Tag Archives: mickey mouse

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.

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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.


Happy 90th Birthday, Mickey Mouse!

celebrating mickey

Don’t be fooled, we’re not reviewing this release here, but it’s probably good!

Did you hear? The legendary Mickey Mouse turns 90 on this day owing his debut to Steamboat Willie, which premiered November 18, 1928. Now, nothing momentous seems to occur these days without a dash of controversy. Most fans of Disney and Mickey are well aware that his first cartoon was actually Plane Crazy from earlier that year, but Disney considers Steamboat Willie his true debut since it was the first with synchronized sound and was the first widely distributed. If that’s the criteria Disney wants to use then so be it. It doesn’t really matter since either way Mickey Mouse has endured for 90 years. In that time he’s been a cinema darling, television host, and brand mascot for the massive Walt Disney Company and he’s quite possibly the most recognized fictional character around the globe. If he’s not, then the list of competitors is rather small.

Over the years the Disney company has celebrated Mickey in various ways, some small and some not so small. He’s always been front and center at the various parks, and yet he is still awaiting his first actual ride (with one in production). Walt Disney famously remarked that it all started with a mouse referring to Mickey’s star power in the early days, though he’s only had one theatrically released cartoon since 1995. He did eventually make the jump to television, but his appearances there are most relegated to the younger crowd as opposed to a general audience. This isn’t to say that Disney has mistreated their mascot at times, but to someone like myself who adores hand-drawn animation it does disappoint me that Disney doesn’t celebrate the earlier work of Mickey as much as it could.

mickey oreo

Disney has found some “creative” ways to celebrate its mascot this year.

For Mickey’s 90th, that has been partially rectified. Disney recently released the Blu-ray Celebrating Mickey which is a collection of 13 cartoons that reach all the way back to 1928 and as far forward as 2013. As tempted as I am to check out some Mickey cartoons in high-definition, I did not pick up this set since I already own all of these cartoons elsewhere. I’m still happy to see Disney put out such a package, but cutting it down to 13 feels like such a tease.

In celebration of Mickey, I’m going to list out some cartoons I think are worth checking out. I’ll do one for every decade of Mickey’s life, while also trying to pick a cartoon from each decade (not every decade contains a new Mickey cartoon) to highlight. Almost all of these cartoons can be found on one of the Walt Disney Treasures collections, with the only exception being the cartoons released after 1995. And to make this a companion piece to Disney’s Celebrating Mickey release, I’ll refrain from doubling-up on any cartoon released on that collection (which does include some of my favorites like Mickey’s Trailer and Brave Little Tailor).

mickey haunted house

Watch black and white Mickey get terrified!

The 1920s – The Haunted House (December 2, 1929)

Just sneaking into the 20’s is this one, The Haunted House, which features Mickey in (you guessed it!) a haunted house. Animated by Ub Iwerks, The Haunted House contains lots of flashy, spooky, imagery and great sound design. Mickey mostly plays the role of scared victim while an eerie shadowy figure chases him and forces him to play the organ. Don’t worry though, as Mickey does eventually escape, but I like that there isn’t a twist to the ending. The house appears to be legitimately haunted.

pluto judgement

Hell is mostly cats (I say this as a cat dad).

The 1930s – Pluto’s Judgement Day (August 31, 1935)

The 30s is probably Mickey’s best decade and it’s loaded with good stuff. Pluto’s Judgement Day is one of Mickey’s earliest color cartoons and it centers around Pluto who dreams about going to Hell. It’s ruled by cats and the whole thing is brought on by Pluto feeling guilty about being mean to a kitten and the whole thing is really surreal. It has a cute ending so we don’t feel too bad for old Pluto.

goofy donald moose

Not the sort of predicament one wants to be found in.

Moose Hunters (February 20, 1937)

To make up for no Mickey cartoons in the 60s, we’re doing another from the 30s. Moose Hunters co-stars Donald Duck and Goofy as the trio try to hunt a moose. They’re terrible at it and get into all kinds of mischief, including Donald and Goofy disguising themselves as a female moose and attracting the affection of a bull moose. It’s all good slapstick, and for some reason hapless hunters make for good comedy characters.

donald symphony hour

Donald mostly steals the show here, as he often would.

The 1940s – Symphony Hour (March 20, 1942)

Some consider this the unofficial sequel to The Band Concert, Mickey’s colorized debut. This one is a full ensemble piece as Mickey leads a symphony to impress Pete, who is referred to as Mr. Macaroni in the cartoon. Everything is a disaster though, and Donald has to blow a gasket while Macaroni howls with delight at the misfortune of the band. He turns angry though as the show gets worse, though he comes around when the show ends with applause.

