Tag Archives: mickey mouse

Dec. 25 – Mickey’s Christmas Carol

Original release date October 20, 1983

We made it! Another year in the books, and another Christmas has come. Indulge in it. Bask in it, for it only comes once a year, and not to get too dramatic, but you never know how many you’re going to get. And we’re ending this year’s edition of The Christmas Spot with another throwback to a terrific holiday classic: Mickey’s Christmas Carol.

When it comes to Christmas specials, there’s no shortage of A Christmas Carol adaptations. It’s the most frequently utilized framing device for a holiday special, be it animated or live-action, and there’s no shortage of just straight retellings too. Even Disney has released multiple theatrical versions of the Charles Dickens classic, and for my money, the best version of A Christmas Carol is the one released in 1983 starring a duck and mouse.

Mickey’s Christmas Carol is basically a trimmed down version of the Dickens tale faithfully retold through animation. The familiar Disney characters we all know and love are essentially actors in this story as Mickey Mouse isn’t referred to as Mickey by the characters in the story, he’s Bob Cratchit. It’s essentially what the Muppets would do a decade later, only this isn’t really a comedy as it basically plays it straight. When it released to theaters in 1983 it was a pretty big deal for the simple fact that it was the first Mickey Mouse cartoon in 30 years to be released in theaters. It unfortunately didn’t lead to a new era in theatrical short-form animation, but the following decade was certainly better than the preceding ones as far as quantity goes.

Scrooge McDuck is the star, but Mickey still gets top billing and his image before the cartoon.

Being that this was the first Mickey Mouse cartoon in 30 years, it marked an era of new beginnings and ends. This was the directorial debut for writer/artist Burny Mattinson. Mattinson would go on to co-direct The Great Mouse Detective, but after that basically returned to his role as a writer for the remainder of his career. For many, this was the first time people were hearing Wayne Allwine as Mickey and Alan Young as Scrooge McDuck. Allwine, who worked in the sound department under his Mickey predecessor Jimmy MacDonald, had started voicing the mouse in some uncredited appearances on The New Mickey Mouse Club, but this theatrical short (which was essentially designed to go right to television given its running time) offered more exposure and a true credit, too. For Young, this was actually his second time voicing Scrooge in the role of Ebenezer Scrooge as he first took on the role for an LP release titled An Adaptation of Dickens’ Christmas Carol, Performed by The Walt Disney Players in the 1970s. He even voiced Mickey on that release. This cartoon was obviously more far reaching than what was essentially an audio play and Young would retain ownership of the role into DuckTales later in the decade and really for the rest of his life. As for ends, this would be the final credited appearance of Clarence “Ducky” Nash as Donald Duck. He had been the sole voice of the character since creation, but would turn it over to animator Tony Anselmo (who was an uncredited assistant on this production) in 1985.

Other notable performances include Hal Smith voicing Goofy for the second to last time. He didn’t voice the character a ton, but Goofy is still a character with a fairly exclusive list of actors credited as performing his voice. This was also the first time Will Ryan would voice Willie the Giant and that’s a role he filled until his death earlier this year (RIP). For actor Eddie Carroll, this was arguably his most exposure as Jiminy Cricket since taking over the seldom used character in 1947. He would voice the character in his other appearances following this pretty much right up until his passing in 2007. Lastly, this is seemingly the first, and only, time Patricia Parris voiced Daisy Duck. Daisy was somewhat of a seldom used character in the 80s and 90s who had multiple voice actors playing the role until Disney seemed to settle on Tress MacNeille as the one and only Daisy sometime around the year 2000. The only credit missing is one for Minnie Mouse, but that’s because her role is silent in this one. Yeah, it wasn’t the best look to see Minnie reduced to a silent cameo, but this was during her silent era which had been going on for decades. Russi Taylor would eventually be cast as Minnie later in the decade finally putting an end to the madness, but we were denied such a performance in this one.

Time to find out if a man, err duck, who literally hugs his money is redeemable.

After it’s theatrical release alongside a re-release of The Rescuers, Mickey’s Christmas Carol would go on to have a long run as a prime time television special around the holidays. That was how I first encountered it and also how I fell in love with it. Even though the special seems to be purposefully crafted to fit into a half hour broadcast, it would actually be aired as an hour long special with some Christmas or winter themed shorts attached. The version I am most familiar with aired on NBC and was preempted by the following classic shorts: Donald’s Snow Fight, Pluto’s Christmas Tree, and The Art of Skiing. In between the shorts, there would be narration from Mickey describing the favorite Christmas memory of his friends, which would lead into that character introducing their own short (including Pluto who can be heard barking at Mickey). They would also show clips from other shorts like Toy Tinkers and Mickey’s Good Deed before eventually getting to Mickey’s favorite Christmas memory, the year they all got together to tell the story of A Christmas Carol. “Ha ha, we called it Mickey’s Christmas Carol,” he adds a bit sheepishly, almost like he’s a little embarrassed that his name went on this thing. Especially since Scrooge McDuck is the real star!

This one begins with some rousing horns and the classic Mickey head logo only it’s been dressed up with a hat and scarf. From there, we go into a lovely little opening title sequence. Still images in a monochrome, sepia, style from the cartoon to come are displayed along with the credits. It’s set to the song “Oh What a Merry Christmas Day” by Irwin Kostal (lyrics by Fredrick Searles), who conducted all of the music for the cartoon. The song really is quite nice and I think it’s been underserved by Disney ever since it was released. This should be their Christmas song, but I don’t think I’ve ever heard it outside of this cartoon. The final image of the sequence eventually dissolves into some scenery that is just gorgeous. This one seems to be set in the same era as the original story, 1843, as we get a little multi-plane camera action that zooms into a street setting where the sidewalks are populated by beggars and busy bodies and the streets by horse drawn carriages. It’s important to note that all characters in this cartoon are personified animals from past Disney films and shorts. You’ll probably immediately see the three little pigs and the big, bad, wolf as well as many faces from Robin Hood and The Wind in the Willows.

Scrooge pausing to break the fourth wall.

Ebenezer Scrooge is strolling down the street looking rather unapproachable. A beggar (Young) asks him if he has a penny for the poor and Scrooge just scoffs at him. He eventually comes to the front door of his counting house, and before entering he knocks the snow off of his sign which reads Scrooge & Marley, only Marley’s name has been scratched out. It’s then Scrooge informs us (I’m not sure if we’re to read this as him breaking the fourth wall or him just talking to himself) that his old partner, Jacob Marley, died seven years ago today. He boasts the man left him enough money in his will to pay for a tombstone, but he had him buried at sea! Not said, is that Scrooge is so cheap he’d rather just cross his name off of the sign than get a new one. I also wonder if he’d bother to knock the snow off of the sign if it was covering Marley’s name instead of his own.

Cratchit is apparently allotted one piece of coal every two weeks.

When Scrooge enters the counting house, he finds his lone employee, Bob Cratchit, up to something over by the fireplace. He demands to know what he’s doing, and Cratchit indicates he’s just trying to thaw out the ink for his quill which is coated with ice. Scrooge is apoplectic that Cratchit would dare to use two pieces of coal in the span of a week and demands he get back to his work. Cratchit takes it in stride and hops up onto a tall chair and appears to make do with the frozen quill as Scrooge begins to remove his coat and hat. Cratchit then brings up the topic of Christmas, very gingerly as Scrooge bristles at the mere mention of the holiday. Cratchit meekly requests a half day off for the holiday, which is tomorrow, and Scrooge reluctantly obliges. Only it’s on the condition that he only receive half a day’s pay. He then tries to recall what he even pays his one, and only, employee and Cratchit has to correct him that he’s up to two shillings and a ha’penny per day on account of a raise he got three years ago when he agreed to start doing Scrooge’s laundry. Scrooge smiles to himself at the confirmation, likely quite satisfied to have such cheap help, before his scowl returns as it reminds him the sack he’s had slung over his shoulder is a bundle of shirts for Bob to wash.

Scrooge heads over to his desk and starts making entries in his log. He starts tallying up interest payments (he’s nailing one guy for 80%) and basically playing with the coins on his desk laughing to himself. He goes so far as to embrace a pile of coins remarking “Money, money, money,” to himself in a sequence that would be adorable if it wasn’t so illustrative of his excessive greed.

The duck we’ve all been waiting for!

A bell attached to the door, I suppose that makes it a doorbell, rings with the opening of the door. It’s Scrooge’s nephew, Fred, played by the character Scrooge McDuck also calls a nephew, Donald Duck. Fred arrives by shouting “Merry Christmas!” which his uncle responds to by shouting “Bah! Humbug!” Fred refuses to let his sour uncle get him down and he has Cratchit cheering him on. When Scrooge demands to know what Bob is doing by clapping for Fred he suggests he’s just trying to keep his hands warm. Scrooge demands to know why his nephew is there to bother him and Fred tells him that he came to bring him a wreath and to invite him to Christmas dinner. Scrooge seems actually delighted at the invitation and starts asking Fred about the menu. As Scrooge inquires about each dish, Fred enthusiastically confirms that he’s serving it as his excitement builds up until he finally asks “Are you coming?!” Scrooge then reveals he’s just been toying with the lad by saying he can’t eat that stuff. Fred is clearly hurt, but Scrooge feels he’s wasted enough of his time as shoves the wreath over Fred’s head and literally kicks him out the door. We hear the unmistakable quacks of anger from Fred as he apparently soars off of Srooge’s stoop, only he quickly returns to open the door to shout, once more, “Merry Christmas!” and slip the wreath over the doorknob. Scrooge angrily shoots back, “And a bah humbug to you!”

I’m guessing they’ll never hit Scrooge up for money again.

Cratchit reflects on how kind Fred is, but Scrooge suggests he’s always been a little peculiar. The bell by the door rings again as Scrooge angrily adds that his nephew is quite stubborn, but his mood does a total 180 when he sees that two potential customers have entered. It’s the most personable we’ve seen of Scrooge yet, but unfortunately for him the two gentlemen who just entered are not looking to secure a loan with unfavorable rates. They’re two solicitors for the poor and they’re played by Ratty and Moley (voiced by Smith and Ryan) from The Wind in the Willows. Scrooge sort of recoils at the mere suggestion he just donate money to the needy, but seeing as how he has a business to run, he doesn’t toss the two out like he did his nephew. Instead, he uses some rather twisted logic to indicate that the job of these men are dependent on there being poor, and if Scrooge gives money to the poor, well then they won’t be poor anymore! He then practically begs them not to ask him to put them out of a job, especially not on Christmas Eve! The two completely fall for it as Scrooge gently nudges them outside, but just before closing the door, the real Scrooge emerges as he tells them “I suggest you give this to the poor and be gone,” and tosses the wreath Fred gave him in their direction before slamming the door. We get one lingering shot of the two collectors looking shocked as the wreath swings back and forth on the nose of Moley.

An exasperated Scrooge slumps against the door as he asks his employee, “What’s this world coming to, Cratchit? You work all your life to get money, and people just want you to give it away!” Cratchit doesn’t respond as Scrooge heads to his desk and time passes. It’s dark in the counting house and the clock strikes 7, a long work day is apparently over. A very tired Bob Cratchit is able to smile a bit as the clock bells go off and he begins to head out. Scrooge, checking his pocket watch, then remarks the wall clock is two minutes fast. Cratchit says nothing and quickly jumps back into his chair and into his logs. Scrooge then tells him not to mind the two minutes, but adds that he better be here all the earlier the next day. The animation seems to suggest that Scrooge’s watch and the clock on the wall are in agreement. I wonder if that’s an animation goof or if Scrooge is so manipulative he’d make his employee think he’s leaving early to encourage him to arrive for work earlier in the future? Either way, Cratchit seems positively giddy to be getting out a whole two minutes early and tells his boss that he is so kind. This is clearly the nicest thing Scrooge has probably done for him since that raise three years ago. Cratchit bundles up in his tattered hat and scarf and nearly wishes his boss a “Bah! Humbug,” but corrects himself to “Merry Christmas!” before departing. Scrooge just scoffs and returns to his work.

I like how Goofy’s ears form the handle on the knocker.

When the clock strikes 9, Scrooge finally calls it a day. He puts on his coat and hat and heads out into the snowy, now deserted, streets for a lonely walk home. This walk cycle always floors me with how gorgeous it looks as the snow looks so authentic and the movement of Scrooge so accurate to how this character would move if he were real. He eventually reaches his home, a fairly large looking house with a gaudy, gold-colored, door knocker. As Scrooge goes to unlock it, the visage on the knocker changes to resemble what we, the audience, know to be the face of Goofy, but here he’s Jacob Marley. He calls out in a low, mournful, manner for Scrooge which certainly gets his attention. Scrooge just says “Jacob…Marley?!” at the sight, and when the knocker returns with another wail, Scrooge squeezes his nose which causes him to yell out in pain. This frightens Scrooge into the house while we’re left to see Goofy scrunch up his nose and remark in typical Goofy fashion, “Gwarsh!”

A shaken Scrooge enters his dark and cold house. Wide eyed, he jumps onto a tall staircase and peers through the darkness frantically, but seeing nothing, cautiously begins his ascent up the stairs. As he climbs, a shadow of Marley appears on the wall behind him. The shadow is loaded with heavy chains and makes quite the noise as it moves and Scrooge notices almost immediately. When he stops, the shadow stops, and when he spins around it disappears! Scrooge then resumes his climb and the shadow respawns, only now it’s feeling playful as it lifts Scrooge’s hat off of his head. Scrooge then carefully sticks his cane out behind him and basically tickles the shadow. As it laughs, Scrooge is able to spin around and catch sight of it. The shadow drops his hat while Scrooge yells and races up the stairs into his bed chambers.

Aww, c’mon, Scrooge! He doesn’t look so scary.

