Appellate Judge Mike Pinsky's ears always point the same way—no matter which way he turns his head.
Our reviews of Mickey Mouse Clubhouse: Choo-Choo Express (published December 7th, 2009), 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 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.
"Meeska…Mooseka…Mickey Mouse!"—Mickey, saying the magic words
When Disney announced plans for a computer-generated version of Mickey Mouse to take up residence in its Playhouse Disney lineup, fans of the eminent rodent and corporate pitchman were concerned. Was the venerable character getting too contemporary? Previous efforts at a CG Mickey had been met with mixed reactions. There was a brief joke at the end of the Muppet 3-D movie featured at the Disney Studio Park, and a fairly traditional looking CG Mickey playing host for the "Mickey's Philharmagic" attraction—although most of that show revolved around a CG Donald Duck getting into trouble. But could Mickey sustain a whole show for the little ones?
To structure the new series, Disney followed a successful formula. Yes, at first glance, Mickey Mouse Clubhouse looks like a knock-off of the popular Dora the Explorer. Dora solves puzzles, often using props provided by her Backpack. Each successful action is followed by fanfare. Dora asks the audience directly for help, and at the end of the journey, she recaps what happened. Mickey solves puzzles, often using props provided by "Toodles," a flying mechanical assistant, after which there is fanfare. Mickey asks the audience directly for help, and at the end of each episode, he recaps what happened. The only major difference is that Dora is bilingual (although that feature has been taken over by another Playhouse Disney show, the Bob the Builder-style Handy Manny).
When I asked my daughter which show she prefers, she did not equivocate: Mickey Mouse Clubhouse was hands down the winner over Dora. Dora may have gotten here first, but its animation appears cheap, the voices are grating, and the dialogue is repetitive. While the Disney show has its formulaic elements (as do all kiddie shows, because of budget and the theory that kids like predictability), its energy, color, and infectious sense of cheer makes it extremely watchable. There is educational content here—problem solving, basic counting, and the like—but this is aimed squarely at the preschool set and never gets overly didactic.
In each episode, Mickey joins the audience in conjuring his clubhouse by saying the magic words. Then, after the opening song (opening and closing musical numbers are by They Might Be Giants, who seem to turn up everywhere these days with music for the preschool set), we introduce the plot. Some problem must be resolved, so Mickey turns to the "Mousekedooer" to generate group of seemingly random items (three specific ones and a "mystery mouseketool") for Toodles to carry. Then it is off for adventure with any or all of the Disney "Fab Five" in tow: Minnie, Donald, Daisy, Goofy, and Pluto. Okay, I guess with Mickey that makes six. And then sometimes Chip and Dale, or Clarabelle Cow, or somebody else helps out. And—well, you get the point. Finally, after everything is resolved and everybody is happy, Mickey and the gang do the "hot dog dance" and fold up the clubhouse until tomorrow.
The clubhouse itself follows a design conceit used for Mickey Mouse merchandise created over the last decade or so: Mickey's iconic body parts subdivided. Head and ears, gloved hands, buttoned pants, yellow shoes. The art design throughout the whole show has an eye toward simple, often abstracted iconography. Trees are textured spheres (and sometimes cubes or triangles). Landscape curves gently; architecture is rounded and playful. Even the show's most frequent villain, Pete (sans peg leg, as he had in the old days), is more a roly-poly bully-boy who is only prone to creating minor inconveniences.
Mickey Mouse Clubhouse: Mickey's Great Clubhouse Hunt is the first direct-to-DVD movie based on the show. This is a standard pattern for Disney: establish a popular show, then release periodic original product on DVD. Then later, you split up the "DVD only" material into episodes and run them on the air. In any case, Mickey's Great Clubhouse Hunt is an Easter-themed story that runs about 50 minutes (the length of two television episodes). Mickey is planning an Easter party. All his friends have received invitations—except Pete. So Pete tries to crash the party dressed as Mickey, but when tested by a suspicious Minnie, he says the wrong magic words. The clubhouse disassembles, and the pieces fly off.
With the help of Toodles, your kids, and nutty Professor Ludwig Von Drake, Mickey must journey far and wide—including outer space—to get the pieces of the clubhouse together and rescue his trapped friends. Oh, and teach Pete the true meaning of, uh, whatever it is that misguided characters learn in these sorts of shows. And then it all ends happily, and everybody does the hot dog dance.
To pad the disc out to feature length, Disney throws in another episode that has not aired yet on television. In "Donald's Hiccups," the entire gang is rehearsing for a musical performance. Oddly, they plan to sing the old "Mickey Mouse Club March," making this, to my knowledge, the first time the song has been used in this new show. But everybody (not just Donald) gets the hiccups, and Mickey must figure out how to cure them in time for the show. This episode, like the television show, is presented only in full screen. The main "feature," however, is shown in anamorphic widescreen. Given that this show is created entirely by computer, it should not be any trouble recompositing these DVD episodes so that they are all in anamorphic widescreen.
The only extra on the disc is a karaoke version of the Spring-themed musical number performed twice during the main feature. During the feature, the song is accompanied by graphics reminiscent of some '60s television show, complete with surreal overhead shots and even a Brady Bunch homage. This music video mostly offers clips from the episode.
One paltry extra feature and an uneasy sense that this will run on television in a few months anyway make it hard for me to recommend Mickey's Great Clubhouse Hunt for a purchase on its own merits. But I do recommend the television show, Mickey Mouse Clubhouse. It is good to see Mickey and friends back at work. Even as he nears 80, the old boy can still put on a show.
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