Tag Archives: tony anselmo

Dec. 1 – DuckTales – “Last Christmas!”

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Original air date December 1, 2018

It’s that time of year once again! Every day goods are a little pricier, egg nog is invading the dairy case at every grocery store, and red and green versions of every candy in existence flourish in the seasonal section of department stores. Yes, it is Christmas time and it would be obnoxious if it weren’t temporary. Does it come too soon? Maybe, but here the season officially starts now and lasts through the holiday.

Welcome to The Christmas Spot! If this is your first time here then let me tell you what you’re in for. Every day through Christmas, we’ll be spotlighting a Christmas special or holiday themed something advent calendar style. Will we talk about a good special? A poor one? Something in between? We’re quality agnostic, which is a damn fine motto. The only thing this site won’t touch are those made for TV Hallmark movies that are basically shown year-round now. I have no interest in them, plus I like to stick to things that are a half-hour format or less to keep things tidy. After all, this is no small task to find time in my day-to-day life to make 25 blog entries in 25 days for the sheer joy of it. So I encourage you to start your day right here. And if one blog entry isn’t enough, well then may I recommend our Christmas archive? It’s a great companion to that first cup of coffee in the morning, or that first visit to the restroom – don’t forget the peppermint scented toilet paper!

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The opening credits get a festive makeover as well.

This year, we’re kicking things off with a relatively new entry to the world of Christmas specials. DuckTales has been around for quite some time. The original run included 101 episodes, but strangely no Christmas one. This is surprising because future Disney Afternoon shows would often feature one. Plus, the star of DuckTales is one Scrooge McDuck. Not only does Scrooge share a name with another individual associated with Christmas, but the character actually debuted in a Donald Duck Christmas story which we covered for last year’s countdown. Well, the new version of DuckTales launched in 2017 would rectify that, though not in its first season.

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We get to learn about Donald’s enthusiasm for Christmas, Scrooge’s hatred of Santa, and that Launchpad is actually Jewish.

“Last Christmas!” premiered, appropriately enough, last Christmas (December 1, 2018 to be exact) and was a late scratch from that year’s list. See, I don’t actually have time to make a post every day for this thing. What really happens is I keep a master list of any and all Christmas specials I know of. Then I arbitrarily pick and choose which to cover each year, and I make posts in my down time and schedule them to go up when they need to. Did that ruin the magic for you? Hopefully not, as this is actually a fun way to get a little dose of Christmas spirit throughout the year. I’m also the type of person that keeps a Christmas countdown going all year long. Anyway, when I found out there would be a DuckTales Christmas special it was pretty late in the game. I almost squeezed it in, but decided maybe it would be best to save it for 2019. A year’s removal would allow me to better put it in perspective. Is it the type of special that deserves to be revisited year after year? Well, this is where we find out.

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Scrooge is predictably grumpy around the holidays.

When DuckTales made its return in 2017 it wasn’t without some controversy within the fanbase. That’s because Disney made the call to recast all of the characters from the original run with new actors all voicing these characters for the first time. This is different from what Disney usually does with its classic characters where a voice actor is paired with a character or characters and serves in that role basically for life. It’s something though that has apparently fallen out of favor with Disney in the past few years. There are currently two(!) voice actors for Mickey Mouse right now, and probably my most popular post ever concerned the handling of Donald’s Duck’s voice when veteran Tony Anselmo was recast for the pre-school show Mickey and the Roadster Racers. When I wrote that I wasn’t aware that Anselmo had the role actually taken from him, as opposed to passing on it. Thankfully, he was returned to voice Donald in DuckTales, but he’s basically the only member of the main cast to return. Alan Young obviously could not return as Scrooge (R.I.P.), but Russi Taylor was basically not allowed to return as the voices of Huey, Dewey, and Louie.

And that’s what makes “Last Christmas!” so special, in a way. Maybe Disney was right to recast the roles of the nephews as now they are individual characters as opposed to a hive-mind, basically. I think they could have all shared the same voice still, but I guess I’ve made my peace with the series concerning this. Still, that doesn’t help Russi Taylor at all, but this episode allowed her to return in a pretty creative fashion. And we have the magic of Christmas to thank for that!

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Webby is a talented trimmer of trees.

This episode opens with a little extra Christmas spice. I love it when holiday episodes do stuff like this. The lyrics are changed slightly to reference the holiday (“Life is like a candy cane,”) and they’re sung by a Frank Sinatra sound-a-like (could not find a credit, so apologies) and accompanied by snowflakes and happy Christmas scenery. The episode then opens at Scrooge’s mansion where Donald (Anselmo) is looking resplendent in a Christmas sweater as he decorates Scrooge’s lawn. Scrooge (David Tennant) then appears on the front step to admonish Donald for covering his lawn with those “inflatable abominations.” Donald points out that Scrooge has the perfect piece of property for a festive Christmas display, but soon sees the error of his ways when Scrooge points out that he also has a pilot who mistakes Christmas lights for runway lights.

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Webby, just waiting for Scrooge to say “Bah! Humbug!” and he will not disappoint.

Scrooge leaves Donald to apparently suffer an awful fate as Launchpad approaches. Inside, Webby (Kate Micucci) is swinging around a massive Christmas tree dressed as a reindeer as she trims the tree while Huey (Danny Pudi) supervises decked in a stocking cap – I so love the holiday attire. Scrooge storms around looking grumpy while Louie (Bobby Moynihan) makes out his Christmas list which begins with an apology to Santa. Mrs. Beakley (Toks Olagundoye) gives Scrooge the rundown of decorations and the night’s schedule (which includes a reading of Christmas on Bear Mountain) which Scrooge suffers through. He then scolds everyone from a balcony before destroying a polar bear dressed in a Santa costume decoration before retreating to his room. Scrooge apparently has some kind of vendetta against Santa.

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There’s a scene like this in most Christmas specials.

Alone in his own room, Dewey (Ben Schwartz) is reading by the light of the Christmas star in a classic “Christmas Wish” setting. He’s looking a little down and Donald takes notice from the hallway, but sports a curious smile. Dewey is clearly missing the mother he never met, but is roused from his room by an odd sound. He approaches a green-lit door cautiously, unsure of what’s behind, and given this is the home of Scrooge McDuck any manner of spook or spirit could be in there just waiting to curse him for all eternity!

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These aren’t the spirits you’re accustomed to seeing.

When Dewey opens the door he does indeed find some mythical creatures, but not in a setting he was expecting. Three ghost-like bodies surround Scrooge. Dewey assumes the worst, but comes to find out they’re not here for any nefarious purpose. They’re cheering Scrooge on, who’s sporting a mistletoe headband, as he chugs what appears to be egg nog. It’s from a carton, so I guess that’s all the censors required to make it appear like this is an alcohol free activity. Scrooge quickly explains to Dewey these ghosts are actually his friends and they visit him every Christmas Eve. They’re also familiar to anyone who’s seen a Dickens adaptation. There’s a mute Grim Reaper like ghost that’s obviously the Ghost of Christmas Future and a chubby pig who is the Ghost of Christmas Present (Bill Fagerbakke). He’s dressed in attire that is almost identical to Willy the Giant’s from the best version of A Christmas Carol – Mickey’s Christmas Carol. And the third ghost is even more reminiscent of that classic short as he’s a little cricket in a suit, an obvious homage to Jiminy Cricket.

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Past is quite obviously an homage to Jiminy Cricket.

The ghosts explain that one year they confused this Scrooge with another who shares a name with him, but finding this one more fun, they now visit him every year for a good time. Scrooge then explains his whole hating Christmas thing is just an act to keep people away around the holidays so he’s free to spend his evening with these old chaps (the Santa hating thing isn’t an act though, he really detests that jolly old elf). This, he explains, is his one night to cut loose and have fun and it’s especially true of this Christmas now that he has Dewey and his brothers to look after.

