Thursday, December 17, 2015
"Mickey's Christmas Carol" (A 25 Days of Shitmas Post) from JP Wendel of Death Blog The Blog That Eats People
My grandmother loves Christmas. Like, LOVES Christmas. You know the type: decorations --well, certain decorations, she's not quite that bad yet-- up all year round, the ol' Cadillac filled with nothing but cassette tapes of the holiday classics (side note: fuck Bing Crosbey), and Christmas specials on VHS playing at all times. Among these specials were such gems as the Simpsons Christmas special, aka "Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire," The Muppets' Christmas Carol (which I absolutely adore and, who knows, maybe I'll write about that next year), and the subject of this Shitmas post, the 1983 Disney short Mickey's Christmas Carol.
Mickey's Christmas Carol had the misfortune of coming out during the tail end of what is popularly referred to as Disney's "Dark Age," the span of years between 1968 --one year after the death of Walt Disney himself-- all the way until the smash success of The Little Mermaid in 1988. During the period, Disney was essentially hemorrhaging money; almost every film released, both live-action and animated, were critical and commercial disasters while the Disney parks were suffering from the one-two punch of a depression and gas shortage all throughout the '70s. So, as you might imagine, they were doing everything conceivable to cut corners, which led to most folks nowadays mocking the animated features released during this time for looking much rougher and cheaper than the ones both before and after the great blight. However, I dig several of the films released during this time, some I even consider to be on my list of favorite Disney films of all time, and I personally like the rough and somewhat sketchy animation these movies employee. In fact, in the case of Mickey's Christmas Carol and a few others (like Robin Hood and The Fox & The Hound) I think the style actually suits the storytelling and subject matter really well.
For those of you who've somehow managed to miss the literally hundreds of adaptations, references, reworkings and parodies of the basic story, A Christmas Carol, originally written by beloved author/renowned misogynist Charles Dickens, is the timeless tale about how an old miserly bastard named Scrooge is essentially terrorized one night by malevolent spirits into rejecting his old douchey ways and being nice and spreading a bit of that ol' holiday cheer instead. Or at least that's the cynical way of looking at it, I like to think of it as an old dude who gains a little bit of perspective...by being terrorized by the undead.
This version of the classic story stars Scrooge McDuck, everyone's favorite Scottish waterfowl as, appropriately enough, Ebenezer Scrooge. He's visited in his bedchamber one lonely Christmas Eve by the chain-wrapped ghost of his dead business partner Jacob Marley, Goofy in this iteration, who warns him he needs to change his wicked ways or he will be tormented in the afterlife by his own set of ghastly chains, and to inform him that three spirits will visit him to hopefully help him in doing so. Scrooge initially laughs this encounter off assuming he hallucinated spectral visitor -- though sadly leaving the hilarious gravy pun from the novel out-- until the clocks strikes one and he's visited by three ghosts one after the other; the Ghost of Christmas Past, Christmas Present and Christmas Yet to Come, portrayed by Jiminy Cricket, the Giant from Jack and the Beanstalk and Goofy's usual arch enemy Pete, respectively. By the time our three holy, jolly poltergeists are finished showing him the wonders of Christmas and threatening him with eternal damnation, he's giggling like a maniac and makes his beleaguered assistant Bob Cratchet --Mickey, finally bothering to get up off his lazy mouse ass to make an appearance in the film named after him-- his new business partner.
At a scant 26 minutes, they had to excise large portions of the novel, keeping story elements to a bare minimum. Part of me really wants to think that was an intentional choice, but I have to assume the short running time was directly related to aforementioned scourge. That would also explain all the reused animations (an often-used, and widely criticized, trick Disney used as a cost cutting measure during the Dark Age where they would use animations from other movies and essentially reskin them for their current project), so if you were wondering why you might have flashbacks to Robin Hood and The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad while watching the party scene at Fezziwig's, well now you know.
Despite these shortcomings, the short was a pretty big success for Disney when it opened with The Rescuers in December of '83. Not only did it receive very positive reviews from the likes of Leonard Maltin and Robin Allen --let's just ignore the brutal eviscerating it got from Siskel and Ebert-- put it was the first Mickey Mouse short to earn an Oscar nod for Best Animated Short since 1948's Mickey and the Seal. Pretty impressive for a cartoon about ghouls bullying a miserly-but-ultimately harmless octogenarian.
- JP Wendel
Death Blog the Blog that Eats People