Once inside, Scrooge engages numerous locks on his bedroom door (that’s kind of irregular) before retreating to a large chair. Shaking, he pulls his hat low as Marley’s haunting calls for Ebenezer Scrooge return. Scrooge barks back for him to go away, but the ghost enters. As he walks through the door, he fails to negotiate the cane Scrooge hastily left on the floor and trips over it coming to land right beside Scrooge’s chair. Marley pops up remarking it’s kind of slippery as Scrooge lights a candle in disbelief. The ghostly apparition confirms to Scrooge that he is indeed the ghost of Jacob Marley. Scrooge then softens a bit and starts recounting how Marley was a class act who bravely robbed the widows and swindled the poor. Marley seems rather proud of himself before something reminds him that basking in such praise is not what he came here for. He snaps out of his contented state to correct Scrooge. Declaring he was wrong to live his life in such a manner, he reveals he was punished for all eternity for his crimes against humanity as he flings his chains about. They’re his curse, but wrapped around one is a piggy bank that Scrooge takes interest in. When Marley, deep in his dramatic recounting of his cursed state, yanks on the chains they wrap around Scrooge’s neck drawing him closer to Marley and choking him in the process.

It’s at this point that Marley reveals to Scrooge that the same is in store for him when his time is up. Scrooge seems legitimately scared of such a fate and begs his old partner for help. It’s at this point Marley gives him the old “You will be visited by three spirts,” routine, only since this is Goofy he holds up just two fingers when saying “three.” He warns Scrooge that if he doesn’t heed the advice of these spirits that his chains will be even heavier! He then departs with a haunting “Farewell,” and as he vanishes through the door Scrooge calls outs out for him to “Watch out for that first,” before we hear the sound of Marley falling down the stairs with the familiar Goofy yell accompanying it. When the crashing sounds end, Scrooge finishes his warning, “…step.”

A clearly spooked Scrooge searches for ghosts before bed.

Scrooge, now dressed in a gown and cap for sleeping, is inspecting his room for spirits, it would seem. He flashes a candle in the fireplace and under the bed, but seeing nothing he climbs into bed scoffing at the notion of spirits as he blows out his candle. He quickly falls to sleep, and then the camera starts bouncing! We’re clearly seeing the point of view of another creature, which heads for Scrooge’s nightstand. It’s Jiminy Cricket, who rings the bell on Scrooge’s clock to wake him from his slumber. A groggy Scrooge turns to regard this individual who informs him that he’s the Ghost of Christmas Past. Jiminy even displays a fancy badge, like the one he receives at the end of Pinocchio, confirming his identity. Scrooge rather casually remarks he thought he’d be taller, then turns to go back to sleep. The cricket fires back that if men were measured by kindness, then Scrooge would be no bigger than a speck of dust! Scrooge tells him what he thinks of kindness and its usefulness, which Jiminy reminds him he didn’t always feel that way. Declaring it’s time to go, Scrooge encourages him to get out, but when the ghost opens the window Scrooge is suddenly out of bed.

Despite the fact that he’s a duck, Scrooge clearly does not enjoy flying.

Confused, Scrooge asks the ghost (which he always addresses as Spirit) what he’s doing. He tells him they’re going to visit his past, but Scrooge lets him know he can’t go out the window without falling. The ghost just tells him to hold on, and when he opens his tiny umbrella the two sail out of the window with a gust of wind! They fly through the night sky with Scrooge becoming ever frantic like a cat that accidentally wandered onto a motor boat or something. The spirit actually laughs at him, suggesting he thought Scrooge enjoyed looking down on the world.

Scrooge clearly wasn’t very smooth with the ladies.

Eventually, the two come to rest outside a tavern. It belongs to an individual named old Fezzywig, Scrooge’s former employer. Scrooge is excited to peer through the window and the sights are full of Disney cameos. Scrooge remarks that Fezzywig couldn’t have been a kinder person to work for, which is interesting since he doesn’t appear to find that trait useful for himself as an employer. He then gets excited when he spies a younger version of himself seated in the corner. The spirit points that this is the version of Scrooge that hasn’t yet become a miserable miser consumed by greed which doesn’t seem to offend Scrooge in the least as he casually responds “No one’s perfect.” Scrooge then narrows his focus on Isabelle, as played by Daisy Duck. He refers to her as “lovely Isabelle,” and we see her pull the young Scrooge out onto the dance floor. She rather unapologetically begs Scrooge for a kiss by pointing out she’s primed and ready and under the mistletoe, but Scrooge instead takes note that she’s standing on his foot. She doesn’t allow herself to be bothered as she takes Scrooge’s hands and the two dance. When the song ends, Belle plants a kiss on Scrooge which he rather clearly enjoys.

Scrooge isn’t even willing to pause his counting and come out from behind his wall of money to talk with Belle.

The present day Scrooge is left swooning too as he recalls how he was madly in love with her. The spirit then reminds him that in ten year’s time he came to love something else. Scrooge looks around and realizes they’re in his counting house on a dark, and rainy, evening. The young Scrooge is seated at his desk behind a mountain of money he’s counting out as Belle enters. She has to interrupt his counting to get him to acknowledge her, and he won’t even stand up to look at her from behind his wall of coins. She then delivers in rather unforceful terms an ultimatum. She’s been waiting for Scrooge to keep his promise to marry her as she’s been holding onto a cottage for the two of them for years. She asks if he’s come to a decision, and Scrooge rather angrily indicates he has. Belle’s last payment on the cottage, which she apparently financed through him, was an hour late allowing Scrooge to foreclose on the mortgage. As he waves the document in her face, Belle begins to sob and head for the door as broken hearts flutter about in the air – a little corny, but effective. She casts one, last, look in Scrooge’s direction and her face morphs from sadness to anger as she slams the door behind her causing all of the coins to scatter on Scrooge’s desk.

The spirit pushes the knife in deeper by pointing out that Scrooge loved his gold more than Belle causing him to lose her forever. Scrooge then begs the spirit to take him home declaring he can no longer bare these painful memories. The spirit adds that he fashioned them himself, as the scene shifts back to Scrooge’s bedroom. He’s in bed asking himself how he could have been so foolish when he’s roused from his thoughts by a loud, booming, voice. The voice shouts “Fee! Fi! Fo! Fum!” and the being indicates it’s puzzled by the smell of something unpleasant. Scrooge peers out from behind his bed curtains to see a massive man (the only human looking denizen of this world) surrounded by food. He quickly shuts the curtains, before pulling them open carefully again and a giant eye fills the opening.

This is the part of the cartoon where the viewer gets hungry. Well, a little. That pig is more disturbing than anything.

The titanic spirit (portrayed by Willy the Giant from Fun and Fancy Free) reaches into the bed to confirm that he has, indeed, smelled a stingy, little, Englishman. Scrooge emerges from the creature’s grasp and has it confirmed that he’s the Ghost of Christmas Present. Scrooge then takes note of the delicious looking, giant-sized, food before him. He asks where it all came from and is informed that it’s “The food of generosity, which you have long denied your fellow man.” Scrooge scoffs at the notion as he passes through a bundle of grapes, getting one stuck on his foot. He suggests no one has ever shown him generosity, and the spirit is forced to correct him that, despite his not being deserving of it, there are still some out there who do indeed extend good tidings to him. Scrooge tries to assure the spirit that this is not the case, but he’s just told. “You’ll see.”

Time to go meet this adorable little fella.

With Scrooge in the pocket his festive, green, robe, the spirit leaves Scrooge’s home. Since he is a literal giant, he has to lift the roof of the house off to step out. He then grabs a street lantern, which magically functions like a flashlight, as he goes on a search for a specific home. He checks one and the screams of a woman from inside alerts him that he’s not in the right place. He soon finds the home he’s looking for and dives onto his knees outside of it. One would assume a giant jumping around outside would get the attention of the whole neighborhood, but no one seems to notice.

“Hey mom, where did Polly go? She’s not in her cage…”

The spirit removes Scrooge from his pocket and deposits him outside the home. Scrooge, rather angrily, demands to know why he brought him to this old shack. The spirit then tells him it’s the home of his overworked, underpaid, employee: Bob Cratchit. Scrooge looks inside and sees Mrs. Cratchit placing dinner on the table. He cracks a joke by asking if she’s cooking a canary, then, perhaps sensing the ire of the giant, says they must have more food than that and points out a pot boiling over a fire. The spirit corrects Scrooge by telling him that’s his laundry, and the two go quiet and just observe as Bob tells his two children they must wait for Tiny Tim (Dick Billingsly). The small boy tells his father he’s coming as he slowly descends the stairs with the aid of a cane. His father whisks him over to the table where the boy enthusiastically declares there’s a lot of wonderful things to eat. Then reminds his family that they must thank Mr. Scrooge. His mother can’t muster up a response except just to smile politely and avoid his gaze, she probably spends many hours of her day cursing that name. Bob sits down and begins cutting a single pea for himself. Seeing that this is apparently all his dad has to eat, Tiny Tim offers him the drumstick from his plate, but Bob, sort of sadly, just hugs the child refusing to take the offering.

The final spirit is far less friendly than the first two. He also has a bad habit, but if you’re already dead, then why not enjoy a cigar?

Scrooge asks the spirit what’s wrong with Tim, and he responds, “Much, I’m afraid. For if these shadows remain unchanged, I see an empty chair where Tiny Tim once sat.” Scrooge can only respond with “Tim will…?!” but there’s no spirit to answer him. He looks around and the scenery grows foggy as Scrooge begs for the spirit to return through coughing. A shadowy figure appears smoking a cigar, the apparent source of all the smoke. Scrooge, clearly terrified of this new apparition, asks if he’s the Ghost of Christmas Future. The spirit only nods as Scrooge, rather carefully, begs to know what will happen to Tiny Tim.

That’s the one! The shot that breaks me every time.

The spirit simply raises an arm and gestures. A cemetery comes into view and a small headstone sits beneath a tree. Bob is beside it, clutching Tim’s can, as his wife and other two children lower their heads and walk away. The camera focuses on Bob as he sniffles a bit and a tear runs down his cheek. It’s a truly heartbreaking sight. He then lays the cane on the headstone and slowly walks away.

Scrooge can only wail “Oh no!” at the sight, before turning to the spirit. He declares he didn’t want this to happen and begs to know if these events can yet be changed. The spirit doesn’t respond as a raspy pair of voices fill the air. Two weasels (voiced by Allwine and Ryan) are laughing about a recent funeral they just witnessed. They’re grave diggers, and the person they’re digging a grave for apparently had a funeral with no mourners. One laughs and says they should take a break, since “He ain’t going no where,” as they laugh and walk away. Scrooge and the spirit approach the open grave and Scrooge, likely knowing the answer given how spooked he sounds, asks to know whose lonely grave this belongs to.

Dying sure seems like it sucks.

The spirit strikes a match and as he lights his cigar his hood falls away. It’s Peg Leg Pete (Ryan), and he lets him know that the grave belongs to him! He holds the match beside the headstone so Scrooge can see his own name. The spirit then slaps his back, knocking Scrooge into the grave, as he shouts, “The richest man in the cemetery!” and breaks out into laughter. As Scrooge cries out for help, the spirit only continues to laugh harder. Scrooge, holding onto a root, dangles above his own coffin which soon billows with smoke and an eerie red light shines from within. It begins to open, and as Scrooge falls towards it he shouts “I’ll change! I’ll change!”

He’s never looked better!

Scrooge tumbles out of bed tangled in his own curtains. He’s shouting demands for the spirit to let him out before he realizes he’s back in his own room. He runs to the window declaring it’s Christmas morning! He shows his elation by hugging a pigeon that was on his window sill and declares the spirits have given him another chance. He frantically searches for his robe, accidentally stepping through his hat and ripping through the top, as he tosses on a scarf and runs out the door. He then runs back in and declares “I can’t go out like this!” Mind you, Scrooge is in his nightgown and slippers with a red coat, scarf, and busted hat. He then grabs his cane and declares “There!” in a bit of a fake out before running back outside.

Okay, maybe they will come hit Scrooge up for many in the future.

Scrooge gleefully slides down a short, snow-covered, banister and crashes into the individuals who showed up at his counting house the prior day collecting funds for the poor. Scrooge is happy to see them, though they don’t appear to feel the same way about running into Scrooge again. He tells them he has something for them, but they try to deflect him as they likely assume it’s more insults or another wreath, but Scrooge surprises them with gold. He fills the mole’s hat and slaps it down on his head as the rat reacts with shock and punctuates it with an “Oh no!” in disbelief. Scrooge thinks, or acts like he thinks, that the rat thinks this isn’t enough and starts tossing more money. This schtick goes on until Scrooge literally fills the mole’s pants with money leaving them with 100 gold pieces. As Scrooge cheerfully heads to his next destination, the two call out a “Merry Christmas to you!”

Scrooge is just spreading happiness now and it’s lovely.

Scrooge merrily dances through the streets greeting people who are clearly shocked to see this side of Scrooge until his nephew nearly runs him over while riding a horse. Scrooge, not bothered by this at all, simply calls out “Ah! Nephew!” Fred, like the other denizens of town, is shocked to see his uncle in an apparent good mood. He’s even more shocked when Scrooge tells him he’s looking forward to that wonderful meal he’s preparing. Fred, almost sweetly, shouts “You mean you’re coming?!” and Scrooge tells him he’ll be over promptly at 2 and to keep it piping hot as he balances his cane on his nose and scampers off. Fred, with a huge smile across his bill, assures his uncle that he will keep it hot and wishes him “…a very merry Christmas to you!”

Scrooge feels the need to torture Bob mildly before changing his life for the better.

Some kids scamper by, two of the three little wolves chased by one of the little pigs wielding a pop gun, as Scrooge emerges from a toy store with a huge sack over his shoulder. Declaring, “And now for Cratchit’s” he merrily makes his way down the street and to the home of Bob Cratchit. He giddily knocks on the door, but then forces himself to put on a serious face. Bob answers the door and is pretty shocked to see his boss standing there on Christmas morning (he probably shouldn’t be that shocked given how terrible his boss is). He somewhat sheepishly offers a “Merry Christmas” towards Scrooge, who snorts and brushes past him causing Bob to sort of whimper “Won’t you come in.”

Toys! We’ve got toys here!

