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!
The early ’80s were quite far from Disney Animation’s glory days, and yet from it stemmed a perennial favorite that many families gravitate toward each and every holiday season. Today’s we’re taking a look at the 1983 featurette Mickey’s Christmas Carol.
Produced by Walt Disney Animation Studios, Mickey’s Christmas Carol came sandwiched between 1981’s The Fox and the Hound and 1985’s The Black Cauldron. This is an era known for its struggles as old and new animators had difficulty finding a voice for the studio following Walt’s death (despite that it had been nearly two decades prior). Michael Eisner had not yet arrived to save the day, though that time would come soon.
Mickey’s Christmas Carol released theatrically with a reissue of The Rescuers as an adaptation of a 1974 Disney album of the same premise. The result is a surprisingly satisfactory interpretation of Charles Dickens’s classic tale, made possible by a generationally blended crew indicative of Disney Animation’s transitional phase. In the director’s chair is Burny Mattinson, no stranger to the studio at that point and someone who still contributes to the story department to this day. Animators include a list of young artists whose careers would later become legend, among them Glen Keane, Mark Henn, Randy Cartwright, and John Lasseter. Pixar “imperfectionist” Tia Kratter has a backgrounds credit. Even the voice cast is reflective of a major transitive moment, as this was the last major production in which Clarence Nash voiced Donald Duck (concluding a 50-year career) and the first major production in which Wayne Allwine voiced Mickey Mouse (which he would continue to do until his death in 2009).
In casting existing Disney characters into the roles from the Dickens story, Scrooge McDuck is an obvious choice as Ebenezer Scrooge. While McDuck enjoyed a celebrated career in comic strips since the ’50s, this was his first major on-screen role, save for the minor 1967 short subject Scrooge McDuck and Money. It’s safe to say that without Mickey’s Christmas Carol, there may never have been any DuckTales. Alan Young lends his voice to Scrooge for Mickey’s Christmas Carol, reprising the character from his initial performance on the 1974 album. (Young would continue to voice Scrooge for countless productions to come, most recently in the 2013 video game DuckTales Remastered.)
As for everyone else, there doesn’t seem to be any defined criteria as to which Disney characters were eligible for being invited to the party. The “Mickey and Friends” category is broadened to include characters that seem like a natural fit to the Mickey universe but were never actually part of it until this point, like secondary characters from The Wind in the Willows and The Aristocats. Perhaps if we were to use any label, we might say “critter,” but even that doesn’t cover the likes of Jiminy Cricket or Willie the Giant, playing the Ghosts of Christmas Past and Present, respectively, and both of whom had already rubbed elbows with Mickey and the gang in 1947’s Fun and Fancy Free. Regardless, this fun quality of infusing personalities that audiences are already familiar with into archetypal Dickens characters we’re also (probably) familiar with makes for an intriguing contrast and lends itself to plenty of fun cameos, especially during Fezziwig’s party (Mr. Toad!). It’s a rare element that would tease the idea of Who Framed Roger Rabbit, at that point not even a thought.
For a production whose title role is the iconic big cheese himself, Mickey Mouse actually receives very little screentime in Mickey’s Christmas Carol. Playing Bob Cratchit, Scrooge’s employee, Mickey is definitely in a secondary role, and perhaps receives top billing for what his image represents to the Disney character family, as if he is host to this elaborate homecoming for them all. (In years to come, this misnomer quality would prove to be true at least one other time, as the 2003 theme park film Mickey’s PhilharMagic inarguably spotlights Donald Duck as its true star). Still, Mickey’s Christmas Carol is an important moment in Mickey Mouse’s filmography for its gripping portrayal of taking Mickey to a place he’s never been: emotional vulnerability. We see him heartbroken as he mourns the foretold loss of his son, Tiny Tim, in what amounts to one of Mickey’s most striking performances ever put on screen.
While Mickey’s Christmas Carol is certainly a celebrated and treasured holiday favorite, it’s not as iconic as, for example, A Charlie Brown Christmas, and as such might be difficult to find on television or in stores each year. It typically airs at some point during 25 Days of Christmas on ABC Family (or, for those of you joining us from the future, Freeform… hello from 2015!). Additionally, 2013 saw its debut to Blu-ray in a 30th anniversary set that included several vintage Disney holiday shorts as bonus material. Lastly, as of this writing, Mickey’s Christmas Carol is streaming on Netflix as part of the compilation film Mickey’s Magical Christmas: Snowed in at the House of Mouse. There’s really no genuine fault in Mickey’s Christmas Carol as it delivers a relatively straightforward adaptation, its most attractive quality being the chance to revisit Disney’s most beloved characters in a new way, portraying them as actors in just as much a sense as any Hollywood celebrity is, making them that much more real to us.
For more Mickey’s Christmas Carol, check out its spotlighted episode on the Rotoscopers’ Animation Addicts Podcast.
Be sure to catch all the entries thus far in our 12 Days of Christmas Celebration:
- Tokyo Fathers by Cole Millions
- Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town by Hannah Wilkes
- The Muppet Christmas Carol by Pablo Ruiz
- Beauty and the Beast: The Enchanted Christmas by MJ Edwards
- Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas! (1966) by Gary Wright
- Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmas by AJ Howell
What do you love most about Mickey’s Christmas Carol?
Edited by: Kelly Conley