Judge Erich Asperschlager doesn't want to be part of a club that would have someone like Goofy as a member.
Our reviews of Mickey Mouse Clubhouse: Mickey Saves Santa And Other Mouseketales (published December 18th, 2006), Mickey Mouse Clubhouse: Mickey's Adventures In Wonderland (published October 7th, 2009), Mickey Mouse Clubhouse: Mickey's Big Splash (published May 13th, 2009), Mickey Mouse Clubhouse: Mickey's Great Clubhouse Hunt (published March 20th, 2007), Mickey Mouse Clubhouse: Mickey's Storybook Surprises (published September 22nd, 2008), Mickey Mouse Clubhouse: Minnie's Bow-Tique (published May 8th, 2010), and Mickey Mouse Clubhouse: Road Rally (published September 11th, 2010) are also available.
"It's the Mickey Mouse Clubhouse. Come inside, it's fun inside!"
To most kids these days, the Disney Channel is more closely associated with preteen heartthrobs and mediocre pop music than the studio's stable of classic characters. Thankfully, the channel the mouse built still has room for those old timers in programming aimed at the toddler set. Since 2006, the Mickey Mouse Clubhouse has been part of the Playhouse Disney block on the Disney Channel. Clubhouse stars animated icons Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Daisy, Pluto, and Goofy, rendered in updated CGI form. The series fulfills the Playhouse Disney mission of teaching kids as well as entertaining them. The show's newest DVD incarnation, Mickey Mouse Clubhouse: Choo-Choo Express hits just in time for Christmas. Perfect for babysitting the kids while mom and dad sleep off the last of the eggnog.
In each Mickey Mouse Clubhouse episode, the gang is given a set of "Mousekatools" by a machine called the "Mousekadoer," which help them complete some task. At various points during the story, they must summon a mouse-eared robot called "Toodles" to give them the right tool to solve the problem at hand. Choo-Choo Express begins with a visit from Professor Ludwig von Drake, who tells Mickey and company about his latest invention: snow that never melts so it can be played in all year long. In order to help him bring the "Easy-Freezy" snow down from Mistletoe Mountain, the club must find and assemble a choo-choo train. In the second half of the episode, they take the train (and a second set of Mousekatools) to pick up friends including Santa and Mrs. Claus and bring them back for a celebratory snow party. This episode is dedicated to longtime Mickey voice actor Wayne Allwine, who died in May of 2009.
If you've never seen Mickey Mouse Clubhouse before, you might be thrown by seeing your favorite Disney characters rendered in rather shoddy CGI. Considering the Disney-Pixar connection, I'm surprised the animation isn't better. That said, I doubt the show's target audience cares. When you need help tying your shoes, things like lighting effects and texture mapping probably don't seem important. What it lacks in style, though, Clubhouse makes up for in interactive learning.
All but the most jaded four-year-old will have a great time shouting back at the screen while watching Mickey Mouse Clubhouse. Mickey and the gang ask their young viewers questions about shapes and colors, to help them find things onscreen, to count aloud, and to summon the tool-spewing robot with frequent shouts of "Hey Toodles!" Consider this fair warning. If you watch this with your kids, you're going to have to join in the back-talk. Handy if you want to brush up on the difference between a rectangle and a triangle, but otherwise best left to the youngsters.
Besides the solid educational content, Clubhouse is pretty unremarkable. There's better kids programming out there, but there's also much worse. For this grumpy grown-up, the best thing about the show is that indie-rock greats They Might Be Giants wrote and perform the show's opening theme song and a dance number called "Hot Dog!" that ends each episode. As a bonus, the band wrote a new song especially for Choo-Choo Express called—wait for it—"Choo-Choo Express." The new number plays over the closing credits. The rest of the show's music is pretty forgettable. You'll probably want to forget the song "Let's Choo-Choo Boogie," which the clubbies sing pretty much every time they board the train.
In addition to the main feature, the disc also includes a bonus episode called "Mickey's Big Job," in which Willy the giant from "Mickey and the Beanstalk" asks the gang to take care of his farm while he goes to visit his mother. Unlike the widescreen presentation of the Choo-Choo Express episode, "Mickey's Big Job" is full-screen only. The bonus episode also includes options to watch it in something called "Interactive Adventure Mode," which pauses the action at various points and lets kids answer onscreen questions with their DVD remotes. There are two levels of difficulty, with the option for manual or automatic play for each. It's a pretty standard DVD remote game, but if your kid is old enough to handle a controller, he or she might enjoy it. I'm just not sure why they added the bonus game only for the bonus feature, and not the main episode.
Although Mickey Mouse Clubhouse: Choo-Choo Express skews young, it's a pleasant ride that educates tots while it entertains them. Parents may not want to watch with their kids for fear of getting roped into the show's call-and-response format, but at least they can feel good knowing their kids are getting to know some classic Disney characters.
Young kids will Choo-Choo choose this. Not guilty.
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