Scrooge adds a “Merry Christmas, indeed,” in an angry tone. He tells Bob he has another bundle for him as he slams the sack on the ground. A teddy bear pops out, which Tiny Tim takes notice of. Scrooge scoops it up and stuffs it in the pocket of his jacket as he tugs the sack closer to himself trying to ignore the curious child. He then goes into a rant, declaring he’s had enough of this “half day off stuff” He then starts to act like he’s going to fire Cratchit, who looks pretty terrified. As he hollers, “You leave me, no alternative, but to give you,” the last part he can’t get out without a bit laughter as Tim finishes the sentence by exclaiming, “Toys!”

The other shot that breaks me, but in a good way!

Scrooge confirms to a confused Bob that, yes, he is giving him toys. He also tells him that he’s giving him a raise, and making Bob his partner as he doffs his cap and puts an arm around him. Bob can only muster up a “Partner?!” as he clearly didn’t expect this. Scrooge basically just announced that he’s lifting his family out of poverty, for heaven’s sake. He can only respond by saying, “Thanks, Mr. Scrooge” as we see his wife lift a fully cooked turkey out of that same sack (those toys must be gross). Tiny Tim then goes in for his line, “And God bless us, every one!” as Scrooge embraces the kid. They tumble into a rocking chair as Scrooge places his hat on the kid’s head and the other two kids run in to join the fun. “Oh What a Merry Christmas Day” returns as the Cratchits look on as their children pile onto Scrooge and the cartoon comes to an end.

Now, if only this could happen to every other greedy, rich, asshole the world would be a better place.

If that ending doesn’t leave you all warm and happy on Christmas Day, then I’m guessing nothing does. The way that Scrooge toys with Bob at the end doesn’t come across as cruel, though I can see some perhaps thinking that it does. It serves to draw out the suspense of the moment as Bob Cratchit discovers that his boss has made a truly life altering decision for him and his family. Did Disney intend for us to put it in such context? Maybe, I don’t know, but it’s how I’ve always approached that last scene. That family was starving to the point where their malnourished son was essentially a goner if things didn’t change, and fast. Now, assuming Scrooge keeps his word, the Cratchits will basically get half of every dollar Scrooge makes and presumably have a much easier life. And the adorable Tiny Tim gets to live.

Scrooge is also practical in his Christmas Day delivery, though they could really use some sides.

It’s a very satisfying conclusion to a well-worn story. I, like probably many, do not care to see another version of A Christmas Carol come along ever gain. We have enough. This cartoon though was my first introduction to the story which is probably why I like it so much. I do think it has value beyond that and my affection isn’t solely attributed to nostalgia, but I do acknowledge it plays a role in just how much I adore this one. I just think it’s wonderfully paced, beautifully animated, and the cast is exceptional. I love how this one looks, even when I’m watching it on a 35 year old VHS my mother made for my sister and I. I especially love the backgrounds which are so detailed and almost weathered looking to reflect the setting. As a result, the special loses a little something in the HD transfer Disney did a few years ago that brightens everything up and dulls some of the linework. Not that it isn’t still worth watching, but I almost prefer my ancient tape or cheap DVD I bought more than a decade ago. The actual animation is also wonderful. The characters are so expressive and the animators did an amazing job of conveying emotion through them. You could watch this thing on mute and know what every character is feeling at every moment. And even though this re-telling plays it straight, there’s some exaggerated, animated, flourishes here and there like when Scrooge is terrified of Marley or when he kicks Fred out of the counting house. It feels like Disney had something to prove with the first Mickey cartoon in 30 years and it really nailed it here.

Mickey’s Christmas Carol is available to stream all year round on Disney+. It probably aired this month on cable too, but at this point those airings may be over. I wish it still got the broadcast network timeslot it occupied 30 years ago, especially with the added shorts (only two of which are on Disney’s streaming network), but that’s how it goes.

The end of the cartoon, and the end for this year’s countdown!

I hope you enjoyed this year’s edition of The Christmas Spot, whether you read one entry, or all 25. Or whether or not you’re reading this in 2021, or 2025. In December, or March. It doesn’t matter, it’s always nice to do a little Christmas reading and reflect on the specials that warmed our hearts as kids and adults. And it’s even fun to look at the not-so-good ones, and that’s why I do this every year. A lot can change in a year, but I plan on being back here next year so I hope to see you then. Merry Christmas, everyone!


Dec. 5 – Pluto’s Christmas Tree

Original release date November 21, 1952.

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.

Today, we go where no special has gone before: inside the Christmas tree!

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.

Just look at how happy they are!

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.

Chip and Dale are mostly going to act like jerks in this one. Here they are making fun of the happy puppy.

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.

Happy times from before the chipmunks would disrupt their lives.

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.

Not where Dale was looking to find himself.

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.

I don’t think Mickey appreciates how amazing his dog is.

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.

That getup might have worked on Goofy, but not Pluto!

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 is surprisingly dumb in this cartoon.

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.

How do we not have a stuffed animal of Pluto with presents for feet?

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.

Now that’s just adding insult to injury.

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.

I’m honestly shocked this act of violence by Mickey didn’t land this one in “The Vault” or at least get edited out over the years.

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.

It looks like Christmas is once again the salve for all wounds.

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 is basically the only bad thing to happen to a chipmunk in this one. They really are the antagonists.

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.

I love this short so much that I just had to get the ceramic statues. I can’t bring myself to box them up during the off-season.

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.


Dec. 13 – The 25 Greatest Christmas TV Specials

Five years ago The Christmas Spot did its first advent calendar countdown to Christmas and the theme was “The 25 Greatest Christmas TV Specials.” With that list, my approach wasn’t entirely forthright. I really had a list of 20 specials that I deemed worthy of such an honor and I devoted the back five to specials I felt were worth spotlighting that might otherwise have been overlooked. What I also should have added at the time was that the list is fluid. It’s going to change as we as a society of holiday consumers reevaluate the old and welcome the new. Seeing as it’s been five years, it felt right to look back on that list, re-arrange a few entries, add some more, and kick out some that have grown stale. I should stress, this is all one man’s opinion on television specials and as someone who loves Christmas I do tend to watch a lot of these specials too much and there’s definitely a fatigue factor. The list of holiday fare I indulge in year in and year out goes deeper than 25, so if your favorite isn’t here don’t sweat it. I probably think it’s fine.

For this exercise, I think it makes sense to just go down the list comparing the original to the revised edition. I’ll list the number and the entry with the previous ranking (if applicable) in parenthesis after and the 2015 entry after that, like so:

25. A Flintstone Christmas (#9) (Moral Orel – The Best Christmas Ever)

I like A Flintstone Christmas a lot, but I’ve also seen it a lot and I think it just doesn’t affect me in the same way now as it did years ago. As for Moral Orel, it’s a fine, dark, Christmas special and not something I need to watch every year.

24. American Dad! – For Whom the Sleigh Bell Tolls (UR) (Winnie the Pooh and Christmas Too)

American Dad! has become one of the titans of Christmas as it has a new special almost every year. “For Whom the Sleigh Bell Tolls” is bloody and insane, which is what makes it the most memorable for me, but there are a lot of contenders from this show. Winnie the Pooh’s foray into Christmas is plenty sweet, but also not very remarkable.

23. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (#13) (Robot Chicken’s Half-Assed Christmas Special)

Rudolph is a classic, but let’s not kid ourselves, it’s mostly included on all of these lists because of its classic status. It’s kind of ugly, and I think most of us watch it out of habit as opposed to pure enjoyment. Still, there’s no replicating that warm, nostalgic, feel it’s still capable of conjuring up. As for Robot Chicken, I very much enjoy the marathon sessions Adult Swim will air during December, but it’s designed to be disposable and the jokes are very hit or miss.

22. Olaf’s Frozen Adventure (UR) (Invader Zim – Most Horrible X-Mas Ever)

Olaf’s special wasn’t around in 2015, but it looks like it’s going to be an annual tradition for awhile. It’s funny, warm, and even features songs I don’t hate. He’s quickly become the most charismatic snowman around. Invader Zim is fine, but if you want an absurd Christmas story then I think there’s better out there (like American Dad!).

21. The Tick Loves Santa (UR) (Married…with Children – You Better Watch Out)

In 2020, offbeat and silly superhero stuff is really appealing given how superheroes rule the box office (or would in a normal year). That makes The Tick a series I can appreciate even more now than I did back in 94. And watching The Tick bumble his way through a Christmas story is a great deal of fun. It knocks off the only live-action special from 2015 to be featured on this list. Married…with Children is sort of like the sitcom version of American Dad! because it has a lot of Christmas specials, and most are pretty subversive. It’s still worth watching, but it was always at risk of being dropped for the simple fact that I favor cartoons.

20. Bob’s Burgers – Christmas in the Car (UR) (The Snowman)

Bob’s Burgers and American Dad! are battling it out to be the current king of Christmas since both are prepared seemingly year in and year out. I give the edge to the Belcher family, and while it’s hard to pick a favorite from this crew, I think “Christmas in the Car” is still the reigning champ though I seem to warm more and more to “Father of the Bob” every time I view it. The Snowman is the victim I feel the worst about. It’s not moving up the ranks, but out. I know a lot of folks adore it, but I’ve just never been able to feel the same way about it. Sorry!

19. Frosty the Snowman (#15) (It’s a SpongeBob Christmas)

Like Rudolph, Frosty is skating by on reputation at this point. Unlike Rudolph though, I still feel charmed by this one whenever I watch it. The characters are goofy, some of the plot points make no sense, and that damn song will forever remain catchy. As for SpongeBob, worry not for him, for he will appear later on this list in a more prominent position.

18. Beavis and Butt-Head Do Christmas (#18) (Beavis and Butt-Head Do Christmas)

Hey! One that didn’t change! Spoiler alert, but this one is just the first to not move a spot. This one is wonderfully stupid and subversive. Many confuse Beavis and Butt-Head for just stupid, but there’s a lot of satire to be found with the duo. It’s not for everyone, but it sure is funny.

17. Futurama – Xmas Story (#12) (A Muppet Family Christmas)

Futurama hangs on slipping just five spots. It wasn’t in any real danger to fall off as I love the show and I love it’s take on Christmas. The Muppets, on the other hand, were mostly on the old version for the novelty of their special and nostalgia. Admittedly though, the special isn’t great and has maybe 2 or 3 good laughs during its hour-long runtime. Plus that ending goes on and on…

16. A Charlie Brown Christmas (#4) (Yes, Virginia)

Hoo-boy was I coward in 2015! Charlie Brown is a classic, but it’s also quite dull. It’s quotable, has great music, and the good-bad voice acting is somehow really charming. It’s near the top of many lists because it’s been around so long and boomers love it while younger generations were forced to enjoy it. Top 16 is still good, but we all need to be more honest when it comes to Charlie Brown. Yes, Virginia is super sweet and I love the ending, it’s getting there that’s tough. The special is pretty slow and the CG is downright ugly. This one would have been a lot better as a short, but maybe someone will return to it and do just that. And if you hadn’t heard, A Charlie Brown Christmas is airing tonight on PBS at 7:30 PM local time (6:30 CT) which is big news since It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown was frozen out of a broadcast airing in 2020 for the first time ever.

15. A Pinky and the Brain Christmas (UR) (Frosty the Snowman)

This one was just an oversight on my part back in 2015. I had not seen it in years, but when I re-watched it for The Christmas Spot in 2017 I was reminded of how wonderful a viewing it is. That ending gets me every time.

14. The Night Before Christmas starring Tom and Jerry (UR) (A Very Special Family Guy Freakin’ Christmas)

Another one I forgot about and overlooked, Tom and Jerry’s battle under the Christmas tree is full of the usual gags the duo is known for. The animation is gorgeous, especially the backgrounds, and it tops it all off with a really sweet ending. Family Guy was generously ranked in this spot in 2015 and actually was a tough omission this time around. I do still like that special, easily the best Family Guy Christmas episode I’ve seen, but I basically gave it the boot in favor of the superior show, American Dad!

13. Duck the Halls (UR) (Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer)

It’s Donald Duck and it’s Christmas – it was practically made for me! Duck the Halls is hilarious and the animation is great. Sure, it isn’t ink and paint like the old days, but I find it plenty pleasing. Tony Anselmo gives maybe his best performance ever as Donald, and if anything I’m penalizing this one because we have more Donald to come.

12. Rocko’s Modern Christmas (UR) (Futurama – Xmas Story)

I love Rocko, but in 2015 I had all but forgotten about his Christmas special. Well, not this time as I’m putting him just outside the Top 10. The story is fairly simple, but Rocko is so likable and sympathetic that it makes this one instantly charming. And let’s not forget the great gags like the constipated cloud and the living (until it’s not) Christmas tree.

11. It’s a SpongeBob Christmas (#19) (Prep & Landing)

SpongeBob is moving up in the world and actually is the biggest mover, in a positive direction, this time around. My affection for this stop-motion Christmas special seems to grow and grow each year. In 2015 it was still pretty new so a recency bias worked against it, but five years later I’m more than ready to declare this a modern Christmas classic. And the same can be said for the special that once occupied this spot.

10. South Park – Mr. Hanky the Christmas Poo (#8) (A Garfield Christmas)

Mr. Hanky just barely hangs onto a top 10 spot this time out. Is his spot in danger? Yes, considering my love of SpongeBob and Donald Duck. For now though, let’s just reflect on how crazy this special was when it first showed up in 1997 and how South Park used to have a new Christmas special every year. My, how the times have changed.

9. Prep & Landing (#11) (A Flintstone Christmas)

I’m surprised I held Prep & Landing out of the Top 10 last time around, but like SpongeBob, I guess I just wasn’t quite ready to let someone new into the club. The CG still looks great on this one and the story is unique, fun, and even heart-warming. New Christmas specials arrive every year, but rarely does one actually add to the whole Santa Claus lore in a meaningful way, but that’s what Prep & Landing has done. These elves aren’t going anywhere anytime soon.

8. A Garfield Christmas (#10) (Mr. Hanky the Christmas Poo)

The fat cat who loves lasagna gets to move up a couple spots, largely benefiting from folks like Fred Flintstone and Charlie Brown getting kicked further down the line. This 1987 special is still a treat to take in that blends humor with a surprising amount of sentiment. It’s a shame it lost the network timeslot it held for many years.

