,” and leaves.
Pluto is momentarily irritated, but he turns back to the tree and spots Dale once again. This time he’s left the tree in search of some nuts left out on a table. Pluto cuts him off, blocking his access to the tree, so Dale drops his nuts and runs ending up on the mantle above the fireplace. There, Mickey had set out some Santa candles and Dale positions himself among them and swipes the hat and beard from one in a bid to disguise himself. Pluto races over and finds that Dale’s disguise may have fooled the eyes, but they can’t fool his nose. He sniffs at Dale, causing the chipmunk to sneeze, and Pluto has him right where he wants him.
Mickey then comes strolling back in and finds Pluto gesturing towards the chipmunk candle. Mickey mistakes Pluto’s actions as him wanting the candles lit, so Mickey lights them. When he gets to Dale, the chipmunk blows out his match. Mickey just shrugs, picks up Dale as if he were a candle, and uses an already lit candle to light the Dale candle. Mickey then leaves and Pluto looks broken-hearted that his master failed to notice the disguised vermin. He then turns back to the mantle and brushes all of the candles onto the floor, which seems like a real fire hazard.
Chip takes notice of what’s going on by the fireplace and races over to his friend’s aid. He stands on Pluto’s tail and gives it a tug. It makes a bell sound and Pluto lifts his tail all the way up with a curious expression on his face. Chip salutes him, thanks him, then hops on the mantle to snuff out the flame and snatch his buddy from harm’s way.
Now the real chase is on as Pluto and the chipmunks race around the room. Pluto crashes into the presents Mickey had set out, his feet going through the boxes. As he tries to run with boxes on his feet, Chip and Dale get back into the tree. Pluto races up a ladder that Mickey had left out and starts barking at the tree, seemingly out of ideas. Dale hops out from the bottom of the tree while Chip pokes hi head out to release the tension on the middle brace of the ladder allowing Dale to push the bottom back together. Pluto tumbles over and crushes the remaining gifts he hadn’t already trampled while Chip drops the star from the top of the tree onto his tail.
Pluto, who has seemingly has had enough, emerges from the mess and dives into the tree. Mickey sees him and races over screaming for him to get out and gets pulled into the scrum. The tree shakes and contorts as if it were in an electric dryer. Soon everything falls off of the tree, Mickey and Pluto included, leaving just the skeletal remains of what was a pretty nice tree. Mickey calls Pluto a dumb mutt and then does something pretty shocking for him: he strangles Pluto! Mickey grabs his own dog, man’s best friend, by the throat and begins to shake! As he orders Pluto to take a look at the mess he made, he finally sees Chip and Dale who are holding each other and staring in bewilderment. Clearly, the two are just as shocked as I am to see Mickey strangle his pet.
Declaring, “Pluto! We have chipmunks in our tree!” Mickey scoops up Chip and Dale and presents them to Pluto, who slaps his own head in frustration. Mickey characterizes them as “cute little fellows,” but Pluto just barks in their face. Mickey pulls them back and scolds Pluto, reminding him that it is Christmas. The sounds of carols then fill the air and Pluto races over to the window. Outside, Goofy, Donald, and Minnie are singing “Deck the Halls” (Clarence Nash can clearly be heard in his Donald voice among the voices, but I don’t know if Minne or Goofy’s voice actors contributed) by a street light. Pluto and Mickey seem to enjoy the caroling, while Chip and Dale join in with a little dance and someone saw fit to have them sing the “Don we now our gay apparel,” line which feels like a hint about the nature of their relationship. Pluto decides to sing as well, only since he’s a dog, he just kind of howls. The chipmunks cover their ears and look at Pluto angrily, then slap a “Do Not Open Till X-Mas” sticker over his muzzle. The dog then looks at the camera in shock as the short comes to an end.
Pluto’s Christmas Tree is a gag-infused short that’s over in the blink of an eye, and usually leaves me wanting more, so I watch it again! What I appreciate most about it is that virtually all of the gags incorporate the holiday theme in some way. We have smashing ornaments, candy canes, Christmas candles, and more all contributing to poor Pluto’s misery. It’s a Chip and Dale vehicle in which the pair create mischief, and really don’t receive any sort of comeuppance. Oftentimes the two are wronged somehow, but on occasion they’re basically just jerks taking advantage of a situation. And in this case, they’re taking advantage of an animal they clearly possess intelligence over, which just raises further questions since a chipmunk and a mouse should be on relatively equal footing, but Mickey clearly towers over the pair. They also live like animals, despite possessing human intelligence, and the whole thing really stops making sense if you give it much thought.
This one does celebrate Christmas and it’s quite possibly the best Christmas short Disney ever produced. It might even be the best Christmas short ever! The only rival really is Toy Tinkers, which is very similar to this one only swap in Donald for Pluto. I prefer this one just a little bit more, despite my love of Donald Duck, because it’s a touch sweeter and the setup is a little better. And it is also just gorgeous. If I had an endless amount of money to throw at things that I love, I would absolutely track down a production cel of Chip and Dale inside the Christmas tree. It is just drawn and painted so beautifully. It makes me wish I could shrink myself down to the size of a chipmunk to experience Christmas from that perspective. No wonder why my cat always liked sitting under tree.
If you want to experience this fantastic holiday short this year, and you really should, then you have quite a few options. This being one of Disney’s best and most famous Christmas cartoons, it’s been released several times over on VHS, DVD, and Blu Ray as part of holiday collections. Most recently, it was included on the Blu Ray release of Mickey’s Christmas Carol. If you’re a subscriber to Disney+, it’s also available on there 365 days a year. Disney also still isn’t particularly protective of its theatrical shorts. It’s really surprising considering how litigious the company can be over the silliest things, but I suppose it’s a good thing that this short (and many others) can often be found streaming in various places on the web for free. In short, there’s no good reason to miss out on this one this year or any year.