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Time for a journey into the Past.

Dewey seems pretty confused, but surprisingly receptive to the story. With that business out of the way, the group decides it’s time to take a trip through time courtesy of the Ghost of Christmas Past (Jack McBrayer) in search of some holiday fun. Scrooge grabs onto him just as his predecessor did 35 years earlier and the cricket even pops open a tiny umbrella and the four fly out of the window and soar over Duckburg. The scenery begins to change as they journey back in time, but the setting surprisingly does not as the ghost leads them right back to Scrooge’s mansion. Only now they’re in the past and will be attending Scrooge’s first big Christmas party at his home. Scrooge likes the idea and he acknowledges his past self as they enter the premises, his past self saluting back without question (apparently he’s expected this).

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Scrooge’s home on Christmas. Note the painting on the wall appearing to depict Scrooge’s first appearance from Christmas on Bear Mountain.

Inside, Scrooge’s home is filled with guests and assorted easter eggs for those with keen eyes. They soon spot a young Mrs. Beakley on the dance floor and Present takes an immediate liking to her. Unfortunately for him, she’s more interested in Future and hauls him out onto the floor. Scrooge tries to make merry himself, but a still alive Duckworth (David Kaye) mistakes him for his younger self and scolds him for trying to act so juvenile in front of many potential business partners. He escorts him to a group of buzzards who are essentially the opposite of fun.

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Scrooge is not really enjoying himself.

Eventually, Scrooge notices Goldie making an entrance and his demeanor perks up. Before he can confront her though he’s accosted by a potential partner who wants to show him some cube he’s got. He makes references about a job that’s another easter egg, this time a reference to a Carl Barks story, but Scrooge pays him no mind. Then another interruption occurs when Grandpappy Beagle (Eric Bauza) barges in with the lesser-known members of the Beagle Boys. They’re here to rob everyone, and Scrooge is officially over this whole thing.

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That would be Grandpappy Beagle and his Beagle Boys.

Informing Past that his idea was a dud, the chipper cricket informs Scrooge he has a better idea. The two depart, apparently leaving Present and Future behind, and end up in a much more quiet setting. It’s a campsite in the woods, and Scrooge recognizes it as his first Christmas in Duckburg, before he was rich. He seems quite nostalgic as he takes a seat on a log beside a roaring campfire and looks contented, until he’s not. Declaring this is boring, he wants to go elsewhere, but Past has other ideas.

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Past takes Scrooge to an even earlier Christmas – his first in Duckburg.

Past chooses this moment to make his heel turn. He apparently doesn’t like this once a year arrangement with Scrooge and wants to spend the whole year having fun with him. His job of showing bad people their past transgressions has apparently worn on him. Scrooge doesn’t want to remain here though, so he goes on the offensive. The two have a spirited sword fight of sorts; Scrooge wielding his cane and Past his umbrella. The two tire themselves out and collapse in the snow, both apparently enjoying this little sparring contest. Scrooge expresses a desire to do it again and suggests they travel back in time the five minutes or so needed to do it over. Past is thrilled by this suggestion and enthusiastic, but when he goes to do the deed he realizes he lost track of his umbrella.

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Got your umbrella.

Scrooge gives him a sly look and produces the diminutive object. He pops it open and with a flash of green light he vanishes, leaving Past sitting there on the log all by himself. He’s cheerful, and assumes Scrooge is just messing with him. As he sits there though the camera zooms out and Scrooge never reappears.

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Dewey was not going to allow Scrooge to go on some Christmas adventure without him.

We then jump back to the future, but 11 minutes in the past. Time travel can be confusing. The important thing to know is we’re back to when Scrooge and the spirits left the mansion. Only now we can see they had a stow-away. Dewey grabbed ahold of Future’s robes as they flew out, but wasn’t able to hold on for very long. He falls down into a snowbank below. Looking up, he sees the mansion and bemoans he’s still in the same boring place, but then notes the “when” may have changed. Congratulating himself on his expert time travel pun, he runs off into the house.

Dewey is obviously interested in finding out how far back in time he’s gone, because if he’s gone back far enough then someone very important to him may be located in this mansion. He races to what I assume is his room in the present and finds, as he describes it, some emo kid.

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Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you adolescent Donald!

The emo kid is wearing a flannel shirt over a black t-shirt with a Nirvana-like logo while strumming a bass guitar. He sings a rather drab song that’s humorous to anyone who remembers grunge and it soon becomes obvious who this kid is. It’s a young Donald Duck, and he’s voiced by none other than Russi Taylor! He appears to be about Dewey’s age, and is annoyed that Dewey has interrupted his playing. He angrily grabs him by the collar and demands to know how much he heard and also demands to know if it was any good. Dewey lies and says it is, makes up a story about being a long removed cousin, then moves on to more pressing matters – where is Donald’s sister, Della?

Donald informs Dewey that Della is where she always is – out back setting a trap for Santa. When Dewey asks why Donald isn’t with her he explains he’s too old for that stuff and thinks Christmas is stupid, a far cry from the holiday obsessed Donald he’ll become. He tells Dewey he can’t go out to look for her because he was close to a breakthrough with his song. Dewey informs him he was not, and cheerily grabs the bass and hops out the window forcing Donald to follow with a “What’s the big idea?”

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Donald doesn’t understand why Della brought so much food and such a large tent. He’ll soon find out why.

Out back, they find a family-sized tent that’s collapsed and the trees are covered with a red goop. Dewey is alarmed, but Donald just views the scene as a sign of Della’s incompetence. He tastes the red goop splattered on the tree and informs the disgusted Dewey it’s just jelly (“What would you have done if it wasn’t?”) before moving on to inspect the tent. He determines Della gave up at trying to put it together and then attempts to fix it, but has just as much luck as his sister. Dewey notices some tracks in the snow clearly belonging to Della, and some that do not. They decide to investigate, but unknown to them some ominous glowing green eyes are watching from the bushes.

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Huey isn’t the only Junior Woodchuck.

As Dewey and Donald trace Della’s steps, Donald is whacked with seemingly every branch Dewey pushes aside. The creature stalking them soon reveals itself as a large, goat-like being:  the Wendigo. Dewey and Donald are forced to run as the creature chases them, and they wind up right in one of Della’s traps.

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Captured by Della Duck.

Now suspended upside down in a large net, Dewey and Donald are greeted by Della who scolds them for ruining her Santa trap. She wants to trap the red guy as a present for Scrooge and now will have to reset it. Donald demands she release them, calling her “Dumbella” as in Dumb Della, but it’s also a reference to her original name. She demands Donald apologize before she sets the two free, even though they can hear the roars of the Wendigo approaching. Donald apologizes for the insult, but it’s not enough. He then lists other things he’s sorry about, like using her toothbrush to clean his combat boots, things Della wasn’t even aware of. Donald is frustrated that his apologies aren’t good enough, forcing Dewey to point out the obvious:  the giant tent, the vast assortment of snacks, Della just wanted to spend Christmas with her brother on her Santa stake-out but he blew her off. Della is angry with Donald for just wanting to sit alone in his room on Christmas rather than spend time with his family, forcing Dewey to also realize he’s guilty of the same back in his own time. Donald acknowledges that Dewey is right and apologizes to Della for not wanting to spend time with her on Christmas and she in turn lets them out.

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Now that the duck siblings have made up, they can turn their attention to more pressing matters.

At this point though, the Wendigo is on top of them. When they ask him what he wants, he roars back with a “When did go?! Scrooge?!” prompting all three to deadpan “Of course.” Donald and Della, demonstrating they’re used to this sort of thing, jump the beast and start wrestling with it while Dewey looks on. They’re tossed from the creature and Della comes to land beside Dewey. She looks at the remnants of the net from earlier and gives Dewey a knowing look. Meanwhile, Donald too is thrown from the monster causing the bass strapped to his back to break. He looks at his beloved instrument and goes into a classic Donald rage. He attacks the Wendigo, and the opening created by his offense allows Dewey and Della to wrap the beast up in the net.