7. DuckTales – Last Christmas! (UR) (Toy Tinkers)

DuckTales has made a comeback since 2015 and included among the new episodes is the show’s first ever Christmas special, and it’s wonderful! It turns the story of A Christmas Carol on its head, in a way, with a time travel tale all its own and features the first mother-son pairing of Della and Duey Duck. Plus it has a fantastic cameo from the late, great, Russi Taylor. If you have yet to see it, fix that this year. Especially since word has come out recently the show isn’t being renewed for a fourth season. 2020 just refuses to stop sucking!

6. Toy Tinkers (#7) (Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire)

The Donald Duck/Chip and Dale vehicle moves up one spot this year. It matters little as this is a cartoon all animation lovers and Christmas enthusiasts should make a point to watch every year. The only negative is that the gunplay contained within this one means Disney+ will likely continue to shun it making it a tad harder to come by.

5. A Chipmunk Christmas (#3) (Pluto’s Christmas Tree)

Alvin and the gang spin a fine Christmas tale. I thought highly enough of it to rank it in the top 3 last time, but I’m bumping it down just a couple of spots this year as I basically rearrange some things. This one is becoming a little harder to come by each year as you can’t guarantee a network showing, but DVDs are cheap so grab one if you need it!

4. Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire (#6) (A Charlie Brown Christmas)

The premiere episode of The Simpsons is still my favorite Christmas special the show has done. Sure, it’s a bit rough to look at these days, but the story is great, classic, Simpsons. I just wish it and the other 80s Christmas specials on this list were celebrated as much as the stuff from the 60s that hasn’t aged so well. Well, most of that stuff has aged horribly, but there’s one notable omission we’ll get to shortly.

3. Pluto’s Christmas Tree (#5) (A Chipmunk Christmas)

Alvin and Pluto essentially switched places largely because I just love this little short. It’s just perfect. The scenery inside the Christmas tree featuring Chip and Dale is just the best. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it every time I watch this short – I want to live in that tree. The physical comedy is fantastic, and I just absolutely adore this short. Unlike Toy Tinkers, you can find this one on Disney+ 365 days out of the year. I’ll probably watch it at least a dozen times between now and Christmas.

2. Mickey’s Christmas Carol (#2)

Mickey and our number one didn’t move, and that’s with good reason. This is my preferred version of A Christmas Carol, and frankly, we don’t need any more. It’s the only one on this list other than the parody featured in Beavis and Butt-Head (I don’t really consider “Last Christmas!” an adaptation) which is kind of surprising to me, but it also feels right. This one is beautiful and features some phenomenal voice acting. I’ll never not tear-up at the sight of a crying Mickey when he visits Tiny Tim’s grave, ditto for when Scrooge informs him he’s getting promoted at the end. I’m getting misty eyed right now just thinking about it.

  1. Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas (#1)

It was number one in 2015, and it will likely remain number one for as long as I’m alive. How the Grinch Stole Christmas is just a perfect Christmas special. It features a story full of heart, humor, redemption, and joy. It’s gorgeously animated with a style unique to both Dr. Seuss and animator Chuck Jones. The music is equally as memorable and the narration from Boris Karloff is the only voice people hear in their heads now-a-days when reading the source material. There’s nothing I’d change about this special, and if I had to pick just one Christmas special to watch annually it would be this one.


Lego 71044 – Disney Train and Station

71044_Box4_v39Earlier this year I did a post wondering what happened to the Lego/Disney relationship that seemed so fruitful just three years prior. It was a post born out of some frustration, but mostly just disappointment. Following the release of an entire line of minifigures devoted to the Disney brand as well as the massive Cinderella’s Castle from Disney World, it seemed like we were primed for more minifigures and more sets based on theme park attractions and icons. A set featuring Disneyland’s Sleeping Beauty Castle felt inevitable and my mind was racing to conjure up mental images of what other popular attractions might work and make sense in Lego form.

Nothing happened though. Disney still had a presence with Lego, but it was all themed sets based on the latest movie hitting theaters. This surprised me because that initial wave of figures seemed to sell out quickly around me. I had to hunt them down and eventually wound up paying almost twice the MSRP at a specialty shop with hideous mark-ups on everything. The castle set seemed to do well since Lego has kept up with production on it and I’ve never seen it discounted (it’s possible Disney has an agreement with Lego that prevents it from going on clearance) leading me to believe it’s a solid seller. If the cast members who work the crystal shop in Epcot can be trusted, they usually sell one of those $37K crystal depictions of the castle per day so Lego selling a bunch of $300 castles seems plausible.

Of course, my post either had good timing or poor as not long after a bunch of news broke. A new wave of figures, a Mickey-themed set based on Steamboat Willie, and finally the big one, a set based on Disneyland’s railroad and station. I was able to secure a set of minifigures after hunting around my area while the Steamboat Willie set was a simple purchase at a local Lego Store. The Disneyland railroad had to wait a bit as it came with a rather steep cost. The MSRP on the set came in at a tick under $330 not including tax. With less than 3,000 pieces and only five minifigures, this felt like a pretty significant mark-up. For comparison, Cinderella’s Castle had the same amount of figures, but over 4,000 pieces for a more reasonable $350. Disney always equates to significant mark-up when it comes to licensed merchandise, but this was more than I expected. The actual building is fairly small and not nearly as eye-catching as the castle. This felt more like a $250 set as a result, and I had a hard time convincing myself to foot the bill for it.

Maybe I wasn’t alone, as Black Friday arrived and with it came discounted Lego sets. To my surprise, this set was one of the ones to get marked down. It was roughly $100 off for a weekend and that was enough to get me to jump on it, along with many other shoppers. The set even sold out while I was trying to check-out online, but Lego accepted backorders with a guarantee to deliver before Christmas. This made this a suitable joint gift for myself and my wife, essentially our gift to each other, this year.

For starters, it should be pointed out that the set likely retailed for more than expected partly due to the tech baked in. This set is part of Lego’s app-enabled products. The Powered-Up Motor is Lego’s latest inclusion for making sets go. It requires you download an app and use a tablet or phone to control the train. It has sound effects as well and if you’re against pushing the train then you have this as well to make it go. It’s pretty neat, and if I didn’t already have a Disney World Monorail set to ring my Christmas tree I’d probably consider using this. It does add more of a toy quality to the set as well, which may be a bad thing if you’re like me and have small kids at home that want to play with your expensive Lego sets.

img_0777Like the castle, this one comes with five minifigures. And like the castle, most are essentially re-releases of prior figures. Minnie Mouse is the least interesting as she appears here in her red polka-dotted dress once again with the only difference being she’s traded the hard plastic skirt piece for a fabric one (to make it easier to position her in a seated position for riding the train). Three of the other figures just re-use existing head sculpts. You have Mickey as an engineer in blue overalls with a red bandana around his neck. He looks good, but where’s his hat? Engineer Mickey at the park is always sporting a hat and it would have been simple to just reuse the Steamboat Willie hat with a new paint scheme, but Lego opted not to do so apparently. Chip and Dale are here as conductors and they have new bodies as well. It’s a classy addition, but like Mickey they have no hats. At least with these two it’s more understandable as a hat is probably trickier to sculpt and add to them whereas Mickey had already been released to fit a hat. The fifth figure is the only all new one, but it’s a much welcomed one. Goofy finally gets to make his proper Lego debut and he’s in his contemporary orange shirt with blue pants. He looks great and since we had yet to receive a Goofy I am glad he’s not in train-attire. He probably should have been released as part of the minifigure wave as it kind of stinks he’s trapped in this set (for now), but I’m glad he’s here. Now we just need a Pluto to finish off the Fab 5.

img_0770All right, let’s talk about the main event now. The train station presented here is just referred to as the Disney Train and Station by Lego, but it’s a replica of the station at Disneyland. As basically the first thing one sees when entering that park, it’s one of the most iconic Disney-related visuals that exists in the real world. And since we already received a Disney World set, this makes quite a bit of sense to be the next release. I initially expected Sleeping Beauty Castle, but since that is so much smaller than Cinderella’s Castle it might not have felt as iconic when compared with that set. This one invites fewer comparisons to Disney World. Yes, Disney World’s Magic Kingdom has a train station as well, but it’s just a slightly different design that’s neither better or worse than what Disneyland has. It’s a bit bigger, but the main difference is the clock tower portion is centered whereas this one is off-center and placed on the right if you’re facing it from the front. I suppose fans hopeful that Cinderella’s Castle meant that one day a Disney World in Lego would be achievable are disappointed, but I don’t mind inter-mingling Disney World and Disneyland sets in my display.

img_0771Like the castle, the station is essentially a façade with an open back. Lego could have set it up on a hinge, but it opted not to. It’s fine and actually makes it easier to place on a shelf or something. I suppose if you have this on a large surface with the track going around the station it might bug you that it doesn’t have a back, but if it did you wouldn’t be able to see the lovely interior. Since the building itself isn’t particularly large, there isn’t nearly as much “fun” inside as there was with the castle, but what’s there looks nice. There’s a ticket counter with a bench in the main section and a luggage scale tucked away as well. There’s a pair of scaled-down replicas of the locomotive and a little lounge on the second floor. The clock tower is the only area on what is basically the third floor. An architect might complain there’s no way for the characters to physically move from floor to floor, but I like that they didn’t cram stairs into this thing. The windows in the hall look nice and I like the red curtains. Having never been inside the actual station, I can’t really attest to the authenticity, but this looks fine. The only thing missing is a bunch of fun easter eggs referencing past Disney films and cartoons like the castle possessed. There’s a cute replica of the Lego Cinderella’s Castle and box for the third floor and a pink umbrella that might be a reference to Mary Poppins, but otherwise I didn’t notice anything obvious.

ck_holiday_legoThe locomotive itself is a replica of the CK Holiday from Disneyland, which itself was based on a replica train Walt Disney owned and drove around his backyard. As the first train constructed for Disneyland, it was an obvious choice. Unfortunately, it doesn’t contain the CK Holiday branding and instead opts for a generic Disney Train. I don’t know why Lego seemed resistant to affirm that this is based off of Disneyland’s train and station, but it’s not a huge deal. The second car is basically just a housing for the motor, while the third car is for park guests and the fourth is the caboose, once again, modeled after the actual train. The passenger car has a nice design where the top flips open for easy access while the caboose has a more luxurious interior. You can fit a lot of minifigures on this thing and I can see some people stocking it with custom minifigures that look like park patrons. Or you could simply just cram it full of some of the previously released Disney figures, especially the ones that are solid stand-ins for Disney cast members in costume.

The build for the train was pretty painless, though the locomotive presents some minor challenge. It’s more that the locomotive is fairly fragile once completed. To make sure it bends on the tracks it has a lot of floating parts such as the rear of the engine. There’s a little piece too underneath the cabin that has a tendency to pop off when handling it which did become annoying. The interior also doesn’t feature any details at all, which surprised me. My guess is the quarters are already tight and there just wasn’t enough room to work with. I think they could have slipped in a few handles or something, but oh well. The top flips up to make it easy to place Mickey or another figure inside and the windows make it easy to see who’s driving.

Past the engine is the coal cart, which also houses the power motor. It’s by far the simplest and quickest build and it does its job. The passenger car is an interesting build as well since it has a very open design. It’s a quick build as well and it’s fairly sturdy which is necessary since you’ll be inserting many figures into this car. The caboose is the longest build, but it’s also pretty simple. It has a closed design with one side being removable to insert characters. The only thing holding that side on is essentially two bricks, one on each end of the marquee, making it both easily accessible and hidden. I do enjoy the interior of this car, which creates a dilemma as I’m torn on how to display this one. Any figure you place in here with the panel in place probably won’t be readily visible to anyone looking at the train. At this point, I have so many Mickey and Minnie figures though so maybe I’ll just stash some in there for display.

Easily, the largest shortcoming for the train in both the build and display is related to stickers. I hate stickers, and this set is loaded with them. The train in particular has a lot of small stickers that are challenging to place. The caboose, for instance, has the Disney Railroad label broken up across three stickers which is practically torture. It should be a rule for Lego that any set over $250, especially one like this aiming to be more of a display piece than toy, opt for as many printed pieces as possible, but evidently Lego disagrees.

img_0769The set comes with enough track to make an oval of modest length. It’s essentially large enough to comfortably go around the station, but if you want to ring a Christmas tree or something you’ll need to buy more. Getting the train lined up is a little tricky, but not frustrating for an adult. Connecting the device to the app (I did via an iPhone) is also really simple and I had zero issues there. The train moves at a nice clip and I did not have any derailments. It can go forward and in reverse and there’s some sound effects as well. I don’t know if this is necessarily an improvement over the old setup, but it does work as intended. My only fear would be in a decade will this app still function? Lego does sell remotes, though that will obviously set you back further.

The build for the station is the longest part of the set and composes it’s own much thicker book. It’s a methodical build, and while some may resent the redundancy of constructing a brick building, I tend to find my Zen in these things. The instructions break up the construction of the outer walls reasonably well by mixing in other tasks before returning to it. By far, the most interesting part of the finished product is the metalwork on the roof. To simulate wrought iron, Lego went with black handcuffs. Admittedly, it looks a bit odd during the build since it’s hard to ignore the fact that the pieces are handcuffs, but once complete it looks pretty nice. I’ve seen other reviewers praise this creativity and probably an equal amount criticize it. Lego could have created a unique piece to do the job, but this does work so I can’t really fault the company for going in this direction.

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I hate these stickers.

Like the train, the station contains numerous stickers. In general, they aren’t as bad as the train since many are just for signs on the wall, but they’re still frustrating in places. In particular, the carpet on the second floor is comprised of three pieces and three stickers. The only way to not have gaps in the carpet is to lay the pieces and then place the stickers over them ignoring where the actual pieces begin and end. The instructions would have you do the opposite, but this gives you brown gaps in the image which looks stupid. From an aesthetic standpoint, that one part is my biggest peeve with the set.

