Released in 1983 with a reissue of The Rescuers, “Mickey’s Christmas Carol” was the first Mickey Mouse short in exactly thirty years (his last being 1953’s “The Simple Things). It’s a surprisingly straightforward retelling of the classic Charles Dickens’ story, much lower on the slapstick humor that would often be associated with any film starring the likes of Mickey, Donald, and Goofy.
Despite being top billed, Mickey has a relatively minor role as Bob Cratchit. The real star is Scrooge McDuck as, quite appropriately, Ebenezer Scrooge, the irrepressible miser who takes pride in robbing from widows and swindling the poor. On one fateful Christmas Eve night, he is haunted by a ghoulish collection of spirits – Goofy as his former partner Jacob Marley, Pinocchio‘s Jiminy Cricket as the Ghost of Christmas Past, Fun and Fancy Free‘s Willie the Giant as the Ghost of Christmas Present, and the devilish Pete as The Ghost of Christmas Future. His life’s regrettable and reprehensible actions having been thrown in his face, Scrooge rehabilitates for a joyous conclusion.
“Mickey’s Christmas Carol” was inspired by a 1974 holiday recording “An Adaptation of Dickens’ Christmas Carol by the Walt Disney Players” starring Alan Young who would also voice Scrooge in this production (as well as the character in the popular “DuckTales” television series several years later). Much of the dialogue and characterizations of the album would shape the film with a few minor alterations – the original Ghosts of Christmas Past and Future were The Sword in the Stone‘s Merlin and Snow White‘s Wicked Queen in her old hag guise, as well as Pinocchio‘s Foulfellow and Gideon as, in a bit of irony, the collectors for the poor (I guess they reformed after all).
Perhaps the most notable difference is that the album was primarily a musical featuring numbers such as “Money” sung by Scrooge and Mickey, “This is the Way Christmas Ought to Be,” and “What a Glorious Christmas Morning.” Despite Disney’s affinity for musical films, “Mickey’s Christmas Carol” is devoid of any of these songs which isn’t a significant pity because they were rather bland and forgettable (with the exception being “Under the Mistletoe” which is surprisingly lively). Instead, the film includes a new song that bookends the short, “Oh, What a Merry Christmas Day,” a memorable holiday tune that trumps any of the original compositions.
Compared to the album’s 35 minute running time, “Mickey’s Christmas Carol” was curtailed to a mere 26 minutes making it a brisk, if somewhat rushed, production. This is a case where a feature-length adaptation may have been more beneficial to the story and overall end product. Heck, the extra nine minutes of the album went a long way into evening the pace of the project (despite having one of those minutes dedicated to a “How fat are you?” joke at Willie the Giant’s expense).
As it is, the short is far more serious than expected, lacking a touch of the usual whimsical Disney approach. The humor is more dependent on the dialogue from the album which, to be fair, does include a few gems such as one of the funniest break-ups in cinema as Scrooge ends his romance with his old flame Isabelle (played by Daisy Duck) by foreclosing the mortgage on her honeymoon cottage.
Much more effective is the emotional sequence of Mickey Mouse at Tiny Tim’s gravestone. Seeing the generally effervescent Mickey overcome with anguished sorrow at his little boy’s death is perhaps the most tragic sequence ever associated with the character. It’s a poignant scene that supplements the more cheerful finale and reformation of Scrooge quite well.
All in all, “Mickey’s Christmas Carol” is a capable reworking of the classic holiday story. Although everyone has their favorite cinematic version (and there are a myriad of adaptations to choose from), I usually find that this is the one that I pick off the shelf each year. True, nostalgia has given me a bit more affinity towards it than it may deserve in comparison to some of the other more superior film versions of the tale. Yet, despite its minor flaws, “Mickey’s Christmas Carol” is a true holiday classic. It may lack a bit of playfulness generally associated with Disney productions, but it wisely avoids pandering to the lowest common denominator common with most holiday specials giving it a quality that can be enjoyed equally by the whole family.
“Mickey’s Christmas Carol” would be a turning point for a few major Disney voice actors. Aside from the first time that Alan Young voiced Scrooge McDuck in a film, it was also the first theatrical film to include the late Wayne Allwine as Mickey Mouse and the final outing for Donald Duck’s original voice by Clarence Nash. Although his voice sounds a bit more harsh and unintelligible than ever, this was a decent send-off for Nash who voiced the character for almost fifty years.
The short is a hodgepodge of assorted Disney characters, from regulars like Chip ‘n’ Dale to more obscure ones such as Mickey’s nephews, Morty and Ferdie, and Grandma Duck, as well as characters from the films The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad, The Aristocats, Robin Hood, and even Bedknobs and Broomsticks. What is quite shocking though is that it entirely omits Mickey’s faithful dog Pluto.
One aspect that I’ve always found oddly amusing in the Disney films and shorts is that these anthropomorphic animal characters enjoy a variety of human cuisine that one would logically think would end up being quite distasteful for them. I mean, wouldn’t Scrooge and Donald enjoying a meal of roast turkey be practically cannibalistic? After passing by the Three Little Pigs singing carols on a street corner, how appropriate is it that Scrooge is excited at the prospect of eating “suckling pig?”
Despite being devastatingly poor, it’s at least a comfort to note that Mickey could afford a celebrity grave-site for Tiny Tim as he’s buried adjacent to Bob Mills, Warren Oates, and Gladys Knight & the Pips (who apparently all were able to fit into a single grave).
Pixar buffs may take joy in noticing the familiar name of John Lasseter in the film’s opening credits (he was just a few years shy from leaving the Disney Studios for Pixar):
Alternate Title by Default
Merry Christmas to all from Hilarity by Default !!!
Join us in 2017 when we return to the traditional animated canon with Dumbo – a sweet, gentle tale about an adorable baby elephant, a colorful circus, and terrifying, intoxicated hallucinations. Enjoy! For more Disney Animated Shorts, click here.