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Problem solved.

The three ducklings drag the beast back to the front steps of the mansion. The whole time Donald and Della maintain a posture that this is all ordinary to them. When Della finally asks just who Dewey is, all he can do is respond with a big, awkward, hug. He almost lets on that he’s her son, but recovers and maintains his story about being a long distant cousin. Della sees right through it and states “You’re a relative from the future.” Dewey tries to deny it, but Della assures him this is only the fourth weirdest thing to happen to them on Christmas. Donald also expresses knowing the whole time he wasn’t who he said he was. Dewey then comes clean about being a relative from the future, but doesn’t elaborate further, and tells Della he should warn her about her future and she refuses to hear him out. The two then head into the house to fetch their uncle leaving Dewey alone with the Wendigo.

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Dewey can’t stop himself from giving his some-day mom a hug.

This is apparently not a good thing, as the beast soon breaks free from its restraints. It looms menacingly over Dewey, but before it can attack Scrooge appears from the sky and gets the drop on him. He pogos off of the beast’s head, just like the Nintendo game, knocking it out. Past and Future then appear and Dewey questions how he found him. Scrooge says he was heading back to retrieve those two when he saw Dewey below. Dewey gives him a hug and tells him he just wants to go home. Scrooge gives him a smile and tells him he just has something to do first.

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Scrooge is always ready to make a save.

They then turn their attention to the Wendigo, which turns to stone and crumbles. From its head emerges a sad looking Past. Scrooge explains, repeating an explanation Della gave earlier, that a Wendigo is a lost soul driven mad by despair. When he left Past back at the campsite, it forced the spirit to just sit and wait for Scrooge to come back, but he never did. Past went crazy every Christmas looking for Scrooge, until he showed up now. He then says he has a Christmas present to deliver and returns Past’s umbrella to him. He then cheers up, and taking hold of the umbrella the group is whisked away back to the future – I mean present.

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The true identity of the Wendigo is revealed.

Everyone is now where they’re supposed to be – gathered around a grand piano in Scrooge’s living room. Launchpad (Beck Bennett) is manning the ivories wearing a blue Hanukkah sweater. The ghosts are hanging around too to join in on the fun. Dewey, now ready to make merry with his family, sees his uncle Donald and gives him a big hug. Donald lets on that he’s been waiting for this for many years, but before Dewey can confirm he’s referring back to Dewey’s trip into the past, he’s pulled away by his brothers into the celebration. We’re also treated to a cut-away of young Della and Donald exchanging Christmas gifts and we see that’s how Donald got his festive Christmas sweater and likely why Christmas came to mean so much to him. While the gang butchers The Twelve Days of Christmas, we also get to see Mrs. Beakley give Future a rather suggestive glance.

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It’s time to celebrate!

As the celebration wraps up, we’re then taken to a much quieter setting. On the moon, Della Duck looks longingly at Earth and at a picture of Scrooge, Donald, herself, and the eggs she left behind. With tears welling in her eyes, she wishes her boys a merry Christmas then resumes work on her spaceship vowing to return to them soon.

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Young Della and Donald exchanging gifts.

“Last Christmas!” is a tremendously fun ride of a Christmas special and a great way to kick things off this year. Time travel stories are often a blast and the show really has fun with it via numerous puns and by introducing a paradox of sorts. Past’s motivations for trying to trap Scrooge with him in the past is a bit rushed, but the results are so entertaining that it doesn’t matter much. It’s a fun twist to put on the Scrooge character, and I’m quite happy to see the writers elected to acknowledge the character’s connection to A Christmas Carol by turning the concept on its head as it would have been supremely disappointing if the show had just done a conventional re-telling.

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Donald and Dewey’s embrace at the end is a nice callback to the look Donald featured at the start of the episode when he was looking in on Dewey.

The first half of the episode is pretty fun, but the second half is where the show finds its emotional core. Dewey going back in time to meet his mother for the first time, but also a younger version of his uncle Donald, was quite sweet. Through their relationship he comes to understand his own with his family. It’s simple, but so effective here as the characters feel so honest, even though they’re cartoon ducks. Russi Taylor being given the role of young Donald is genius and I practically cried when I first heard her voice. It almost takes away from the humorous visual of young Donald. It also makes so much sense that I’m disappointed with myself for never thinking of it on my own. Even though this is a young version of Donald, it puts Ms. Taylor in rather exclusive company as being one of the few to officially voice Donald Duck for a Disney production. A well-deserved honor. It’s sadly all the more poignant too since we lost Taylor to cancer in 2019. Thankfully, we have hours upon hours of her voice to enjoy and to help keep her memory alive for generations to come.

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Della wishing her boys a merry Christmas is the episode’s last effort at inducing tears in its viewers. It’s probably successful.

This episode should also be commended for naturally fitting into the DuckTales continuity. Often holiday specials are a departure from a show’s narrative, sometimes they even feel non-canon. This one is special because it contains Dewey’s first interaction with his mother, even if she is just a child. It also brings the adult version in at the end to remind viewers she’s still out there, and in just a few episodes after this one she’ll finally return to Scrooge and her boys.

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“Last Christmas!” is heartwarming and fun without coming across as cheesy or conventional. Best of all, it doesn’t count if you’re playing Whamageddon! this year.

“Last Christmas!” is one of the best, new, Christmas specials I’ve been exposed to. Not only does it tell a fun and inventive story, it looks fantastic as well and is a supremely rewarding experience for those familiar with the original show and comics. I very much appreciate the obvious nods to Mickey’s Christmas Carol and the meticulous way the episode is crafted. So much of the resolution is hinted at early on, which is a must for any story dealing with time travel. Hopefully the writers of DuckTales return to time travel in future episodes as they appear to have a talent for handling it.

If you want to catch this excellent episode of DuckTales then keep an eye on the Disney Channel. I’m sure it will be shown more than once and may even be On Demand for certain cable subscribers. It’s also available for purchase via streaming platforms and on Disney Plus. Being a relatively new Christmas special in a still-running show, it should be easy to track down. And if this write-up didn’t make it clear enough, you absolutely should track it down this Christmas and every Christmas yet to come.

In one final act of nostalgic bliss, the ending credits are done up in the same style as Mickey’s Christmas Carol.


Russi Taylor

 

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

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

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Totally Minnie was essentially a reboot for the character.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


The Chronological Donald Duck Volume 4

donald vol 4For the third year in a row, we’re marking the birthday of Donald Duck with a post about The Walt Disney Treasures releases baring his name. Today is Donald Duck’s 85h birthday dating back to June 9, 1934 when the theatrical short The Wise Little Hen was released to theaters. Donald may not be the star today that he was back in the 40s, but he’s still one of the most recognizable cartoon characters around the world and it’s hard to imagine that changing anytime soon.

On November 11, 2008 Disney released the final edition of The Chronological Donald Duck. Allegedly, the company was going to stop at Volume 3, but enough fans made their voices heard and Disney finished off the series in proper fashion. I’m not sure why Disney would have stopped before this. Certainly, the amount of cartoons remaining may have been less celebrated than those on Volumes 2 and 3, but there were still enough remaining that Disney should have basically felt obligated to finish. Then again, the company is somewhat famous for incomplete releases as they just now finished releasing all of the episodes to the show DuckTales.

Volume 4 of The Chronological Donald Duck was limited to 39,500 copies. The original pressing also contained an error with one short, Bee on Guard, in which about five seconds were missing. Disney issued replacement discs, which probably won’t help you out in 2019 if you go seeking a set on the after market. Over 39k being issued seems like a lot for what is probably a niche release, but it’s a small enough printing that this volume is hardest to acquire. It routinely sells for well over $100 and I wonder if some of its scarcity is due to Disney collectors buying them when they first came out with the intention of sitting on them. With Disney+ on the way this fall, maybe prices will start to come down if these shorts wind up there, but for now this set is all we have if we want to see late era Donald Duck from the 1950s.