The rest of the interior is plenty fun to both build and look at. In particular are the little model trains which consist of a clever build on their own. They don’t really resemble a train until completed which leads to a “Eureka!” moment. Unfortunately, there isn’t a lot to do with the figures once done. You can cram one behind the counter and there’s a bench and chair, but that’s about it. Both seats also lack pegs so the characters just rest on them and will flail around if you move the set. The finished station also surprised me with its size. While it is certainly small compared to the castle, it stands just over a foot in height when done. Add those flagpoles and the set ends up reaching roughly 16″. This has created some challenge for me as the places in my home I had earmarked for this thing have proven too small. Right now it’s on a hutch, but I think I may end up making some shelves and displaying it that way.

Ultimately, I think this is a set that will please Disney fans who purchase it. My initial criticism of the price of the set still stands and had I purchased this at that MSRP I probably would be less enthused by it. As a $230 set, it’s far more palatable. It’s more of a display piece than toy as the station doesn’t do much or present many opportunities for play. It looks the part though and will bring as much class to your display as any Lego can. The train though is about as fun as any other toy train. My kids ask to play with it and I oblige despite the anxiety that creates. If I didn’t already have a toy monorail to ring my Christmas tree I’d probably be in the market for more track to do the same with this.

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Mickey pondering if we may see a Disney World version someday.

This set also naturally lends me to wonder what’s next for Lego and Disney. Considering all of the time that elapsed between the castle and this set, I am certainly not holding my breath or even crafting any expectations on what’s to come. The existence of this probably makes some hope for a Disney World version, but I don’t see Lego double-dipping on trains, but it probably would be cost-effective for the company so never say never. I do wonder if Lego has any appetite for a monorail set, but that doesn’t have an obvious companion like the train station to go with it as the monorail platforms are fairly boring, aside from the ones attached to hotels. Does Lego want to create a replica of Disney’s Contemporary Resort? Probably not. I’ll continue to hold out hope for fun, attraction-based, sets. My ultimate dream would be Spaceship Earth, but numerous others would be fun as well. If this is it though, that won’t leave me too defeated. Just at least give me a Pluto, Lego! He’s such a good boy and sorely missed.

 


Dec. 24 – Silly Symphony – “The Night Before Christmas”

night before poster

Originally released December 9, 1933.

We have reached a day of great, holiday, release – Christmas Eve. And what better way to mark the occasion than with a holiday short titled The Night Before Christmas. A lot of cartoons have made use of this title, but today’s subject is the Silly Symphony short that falls under that heading. It felt right to tackle this one in the wake of the Merrie Melodies short we looked at a few days ago. Those two brands are forever linked by their similar titles and the competition that existed at the time between the Walt Disney Studios and Warner Bros. Studios, a competition that still exists today.

The Silly Symphony collection was essentially Walt Disney Production’s play area. The Mickey Mouse shorts the studio was famous for were more straight-forward, while the Silly Symphony shorts could be just as narratively tight or could be more experimental in nature. In some respects, the shorts were a testing ground for techniques the studio would employ for its feature-length theatrical productions, like the multi-plane camera used in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Technicolor debuted here as well before making the jump to Mickey Mouse and even the studio’s greatest creation, Donald Duck, debuted in a Silly Symphony short (I may be a touch biased there). The shorts could be funny, whimsical, scary, whatever they needed to be. And sure, a bunch of them did just end up being characters largely dancing to some music, but there was also some great stuff in there.

night before title card

Note the top, in case you forgot who the real star is.

This short, The Night Before Christmas, is the 1933 sequel to the 1932 short Santa’s Workshop. In that cartoon, we watched Santa and his elves prepare for Christmas at the North Pole and it ends with the big guy saying “goodbye” to his loyal workers and heading off to deliver the presents. Well, this one is going to show us Santa on his journey that night through at least one house. This one was directed by Wilfred Jackson with Dick Huemer getting the credit for the animation. And as you would expect, it’s an adaptation of the famous poem A Visit from St. Nicholas by Clement Clark Moore. And since this is a 1933 short, it’s in Technicolor unlike the Merrie Melodies short we looked at earlier.

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The cozy confines for today’s short.

Like so many cartoons, this one also begins with a rendition of “Silent Night” as the title card is shown. Lest we forget who the real star is, this is credited as Mickey Mouse presents…, in case you had no idea what Walt Disney Productions was famous for. After the title card is removed the cartoon begins. A narrator is singing the poem from which this short takes its name. Leigh Harline is credited with the music on this short, but I do not know who the vocalist is that’s singing the song. The visuals show us a cozy home covered with snow. Everything is quiet, as the poem demands, and the home’s children are snug in a rather large bed – all 8 of them.

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That was a close one, boys.

The vocals end with the sound of sleigh bells as we see Santa flying high overhead with his team of eight not-so-tiny reindeer out in front single-file. They barely fit onto the roof of the house, which is maybe why Santa’s reindeer are often in a two-across formation, but the lead reindeer is able to keep from sliding off and Santa seems ignorant to the near miss. He climbs out of the sleigh and makes his way down the chimney. He’s a fairly large Santa and certainly a round one. He has a permanent smile affixed to his face and he is prone to frequent bouts of laughter. He’s not exactly the quiet kind of Santa.

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Fire just loves Santa’s ass.

When he emerges from the chimney he’s all covered in soot, but doesn’t seem to mind. Somewhat surprising for a 1930’s short, his sootiness isn’t in the form of a blackface gag which is nice to see. He shakes the soot off and seems to notice the hot coals in the fireplace, a near miss for Santa’s rump. When he turns his back on the hot coals they grow into tall flames which reach out and caress Santa on the bum. He jumps and spins around waving a finger at the fire. He then laughs and the flames go out making me wonder if he has this sort of playful relationship with all of the fireplaces he’ll visit this evening.

mickey silly cameo

There’s something familiar about that toy in front, and something odd about that sheep one.

Santa then gets to work. He first pulls out a modest tree from his sack which isn’t quite as tall as he is. He opens it like an umbrella and places it on the floor. He then pulls out a toy bugle and uses it to summon the toys to work. A marching band comprised of toy clowns emerge first from the sack as they lead the rest of the toys which soon includes dolls and even a toy Mickey Mouse riding on a scooter. The animation with Mickey repeats several times almost as if they wanted to make sure everyone noticed the rather hard to miss cameo. One toy squeezing a sheep is a bit curious looking. I don’t want to say it’s definitely blackface, but it’s close.

The toys then begin decorating the tree which includes some lit candles (there must have been countless Christmas tree related fires over the years). My favorite gag, if you can call it that, would be the team of toy soldiers firing ornaments out of a toy canon at the tree. A plane flies around leaving a trail of garland on the tree while toy firemen coat the tree with artificial snow.

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Santa pretty much thinks anything he does is hilarious.

While the toys take care of what is apparently their job, Santa starts filling stockings. Some are a bit shabby looking, but all have a little note in them detailing what the kid wants for Christmas. One stocking is actually a diaper, which Santa puts a doll in. Another appears to be three socks stitched together which is the perfect size for a baseball bat, which forces a laugh out of Santa. When he comes to one with a hole in the toe, he improvises by first sticking an umbrella in it upside down and then dumps a bunch of toys into it laughing all the while.

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That’s a mighty fine tree there, toys.

Horns sound to apparently announce that the tree has been decorated. All that is left is for a toy zeppelin to fly to the top with the star-shaped tree topper. Once it’s placed where it belongs a small cheer goes up and the clown band starts playing “Jingle Bells.” The other toys dance merrily while Santa gets in on the act via a toy piano. If you’re thinking this must be noisy as hell, then you would be right. Soon, the kids perk up due to all of the commotion, and a patch on the comforter even flips open to reveal a ninth kid had been sleeping underneath it. The kids race to the top of the stairs for a look, with our ninth kid apparently the focal point as he’s the straggler and the seat of his pajamas is unbuttoned revealing his naked bottom. As the kids look on, it’s this little guy who tries to hold back a sneeze, and fails, alerting Santa down below.

Santa hastily orders the toys back to their places. They all head for their spot under the tree with some toys returning to their packaging. As the kids descend the stairs, Santa squeezes himself into the fireplace with his empty sack, places a finger beside his nose, and vanishes up the chimney.

junior blackface

And we almost made it to the end…

The kids then attack the tree as they all reach for the toys that stand out most to them. Our little straggler, who is apparently named Junior, is the only one who apparently noticed a disturbance by the fire place and he heads for that first. Looking up the chimney, a blast of soot falls on his face and there we have it – a blackface gag (sigh). Our attention is soon directed to an unopened present under the tree addressed to Junior and he heads over and opens it. Inside is a little, black, Scottish Terrier which licks the soot off of his face. All of the kids then run to the window when they hear the sound of sleigh bells and they watch as Santa and his team of reindeer fly off into the creepiest looking moon I’ve ever seen. It has an unpleasant grin, and this is basically the same shot that ended the previous short, Santa’s Workshop. The vocalist from earlier returns as well to sing the final stanza of the poem with the short ending on the now famous line “Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!”

junior and dog

Having an adorable puppy erase the blackface is probably the best outcome we could have asked for.

The Night Before Christmas is a fairly tame piece of animation, that one instance of blackface excluded. It has a simple premise and follows the Silly Symphony formula of showing a bunch of characters acting out a mundane process, but with a touch of fantasy. There’s no spoken dialogue in this one, aside from the narration of the poem, as Santa just laughs a bunch and never actually says a word to the reindeer or the toys. He doesn’t even get to belt out that closing line. The kids also don’t really say anything, they just cheer or make a noise of surprise or delight. I like that they never actually see Santa until they get to the window, as even from atop the stairs they couldn’t see anything since the room Santa was in is blocked by a door.

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I expected an ending in which Santa flies in front of the moon. What I did not expect was for that moon to wear a maniacal grin.

What this short does have some fun with is merely the process Santa goes through at each house. It’s a bit surprising to see so many toys bestowed upon these children since this was released during The Great Depression. I suppose we get some sense of that via the shabby stockings and the fact that all of the kids share a single bed. Santa bringing the tree and decorating seems to be a relic of the old days. I know my dad’s family never decorated their tree, that was Santa’s job, though I think they at least put it up first. I think some families did decorate it together on Christmas Eve before going to bed, as I’m sure some probably do that now. I think for many homes though the customary thing to do now is to get a tree and then decorate it as soon as possible. The only matter up for debate is how soon is too soon. I like getting as much visual enjoyment as possible from a tree so I’m more of the sooner the better camp. However, I have my limits. My neighbors literally put their tree (an artificial one) up the weekend after Halloween which is something I thought only happened in Bob’s Burgers. If you want my advice, even though it’s pretty useless advice coming on Christmas Eve, I say cut down your own tree if you can that way you can put it up in early December and it will still be relatively fresh come the end of the month. Those lot trees are often cut in October which is why they often don’t last very long. And if you do have a tree, don’t put lit candles on it or leave it plugged in when you’re not home or asleep. Lets avoid those Christmas tree fires, everyone.

If you want to check out this short this year then it would be rather helpful to have the collection of Silly Symphony shorts, More Silly Symphonies, which was released in 2006 as part of the Walt Disney Treasures line. It’s since gone out of print, and as of this writing it wasn’t on Disney+ and if you’re reading that then it wasn’t added before this went up, which is a shame, but that blackface gag could be to blame. There’s still hope though as Disney is not very protective of these shorts so if you just punch it into your preferred search engine you’ll probably find it no problem. And if you can’t, maybe that too is a bit of a good thing as it likely means Disney is prepping this for a future release on Disney+ or via some other method. We’re still waiting on an HD release of all of the classic shorts, so come on Disney, what are you waiting for? Needless to say, have a Merry Christmas Eve and hopefully you can find some time to check back tomorrow for the final entry in this year’s edition of The Christmas Spot.


24 Hours of Disney+

disney+_welcome.jpgIt’s a bit funny to me what we get excited for in our modern era. If you had told me when I was a kid that people would be geeking out over new phones, subscriptions, and chicken sandwiches I probably would have wanted time to slow down even more than I already did. That’s where we are though and on November 12, 2019 the world paused for Disney+, the first dedicated streaming service from the massively popular (and just plain massive) Walt Disney Corporation.

We’re now well into the streaming era for entertainment consumption. The old days of Netflix sending a DVD in the mail feels like the stone age by comparison. Netflix helped push us into this new frontier, with an assist from rapidly rising cable costs and a government-sanctioned monopoly, and the concept of chord-cutting is no longer a radical one as more and more streaming platforms keep coming. Netflix was initially just a means to an end as it licensed content people wanted and then delivered it to them. It’s no surprise that the content producers were taking notice and weighing the pros and cons of licensing out its media to a third party versus just creating the infrastructure to deliver it themselves. Netflix was quick to notice as it got into the content producing business and now has a whole bunch of shows and movies under its umbrella as it battles with other providers for non-Netflix content. Meanwhile, the biggest media creators are striking out on their own.

Disney is no stranger to production and delivery. Gamers will recall when Disney decided to stop licensing its characters for video games instead taking things in-house to create its own product. Eventually, game production grew too costly and Disney shuttered its studios to go back to licensing. With a streaming platform, costs are more fixed and Disney can charge whatever it wants to consumers. Some might question why Disney decided to create Disney+ since it already had a controlling stake in Hulu, but it’s all about branding. Disney+ is now the home for all things Disney. Those 20th Century Fox productions not named Star Wars can go to Hulu. Oh, and don’t forget they also own ESPN which has its own streaming platform as well. Yeah, there really are a lot of options out there now.

Since this is hardly uncharted territory, consumers have expectations of what a streaming platform should look like and how it should function. Disney was able to basically just do what Netflix did before it and give it a new coat of paint. Disney+ is a very boring interface, though hardly ugly, as it just lays everything in front of the user in a familiar form. Users can browse by genre, media type, character, brand, and so on. Everything is accompanied by a thumbnail image and a larger splash image meant to attract eyes. There are trailers for some films and new series and a summary of the program as well.

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Disney+ means access to classic movies and new shows, but it also means some older shows that never got the DVD treatment are finally viewable in their entirety.

