Judge Clark Douglas was once snowed in at the House of Maus. It was very depressing.
Bound to become a holiday tradition for you and your family!
One could be forgiven for picking up the Mickey's Magical Christmas: Snowed in at the House of Mouse DVD and thinking that they're getting an original animated feature film. After all, the words "A Full-Length Holiday Adventure" are plastered on the front of the case, along with the somewhat eyebrow-raising combination of Mickey, Donald, Goofy, Chip n' Dale, Ariel, Cinderella, Snow White, Simba, and other Disney characters loitering all over the packaging. Alas, this is not a great big Christmas extravaganza starring every popular Disney character, but rather a series of repackaged holiday-themed Disney shorts connected by brief bits of new material. Well, I say "new," but that's a bit misleading. This special was actually produced all the way back in 2001, but is now being repackaged (quite literally…the disc opens with a trailer claiming that Atlantis: The Lost Empire is "coming soon to theaters") for the 2009 holiday season.
To explain the special, I first need to explain the origins of Disney's House of Mouse. The animated program kicked off in 2001 and ran until 2003. The basic idea was that Mickey Mouse ran a nightclub that all of the other Disney characters frequented (even villains). All of the Disney characters would interact with each other and cartoon shorts would be presented over the course of the half-hour show. This 61-minute special essentially does the same thing, with the noteworthy difference that older shorts are being offered up rather than original cartoons. The rather odd thing is that there is less House of Mouse-specific material in the hour-long special than one typically found in a 22-minute episode of the television show (as evidenced by contrasting the main feature to the premiere episode of Disney's House of Mouse, which is included on the disc).
Mickey Mouse kicks things off by informing viewers that they're about to enjoy a terrific holiday celebration, and then proceeds to host a variety of lightweight interview sequences between the vintage shorts. For instance, he asks a group of Disney characters what they want for Christmas. "Beauty!" says The Beast. "Aladdin's Lamp!" says Jafar. "Honey!" says Winnie the Pooh. "Your voice!" says Ursula. You get the idea. This material is pretty thin, but I suppose some may enjoy the basic novelty of seeing characters from different films and franchises interact a little bit. Some of the imitation voice-acting gets a bit distracting, though (especially the guy trying to mimic David Spade's character from The Emperor's New Groove).
Nonetheless, the special lives or dies on the strength of the shorts included, so what's here and how good is it? Well, a whopping 26 minutes of the 61-minute running time is taken up by the classic Mickey's Christmas Carol (which was just re-released as the centerpiece installment in Walt Disney Animation Collection: Mickey's Christmas Carol). It's a great short, but it seems rather suspect that Disney is releasing two discs primarily centered around the same animated special within weeks of each other. Making matters even worse is the fact that "Mickey's Christmas Carol" isn't the only short taking up space on both discs, as Mickey's Magical Christmas also includes the charming 7-minute "Pluto's Christmas Tree" short.
So what's unique to this disc, other than the House of Mouse material? Just two fairly recent animated shorts from the 1999 animated series Mickey Mouse Works. In "Donald on Ice," the irritable duck gets into all sorts of unfortunate situations while attempting to ice skate. It's a fairly mundane short that seems sloppy in contrast to the vintage slapstick pieces it imitates. Nowhere is this more evident than in the music: charmingly on-the-nose Carl Stalling-style "Mickey Mousing" is replaced by breezy, free-flowing melodies that make very little effort to accentuate the gags. Ordinarily I'm not a huge fan of on-the-nose scoring, but cartoons like this practically beg for it. The second short is a re-telling of "The Nutcracker" starring Mickey and Minnie Mouse (with special appearances by Ludwig von Drake and Donald Duck). The narration courtesy of John Cleese is witty and amusing, but the wretched updating of Tchaikovsky's classic music (which sounds like a marriage between Queen and Fisher-Price) will make your ears bleed. Forced to pick between this disc and the very similar Disney Animation Collection disc, I have to go with the latter (as the excellent "Small One" short included on that disc is easily a stronger draw than either of these two Mickey Mouse Works shorts).
The DVD transfer is just so-so, but then one must remember that this is a repackaging of a disc that was initially released a while back. The image is clear and clean, offering reasonably sharp detail and satisfactory depth. That said, it's nothing special, more or less looking exactly like you would expect a release of an animated television show to look. The audio is functional, getting the job done without ever impressing in any noteworthy way. Extras include the premiere episode of Disney's House of Mouse (only mildly fun), a 2-minute making-of featurette and a couple of sing-along videos. Meh.
Unless you're one of those people who compulsively buys every new Disney release ("It's for the rewards points!"), there's no good reason to check out this disc. Everything good on the disc can be found on the recently-released Walt Disney Animation Collection disc; everything else is more or less a waste of time. Too bad, and surely a disappointment for those still hoping Disney will get around to releasing more of those House of Mouse episodes.
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