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Donald was basically the only character at Disney still getting the short treatment, which included a poster for every release. If I were a rich man I’d be a collector of these posters. They’re beautiful.

If you’re a Donald Duck fan and you don’t already have this set, then you’re probably looking at those after market prices and wondering if you should bite the bullet and grab a set. I’ll do my best in this post to help you make an informed decision, though it should be said if you’re staring at an eBay listing for $250 then there is probably no way a collection of old cartoons could live up to that price point (unless you’re quite wealthy and that kind of price tag is meaningless to you). I’ll say upfront that if all four volumes were readily available at retail then this set would be the least desirable, though certainly still worth the MSRP.

The cartoons in Volume 4 span almost the entirety of the 1950s beginning in 1951 with Dude Duck. It also contains the educational Donald shorts from 1959 and 1961. In addition, there are also 10 Mickey Mouseworks shorts starring Donald Duck from 1999-2000 included as bonus features. They’re not as good as the classics, but still a welcomed edition. Some of the shorts on this set are quite popular and probably the most popular is Trick or Treat, the 1952 short featuring Donald playing a trick on his nephews at Halloween rather than treating which invokes the wrath of the witch Hazel (voiced by the legendary June Foray). There are also encounters with Chip and Dale to be found here, Donald’s best foils.

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Trick or Treat is probably the most famous short from this collection.

Chip and Dale do some heavy lifting, but they aren’t the only foils who show up. The set begins with Donald opposite a reluctant horse when he visits the Bar None Ranch (maybe that’s where Nickelodeon’s Hey Dude got the idea) in Dude Duck. Humphrey Bear makes his second ever appearance in the short Rugged Bear in which he hides from hunters in Donald’s cabin and disguises himself as a bear skin rug. It’s good fun to see Donald unwittingly interacting with a bear. Humphrey also returns in Grin and Bear It where he’s basically a precursor to Yogi Bear as he seeks to steal Donald’s food. He’ll make a few more appearances as well making the second disc feel like The Humphrey Disc. There’s also a one-off adversary in The Flying Squirrel in which Donald is victimized once more by a rodent, only now this one can fly! Louie the Mountain Lion also returns in Donald’s first exposure to CinemaScope in Grand Canyonscope. Obviously, the cartoon wanted to take advantage of the aspect ratio by setting it at the Grand Canyon, but it’s still a worthwhile short to take in, especially since it actually includes Donald Duck basically destroying a national treasure.

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Grand Canyonscope also featured a new widescreen intro for Donald.

In addition to the usual, there are also some experimental shorts on this set. Probably the most entertaining is Donald’s Diary in which a narration (performed by Leslie Denison) of Donald’s life via his diary accompanies the visuals of Donald falling in love with Daisy and then having his life ruined by her. It livens up the format, though some of the humor may be a bit outdated, I still had fun with it, nonetheless. And then there are the two How to Have An Accident shorts, one being set in the home and the other at work. They’re hosted by a character named Fate and they’re basically slapstick cautionary tales imparting some pretty basic advice. I’m surprised Donald was called on to star in these as it feels more like a Goofy concept, but Donald is pretty entertaining when he’s getting hurt. The second of these shorts, How to Have An Accident at Work, is confined to the Vault section due to an offensive Chinese impression, but by Volume 4 the disclaimers have grown less intrusive.

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No Hunting features a rather hard to miss cameo.

Speaking of the Vault, there are only four additional shorts deemed “worthy” of the section. Uncle Donald’s Ants landed in the section due to an insensitive portrayal of Indigenous Africans via some ant characters. A couple of others are apparently there due to violent imagery. The previously mentioned Rugged Bear is a vaulted cartoon probably due to some uncomfortable gunplay and Donald “mowing” Humphrey with a lawnmower. No Hunting features more gunplay, though it’s a short that’s mostly known for featuring a cameo by Bambi and his mother. Spare the Rod also contains some characters called Pygmy Cannibals that are certainly offensive by today’s standards though also commonplace in media from the era. I would say, in general, the vaulted cartoons on this set are the least offensive we’ve seen, but I also grew up seeing worse on television as a kid.

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Bugs Bunny wasn’t the only one doing drag in the 50s.

This set also includes Donald’s brief foray into the world of “edutainment.” Depending on your age, you may have even seen some of these in school, in particular Donald in Mathmagic Land. The other two are Donald and the Wheel and The Litterbug. None are particularly entertaining, but worth a watch for the hell of it, I suppose. I can’t really attest to the educational value of them, but I suppose you could do worse. Surprisingly, Disney elected not to include Scrooge McDuck and Money which I actually would have liked to have seen here for the simple reason it was Scrooge McDuck’s first appearance outside of the opening credits to The Mickey Mouse Club show.  Donald also had other educational cartoons not featured, but I can’t say it’s a great loss. Sure, as a completionist, I’d have liked to have seen Donald’s Fire Survival Plan and Steel and America, but I can’t honestly say I miss them.

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When Disney started making new shorts for television in the late 90s of course Donald got to star again!

Lastly, we have the 10 shorts from the Mickey Mouseworks line of the late 90s and 2000s. I do enjoy the fact that Disney tried to resurrect the cartoon short and these characters specifically, but there’s definitely something missing. They don’t look as good as the old cartoons, despite being more recent, though they’re hardly ugly or anything. The characters often look and animate just fine, it’s the backgrounds that tend to be sparse and flat. Still, I’m glad someone like Tony Anselmo got the chance to voice Donald in proper shorts after voicing the character for so long. Daisy and the nephews get to appear as well and there are a handful of good gags, and a lot of recycled material. They’re worth watching, even more so than the educational stuff, but you’ll likely prefer the older cartoons to these.

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The Mouseworks shorts look pretty good for what they were, late 90s television animation.

The Mouseworks cartoons comprise the bulk of the special features. Leonard Maltin and Jerry Beck provide audio commentary on two shorts and it’s another thing worth a listen at least once. There’s also a walkthrough hosted by Eric Goldberg of an unproduced Donald Duck storyboard from 1946 called Trouble Shooters and it actually looks like we missed out on a pretty good cartoon. Lastly, there’s a little feature on Donald Duck’s foray into the world of comics. It only really covers the comics of the era these shorts are from and into the 60s, so Don Rosa fans might be let down. It’s a suitable overview though.

It was at this point that Donald Duck was showing some age. In particular, the shorts starring Chip and Dale can get a bit too familiar. There are three shorts here in which the plot is basically Chip and Dale getting involved in some miniature hobby of Donald’s:  a small house and village in Out of Scale, a miniature airplane in Test Pilot Donald, and a miniature sailboat in Chips Ahoy. Individually, they’re all pretty good but if you’re binging these (and they were never created with that idea in mind, to be fair) then you may experience a feeling of diminishing returns. There also appears to be a desire to shake things up here and there. In Lucky Number, for instance, the nephews appear to be teenaged as they are able to drive a car. Then, of course, there was also gimmicky stuff like the Cinemascope debut and even a 3D cartoon, Working for Peanuts, which is understandably not presented in 3D on the set.

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Humphrey Bear and Donald are a somewhat forgotten, but quite entertaining, pairing.