Squatter's Rights chip

Pluto’s nose as a speed bag is a pretty good gag.

Squatter’s Rights (June 7, 1946)

No Mickey cartoons in the 70s either, so here’s another 40s toon. Squatter’s Rights was Mickey’s first cartoon in several years, and includes some lines or sounds recorded by Jimmy MacDonald, the second official voice of Mickey Mouse. It also includes Chip and Dale, who are woken by Mickey who returns to his hunting camp to find the chipmunks sleeping in his stove. Or rather, Pluto is the one to make the discovery which begins a bunch shenanigans in which Pluto keeps getting blamed for Chip and Dale’s mischief. It includes a bit of a dark spot with a gun, and it’s also somewhat notable since Chip and Dale end up winning the encounter.

mickey and seal

The seal is adorable. While he didn’t feature in any other Mickey shorts, he has appeared in the preschool show Mickey Mouse Clubhouse where he’s named Salty.

Mickey and the Seal (December 3, 1948)

Mickey’s only cartoon in the 80s is Mickey’s Christmas Carol, a fantastic long-form short that you’ve probably heard about (or seen me rave about in the past). Rather than revisit a short I’ve blogged about more than once, here’s another favorite from the 40s. Mickey and the Seal is quite possibly Mickey’s cutest cartoon. It’s similar to a Chip and Dale cartoon, but instead of the chipmunk duo we have a seal who Pluto is well aware of, but Mickey is oblivious to. There’s a great sequence where Mickey and the seal bathe together and if you aren’t completely charmed by the happy little seal pup then you have a heart of stone.

mickey pluto christmas tree

Oh yeah, there’s the good stuff.

The 1950s – Pluto’s Christmas Tree (November 21, 1952)

All right, I have talked about this one before and more than once, but Mickey only had four cartoons in the 1950s and two of them are on that new Blu-ray. Plus, this one is so super charming and worth watching even when it isn’t Christmas time. It is derivative of Donald Duck’s Toy Tinkers, but it once again pairs up Pluto with the duo of Chip and Dale and it just works so well.

feral mickey

Feral Mickey too scary for the masses?

The 1990s – Runaway Brain (August 11, 1995)

Some claim this is the Mickey cartoon Disney doesn’t want you to see. I’ve always been skeptical of such, but it is further reinforced by the fact that Disney scrubs this bad boy from YouTube frequently, leaving some alone that are of poor quality, while it mostly leaves the other cartoons alone. That could just be because it’s a more modern cartoon and Disney therefore feels it has more value than cartoons that are 60 years old. Whatever the case, this one is a lot of fun and it’s so 90s in style which is great since it’s the only true Mickey Mouse short from that decade. Mickey starts off the short playing video games, for crying out loud! Kelsey Grammer voices Dr. Frankenollie, and it features Mickey swapping bodies with a monstrous Pete (who features a peg-leg!) therefore leading to the character fans refer to as Feral Mickey. It makes Mickey scary, so perhaps that’s why Disney doesn’t promote this one any longer.

new shoes normal

Order restored at the end. Note the life of Donald.

The New Millennium! – New Shoes (April 14, 2018)

So Mickey Mouse has only had one theatrically released cartoon since 1995’s Runaway Brain, and that was Get A Horse which was paired with Frozen and is on the Celebrating Mickey Blu-ray. Rather than spotlight that again, how about we go with the television/web series of Mickey cartoons that began in 2013? This series is great, and it’s a more manic, Looney Tunes/Spongebob take on Mickey and the gang that I absolutely love. Yeah, it’s not traditionally animated, but what is these days? New Shoes is one of my recent favorites from this series and it features Donald and Goofy as well. The trio swap bodies with hilarious results (Mickey becomes Goofy, Goofy becomes Donald, and Donald becomes Mickey). It’s particularly amusing to see how horrible Donald’s life is, as experienced by Goofy (who while getting beaten he sings the old Donald Duck song) while Mickey exhausts himself by trying to take advantage of Goofy’s monstrous height to help people. Donald just mostly enjoys being loved and celebrated as Mickey for a change. Just a great, funny, smart cartoon.

Well, that’s that. As I mentioned, you can find those shorts on the Walt Disney Treasures collection and some can be found elsewhere (Pluto’s Christmas Tree has been re-released numerous times as part of Christmas collections) while New Shoes is free to watch on YouTube. And a lot of those shorts can also unofficially be found there as well, though Runaway Brain might give you some trouble tracking down a good version, but it’s there as well in some form. They’re all wonderful examples of the star power, charisma, and charm of Mickey Mouse. He’s been around for 90 years now and isn’t likely going anywhere. At this rate, it’s all but guaranteed he’ll outlive us all! Now Disney, how about a restored collection of all of Mickey’s classic shorts in HD? Don’t make us wait for him to turn 100!


Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988)

220px-Movie_poster_who_framed_roger_rabbitNormally, I don’t like doubling-up on posts in a single day on this blog, and ever since last fall Friday has belonged to Batman. Well, I’m breaking my own self-imposed rule today, but it’s for a very good reason. Today is the 30th anniversary of the film Who Framed Roger Rabbit. On this day in 1988, the then most expensive movie in film history was released to the general public with a lot of buzz and a lot of trepidation. It was a collaborative effort between some of Hollywood’s hottest names; Steven Spielberg, Robert Zemeckis, and Walt Disney Studios. Adapted from the Gary Wolf novel Who Censored Roger Rabbit?, there was a lot of fear that the movie would be too “out there” for a general audience. So uncertain about how the film was to be received, actress Kathleen Turner, who voiced Jessica Rabbit, declined to be credited for her role in the film. There was some fear this thing would be received about as well as Howard the Duck, a notorious flop at the time, but it ended up being so much more.

Who Framed Roger Rabbit is the story of a rabbit named Roger (voiced by Charlie Fleischer) who is framed for a murder he did not commit. Aside from the fact that he’s a rabbit, the plot sounds rather pedestrian at face value. What sets the film apart is its world and the world it shares with the “real world.” Roger Rabbit is a toon. He is a literal cartoon character. In the world created by this work of fiction, cartoons are just as real as you and me. They go to work, make cartoons, and go home. The toons behave like golden era cartoons – they’re wacky, prone to accidents, and always on the lookout for a laugh. At one point in the film, Roger is handcuffed and needs to get himself out. He ends up simply removing his hand from the cuff at one point, then putting it back. When his partner, Eddie, notices and gets furious with him for not just doing that to begin with, Roger explains he could only remove his hand when it was funny.

whoframedrogerrabbit

Bob Hoskins stars alongside Robert as private eye Eddie Valiant.

Roger works for R.K. Maroon (Alan Tilvern) and is a star of Maroon Cartoons. Set in 1947, the film basically takes place during the waning days of the animated cartoon short. He is married to the impossibly attractive Jessica Rabbit, a buxom, hourglass figured toon who more or less resembles a human. The film starts out with Roger stressed out because there are rumors that Jessica has been up to no good with another man. Maroon wants private investigator Eddie Valiant (Bob Hoskins) to do some digging to help his star out. The problem is, Eddie hates toons, but he loves money more. Eddie takes the job, and finds out that Jessica has actually been playing pat-a-cake with Marvin Acme (Stubby Kaye), the owner of Toon Town. When shown the images of his wife playing such a lurid game with another man, Roger goes off the deep end and is plunged into a depression (pat-a-cake is serious business to a toon, apparently). Then things take a dark turn when Marvin Acme turns up dead, and Roger is suspect number 1. Roger proclaims his innocence to Eddie, and Eddie is forced to decide if he wants to help out the incredibly annoying, but likely innocent, Roger or just walk away from the whole thing.

brig

Even humans are drawn to Jessica Rabbit.

The story unfolds like a classic mystery. You have the gruff detective, the innocent victim, and the femme fatale. Of course, nothing is ever truly what it seems. Shadowing the protagonists is the villainous Judge Doom (Christopher Lloyd) who too seems to have a hatred for toons. Eddie and Roger are going to have to do some sleuthing, and even take a trip to Toon Town where all of the toons reside, in order to solve this case.

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Roger’s co-star, Baby Herman, is used sparingly, but he’s a scene-stealer.

The story is admittedly fairly simple. The character of Jessica Rabbit is the most intriguing, and not because of her figure, but because she is a femme fatale done well. She possesses an air of mystery and uncertainty, the fact that she is apparently the most attractive toon and is attached to the rather goofy Roger helps to play this up. What truly sets Who Framed Roger Rabbit apart is the presentation. Live actors mix with cartoon ones in truly spectacular ways. We’ve seen this before from Walt Disney with the likes of Mary Poppins and Bedknobs and Broomsticks, but not on this level. Those films merely feature a few sequences of cartoons and actors co-mingling, where as Who Framed Roger Rabbit is built around that dynamic, and it looks spectacular! When Eddie rides along in the toon cab, Benny, he looks like he’s really riding in it. When he wields a toon gun, it’s convincing. And the world of Toon Town is especially marvelous to look at with its impossible architecture and lavish color scheme. The movie is so visually stimulating that you could watch it in mute and still enjoy it.

who-framed-roger-rabbit

Christopher Lloyd is appropriately sinister as Judge Doom.