Even though this is all well-trod territory, Disney+ still has a few odd quirks or missing features. For one, it’s not obvious what the runtime is for anything you’re looking at or considering. It’s not a big deal for old television shows which are fairly standard, but I had no idea how long any of the new programs were or some films. I had to start them and then pause them to see the counter displayed on the screen. The app also doesn’t remember where you left off with a given series. This is a standard feature on other platforms and it’s puzzling to see it not present here. Basically, it’s on you to remember how many episodes of a show you just watched and where to go next. You’re probably thinking that’s not a particularly difficult thing to remember, but it’s a lot trickier to remember where you kids left off watching a show you don’t care about. And they typically have no idea until the episode starts forcing you to embark on a series of trial and error until you get it right.

Those are small quirks that I expect will be remedied fairly soon. Others may take longer. By far, the biggest issue consumers encountered on launch day was performance-related issues. Slow buffering, shows disappearing, or the app completely crashing were frequently cited problems across social media. That was to be expected given that Disney didn’t allow users to preload the app before launch and is also giving curious consumers the option to partake in a free trial. Demand was going to be high, though that doesn’t absolve Disney as the company should have been prepared for this and able to address it quickly. Shows disappearing may have been part of that corrective action just to shrink the library temporarily. I saw quite a few complaints from users that Gargoyles wasn’t available for a period of time, though I didn’t encounter this. I did view the new documentary Imagineering and then found it unavailable after viewing when I went to go back and add it to my watch list. Aside from that though, I was actually rather fortunate to not encounter many issues. When I first logged in and got going around 6:30 AM EST I found the app slow to navigate. By 7:30, it was taking so long I gave up, but I was also heading out to work. My wife dropped our kid off at school shortly after and then resumed streaming with no issues. It was on basically all day with no further issues in my household.

I did a little research on social media and asked folks what they went to first upon signing up yesterday and got a variety of responses. A lot of folks were eager to view shows from their childhood, mainly those from the beloved Disney Afternoon. Some were also excited to check out the old Marvel cartoons like X-Men and Spider-Man. Many were eager to check out the Disney+ original The Mandalorian, a live-action series set in the Star Wars universe. There was certainly a lot of enthusiasm for the app, and most respondents had a list of things they wanted to check-out on day one.

img_0566Perhaps not surprising, the most frequent response I received was for The Simpsons. Disney made a pretty big deal about having 30 seasons worth of The Simpsons on Disney+ on day one. Unfortunately, the biggest complaint outside of technical problems from users was directed at The Simpsons. You may recall, when FXX started airing “Every Simpsons Ever” a few years ago they made the controversial call to crop the image on the seasons shot in 4:3 and adapt them for 16:9. The accompanying app did the same much to the annoyance of longtime fans. Eventually, the app was corrected and both versions were able to stream and they even added commentary tracks. As a result, fans expected the same on Disney+ and there were reports that the early seasons would be presented in the correct aspect ratio. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case. Not having the commentary is not a surprise, but the 16:9 presentation is horrid. If this were the first time those old seasons were being made available it would be temporarily excusable, as it was with FXX, but in 2019 it most certainly is not. I think Disney will correct this, but it’s something the company needs to get out in front of.

As for me, I have had a pretty good 24 hours at this point with Disney+. My first view was for The New Adventures of Winnie the Pooh. As it was 6:30 in the morning and my kids were up, it felt like a good way to start the day. My kids watched a lot of Disney Afternoon content during the day as well as some movies they’re more than familiar with. In the evening, I checked in on some of my own personal favorite cartoons and also was able to check out The Legend of the Three Caballeros, the previously UK only show starring Donald Duck (and it was great). When the kids went to bed, my wife and I checked out The Mandalorian as it easily is the most hyped original program on the platform right now. The production values are high, and while the story and character so far seem conventional and even cliché, it was entertaining enough that I’ll continue to check it out as episodes are added. We also watched the first episode of the Imagineering docuseries which focuses on the creation of Disneyland and goes up to the death of Walt and early concepts for Disney World. It was very familiar territory for me, but still enjoyable. I’m probably looking forward to episode two of that series more than I am for The Mandalorian.

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We had to wait over a year, but now US audiences can finally (legally) view Legend of the Three Caballeros.

There is some other original content I intend to check out, in time. Lady and the Tramp is one of my favorite films from Disney so I feel obligated to at least give the live-action version a chance. I have low expectations, as it’s not something that needs to exist, but it’s there. There is also a collection of classic Mickey Mouse shorts which have been upconverted to HD that I’d like to see. I’m pretty sure they’re the same as what was present on the Blu Ray compilation released last year for Mickey’s 90th, but I passed on that set (since I have all of the DVDs) and I’d like to see how the conversion came out. I hope more classic shorts will be added, though I doubt that’s a priority for Disney right now. Hopefully we at least get the Christmas ones next month.

Disney+ launched with a few stumbles, but the framework is there for a successful existence. More importantly, Disney is rich in content and should have no issues getting people hooked at least in the short term. Right now, the service is cheap compared to Netflix and if you’re part of a Disney family like I am then you’re probably locked in for the next three years. Disney has been systematically pulling content from cable and streaming providers so my children’s addiction to Disney content will definitely keep Disney+ in my house for awhile. What will spur growth for Disney will be how the original content turns out. The platform is off to a good start, but it might take more to convince people adverse to multiple streaming subscriptions to drop Netflix in favor of Disney+. Disney will also have to make the difficult choice over what it releases on its cable channel versus what it reserves for Disney+. And how will competitors, and cable, respond? Disney+ is undercutting Netflix by quite a lot and I’m curious if Netflix will respond. I suspect it will wait it out at least a year to see if and when Disney ups the monthly rate, but if it starts losing subscribers it may have to do something about it. This is our new reality though and it feels like, if anything, the biggest casualty of all of this may be cable itself.


Lego Mini Figures – Disney Series 2

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Series 2 gives us more Aladdin which probably isn’t a surprise considering the new movie coming out.

I feel like I need to take credit for the existence of this wave of Disney Mini Figures. It wasn’t that long ago I wondered why the flood gates never opened following the 2016 release of Cinderella’s Castle from Walt Disney World and the wave of mini figures that preceded it. Just days after that post Lego announced a new set based on Steamboat Willie was incoming. Then just days after that a second wave of mini figures based on Disney properties was announced! My timing could not have been better.

Obviously, I am joking about the credit thing because these were in the works for months, if not years, before being announced. I just ended up having extremely good timing where Disney and Lego are concerned. When that Steamboat Willie set was released I snatched it up and shared my thoughts here on the set as a whole. Now I’ve tracked down the entirety of the mini figures that followed in May and I’m ready to tell you all about them.

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I’ve got these, and other Disney objects, displayed all over my house.

Series 2 for the Disney brand of Lego mini figures largely went as expected. Several characters complement the characters from series 1 while others are just logical inclusions based on their level of popularity. There are 18 figures in total, two of which are variants of previously released figures. Each comes in a blind bag, but those willing to stand around in-store feeling up bags should be able to reasonably ascertain who’s who without purchasing doubles of any character. Below, I’ll talk about things to look for when hunting as I found this series pretty easy. The only way you’ll end up with doubles is if you get impatient, which is easy to do as no one is 100% comfortable feeling-up bags of toys in a store while strangers look on. You just have to suck it up and feel like a dork for a little while. Each figure retails for 3.99 in most places, but specialty shops may tack on a buck or two and each figures comes with at least one accessory.

1928 Mickey and Minnie Mouse

So these two should look familiar. These are the same figures included in the Steamboat Willie set. It’s not at all surprising to see Lego save a couple of bucks by doubling-up here, and for those not interested in that set at least they can get a Minnie and Mickey this way. The only difference between the two is that these versions use a black, white, and gray color scheme while the Steamboat Willie figures utilized silver instead of gray to make them seem extra special. I’m a bit of a purist when it comes to my toys so I actually prefer this color scheme. Mickey and Minnie both feature a removable hat affixed by a peg with Minnie even coming with an extra in case one gets lost. Mickey sports his iconic steering wheel while Minnie gets a buoy. It’s a pretty lackluster accessory for Minnie as this is also Lego’s go-to piece when creating a toilet seat. Why not give her the ukulele or bird? These two are super easy to find though because of their unique head sculpts. And distinguishing between Mickey and Minnie is also simple given that giant steering wheel. I came across many in my search so they may even be packed slightly higher than other characters, or it could be that many people are leaving them behind. I kind of wish I had extras of the series 1 Mickey so I could get extras of these ones to make a classic, colored, Mickey by combing the black and white head with the colored body.

Huey

Coming in from the Disney Afternoon is Huey, the red-clad nephew of Donald Duck and great nephew to Scrooge McDuck. Huey is based on his classic look and the one most commonly associated with the original DuckTales from the 80s. He uses Lego’s kid legs which are immovable, has the “duck butt” debuted with Donald and Daisy, and removable cap. His accessories include the Junior Woodchuck’s Guide Book and a compass. When trying to find him in a blind bag, look for the book which comes in two pieces and is pretty distinct. Huey looks pretty great and the head sculpt is quite nice. Mostly, I am delighted to see some love for the Disney Afternoon. And naturally, you can’t have Huey without his brothers…

Dewey

Dewey (and Louie) is exactly the same as Huey only the red parts are blue. It’s another way for Lego to save some money and it makes sense as the triplets are identical in the source material (maybe this is why Lego decided on 80s DuckTales instead of the new one). The only other thing differentiating Dewey from Huey is his slingshot accessories. He comes with two, and it’s what you need to look for when feeling up a bag. It may be a small piece, but it’s actually pretty distinct even through a bag.

Louie

The last of the nephews and the one clad in green. I probably should have just put all three together, but oh well. He’s the exact same as his brothers, only he comes with two flashlights. They utilize the lightsaber hilt from Lego’s Star Wars sets and a stud for the light portion. Again, pretty easy to figure out as once you’ve identified that you’ve got one of the duck nephews you just need to find either a stud or the handle as Huey and Dewey do not have a similar piece.

Scrooge McDuck

My personal favorite of this wave is Scrooge himself. Based on his DuckTales look, he’s sporting his blue coat and top hat while also featuring a cane and his number one dime (plus an extra cane for good measure). His head sculpt looks great as it features his glasses molded right onto his bill. They’re colored instead of transparent, but look fine. His cane is missing a handle though, and the red stripe on his hat is molded on, but not painted. As a result, he could have been better, but still looks pretty rad to me. When hunting for Scrooge (who seems to be popular and a touch harder to find as a result) you can safely just key-in on the two walking sticks. Surprisingly, he’s the only figure with a perfectly straight, round, piece like that. If you want further assurance, his hat is also pretty easy to find and he’ll have the duck butt piece as well.

Chip and Dale

The mischievous duo of Chip and Dale make their Lego debut. While they’re obviously not in scale with the other characters, I still consider it a positive to receive such an iconic and classic pair. Chip and Dale utilize the better kid legs which are able to move like conventional mini figure legs as well as unique sculpted heads like the other mascot characters. The only way to distinguish between the two is their accessories. Chip comes with an acorn that’s disassembled. Through a bag it just feels like little, tiny, pieces. Dale, on the other hand, comes with a sack (a nut sack?) that’s pretty distinct and should be a reliable way to separate the two rodents. Lego also took some creative license with the pair and made Dale lighter in color. I’m not sure if this is a popular occurrence in the merchandise world, but I had not encountered it before. Again, purist here, so I’d prefer the two look the same, but it’s not a big deal. I do wish they had a tail piece instead of a printed one on their back. Overall though, they look plenty cute and the designs didn’t suffer in the transfer to 3D.

Elsa

The first series of Disney mini figures surprisingly avoided the princess characters, but this one did not. And how could Lego ignore the incredible popularity of Frozen, especially with a sequel coming later this year? Elsa comes clad in her classic ice blue dress. She has a cape, which I suppose is supposed to be the transparent parts of her dress, but just looks like a cape here. It’s a dark blue and covered in printed snowflakes. She also has an oversized snow flake, a braided hair piece that takes her hair over one shoulder, and a head piece with two facial expressions: a smile and a winking smile. Her base is a trapezoid like piece to account for her robes. Maleficent utilized a similar piece in series 1, but the difference here is that there’s some slight molding on the front to provide a hint of legs underneath – a nice touch. It’s that base that makes it easy to narrow down the other figures when looking for them as she shares that piece with Anna and Jafar. To further separate her from her sister just look for the snowflake. It may be a bit of a dumb accessory, but it does make it easy to find Elsa. Plus, she really didn’t have anything else in the film going for her. The cape looks silly, but the overall likeness is fine and sure to please your daughter (it did mine).

Anna

Anna comes sporting her traditional look when she sets out to find her sister. Her body sculpt is the same as Elsa’s except her hair features two braids instead of one. She even has a smirking face and winking face as well on her head piece. Her cape looks much better by virtue of it being pretty simple making her my preferred Frozen sister. Her accessory is also a bit more fun, though also not tremendously important to her character as it’s just a lantern. It’s a unique piece though making it easy to find Anna in a blind bag. Once you found the leg base piece, just look for the lantern and the cylinder that goes inside of it.

Jafar

Series 1 of the Disney mini figures included Aladdin and the Genie, so why not Jafar in series 2? We need more bad guys, so the sorcerer is welcomed. He has his standard look and comes with his large serpent-topped staff, the piece to look for when hunting. He also has a cape, shoulder pads, and his rather large hat. His head only features one expression, but it’s not like Jafar needs anything aside from his scowl. Characters with a lot of distinct characteristics in their clothing seem to work best, and it’s why Jafar is one of the best figures in this series. Like Anna and Elsa, he also uses the robed base and the abundance of accessories make him a cinch to figure out. The only thing missing is a little parrot stand-in for Iago.