Volume 4 of The Chronological Donald Duck is a good finale for the character. There are some great shorts on this set, some that should be celebrated more than they are, and they are definitely worth owning if you’re a fan of Donald Duck or a fan of animation in general. Sure, some of the gags presented here are a bit too familiar and may have been done better in a previous short, but they’re still entertaining. The quality in the production is also still there. These may not be the very best looking Donald or Disney shorts, but they still hold up as a wonderful example of the type of animation we’ve lost. I don’t know what a fair price is for this set and thankfully I’ve owned it long enough at this point that I can’t remember what I personally paid for it. I don’t think I’d ever pay upwards of $200 for it, but I’d probably pay half that and even a bit more because I’m such an enthusiastic fan of Donald Duck. If you’re more of a casual fan then feel free to ignore this set. Get Volume 2 which is the cheapest and if you really want more after watching all of the cartoons on that one then you’ll have a better idea of what you’re willing to pay. And like a lot of classic Disney shorts, if you really just want to watch them they’re not hard to find streaming for free online.

The Shorts

1951

  • Dude Duck
  • Corn Chips
  • Test Pilot Donald
  • Lucky Number
  • Out of Scale
  • Bee on Guard

1952

  • Donald Applecore
  • Let’s Stick Together
  • Trick or Treat

1953

  • Don’s Fountain of Youth
  • The New Neighbor
  • Working for Peanuts
  • Canvas Back Duck

1954

  • Donald’s Diary
  • Dragon Around
  • Grin and Bear It
  • The Flying Squirrel
  • Grand Canyonscope

1955

  • Bearly Asleep
  • Beezy Bear
  • Up a Tree

1956

  • Chips Ahoy
  • How to Have an Accident In the Home

1959

  • Donald in Mathmagic Land

1961

  • Donald and the Wheel
  • The Litterbug

The Vault

  • Uncle Donald’s Ants (1952)
  • Rugged Bear (1953)
  • Spare the Road (1954)
  • No Hunting (1955)
  • How to Have An Accident at Work (1959)

Mickey Mouseworks (1999-2000)

  • Bird Brained Donald
  • Donald and the Big Nut
  • Donald’s Charmed Date
  • Donald’s Dinner Date
  • Donald’s Failed Fourth
  • Donald’s Rocket Ruckus
  • Donald’s Shell Shots
  • Donald’s Valentine Dollar
  • Music Store Donald
  • Survival of the Woodchucks

DuckTales Season One Review

ducktales newRebooting an old cartoon property has its pluses and minuses. On the one hand, reviving an old brand means the core of what you’re trying to build is already in place. Characters, relationships, stories, even music can all be mined from the old and adapted for the new. There are often tweaks made to the look of the show, new voices to cast, and a whole new team to assemble, but it’s undoubtedly easier and less expensive than starting from scratch. And it also allows a new generation of creators to take something they enjoyed as youngsters and mold it into something else. It also comes with risks, and as we’ve seen all too often recently there is an aspect of fandom that is, well, toxic to say the least. Take She-Ra, for example. Originally conceived as a way to market action figures to girls, She-Ra was integrated into He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, itself a show designed simply to sell toys to boys, and the backlash was swift and quick. Even those behind the creation of He-Man looked down on She-Ra and blamed her for hastening the decline of the franchise as a whole, “Now my sister wants to play with me? Gross!” This is all captured quite well in the documentary series The Toys That Made Us, if you want to know more.

She-Ra, I’m sure, had fans of her own, but they definitely were small in numbers, relatively speaking. Rarely did I ever hear anyone in conversation bring her up in a positive light and I literally met no one pining for a reboot in the same mold as He-Man himself. And yet, when a new concept was recently unveiled for She-Ra online the He-Man fandom and nerd culture as a whole was swift to pounce on it. Blaming it for ruining the character or for unoriginally adhering to the “CalArts style,” these fans were loud and largely obnoxious. It was similar to the backlash towards a new ThunderCats show that has yet to air. Did you ever watch ThunderCats back when it was originally aired? That show, just like She-Ra and He-Man and countless other programs, was terrible. It’s fine to be nostalgic for them because you grew up with them. I certainly watched a lot of crappy cartoons, but I don’t want to subject my kids to the same. If there are to be new versions of these shows I want them to be good! Not some 23 minute toy commercial. Fans should be happy these things still exist for a new audience. And the beauty of it all is, if you don’t like what’s new, you still have what’s old. It doesn’t go away or vanish the moment a new version shows up.

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The cast is much larger, but many episodes still revolve around Scrooge and his nephews (plus Webby).

It’s interesting that one of the companies behind the pivot from making shows that sell toys to just making good animated programming was Disney with its Disney Afternoon programming block. The original Disney Afternoon toon was Adventures of the Gummi Bears, but the show most associate with the block is none other than DuckTales. Basically a loose adaptation of the Carl Barks comics for television, DuckTales centered not around Donald Duck but around his rich Uncle Scrooge McDuck. He was partnered with his grand nephews Huey, Duey, and Louie along with his personal pilot Launchpad. Together they went on grand adventures searching for treasure. They wouldn’t just travel to far away places, but backwards and even forward in time! It was memorable for its lavish animation that went far beyond the likes of Dic and Hanna-Barbera. Not to mention for its incredibly catchy theme song.

As such, it seems appropriate that when it came time for Disney to adapt DuckTales for a new audience it largely escaped the internet backlash that had befallen other properties. Oh, I’m sure there are detractors that do not like the new visual style or the Felicia Barton sung intro, but by and large the response I have seen online and in person has been overwhelmingly positive. DuckTales just concluded its first season. Commercially, I have no idea how well the show has done, though it’s done well enough to receive a second season. It’s hard to judge that sort of thing in this day and age when ratings mean almost nothing thanks to streaming options and DVR. There hasn’t even been a tie-in toy-line until very recently so sales of that aren’t going to offer much of a measure. Creatively though, it’s hard to think of a cartoon reboot that has been more successful than DuckTales. The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles come close with their 2012 reboot, and really that ThunderCats reboot of a few years ago was miles ahead of the original, though it did not last very long. DuckTales is on another level though, and there are a lot of reasons why.

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After mostly chilling on the sidelines in the original series, Donald is a part of the main cast this time around. He doesn’t get to relax as much as this image suggests.

First and foremost, the work of Carl Barks has not been ignored. Scrooge is back to his red overcoat and he’s partnered with all of his nephews this time – including Donald Duck! Back when the original Disney Afternoon was conceived, Disney was hesitant about letting any of its big stars headline a show. Landing Donald for the few episodes he was in was a huge get, as characters like Mickey, Minnie, and Goofy were completely shut-out at the onset. That stigma has long since passed allowing Donald to finally star alongside his uncle as he should. Huey, Dewey, Louie are still around and now they have distinct looks and personalities all to themselves. The prior nephews in basically every iteration were interchangeable. It was part of their charm, but also pretty limiting from a character perspective. Now they’re free to be themselves and the writers are allowed to explore each individual duckling. Huey is the closest to the original mold, the burgeoning Junior Woodchuck. Louie is more slothful and laid back while Dewey embodies the adventurous spirit of his great-uncle with perhaps a touch too much enthusiasm. Webby is also back and she’s no longer the little girl who seems to get in the way, rather she’s an adventurer herself who looks upon the likes of Scrooge and Donald as something close to legendary figures. She’s good-natured, and her grannie Mrs. Beakly is still around to look after her. Oh, and Mrs. Beakly is no longer the meek maid to Scrooge but a former covert agent herself with a rather massive and intimidating physique.

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One of the more radical redesigns is that of Mrs. Beakley, who went from doting old maid to a tank-like brawler who still has a soft touch.

