Sunday, December 23, 2012

"Mickey's Christmas Carol"

This 1983 short (well, twenty-five minutes) was--wikipedia tells me--the first theatrical Mickey Mouse cartoon in thirty years, and thus there was clearly a desire to really create a splash; to make this into a Big Thing (though that title is clearly just for name recognition; Mickey, as Bob Cratchit, is not at all the central character).  Also worth noting: we have here Clarence Nash's final performance as Donald and Alan Young's first as Scrooge.  Some sort of vague metaphor about transition and renewal seems to be called for.  Certainly, this is worlds beyond that Little Golden Book both in terms of textual fidelity and overall quality; ultimately, however, in absolute terms, the results are decidedly mixed.

To start with the positive: it looks really, really good.  Not for these producers the chintzy visual minimalism of tomorrow's entry; if nothing else, this cartoon really looks rich and alive.  Furthermore, and also unlike the aforementioned story, there is a wholehearted embrace of Disney's legacy; just about all the secondary characters, including random background people, are actual characters; for instance, the two guys who try to solicit money from Scrooge for charity are played by the water rat and mole from The Wind in the Willows via Mr. Toad's Wild Ride; Toad himself shows up later on as Mr. Fezziwig (spelled "Fezzywig" here, for whatever reason).  It's pretty fun just IDing familiar faces; we even get (non-speaking) animated appearances from Grandma and Gus:

Is that fun?  Sure, that's fun.  It's clear that the producers were not messing around here; they wanted to go all-out.

As for the story itself?  Well, it follows the general beats of the original, but overall, for better and for worse, it's a very loose adaptation in the specifics.  But before anything else, let's stop ignoring the elephant in the room and note what is by far the worst decision the producers made here, which is that Jacob Marley is played by fucking Goofy ("what makes you think your wife is crazy, Mr. Mouse?").  I find Marley's scene to be by far the most memorable part of Dickens' story, and this version just ruins it.  There's this bizarre tonal disconnect: on the one hand, the script tries to make it clear that he was a bad guy, who "robbed the widows and swindled the poor," but you just can't take this seriously, because his dialogue and mannerisms are all one hundred percent Goofy, including the "hilarious" bit where he trips and falls over Scrooge's cane:

ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME?  COME ON!  Granted, it's sort of hard to know what Disney character you would cast in this role, given a milieu in which Glomgold and especially Rockerduck are both far too obscure, but this was just about the worst way this could possibly have been played.  And on a somewhat subtler note, can I object to that "robbed the widows and swindled the poor" bit?  Granted, we don't get specific details of what this means, but the strong implication seems to be that we're talking about illegal activity here, which is substantially missing Dickens' point.  Just nothin' good to say here, except perhaps that his chains are nicely substantial--and look, we can even see the financial accoutrements that Dickens describes them as being composed of.  Whee.

The three spirits, however--played respectively by Jiminy Cricket, Wille the Giant from Mickey and the Beanstalk, and Pete--are a lot better, and somehow manage to capture the proper feeling…well, okay, that last one is pretty ridiculous, but I find the chutzpah endearing.  Christmas Present is best:

Really captures the feeling of plentitude that Dickens describes.

As for the visions themselves?  Again, a mixed bag.  They're extremely truncated, and this does not tend to work in their favor.  In the past, Fezziwig's party--featuring Scrooge's very hot-to-trot fiancée, here named "Isabelle"--is reasonably fun, but then the scene of the two of them breaking up is mishandled; here, he more or less actively rejects her, as opposed to the original, in which he just lets her slip away, which has a great deal more tragic resonance.  

That's all that happens in the past, and in the present, there's only one vision, at the Cratchit residence; the part with Fred's family is entirely absent.  This scene is actually quite good, however--certainly better than it is in our third entry, tomorrow.  This is the only version of the story I'm covering that features Tiny Tim, a character who is important to the narrative but is also easy to overplay and render just intolerably saccharine.  The cartoon avoids the latter, though it certainly never achieves Dickensian levels of pathos either.

Then, we transition quite abruptly into the very short future segment, which has the guts to show the Cratchits at Tim's grave, and then, oh no, here's Scrooge's grave, and then, bam, reform.  Here, "reform" consists mainly of an all-new scene where he visits the Cratchits, and again, I have to say: it's actually really good; heartwarming without being overly pushy about it.  And he makes Bob a partner, which seems to demonstrate an egalitarian spirit that you don't really see in the original.

…and did he really just stick this enormous roast goose, unwrapped, in the same bag as the toys?  Well, they had different ideas about hygiene back in the day.

So anyway, the cartoon is problematic--very problematic--in some ways, but overall pretty okay for what it is.  Coulda been great with a little revision, however.  Check back tomorrow at the regular blog for the centerpiece of this series.  Believe you me, it'll be a doozy.


  1. I’d love Glomgold as Marley – but if he’s too obscure (as he WAS in those pre-DuckTales days), how about Shere Khan (as a pre-cursor to his role in Tale Spin)? Or just dress-up Foulfellow or Brer Fox.

    And, if Grandma Duck wasn’t too obscure, why NOT Glomgold? I think Pete was an inspired choice!

  2. Geo,

    Sylvester Shyster or Eli Squinch might have worked well as potential Marleys, but then again, there's that problem with unfamiliarity. Generally speaking, it's difficult to use a traditional villain in this role, because part of what makes the Marley character effective is the fact that he must get across the need for repentance and reform. I can't imagine Glomgold (say) doing that.

    I agree that casting Goofy as Marley was a misstep, but what other role could he have taken? Fezziwig, maybe?


  3. That's not Gus. That's a character from "Aristocats"...

    Great review btw :))))))

    I think Grandma Duck was at that point way less obscure then Glomgold since he appear only in three Barks stories in America... I like Goofy Marley even if it was way off character... I wish they show him doing all the evil thing he mentioned ;)

  4. Yeah, Goofy is too inherently "nice guy" to play an effective Marley. If it was me, I'd have made a villain that I always kind of liked Marley– Pete was playing the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, but I would have made him Marley. And then we'd need a villain sinister enough to take over the role of Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come... I rather like the idea of the Ghost throwing back his hood to reveal Chernabog, one of the most evil Disney villains yet one that has no history of speaking.

  5. My Marley would have been Prince John from Robin Hood: reasonably comical but still an antagonist, has similar features to Uncle Scrooge's (both physically — whiskers — and psychically — love playing with money and all that). And they already showed other Robin Hood characters so why not him ?

    For the "widows and orphans" part, I always assumed that it was just something about heartlessly collecting debts from very poor and very lovable people, things you usually see when they have to portray a "bad" businessman.

  6. According to an interview on Mousetalgia, this was the first film that Tony Anselmo worked on as an animator. And one of the last that Clarence Nash worked on as a voice actor. Sunrise, sunset.