Jasmine

Another princess, this one also pairs nicely with Aladdin. Jasmine is a conventional figure with all of her clothing being printed on. The sides of her body are blue which makes her look rather weird at certain angles, but this is how Lego does this sort of thing to make its figures actually look less blocky. She comes with a bird as seemingly all Disney princesses are capable of conversing with animals. It’s not a particularly exciting accessory, but I guess giving her a tiger would have been a touch excessive. When on the hunt for Jasmine you basically have to use process of elimination as her figure is rather plain. From there, look for the hair which is in a long braid and is rather soft and pretty easy to locate.

Hades

Arguably the easiest one to figure out when feeling-up the bags is Hades. That’s due to his unique leg-piece which is similar to Ursula’s from series 1. It’s molded to feature his robes which have a life of their own in the film he’s from. And if for some reason you can’t locate it, the little flames are also pretty easy to fine. Hades has a great look and the flames on his head are actually glued on. He’s another welcomed bad guy, and while I’ve never been a fan of Hercules, I’ve always liked Hades in spite of his detestable voice actor. He’s one of the better looking figures in this set as the bad guys really stand out.

Hercules

Since we got Hades, it’s no surprise to see Hercules in this wave as well. He’s a traditional mini figure who features two expressions, two swords, a shield, cape, and hair piece. The circular shield is pretty easy to fine, and the two swords stand out as well. I already mentioned I’m not much of a fan of the source material here, but for what it’s worth Hercules looks pretty good. He’d be hard to mess up.

Sally

Coming in from the always popular Nightmare Before Christmas is that lovable scarecrow Sally. Sally is another conventional mini figure with no additions aside from her hair. And it’s that hair that makes her a dead giveaway when searching through bags as it’s huge and spoon-shaped. Which is good because her little flower accessories, which have to be assembled, are somewhat nondescript when on the hunt. Otherwise, her features are achieved entirely via screen-printing as Lego opted not to give her any cloth pieces, which feels like a mistake as her model in the film has such lovely textures that this figure just can’t capture. She’s one of my least favorites as I find this depiction a little boring.

Jack Skellington

Naturally, if you’re going to include Sally then you need to include Jack. He’s able to “wow” more than Sally by virtue of his easily translatable look and additional pieces. He has his bat-like bowtie and cloth suit tails. His accessory is a Christmas gift, I believe the one that houses the shrunken head in the film, only this time it’s filled with little circular snowflakes. The cubed box is the item to look for when figure hunting and should stick out like a sore thumb. Jack’s face looks great and overall it’s hard to find fault with this one. Lego could have gone with a unique head piece, but I think the standard one works just fine for the character. After all, part of the charm is seeing the characters converted into the Lego style.

Edna Mode

Serving as a compliment to last summer’s Incredibles 2 Lego sets is this version of Edna Mode. A previous one was available, but it was rather lackluster. This one uses the Lego child body and an oversized hair piece that features Edna’s glasses to really bring her look alive. She also comes with a pair of coffee mugs and what I assume is a purse. By virtue of the fact that she shares a base with the nephews, you’ll want to try and find that hair piece. It’s bowl-shaped and quite deep so you shouldn’t worry about confusing it for one of the caps included with the duck boys. Mostly, use process of elimination as the duck boy heads are easy to distinguish and the duck butt is as well. You shouldn’t worry about confusing her with the chipmunks as their legs can move and it’s rather easy to actually move them through the bag without fear of tearing it open. I’m not much of a fan of the Incredibles or this character, but she looks good for what Lego is shooting for.

Frozone

Lastly, we have Frozone. It was surprising to see him excluded from the Lego sets from last year, but I guess that’s because they were saving him for this wave. Frozone comes with two ice pieces that his hands can grip as well as a saucer meant to serve as one of his ice sleds, I suppose. That saucer is what will make him easy to find as it’s large and flat. Lego opted to screen print his cowl on rather than make it a separate piece and it works considering how tight his costume is supposed to fit. The little sled piece makes him fun to pose, and overall he’s a logical inclusion that looks great.

img_4021And that concludes series 2. Will there be a series 3? I sure hope so as Lego still owes us a Goofy. How he managed to avoid inclusion in this wave is beyond me since he really should have been in the first with the other Disney originals. Aside from him, Pluto would be wanted even if he was depicted as a mascot rather than a four-legged dog (maybe make him a unique figure for another Disney park set?!) and Lego has yet to tackle any of the inhabitants of the Hundred Acre Woods. The Disney Afternoon is also teeming with potential figures, the most-wanted likely being Darkwing Duck. And if Lego insists on reusing its Mickey head well there’s a whole bunch of other outfits to explore. In short, a wave 3 would be easy to fill out and is probably likely to sell as well as any other series of mini figures, if not better, so hopefully it happens. I’m not ready for it to end.


Lego 21317 – Steamboat Willie

img_3808It was just over a week ago I made a post wondering what happened to the Lego/Disney relationship. Sure, there have been some Duplo sets and the Lego Friends brand has featured some princess characters, but nothing major followed the 2016 release of mini figures and Cinderella’s Castle (based on the structure in Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom). At the time, I thought those releases were just a start of things to come, but Lego has been content to just stick with movie tie-in sets for Disney owned properties like Avengers and The Incredibles.

Last year presented an opportunity for something special. On November 18, 2018 Disney celebrated 90 years of Mickey Mouse dating back to the release of his official debut cartoon Steamboat Willie (insert obligatory acknowledgement that the first Mickey cartoon was actually Plane Crazy). Steamboat Willie seemed like an obvious release for Lego given the occasion and the fact that it would be a fairly simple set:  a steamboat and re-releases of Mickey and Minnie. When November came and went without such a set, I was actually surprised and just assumed that Lego didn’t see the value in coordinating a release with Mickey’s 90th.

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The rear of the box.

Apparently, it was just an issue of timing. For whatever reason, Lego held off until April of 2019 to properly celebrate the 90th birthday of Mickey and Minnie as Steamboat Willie is now in brick form. And to top it off, Lego even announced a second wave of mini figures to follow in May (still no Goofy or Pluto though). Perhaps it was just an issue of not getting the legal side of things straightened out, not just with Disney, but also with the creator of the set, Máté Szabó. This one originated as a Lego Idea, meaning a fan created it and uploaded it to Lego’s creator website where other fans could choose to back it or not (there’s no monetary component for backers like there is with a crowd-funding site, it’s just a simple vote of support) and when it hit the required amount of votes it then went to Lego for final approval. This is how many sets have made it to retail and for Lego (this one is numbered #024, apparently it’s supposed to be #025 though) it’s practically free development as they’re under no obligation to produce anything, no matter how many votes it gets.

Steamboat Willie was likely an easy approval for the company since it’s a relatively modest set with a recognizable character owned by a company that Lego regularly does business with. It may have arrived a few months late, but I suppose that’s better than not arriving at all. And if one were to create a set celebrating 90 years of Mickey Mouse, is there really a set more appropriate than a recreation of the S.S. Willie?

There’s a good chance that Steamboat Willie is no one’s favorite Mickey Mouse short. It’s basically a show-off piece for 1928 for how sound could be integrated into a cartoon. That’s why a large section of the sub 8 minute runtime is just Minnie and Mickey playing music with farm animals aboard the ship. It’s not without its charms though and it’s probably almost shocking for new viewers to see Mickey chuck a potato at an obnoxious parrot since he’s so squeaky-clean by today’s standards.

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Sadly, there are no included potatoes for Mickey to hurl at the bird.

The classic steamboat makes for a nice visual when completed. It utilizes colored bricks in the construction, but once completed they’re all hidden preserving the black, white, and gray look. Some silver accents are used in the lettering which is a nice touch. It probably goes without saying, but this isn’t meant to actually float on water which is why it’s actually on wheels. As the set is pushed along a hard surface, the dual paddles spin and the smokestacks move up and done as they do in the cartoon. The mechanism for the smokestacks is essentially free-floating atop the axles so it’s not always a smooth motion and for mine the rear stack moves while the forward one does not. If I messed around with it I could probably get it to function better, but it’s not something I’m all that concerned with.

The build is simple and fairly painless. About the only thing I found annoying was clipping on the rear and the bow of the ship as it was hard to do without disturbing other pieces already in place. The paddles also weren’t a ton of fun, especially for someone like me recovering from a recnet hand injury. Still, it wasn’t a long build which is to be expected of a set with only 751 pieces in it. I spread it out over three nights as my 4-year-old likes to “help,” but I’d guess I could have put it together in just a couple of hours if I was prioritizing speed, though I often take a leisurely approach to Lego sets. It’s the journey, not the destination.

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The crane adds a bit of fun to the set.

The set features a working crane on the rear of the ship which also includes actual black thread. Threading it is not the most fun and takes me back to Home Ec class, but it’s hard to imagine it working much better if done differently. The crane can pick up blocks and there is a specified potato bin for just that, harkening back to the closing scene of the short. Other necessities include the bell and the trio of whistles atop the boat. Some of the noise-making equipment is present as well including a mallet, bucket, and a pair of pans clipped to the exterior of the cabin. The short includes many animals, but the only one included here is the parrot, who looks more like a standard bird. The goat does get a shout-out via Minnie’s sheet music brick which includes a graphic of the happy goat, a nice tough added by Lego graphic designer Crystal Bam Fontan.

Two mini figures are included with the set, and it’s probably no surprise to find out the figures are Mickey and Minnie. They’re both done in black, white, and silver to make them seem a touch “special.” Standard black and white versions are to follow in the mini figure wave in May. These are basically repaints of the other Mickey and Minnie figures from a few years ago only now Mickey has a captain’s hat that fits into a peg hole on his head and Minnie has her classic hat in place of a bow. Minnie does not feature her top from the short and her skirt is polka-dotted instead of plain. She comes with a ukulele which is a fun little piece that she’s able to hold with relative ease. There’s also a little Mickey head backdrop/platform included. It’s a simple and elegant touch and it can be propped up or placed flat on a surface for the characters to stand on.

This is a nice set, but this is also the part where we discuss what’s missing. The general look of the ship is preserved, though the construction cheats a bit. There’s no access for the cabin, both the lower and upper portions. No stairs, and the doors are intentionally blocked as the interior of the set was needed to house the guts of the smokestack mechanism. Mickey can fit into the bridge with the steering wheel, but it’s not easy and you’re better off removing the top first if you want to make him grip the wheel. Perhaps a hinged-top should have been included, but maybe that didn’t look right. I’m also a little disappointed there’s no Pete included, since we haven’t received a Pete figure yet. And like Minnie and Mickey, they could have slotted a repaint of him into the upcoming mini figure wave. I’m guessing he’s not here because the set wanted to celebrate Mickey and Minnie, but damnit, Pete has feelings to!

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The past meeting the present.

At a suggested retail price of $90, Steamboat Willie is a bit on the pricey side given the size of the set. Some extra cost is to be expected with anything Disney-related and I think the price is also meant to reflect that this is more of an adult, collector, piece than a toy. Sure, a kid would have some fun pushing this boat along and playing with the crane for a bit, but some parts are a touch fragile and really there are better boat sets out there if play is what you’re after. I have a fairly extensive Disney collection, so this set was a no-brainer for me. The $90 price tag is probably about the limit of what I would want to spend on such a set, and I’m mostly okay with it. Hopefully there are more fun Disney-related sets for Lego to consider and I expect something equally fun for when Donald Duck hits 90. He is the superior character, after all.

 


Disney and Lego – What Happened?!

lego logoNearly three years ago The Lego Company released just its third ever line of mini figures based on a licensed property. Following two waves of figures based on The Simpsons, Lego turned to an old friend:  Disney. The Disney wave of mini figures contained 18 characters that covered some of Disney’s classic characters like Mickey and Donald, as well as film stars and even a few Pixar characters. A few months later, the wave was supplemented with the unveiling of the massive Cinderella’s Castle from Walt Disney World. The 4,000 piece set was pricey, but also quite impressive. It, along with the other figures, now adorn the mantle over my front door declaring that my home is indeed a Disney home.

I thought we were in for more Disney from Lego, but following that the Disney brand went away. Given that The Simpsons received two waves and two construction sets, I assumed Disney would get the same treatment. Instead, Lego pivoted to showcasing its movies with mini figure waves based on The Lego Movie and The Lego Batman Movie along with waves of generic figures. Disney is an expensive brand, I assume, with characters that necessitate unique sculpts so I’m sure it’s pricier than a lot of other properties Lego could focus on, but I bet it’s also a big seller. Those Disney blind-bagged figures disappeared pretty fast from shelves wherever I saw them. The only place that seemed to maintain stock around me was a local comic shop that sold them for almost twice as much as The Lego Store or big box retailers. As for the castle, I have no idea how that did. It retailed for $350, but a lot of Disney enthusiasts are used to paying top dollar for anything Disney related. It’s still available at Lego’s webstore, so either it didn’t sell out or it’s still being produced. Aside from that, the only other readily available Disney products from Lego include Duplo, Lego Junior, and Lego Friends sets mostly based around Cars, Mickey, and the various Disney princesses.

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Pricey yes, but I would wager most who bought Lego’s take on Cinderella’s Castle from The Magic Kingdom were pretty happy with the end result.

Maybe Disney doesn’t perform as well for Lego as other properties. It would seem the company mostly caters to adolescent males with lots of Marvel and Star Wars sets. It’s possible that crowd looks down on Disney as being too kiddie or something. Whatever the reason, the lack of product feels like a mixed opportunity. Many characters were left out of that initial wave of mini figures and there are so many more landmarks and attractions from Disney parks that would look lovely in Lego form.

In terms of mini figures, the biggest omission from the first wave was Goofy. Goofy is one of Disney’s oldest characters along with Mickey and Minnie. Daisy Duck was likely included in that initial wave as a complement to Donald (and to reuse some of the duck parts), though Disney fans would certainly find Goofy more deserving of inclusion. The Mickey, Donald, and Goofy trio anchored many a cartoon short, and he would have been the most obvious inclusion in a wave two. In addition to Goofy, Pluto went missing as well. He’d look a little odd if done like a bipedal character, but Lego should have found a way to get him in even if it meant just doing a dog figure and single packing him. For The Simpsons, Lego made the pets accessories which also would have sufficed.

duplo goofy

If you want a Lego version of Goofy this is presently your best, and only, choice.

