Saturday, July 9, 2022

Mickey's Christmas Carol

Considering the longevity of Charles Dickens’ immortal novella, A Christmas Carol, and Disney’s penchant for adapting public domain works, it was only inevitable that the two would eventually cross paths. That was exactly what happened in 1983, when Disney released Mickey’s Christmas Carol, an adaptation of A Christmas Carol starring Scrooge McDuck and featuring Mickey Mouse and friends, as well as characters from other Disney films. This featurette would also mark Mickey’s return to theaters after a thirty-year gap, with The Simple Things (1953) serving as his last original venture, and accompanied a re-release of The Rescuers (1977). Naturally, Mickey’s Christmas Carol would also receive its own home video release, which was how we watched it for the first time, specifically through a Blu-ray, and how we concluded that despite its short length, it could still easily serve as a Christmas staple.

On Christmas Eve in 19th-century London, Ebenezer Scrooge (played by Scrooge McDuck, voiced by Alan Young) shows his selfish and miserly ways when he refuses money to a panhandler, declines his nephew Fred’s (played by Donald Duck, voiced by Clarence Nash) invitation for Christmas dinner and objects to donating money to the poor. Although he agrees to give his sole employee Bob Cratchit (played by Mickey Mouse, voiced by Wayne Allwine) half of Christmas Day off, he’s to dock him half a day’s pay. When he returns home for the evening, he’s visited by the spirit of his late business partner, Jacob Marley (played by Goofy, voiced by Hal Smith), who warns him to change his ways or suffer his same fate and be condemned in the afterlife. When Scrooge is unconvinced, Marley tells him that he’ll be haunted by three spirits that night and that he should listen to them and do as they say.

Ebenezer Scrooge (played by Scrooge McDuck, voiced by Alan Young; left)
is warned by Jacob Marley (player by Goofy, voiced by Hal Smith; right)
to change his ways or suffer his same fate.

As far as directly adapting A Christmas Carol goes, Mickey’s Christmas Carol doesn’t really reinvent the wheel. It hits all of the major story beats that audiences would expect it to and also includes Scrooge’s nephew, who doesn’t always appear in the countless adaptations of A Christmas Carol. However, the short runtime, about twenty-six minutes, means a very fast pace that can make the story feel rushed, especially the transition between the Ghost of Christmas Present (played by Willie the Giant, voiced by Will Ryan) and the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come (played by Pete, voiced by Will Ryan).

While this featurette does respect the source material, it still has some of the classic Disney flair that fans would also expect. This includes mining humor out of some scenes, like incorporating Goofy’s clumsiness into Scrooge’s meeting with Jacob Marley, and injecting some original dialogue that suits the personalities of the Disney cast. These changes help keep the story fresh for those already familiar with it, especially those who may have memorized all the famous lines, but don’t feel too out of place in-context.

As expected from Disney, Mickey’s Christmas Carol has great animation, with smooth movements and expressive characters. The backgrounds remain impressive, with a loving amount of detail that fits the setting and helps the world feel lived-in. Viewers may also appreciate the great lighting and effects, which set the tone of each scene well and contribute heavily to the atmosphere of certain scenes. One in particular, the encounter with the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, plays with the lighting of fire, from a match struck on (and subsequently illuminating) Scrooge’s tombstone to the more voluminous flames that erupt shortly after. This scene also demonstrates that despite the colorful cast of familiar cartoon characters, this adaptation wasn’t afraid to include darker imagery, an admittedly admirable quality, though it makes for a very strong image for younger viewers. Observant viewers may also notice characters from other animated Disney films, like Robin Hood (1973), among the extras.

The subtle lighting helps elevate the tone.

In more ways than one, Mickey’s Christmas Carol is also well-cast. Each of the Disney characters are appropriately chosen for the part they play in the story, like how casting Donald as Fred matches that Donald is also canonically Scrooge’s nephew and how Scrooge McDuck essentially plays himself as Ebenezer Scrooge. Mickey may play Bob Cratchit, despite his top billing, but Mickey and Minnie’s extended families from the Mickey Mouse universe allow for enough characters to fill the Cratchit family. Jiminy Cricket, Willie the Giant and Pete’s appearances and personalities also fit their respective roles as the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future.

Each of the characters’ voice actors are also well-cast, since most of them had gotten comfortable with their official roles by this point. As such, there aren’t really any complaints, since they all have a great emotional range. Interestingly, Mickey’s Christmas Carol also marks some firsts and lasts for the stable of official Disney voices. Clarence Nash, the only living original voice at the time, gave his final performance as Donald Duck in this featurette while Alan Young would begin his tenure with Scrooge McDuck in animation (he had previously voiced the character on the musical album that predated the featurette).

Despite its short length, Mickey’s Christmas Carol has plenty of heart that honors the source material while still feeling uniquely Disney. If you’re looking for a different take on A Christmas Carol or a good animated film to add to your regular holiday lineup, consider giving this one a shot.

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