The show’s approach is similar to the original DuckTales, take Scrooge and the gang on adventures to fantastic worlds with treasures to uncover and villains to foil. Since the cast is larger, episodes will often pairs things down to just a handful and save the full cast for the most important episodes. It also includes more structured story-telling and the first season revolves around a character we’ve only ever seen mentioned, and rarely at that – Della Duck. Della is the sister to Donald and the mother to the boys, and at the end of the second episode (aired as one long episode for the premiere) the boys uncover a painting that depicts her alongside her brother and uncle. Della previously was basically only mentioned in the cartoon short “Donald’s Nephews” with Donald shown reading a letter from her asking her to watch her kids. She’s basically never been mentioned again and never seen, as far as I can recall. The boys start off knowing something happened to her and it may or may not have led to a falling out between Scrooge and Donald. The first episode deals with Donald reluctantly going to his uncle for help in watching the boys so he can go on a job interview, and that arch ends with Donald and the boys moving in as Donald seems to understand its best for his nephews (plus his house boat was destroyed in the process). The boys spend parts of the first season secretly investigating what happened to Della, and the mystery is unraveled slowly and takes some twists and turns. It even threatens to split the brothers apart as Dewey discovers something and decides to keep it from his brothers. Things come to a head in the penultimate episode leaving the finale, which just aired this past Saturday, to deal with the fall-out.

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Lena and Webby’s friendship is one of the main plot points weaved throughout the first season.

The other big teaser throughout the first season revolves around Scrooge’s old enemy – Magica De Spell (Catherine Tate)! She was a frequent foil in the original series so naturally she’s back. As basically the big baddie of the whole thing, it’s a lot of fun to see the show treat her as such. When the season begins she’s magically sealed away and only able to interact with the world through her niece Lena (Kimiko Glenn) who poses as a friendly sort in order to gain the trust of Scrooge and thus somehow free Magica from whatever keeps her sealed away. To do so she gets close to Webby and the two become best friends. Throughout much of the second half of the season we get to see Lena being pulled between the two forces in her life; her friendship with Webby and her loyalty to Magica. It’s nothing new, but it’s handled well and there are some genuinely emotional moments that come of this and there’s a lot of payoff in the end. Plus, the animators used this really creepy effect where Lena’s eyes turn black and “spill” shadows to form Magica. It’s genuinely unsettling.

The original DuckTales cartoon dealt with plots that continued from one episode into the other. There were even changes to the main cast as was the case with the introduction of Bubba and Gizmoduck. Those storyline pay-offs though were not on the equal with the new show. The main theme of family is at the core of this new show and it never strays too far from that. Very few of the episodes in the first season felt like filler as all seemed to serve some purpose. Either a character learns something about themself or their relationship to the others or something else happens to move the overall story along. It’s a great way to structure a show and I always love seeing what is primarily children’s programming take this sort of risk. There will always be television executives who look down on children and think the simpler the better, but trust me, kids notice this stuff and appreciate it when a show doesn’t treat them like brainless buffoons.

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Many of Scrooge’s old villains have returned.

Additional challenges arise when creating a new version of a 30-year-old show. Namely, the voice talent available isn’t the same anymore. Alan Young, who provided the voice of Scrooge for decades, is no longer with us. And since it was decided that the nephews would be approached differently this time around, the talents of Russi Taylor were declined and instead each was given a unique voice. These changes are often the hardest for the old fans since not only do these characters barely resemble what we fell in love with as children, but they also sound very different. Once you get past that change though, it’s hard to say bad things about this cast. David Tennant is a great Scrooge with a natural Scottish accent. He brings everything you need from a voice actor to the character. He can be gentle, intimidating, enthusiastic, and even sad. It was hard to say good-bye to Young, but Tennant has done a remarkable job in his first season at the helm. The nephews are voiced by Danny Pudi (Huey), Ben Schwartz (Dewey) and Bobby Moynihan (Louie) and they all impart their own personality on the characters. If there is one negative to this season, it’s that Dewey definitely feels more developed than the other two and thus Schwartz shines brighter than the others, but season 2 could easily rectify that. Kate Micucci is Webby and she was perfect in the role while Toks Olagundoye voices her grandmother Beakley. Beck Bennett plays a more aloof Launchpad, but otherwise kind of sounds like he’s trying to do Terry McGovern which is a little sad because I know McGovern really wanted the part. If you’re feeling uncomfortable with all of the newness in the cast then at least you have Tony Anselmo reprising his role as Donald Duck, as it should be.

The new visual style of the show is bright and expressive. It’s a bit flat, which seems to be a trend in 2D digital animation, but it has its own look which helps differentiate it from the original series. The look of the old series just can’t be duplicated in today’s environment, so the show was smart to not even try. I really like the new look for Scrooge and Donald and feel it suits them well. The nephews have taken some getting used to as they have really large heads and in some respects resemble chickens more than ducks. The backgrounds are all really well done and there’s plenty of variety to be found from suburban settings to creepy castles. There’s also more imaginative and fantastic settings to be found and the show does an admirable job of mixing things up. It does the same with the villains and guest spots and virtually everyone you know and love from the original series makes an appearance or two here. There are also a few new characters thrown around, some inconsequential and some rather imaginative (I’m looking at you statue-headed horse) and almost all have some pay-off.

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And many old allies are back as well.

Of the first season’s 23 episodes (25 if you count the premier and finale as two episodes) it’s hard to pick a favorite. The first episode, “Woo-oo” was wonderful for its patient and rewarding reintroduction of these timeless characters. Any episode that pits Scrooge against Glomgold was usually humorous and entertaining to watch and the episode “Beware the B.U.D.D.Y. System” was equally humorous for its focus on Launchpad, plus it had Gizmoduck! Some of the episodes have some rather delightful Easter Eggs in them. You have undoubtedly seen or heard about the numerous Darkwing Duck ones, and the finale included one Easter Egg from the old NES game. And it’s really hard for me to not just pick the last three episodes as my favorites. They’re the most weighty with the biggest emotional moments in the whole season. I even get a lump in my throat just thinking about them.

As I said earlier, it’s hard to imagine a reboot having as successful a reintroduction as DuckTales did in 2017 and into 2018. The new show proves the old comics and original series still have legs, their foundation was one that can anchor any show in any era. This is the rare reboot that should have little trouble appealing to the old fans while also being something new for a younger generation that may never have even heard of DuckTales before 2017. If nothing else, my own children have proven to me time and again that the old theme song will never go out of style as the two will happily sing it at the dinner table, from their car seats, or while they play. It’s really rewarding as a parent to see your children embrace something you loved as a kid yourself, even if it’s not the same and in a new form. I have no doubt that DuckTales is in good hands right now and I look forward to watching the second season with my kids, or even on my own after they go to bed (it can be hard to focus on these things with a pair of short-attention span toddlers).


PhatMojo DuckTales – Scrooge McDuck and Donald Duck

IMG_2498It’s been nearly a year since DuckTales returned to television airwaves. Scrooge McDuck, along with his nephews and surrogate niece Webby are back to solve mysteries and rewrite history. It’s a fun show that adheres more to the work of Carl Barks than to the series that ran in the 1980s while also doing its own thing. For the first time really ever, the nephews Huey, Dewey, and Louie are distinguishable by more than just the color of their clothes and the cast is large enough that the writers don’t seem to feel pressured into fitting everyone into every episode. Sometimes Scrooge will be missing, other times Donald will be. It seems to be a show more about the kids and how they view the almost mythological Scrooge. And it also has other mysteries to uncover and it’s mostly good fun.

Back when the original series ran it surprisingly did not coincide with a ton of merchandise. Maybe this was a deliberate attempt by Disney to distinguish its cartoons from the competition which were often toys first, shows second. The only DuckTales toy I can remember owning was a Gizmoduck that came in a box of cereal. It seemed like this new incarnation was going to befall the same fate, but along came PhatMojo to rectify that. Now, I know nothing of this company and this is my first introduction to them, but I’ll say it’s mostly a positive one. Alongside some figurines and plush dolls, PhatMojo has put out its first line of DuckTales actions figures. Apparently exclusive to Target, the inaugural line contains single-carded figures of Scrooge, Donald, Launchpad, and Flintheart Glomgold. In addition to those figures are a pair of two-packs of Huey and Dewey and one of Webby and Louie. Also available is Launchpad’s airplane which also comes with his figure and Scrooge’s Money Bin playset, which seems more like a storage device for your toys than a full-fledged play set.