Goofy and Pluto are the only classic characters who went missing, but there were plenty of opportunities for complementary figures to what was released in the first series. Jafar would have made sense given the presence of Aladdin and Genie, and Woody and Jessie made sense given Buzz and the Alien were also included. Want more of The Incredibles? Elastigirl and the kids could have been featured and even Frozone. More classic movies could have also been explored. How about Pinocchio with Jiminy Cricket and Gepetto with Figaro and Cleo? The Beast would be a fun inclusion as would a pairing of Mowgli and Baloo. If they really wanted to go deep, while also reusing some sculpts, the Three Caballeros would certainly get my attention and another easy redo would be another Mickey but in his sorcerer’s attire or in black and white. Lastly, how about some Disney Afternoon figures? Scrooge McDuck, Launchpad, Darkwing Duck, the nephews – all would be welcomed and Lego really could have saved a few bucks if it released three separate figures for the nephews that are essentially just repaints of each other.

A second wave of mini figures would be easy to fill. If anything, there would likely still be characters missing, but things would feel more complete than they are now. As for new sets, oh there would be many contenders, but the most obvious is Disneyland’s Sleeping Beauty Castle. It would have to be relatively in-scale with Cinderella’s Castle so it would be a smaller set, and thus probably cheaper. The same loving detail would need to go into it though making sure the front of the structure is essentially picture-perfect with rooms around the back stuffed with nods to classic films. Given what was present in Cinderella’s Castle, this one could naturally spotlight other films. Aurora’s room would make sense and maybe a workshop resembling Gepetto’s. A bedroom with little beds in a nod to the Dwarfs’ cottage would be cute, though seven beds would probably be impossible. The only challenge would be not doubling-up on some of the references in the prior set, but that’s a nice problem to have. Cinderella’s Castle came with five mini figures, one of which (Tinker Belle) was exclusive. For this set, repaints of Mickey, Donald, Minnie and Goofy could be included with the exclusive being a dragon to resemble Maleficent.

spaceship earth

Disney’s secret best park would make for an attractive Lego set.

The most obvious set after that would be Spaceship Earth from Epcot. A version of which appears on the Lego Ideas site, but it doesn’t go far enough as a display piece (though I’m still backing it regardless). The designer attempted to build the actual ride, and in order to do so, didn’t create an outside for the spaceship similar to Lego’s take on the Death Star. I think to do it right, half of the set should be covered and textured like the actual Spaceship Earth, with the other hemisphere being uncovered to show the ride. That side could even be relatively flat as it would likely be impossible to make the ride truly resemble the real one. As for an exclusive character to include? None other than Epcot’s original mascot Figment, of course.

Spaceship Earth would be ambitious and probably as expensive as Cinderella’s castle. There are plenty of smaller exhibits from Disney parks that are just as iconic and popular with fans. Space Mountain is certainly unique looking and has been a park fixture for decades now. Splash Mountain would also be unique and fun and the characters associated with the ride would make for obvious mini figure tie-ins. Less ambitious, but no less iconic, would be Dumbo The Flying Elephant. Such a set would be small and probably quite cheap compared with the larger sets, but because of that and its status, it would probably sell quite well. The Haunted Mansion would be another fun one and would present an opportunity to possibly create mini figures based on The Nightmare Before Christmas since those characters are associated with the ride and are a lot better than the ghosts from that awful Eddie Murphy movie based on the attraction.

The only issue with embarking on such a path for Lego would be the demand for more. If they started making multiple sets based on attractions from Disneyland or the Magic Kingdom then fans would probably want more to essentially create a Lego version of the treasured parks. Imagine a Lego Main Street USA with the train station or the fire house with Walt Disney’s apartment over it. Disney enthusiasts would probably devote large portions of their homes to their displays as they layout the main entrance to the park leading to one of the castles in the center. Toon Town, The Matterhorn, The Mad Tea Party – these would be all things fans would suddenly want and Lego would be free to try and meet the demand, or not. Demand is a great problem to have for a manufacturer.

lego toy story 4

Well, at least we have Toy Story 4 sets to look forward to.

Lego and Disney obviously have a relationship and it certainly seems like it’s still pretty strong. It’s possible that Disney is hard to deal with when it comes to their classic characters and attractions. Maybe Disney made a lot of demands of Lego in regards to its take on Cinderella’s Castle. Square-Enix, makers of the Kingdom Hearts games, can certainly attest to how tough it can be to get Disney to approve things as it relates to its characters, Mickey in particular. And there is more Disney to come from the company, just no hint at anything like what I just laid out. Toy Story 4 sets will be arriving this spring which will include reissues of the Buzz Lightyear mini figure from 2016. He’ll be joined by Woody and others so fans who have the old mini figures will be able to at least add to them. And last year there were sets based on The Incredibles 2 so it was possible to add to them as well. Sadly, any sets based on Frozen 2 will likely be in the Lego Friends style, which is fine if that’s what you or your kids like, but they don’t pair all that well with traditional sets and mini figures. I suppose it’s always possible something like Sleeping Beauty Castle could be announced and maybe if there’s a break in Lego movie releases the opportunity for another Disney wave could present itself, but that seems unlikely at this point. For now, fans will have to try to supplement what they have with smaller releases related to new films while hoping something comes through the Lego Ideas contest and dream about what could have been.

UPDATE:  Of course, not long after this post went live Lego announced a new set that, while not from based on a Disney park, is in my wheelhouse:  Steamboat Willie. I considered taking this post in the direction of classic Disney shorts, but wanted to keep it focused on just Disney parks. A Steamboat Willie set is definitely something I’m interested in and I would love more sets based on classic shorts like “Mickey’s Trailer” or “Lonesome Ghosts.” I am guessing more won’t follow as Steamboat Willie is a tie-in with Mickey’s 90th birthday from last fall and that particular short is obviously quite famous and appropriate as a celebratory item. Where as the general public probably doesn’t care about a Mickey set featuring a camper.

UPDATE #2!:  Hot on the heels of the Steamboat Willie announcement comes the surprising announcement of Wave 2 for Disney minifigures! It contains some obvious inclusions like bagged releases of the black and white Minnie and Mickey that will be included with the steamboat. There’s also a Jafar as well as Uncle Scrooge and the nephews. They’re even doing princesses this time as Jasmine, Elsa, and Anna will see release too. Thankfully, they’re skipping out on Toy Story characters since they’ll be coming with the sets for Toy Story 4 this spring. Unfortunately, there is one rather large omission:  WHERE’S GOOFY?!


Dec. 16 – Mickey’s Christmas Chaos

christmas crisisAlternatively known as Mickey’s Christmas Crisis, Mickey’s Christmas Chaos is a Mickey Mouse Works cartoon from 2000. If you’re like me, you were probably “too old” for The Disney Channel around the turn of the millennium and are not too familiar with the Mouse Works toons. This was basically Disney’s attempt at creating a new series of cartoon shorts starring its classic characters. They’re 2D animated and usually run around 7 minutes and were shown on television as opposed to being a theatrical short. They vary in quality, and while very few measure up to the classic shorts, I’m happy they exist.

These shorts originally aired in blocks, but were eventually repackaged as part of the House of Mouse series which launched in 2001 as part of ABC’s One Saturday Morning programming block. House of Mouse basically packaged these shorts, and select classic shorts, together with a wrap-around animated segment taking place at the actual House of Mouse which was basically a club owned by Mickey and all of the animated characters would show up for the party. Again, it’s not a show I’ve seen a lot of and what I have seen never really wowed me, but I still think it’s great some attempt was made to keep these characters in a starring role.

mickey mouse works

Mickey’s Christmas Chaos originally aired as part of the Mickey Mouse Works shorts.

Mickey’s Christmas Chaos first aired September 16, 2000 alongside Mickey’s Mix-Up and Whitewater Donald. It was then included in episode 44 of House of Mouse, “Clarabelle’s Christmas List,” where it was re-titled for some reason as Mickey’s Christmas Crisis. That episode aired December 2, 2002. As the title implies, this is a Mickey Mouse cartoon that takes place around Christmas and features Mickey’s loyal dog Pluto and adversary Mortimer Mouse.

house of mouse

The short was re-packaged with other Mouse Works cartoons as Mickey’s Christmas Crisis for the House of Mouse program.

The episode opens with Mickey (Wayne Allwine) emerging from his home to decorate his house for Christmas. Pluto (Jim Cummings) is alongside him and we learn that Mickey is aiming to win a local decorating contest. He decorates his house as only a cartoon character can affixing some garland to a toy airplane which flies around the house spreading the garland around while Pluto (in a sort of nod to Pluto’s Christmas Tree) flings ornaments from his tail to decorate as well. Next door, Mortimer Mouse (Maurice LaMarche) emerges from his house to mock Mickey’s decorating. He seems to think tacky is good as he brags about his electronic talking Christmas wreath while looking down on Mickey’s more traditional wreath. They then engage in a game of one-upmanship, as they each keep making their wreath more extravagant until Mortimer slips a toilet seat into Mickey’s box which he affixes to his wreath then reacts with horror.

mickey decorating

Mickey and Pluto have a deocrating contest to win.

The two mice then turn to one-upping each other via lights. Mickey has tastefully outfitted his house with Christmas lights, while Mortimer just throws a bunch of traditional lights onto his house such as lamps and bulbs. It’s hideous, but he seems to like it. Mickey counters by turning on his lights, which like Clark Griswald, causes a brown out across town. The heat from the lights even gives Mortimer a sunburn.

mortimers power

I think it’s fairly common knowledge now, but Mortimer was originally the name for Mickey but Walt’s wife Lilian disliked it. The character Mortimer was later created for Mickey’s Rival and designed to resemble Walt Disney.

It’s then onto the tree, and Mickey sets up a rather nice one in his yard by basically planting a box of Christmas decorations in the ground. Mortimer sets his tree up Grinch-style, opening it like an umbrella and allowing presents to fall out. Mickey then starts spreading items out on his lawn which include a church diorama and Uncle Scrooge and his nephews as carollers. Mortimer starts doing the same and even uses Pete as an angel to decorate his lawn while Mickey has a Goofy Claus. Mortimer swipes Goofy, and Mickey in turn swipes Mortimer’s nut roaster. They then get kind of nasty and even destroy each other’s trees, which also destroys Mortimer’s house momentarily.

mickeys house

Nice job, boys.

Then the two start just stealing each other’s decorations in outlandish fashion. Mickey has some extensive technological implants in the neighborhood which allows him to swap houses with the pull of a lever. Mortimer, to his credit, has a giant bucket-crane to pluck decorations off of Mickey’s house to place on his. Things then take a real Looney Tunes turn. When it appears Mortimer has won, Mickey gives him a wreath. It has a black ribbon on it that reads R.I.P. and when Mortimer sees that he looks over his shoulder at his Christmas tree which is loaded with bombs and TNT. The resulting explosion takes out both houses and leaves both mice covered in soot, but Pluto’s dog house is intact. The decorations fall out of the sky and land on Pluto’s house right as the mayor shows up to judge the contest. Pluto is awarded first prize, and when Mickey and Mortimer are about to come to blows a “Peace on Earth” marquee behind Pluto’s house reminds them what season it is. They then exchange gifts, seemingly putting an end to their feud, but each mouse takes a peek in the gift before opening it. They both angle their box at each other in an unassuming manner and when both open the package a spring-loaded boxing glove shoots out of each one knocking them both out.

mortimer yells

Mortimer’s a jerk, but Mickey gives as good as he gets which is unusual for him.

Mickey’s Christmas Chaos is a screwball cartoon. It’s much more Warner Bros. than Disney with two characters basically taking each other out and trying to raise the stakes with each gag. It’s not nearly as smart or as funny as a Warner Bros. short though. I like the little cameos of other characters including Scrooge and Chip and Dale and Mortimer is a great foil for Mickey. He doesn’t really get nasty enough though and I wish he at least had some good insults, but his dialogue is fairly routine. Same for Mickey, though at least he gets to be a bit more antagonistic than he typically is. This isn’t a perfect Mickey and he gets mad and even a little mean, especially with the bomb-tree. I also like that Pluto gets to be the only good character in the short, and in the end it’s he who is rewarded.

The animation is 2D, but fairly simple. The characters look nice and they animate in a very 90s fashion. Their movements are a bit exaggerated and they have a rubbery look to their limbs. The backgrounds are a bit disappointing though, especially in the long shots. There’s a disconnect between them and the action. As a result, this and basically all of the shorts from this series look inferior to the classic shorts, but I suppose that’s not surprising since those were made for the movie theater and not television. The thing that disappoints me a little though is these shorts aren’t even on par with the late era Disney Afternoon shows like Bonkers. This show came at a time when there was a shift in children’s programming and it wouldn’t be long before some networks pulled out of Saturday Morning all together and it’s reflected in the diminished budget for shows of this era.

mortimers gift

This one surprisingly doesn’t end with the two making up.

“Mickey’s Christmas Chaos” isn’t a bad cartoon, but it’s hardly memorable. That’s the case with most of the Mouse Works cartoons that I have seen. The ones I’m most familiar with are the Donald Duck ones included on the Chronological Donald – Volume 4, and even those I’ve only watched once or twice. As I said before, I’m happy these shorts exist and that the modern character actors got to voice these characters outside of Disney Park exhibits and early childhood shows like Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, but they’re not on par with the classics. Disney also hasn’t done much with these shorts since they ceased airing, but they’re actually pretty protective of them across streaming sites which stands in contrast with their attitude towards their classic shorts. Most have never received a home video release, and this cartoon is no exception (though snippets of it appear in Mickey’s Magical Christmas: Snowed in at the House of Mouse) in that regard. Disney basically stopped airing House of Mouse in 2009, so it’s probably not getting shown on television this month. And as I mentioned, it’s surprisingly tricky finding this online somewhere, but if you’re willing to dig, it’s there. Definitely search for the House of Mouse episode “Clarabelle’s Christmas List” instead of just looking for this cartoon. If you don’t want to look for it though and would rather watch Pluto’s Christmas Tree or Toy Tinkers then I don’t blame you one bit.


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