Judge Clark Douglas is keeping an eye on you, Cratchit. Keep your hands off that coal.
Celebrate the holidays with Mickey!
If I never see another adaptation of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, I would shed no tears. The story has been adapted literally hundreds of times, perhaps partially because the story is so easy to adapt to any setting. We've seen adaptations of the story by The Muppets, the Looney Tunes characters, The Smurfs, and…well, just about everybody. One of the more well-regarded versions is the 1983 television special Mickey's Christmas Carol, which serves as the highlight in the latest installment of the relatively new Disney Animation Collection.
In "Mickey's Christmas Carol," we meet the mean-spirited miser
Ebenezer Scrooge (Scrooge McDuck, naturally). His assistant Bob Cratchit (Mickey
Mouse) attempts to convince Scrooge of the value of Christmas, but Scrooge is
having none of it. After all, Christmas is a day in which people are doing
stupid things like spending time with their family instead of engaging in
commerce. However, on Christmas Eve night Scrooge is visited by three different
ghosts (Jiminy Cricket, the giant from Mickey and the Beanstalk, and an
unidentified shadowy figure) who attempt to teach him what Christmas is all
about. The production is an exceptionally tender and good-natured affair,
actually feeling like a logical extension of the franchise rather than a crass
commercial attempt to cash in on the holiday (anybody remember Shrek the Halls?). The animation is
particularly lovely, and the voice work (featuring such veterans as Hal Smith
and Alan Young) is top-notch. This 25-minute tale most assuredly deserves its
top-billing status. Understandably, "Mickey's Christmas Carol" looks
quite stellar due to being relatively new. The special is almost entirely free
of scratches and flecks, while the level of detail is sharp and clear. Colors
occasionally seem a bit faded, but there are no problems otherwise. The stereo
sound is fresh and clear in terms of dialogue and sound design, though some of
the music is slightly distorted.
Next up is another 25-minute story, "The Small One." The 1978
television special is one of the most explicitly religious productions in
Disney's history, offering a behind-the-scenes story of the donkey that would
eventually carry the pregnant Mary to Bethlehem. The protagonist of the story is
an unnamed boy, who regards the donkey (simply named The Small One) as his best
friend. They play together at the end of every day, and life is carefree for
both of them. Sadly, the day comes when the boy's father tells the young lad
that he must sell The Small One. Unfortunately, it seems that no one wants The
Small One. All of the potential buyers tell the boy that the donkey is too puny
and scrawny for them. Dejected and defeated, both the boy and the donkey start
to descend into despair…that is, until they meet a kind fellow named
Joseph. It's a very straightforward and charming tale, benefiting considerably
from warm animation and direction courtesy of Don Bluth. The transfer is a bit
rough, as scratches, flecks and discoloring afflict the imagery throughout. The
audio is also a bit distorted and pinched. Still, the simple story is well worth
a look, as it represents good storytelling in the classic tradition.
The next two pieces included on the DVD are very brief animated shorts.
"Pluto's Christmas Tree" is a seven-minute piece in which Chip n' Dale
cause a great deal of mischief and generally make poor Pluto very grumpy. I was
startled to discover that this short was made in 1952, because it looks and
sounds amazing. Far and away the best short on the set from a purely technical
perspective, it's clear that Disney has gone to great pains to clean this one
up. The short itself is merely a cute diversion.
The final installment is the six-minute "Santa's Workshop," in
which a group of cheerful elves prepare for Christmas. This is one of those
"slice-of-life" shorts, in which witnessing the basic pleasures of
witnessing a musical presentation of the eccentric way in which things work in
the North Pole serves as a substitute for the complete lack of a plot. Technical
qualities are pretty disappointing, particularly in the audio department.
Everything sounds as if it were recorded in a tin can. Meanwhile, the image is
blurry and covered in scratches and flecks.
There are no extras on the disc, aside from a collectible litho featuring an image from "Mickey's Christmas Carol."
Despite the inclusion of the throwaway "Santa's Workshop," this disc is a stellar collection of holiday-themed animated shorts. Recommended.
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Scales of Justice
• Collectible Litho
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