I have a weakness for toys, that is obvious to anyone who reads this blog, and perhaps a greater weakness for Donald Duck merchandise. Despite that, I’ve actually never owned a proper Donald Duck figure until now. I have statues and Lego mini-figures, but no action figures. Most of the is due to scarcity. There is a phenomenal Donald Duck figure available by a company called Herocross, but to import him is over $100. Yikes! There have been some Kingdom Hearts Donald Duck figures, but those have never spoke to me for one reason or another. Years ago there was a line of figures based on Mickey’s Christmas Carol and I do kind of kick myself for not collecting it. I was in high school when those came out and just didn’t have much money for action figures. I’m guessing if I looked them up on eBay right now I would not like what I see in terms of price too. As for Scrooge, he received a pretty darn good figure just last year from Funko, purveyors of those Pop! figures you’ve probably seen everywhere. That Scrooge was part of a line based on the old Disney Afternoon so it’s Scrooge with his blue coat. Herocross also released a version of Scrooge from that series and it’s both awesome and terribly expensive.

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“Hello?”

Not wanting to get too far into another line of toys, I forced myself to just stick with Donald and Scrooge when I encountered them over the weekend at my local Target. Might as well start with an overview of the line as a whole. These are mass-market retail figures, and even though I’m a man in his mid-30s, I can admit these are aimed at children. As such, it stands to reason you shouldn’t expect collector grade quality with these figures, and the price of 8.99 a piece captures that. The figures have unique sculpts with simple paint apps and even simpler articulation. The heads sit on a ball-joint that offers solid range of motion, but that’s it for fancy joints. The shoulders are on simple pegs and there’s no elbow or wrist articulation. The legs are also on simple peg joints at the hip with no knee articulation. As a result, these figures are very limited in what they can do as far as posing goes, but what’s there has a solid build and isn’t flimsy or anything.

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That’s the best he can do as far as taking a picture goes.

Let’s talk Donald Duck first. In case you are unfamiliar with the show or the work of Carl Barks, this Donald is in his comic accurate attire, which is how he’s presented in the show (his more popular light blue shirt gets set on fire in the first episode). His shirt is black with gold buttons and he wears a white hat instead of a blue one. The character is brought to life once again by Tony Anselmo and it’s really fun to see this Donald on television for the first time. He’s not as quick to anger as his personality in the cartoon shorts dictates and he’s very much a doting uncle most interested in the well-being of his nephews. Donald stands just under 4″ and comes with two accessories:  a camera and a smart phone.

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What you see is what you get, but what you see also is pretty good.

First of all, this figure is a dead-ringer for the show. He has that rounded look in the head with harder lines on the beak. The paint app is simple because it doesn’t call for much, and my figure looks pretty good in that area (some on the pegs were less impressive). Because of the limited articulation, he can’t really do much with his accessories, but he can kind of hold the phone like he’s talking into it. My only criticism of the sculpt is in how the legs meet the body which looks odd, but it was obviously done this way to keep it simple. The little tassel on his hat is also molded to his head and I wish it was jutting out on its own to impart a touch more personality, but again, this is the simple approach. Donald has a sunny disposition to him which may have felt out of place for his toon counterpart, but for DuckTales this feels appropriate. Overall, this is a very solid figure that, while not much fun to pose, definitely nails the likeness.

For Scrooge, we have a slightly more ambitious design. His tophat, glasses, and overcoat make him slightly harder to sculpt, but once again PhatMojo pretty much nails it. His hat pushes him close to 4 1/2″ and he has his little tuffs of hair pushing out from underneath it. Some may be disappointed that the hat is non-removable, but I think it looks better this way. Like Donald, this Scrooge is more in-line with the design of Barks and features a red coat instead of the blue one from the 1980s. Voicing him in the show is David Tennant, and man did he have some pretty big shoes to fill, but so far he’s pretty much nailed it. He comes with two accessories of his own, his trusty cane and a little gold colored idol that just sort of sits there. His articulation is the same as his nephew, only his overcoat really limits what can be done with his legs. In fact, I can’t even tell if his legs are articulated or not since they basically can’t move.

Paint-wise, he’s a bit more of a mixed bag. I had a hard time finding a good one at the store and had to settle for what I have. He has a little red dot on the brim of his hat and in a few places on his coat is a dab of white or black that shouldn’t be there. It’s not killer, but I notice these things. His eyeglasses are also kind of funky. Rather than use a piece of transparent plastic like Funko did with their Scrooge, PhatMojo just made a block of plastic to place on his beak and painted on glasses. This means the open area where there are no glasses is just painted yellow. It looks okay from a head-on perspective, as his nose should probably be there anyway, but from an angle of any kind it’s a bit clumsy. Again, this feels like a cost-cutting move as cutting out the dead-space would mean a more fragile piece in the end, but I wish they did a little better here. All of the figures I saw also had a weird little gap underneath Scrooge’s belt buckle. Not really noticeable when the figure is just displayed, but pick it up and you’ll see it. It’s probably the result of how the bottom part of his overcoat was connected to his torso.

Even with the problems I highlighted with Scrooge, I still think he’s a sound figure and he looks great on my desk alongside Donald and Funko’s Scrooge. Both Donald and Scrooge look like they’re supposed to given the source material. And considering the price, it’s hard to quibble with them too much. When I was a kid, I paid upwards of 7.99 for ToyBiz figures and that was in the early and mid 90s. To only pay 8.99 for these in 2018 is a pretty tremendous value. I don’t know how fun they are for kids given how limited they are in what they can do, but I played with similar as a kid and had no shortage of good times. If you like the look of the new DuckTales and want some figures from it, give these a look. You may want to catch them in person rather than through the web given the paint issues I saw. And if you’re a stickler for scale you may be a little disappointed with the others as Launchpad is definitely on the small side and the kids a little too big relative to Scrooge and Donald. The two-packs also run a tad more expensive at 12.99 each, but given you’re getting two 3″ figures instead of one 4″ the value seems about equal. For me, I’m probably content to just stick with these two. If a Darkwing Duck or Gizmoduck shows up I may give them a look. I’ll also probably try and push my kid towards these things as I’m always looking to foster more duck-enthusiasm in him. Got to start them young!


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.

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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.

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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.

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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.


The Chronological Donald – Volume 2

1e_66925_0_TheChronologicalDonaldVolume21What day is today? It’s Donald’s birthday! He made his debut in the Silly Symphonies short “The Wise Little Hen” on this day back in 1934 making him one of the oldest reoccurring characters at Disney. And while he may not be the oldest, he’s the most entertaining. Yes, more so than Mickey Mouse, Goofy, and all the rest. He was basically the star of Disney’s shorts in the 40’s and 50’s when other characters were seeing their workload reduced. It was basically the creation of Donald that allowed Mickey to settle into his more everyman role as the wholesome and unblemished face of the brand. And while Goofy and Pluto continued to receive steady work during these years, they never came very close to eclipsing Donald Duck who proved to be the most versatile and naturally funny character in the company’s arsenal. He was likable enough that the audience could be asked to root for him, but possessed enough bad qualities that audiences could also delight in seeing him get his comeuppance.

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Volume Two of The Chronological Donald is best known for containing the WWII cartoons.

The Walt Disney Treasures collection is a series of DVD releases now long out of print. They fetch a pretty penny on the resale market now mostly because Disney has never really revisited them or printed them in mass quantities. They were the brainchild of film critic/historian Leonard Maltin, who felt these treasured shorts that defined Disney in the early days should be celebrated and made available. Since Disney no longer directly profits off of these cartoons, save for a bonus feature here and there on conventional releases, most of the shorts can actually be viewed on various streaming platforms online at no cost. Disney is expected to launch its own streaming service next year, so it will be interesting to see if lots of copyright claims start going up this year to get them pulled down.

