Welcome to the Rotoscopers Twelve Days of Christmas! Every day until Christmas Eve, we’ll be taking a look at a holiday-themed piece of animation. Check back each day for a new review!
When people talk about Disney animation and Christmas, Mickey’s Christmas Carol usually comes up first. That’s perfectly understandable; after all, Mickey’s Christmas Carol is a wonderful short. (In fact, it’ll feature later in our Twelve Days countdown, and there’s even a podcast episode about it!) Unfortunately, however, this often means that other good Disney Christmas films get neglected. Case in point: 1999’s Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmas.
It’s easy to see why Once Upon a Christmas gets lost in the shuffle. It’s a direct-to-video movie, and Disney direct-to-video releases carry a negative stigma about them. It’s an anthology film, and that form of film also has negative connotations floating around it. The animation isn’t quite as lush as Disney Animation’s theatrical releases. All these claims are true.
These things don’t really matter, though. Once Upon a Christmas is still good. The film has its faults, but, overall, it’s a lovely little movie that packs a lot of Christmas spirit.
The movie opens with “Stuck on Christmas,” which revolves around Donald Duck and his nephews Huey, Dewey, and Louie. The plot is basically a Christmas-ized version of Groundhog Day: after a wonderful Christmas, Huey, Dewey, and Louie wish that every day was Christmas. Their wish is granted, but it gets dull quickly. The boys try to liven things up, but they eventually realize that the only way to enjoy their time loop is to embrace the true Christmas spirit.
I’m a huge fan of Disney’s Donald Duck comic books, so this was the segment I was looking forward to most. I wasn’t disappointed, either. The story carries the same zany tone, tight writing, and broad comedy that the best comic book stories have. It also boasts a lot of heart! The moment when Daisy explains why Christmas dinner is her favorite part of the day is quite touching, as is the moment when the nephews finally read the Christmas card they ignored.
So, in short, “Stuck on Christmas” is a fun, time travel-seasoned story that boasts a strong Christmas message. What more could you want?
Well, you could want “A Very Goofy Christmas.” In this tale, Goofy and Max are happily getting ready for the holidays when Pete throws a wrench in the works: he tells Max that Santa Claus doesn’t exist. Pete’s assertion plants seeds of doubt in Max’s mind, and he begins to grow cynical about the holidays. Goofy tries everything he can think of to reignite Max’s excitement, but nothing works. Finally – as a last-ditch effort – Goofy takes up an all-night vigil on his roof, determined to capture photographic proof that Santa exists.
I’ll be honest: this is my least favorite of the film’s three stories. This definitely doesn’t mean it’s bad, though! The segment boasts several good scenes, like a stellar mail truck chase and a touching holiday dinner with a poor family. The chemistry between Goofy and Max is spot-on. It’s easy to tell that Max loves his dad, even if he occasionally gets exasperated with him. It’s equally easy to see that Goofy is a devoted father who would go to the ends of the earth for Max. And, of course, Bill Farmer does his usual amazing job voicing Goofy, as does Jim Cummings as Pete!
That brings us to the third story: “Mickey and Minnie’s Gift of the Magi.” In this story, Mickey and Minnie know exactly what they want to get each other for Christmas. Mickey wants to give Minnie a gold chain for her pocket watch and Minnie wants to buy a case for Mickey’s prized harmonica. Unfortunately, money is tight, and time is growing short. Both Mickey and Minnie strive to earn the money, but things keep falling through. Ultimately, Mickey and Minnie both make huge sacrifices to get the special gift for their beloved.
This is definitely my favorite of the three stories. The story borrows nostalgia points from both Mickey and Minnie and O. Henry’s classic short story “The Gift of the Magi,” and those extra points pay off in spades. This story feels like it was lifted from a classic holiday film from the ’40s, something in the mold of Miracle on 34th Street or It’s A Wonderful Life. The small-town setting has a timeless vibe that infuses the whole story, giving it a warm glow. Mickey KILLS IT as a harmonica player, giving the Christmas song soundtrack a unique flair. And, of course, I won’t give away the ending, but – if you’ve read the original short story – you already know what it is. It’s an ending that never fails to get my tears flowing!
So, yes. I’ll admit that Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmas is flawed. It’s a little uneven in the quality of the stories and the animation does look a little cheap. However, those flaws don’t really matter when I’m in the thick of the movie. The film carries a warm, happy holiday spirit that totally makes up for the small imperfections. That special spirit definitely makes Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmas worth watching!
Do you like Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmas? Why or why not?
Edited by: Hannah Wilkes