Even with the flashy presentation, the film still needed true chemistry between its real-life lead Eddie, and it’s toon co-lead Roger. Hoskins is fantastic at playing the straight-man Eddie. He takes everything seriously and has explosive reactions to all of the nonsense around him, but not in such a manner that would break the film. Helping to make sure he was able to form good chemistry with Roger, voice actor Charlie Fleischer dressed up as the character and would voice it off-camera. Seth McFarlane utilized a similar method when filming the more recent Ted to similar effect. I suppose it’s impossible to say if this truly worked or did not, but the results speak for themselves.

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Eddie and Roger go for a ride in Benny the Cab.

Who Framed Roger Rabbit was a unique looking film that was impossible to ignore when it was released, but it was still relying on a lead that had never been seen before in Roger. That’s why to help spruce up the film, Spielberg and Zemeckis wanted to make sure that Roger’s world was inhabited by recognizable cartoon characters. That ended up being the film’s strongest selling point as it promised, for the first time ever, that characters from both Disney and Warner Bros. would share scenes together. This leads to the wild team-up between Donald Duck (Tony Anselmo, with some archivable Clarence Nash) and Daffy Duck (Mel Blanc, in one of his last performances) who have a dueling pianos scene where the more outlandish Daffy seems to get on Donald’s nerves more and more as the scene goes on. Mickey Mouse (Wayne Allwine) and Bugs Bunny (Blanc) also get to share a brief scene, which contains an easter egg of Bugs flipping Mickey the bird (apparently, Disney was a bit of a pain to work with concerning how the characters could be portrayed and this was one way for the animators to have a little fun at their expense). Those represent the biggest cameos, but there are many, many more throughout the film from both companies, both major and minor. Part of the fun of watching the film is looking out for them and there’s always a chance that on re-watch you’ll see another you may have missed.

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Toon Town is a rather chaotic place.

There are so many things to pick out of Who Framed Roger Rabbit that it’s way too much for me to cover here. Suffice to say, if you’ve never seen this baby then you owe it to yourself to check it out. Much of the effects still stand up today, and much of the credit is owed to animation director Richard Williams. The toons are two-dimensional, but a lot of effort is made to make sure they look like they’re really inhabiting this world in the manner in which lighting is utilized and how often the camera moves. Working on this film must have been exhausting, but oh so rewarding in the end. Due to the nature of the license rights, the complexity of it shots, and incredible of expense of animating over live-action, a sequel has never truly got off the ground. Author Gary West has returned to the character for his novels, and Disney and Spielberg would probably both love to cash-in on the brand, but there are just too many hurdles to clear. Zemeckis has campaigned for a sequel on multiple occasions, but he’s been less vocal about it in recent years. Additional Maroon Cartoon shorts of Roger Rabbit were produced after the film, but even that was a touchy subject as Spielberg wanted to run them alongside his films while Disney wanted them for theirs. And supposedly Disney wanted to create a television show starring Roger Rabbit for their Disney Afternoon block, but Spielberg who was working on televised cartoons of his own (Tiny Toon Adventures, Animaniacs, etc) wouldn’t allow Roger to be utilized forcing Disney to create the character Bonkers the Bobcat. Roger has at least been allowed to live on in Disneyland’s Toon Town where he still has a dark ride to this day. Given that Disney has been replacing a lot of older dark rides to make way for more current franchises, one has to wonder if Roger’s days there could be numbered.

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One of the more character-packed shots in the whole film.

Who Framed Roger Rabbit is likely one of the most popular and successful films to never get a sequel. It took in around $330M in 1988 dollars, a pretty substantial haul, which more than covered its estimated $50M cost. Its story and presentation are both timeless and also proof that Tex Avery styled humor and gags may never truly go out of style. The rather manic Roger Rabbit can appear off-putting to some, especially younger folks who may not have grown up on Looney Tunes, but apprehensions tend to fade away once the movie really gets going. I’ve introduced this film to a few people that weren’t enthusiastic about giving it a shot, only to see them won over in short order. It’s really one of the best things the Walt Disney Company has ever produced, even if it was released on their Touchstone label. I know it’s a Friday, but if you don’t have plans tonight, you could do a lot worse than settling in on the couch with your favorite snack and beverage for a showing of Who Framed Roger Rabbit.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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Mickey wants Donald to experience everything Christmas has to offer.

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

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

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

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Donald’s finally lost it.

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

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Pluto living his dream.

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

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


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