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“Der Furher’s Face” contains some rather surreal imagery.

The DVDs are the way to go though if you want to watch these treasured shorts. Donald Duck had enough material to span four volumes, each being two discs, and of the four I think it’s safe to say the best overall collection is Volume 2. This captures the era of cartoons when Donald had settled into a nice groove, but had yet to become too formulaic. Released just after the Great Depression, there’s a lot of historical nuggets to chew on during disc one with Donald being rather poor and forced to ration things like rubber and gas. Perhaps most famously, are the World War II era cartoons contained in the “Vault” section on disc one. A lot of these could best be described as propaganda today, with Donald excitedly signing up for war in one and tackling Adolf Hitler in another.

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The boys have some fun at the expense of their uncle in “Donald’s Off Day.”

A great many Donald Duck cartoons typically place Donald in a fairly ordinary role, maybe in a conventional job or portraying a farmer, and then have him face-off with an adversary. In “Bellboy Donald,” he’s a bellhop on his last chance on the job to keep guests happy and he’s forced to deal with Pete’s punk kid who really tries his patience. In “Donald’s Garden” he’s a simple farmer with a rodent problem. A gopher, perhaps a precursor to the more famous duo of Chip and Dale, wants to eat his crops but Donald isn’t about to share. And then of course there’s his nephews which he clashes with at times such as in “Donald’s Snow Fight,” in which Donald wrecks their snowman and they plot revenge via a spectacular, over the top, snowball fight.

Other cartoons basically pit Donald against himself. In “The Plastic Inventor,” Donald tries to build a plane out of plastic, but he makes the mistake of getting it exposed to water while flying causing it to melt. In perhaps the best cartoon on disc two (and maybe the whole set), “Donald’s Crime,” he steals from his nephews’ piggy bank for a night on the town and is forced to confront the guilt he feels. And sometimes he’s also basically just playing the victim and we laugh at his misfortune, like in “Donald’s Off Day” where he just want to golf on his day off but the weather won’t allow it, forcing him to stay home with his nephews who play a vicious prank on him.

DonaldDuckInNutziLand_zpscc10584aThe war cartoons though, are definitely the most infamous on this set. Because they’re in The Vault and contain politically incorrect humor, they have a sort of forbidden fetish attached to them. They’re not all straight propaganda though. In “Donald Gets Drafted,” we see our duck protagonist in a very eager mood to enlist while a song cheerily lets us know that the Army is better than it’s ever been before. In the end though, while Donald hopes to be a fighter pilot, he just ends up going through basic training and is forced to peel potatoes. He gets some revenge against his mean drill sergeant, played by Pete, in the next cartoon, “The Vanishing Private,” when Donald uses invisible paint to disappear and harass his sergeant causing the general to think he’s crazy. “Der Fuehrer’s Face” is probably the most famous of these shorts, and not simply because it won an Academy Award. It depicts Donald in Nazi Germany being subjected to Hitler’s numerous brainwashing techniques and portraying daily life as horrible there. It also contains a rather unflattering portrayal of the Japanese, which also shows up in other shorts. It’s a surreal short though, and in the end it’s revealed to be a dream and Donald wakes up in the most garishly decorated bedroom of an unabashed American patriot. Everything about the cartoon is over the top, but it’s just so fascinating to watch as someone very far removed from that era.

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Goofy isn’t too good to appear in a Donald Duck cartoon.

If there is a shortcoming to this era of cartoons it’s that they’re not always the best looking. Some just weren’t properly taken care of, like “The Village Smithy” in which the film had aged so poorly Donald is basically yellow. Money was tight because of the war effort, so backgrounds are sometimes bland or sparse. The animation, by and large though, is still exceptional Disney quality animation. Another drawback though is perhaps the absence of more classic adversaries for Donald. Chip and Dale won’t show up until Volume 3, and they’re often thought of as Donald’s best foils. Pete is present in several shorts, and Donald pairs up with Goofy in a few others. There’s no Mickey though as he always receives top billing in any cartoon he shows up in. There are some one-off villains like a buzzard and gorilla, and if anything it’s nice to see some variety. The cartoons featuring Chip and Dale are more of a novelty than anything, as those two basically possess the same qualities as the gopher from “Donald’s Garden,” they just happen to be more recognizable.

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“A Day In The Life of Donald Duck” is probably my favorite special feature across the entirety of The Walt Disney Treasures line.

Volume 2 not only perhaps possesses the best set of Donald Duck cartoons ever created, but it also has arguably the best bonus features of any of the four. “A Day in the Life of Donald Duck” highlights the first disc and it’s a fake documentary of Donald’s day to day life from the old Disneyland TV series. He’s super imposed over live-action as he visits the Disney Studios in Burbank and even runs into his voice actor, Clarence Nash, at one point. It’s pretty funny and the effects still hold up well enough today. My own kids are convinced Donald is really interacting with the environment in it. Disc Two contains a sit-down between Maltin and current Donald Duck voice actor, Tony Anselmo. It’s a great interview and Anselmo details how he got the role, what it’s like to play Donald, and even discusses drawing and animating him. There’s also a retrospective on Carl Barks, long somewhat forgotten and ignored, Barks was the writer and artist for the Donald Duck and Scrooge McDuck comic books that often didn’t even bare his name. He has since experienced somewhat of a renaissance as Disney tried to remedy that during the 90’s and 2000’s. It’s nice finally seeing him get his due.

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“Donald’s Crime” may not be as famous as the WWII cartoons, but it might be the best on the set.

If you wanted to get just one collection of Donald Duck cartoons, then Volume Two of The Chronological Donald is the way to go. It tends to be the cheapest due in part to 125,000 sets being produced, which is more than Volumes 3 and 4 combined, though not as many as Volume One. You may not get the fun first appearances of Daisy, the nephews, or Chip and Dale, but what you do get is a collection of really entertaining cartoons. All of the sets are pretty entertaining in their own right, but Volume Two is the one I come back to most frequently. The cartoons are just really funny and feature good variety, though I could understand if someone preferred Volume Three over this one since it has more familiar adversaries, some great cartoons in its own right, plus it features the more memorable Donald Duck theme song. If you’re a fan of The Duck, or a fan of classic animation in general, then you should probably just try and get all four volumes because I don’t think you can count on Disney re-releasing these anytime soon or in a better package.

The Shorts

1940

  • The Volunteer Worker (presented as a Bonus Cartoon on disc two)

1942

  • Bellboy Donald
  • The Village Smithy
  • Donald’s Snow Fight
  • Donald’s Garden
  • Donald’s Gold Mine

1943

  • Donald’s Tire Trouble
  • Flying Jalopy

1944

  • Trombone Trouble
  • The Plastics Inventor
  • Donald’s Off Day
  • Donald Duck and the Gorilla
  • Contrary Condor

1945

  • The Eyes Have It
  • Donald’s Crime
  • Duck Pimples
  • No Sail
  • Cured Duck
  • The Clock Watcher
  • Old Sequoia

1946

  • Donald’s Double Trouble
  • Wet Paint
  • Dumb Bell of the Yukon
  • Lighthouse Keeping
  • Frank Duck Brings ‘Em Back Alive

The Vault

  • Donald Gets Drafted (1942)
  • The Vanishing Private
  • Sky Trooper
  • Der Fuehrer’s Face (1943)
  • Fall Out – Fall In
  • The Old Army Game
  • Home Defense
  • Commando Duck (1944)

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.


The Scariest Story Ever – A Mickey Mouse Halloween Spooktacular!

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

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Mickey’s house all tricked out for Halloween.

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

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

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Mickey trying to scare the kids.

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

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

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

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


Mickey Mouse Season One

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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