Another Christmas season is upon us, and for me my inner child, like the phoenix rises from the ashes of adulthood to embrace this magical season. Enjoying the season like a kid, I also like an adult, reflect on the past and many happy memories. And as a Disney lover, I think a lot about Disney past. Case in point, the character that started it all; and despite the proliferation of characters in the Disney stable today, for me and many hard-core aficionados he will always be number 1. Of course we are talking about Mickey. From the beginning Mickey was always the scamp, the rascal, the hero who never gave up, and he even was seen smoking in the Galloping Gaucho.
But as the years passed, Mickey calmed a bit and Walt found that many fans would protest, saying…” Mickey would never do that” or Mickey does not act that way”. It became harder and harder to write stories for him. He morphed unfortunately into a boring, laid-back corporate symbol. He last short, “The Simple Things”, 1953 ended his reign as the main character in Disney’s stable. But a mere 30 years later, the Mick re-appears in a mini featurette, “Mickey’s Christmas Carol”. This article will cover Mickey’s comeback roll and examine this wonderful, character-laden feature…
A Christmas Carol was written by the man who many say “invented Christmas” when he wrote his novella in 1843. This story is one of redemption; of a miserly selfish man Ebenezer Scrooge who throughout most of his life was unfeeling and uncompassionate until the ghost of his former, likewise stingy business partner Jacob Marley visits Scrooge on Christmas eve seven years after his passing, warning him if he does not redeem himself, he will like Jacob, for eternity be dammed. After the spirits of Christmas past, present and future intervene, Scrooge is transformed into a kinder, gentler man.
Published by Chapman and Hall in 1843, this story has been retold countless times in movies, books and television specials. Perhaps this story of compassion, family and fellow man was the perfect vehicle for Mickey’s return to the theater. While the feature in only 23 minutes long, there is only time for a few of the meetings with the spirits and interaction with Bob Cratchit (Mickey), but overall it captures the feeling of the tale, and the scene of Mickey and his family visiting the grave of Tiny Tim, is very moving and well done. However, the amazing cast of Disney supporting characters and extras in the feature is as endearing as the tale itself. This version was based on a Disneyland Storyteller record album released in 1975, performed by the Walt Disney Players titled “An Adaptation of Dickens’ Christmas Carol. It was written by Alan Dinehart and Alan Young. There are a few diversions from the original story, but none that adversely affect the storyline.
A quick summary …
The story opens on Christmas Eve, Ebenezer Scrooge (Scrooge McDuck) is walking to his counting house, with thoughts of money of course. He passes a beggar with his hand out, and in Scrooge fashion, ignores him with disdain. Approaching the house, he recognizes the fact that his partner Jacob Marley has been dead seven years. He gleefully recalls how corrupt and cruel he was and goes in. He sees his “Klark” (British pronunciation of Clerk) Bob Cratchit (Mickey) and Bob asks for Christmas off. Scrooge says yes, but it will be unpaid. In the original, Scrooge gives Cratchit off, but is perturbed about paying him.
Opening the door is Scrooge’ nephew Fred (Donald Duck), and like in the original invites Scrooge to Christmas dinner, but is turned down. And true to the original story, Rat and Mole (From Mr. Toad) enter, collecting money for the poor, Scrooge replies that if he does give money, the poor will no longer be poor and thus they will be out of work, “and don’t you ask me to do that, not on Christmas Eve.” When Scrooge leaves work and goes home, his doorknocker changes faces into Marley (Goofy) his dead partner. Soon Marley’s ghost appears scaring Scrooge, whereas Marley tells him he is doomed to chains in eternity unless he changes his ways. He tells Scrooge about the three spirits that will visit and to listen to them!
Soon the ghost of Christmas past (Jiminy Cricket) arrives and first stop at his old boss’ shop, Fezzywig Tea and the company party his is throwing. (It is this party scene that holds most of the classic cameos of Disney characters). We see Isabel, Scrooges’ girlfriend there, and later shows Scrooge how his love of money broke the heart of his fiancé Isabel (Daisy Duck) because he foreclosed on their honeymoon cottage. In the original tale, Scrooge’ fiancé breaks up the engagement. The Ghost of Christmas present arrives (Willie the Giant). He shows Scrooge how with little money, the Cratchit family still embraces Christmas. Here we see Tiny Tim (Morty Fieldmouse) and the spirit alludes to heartbreak if things don’t change. Scrooge is frantic to know Tim’s fate when the house and the spirit disappear.
Finally, the dreaded Ghost of Christmas Future (Peg Leg Pete) arrives and takes Scrooge to a graveyard. Here he sees Bob Cratchit and family placing a crutch on a tombstone, he knows that Tiny Tim passed away. Scrooge than asks if the future can be changed. In the distance we see two gravediggers (The two weasels from Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad) laughing and pleased no one attended the funeral. Scrooge and the Ghost of Christmas Future near the empty grave, the ghost lights a cigar, Scrooge sees his name on the tombstone and the ghost kicks him in the grave, naming him the richest man in the cemetery. Falling to his coffin, the lid opens and reveals the flames of hell. Scrooge, clinging to a root when it breaks, falls into the hole, proclaiming his repentance.
As in the classic story, Scrooge awakens back home on Christmas morning. Realizing he is given a second chance, gets dressed and pays a call to the Cratchits. On the way, he tells his nephew Fred he will come to dinner and hands out copious amount of money along the way. He brings a large sack of what looks like laundry to Bob’s house, proclaiming extra work is in the future. But the sack is filled with a turkey and toys for the kids. Bob receives a big raise and is made a partner in the counting house. And true to the classic original, Tiny Tim voices the famous line, “God Bless us everyone”! With Tiny Tim on his lap, Scrooge picks up Tim’s older sister Martha and places her on his lap, receives a hug from Tiny Tim, Smiles at the Cratchits and the words…”The End” and “Walt Disney Productions” appear.
Different critics gave different views on the film. Leonard Maltin stated that… that rather than being “a pale attempt to imitate the past, the film is cleverly written, well-staged, and animated with real spirit and a sense of fun.” However famed critics Siskel and Ebert gave it “Two Thumbs down”. Ebert stated that “It lacked the magic of visual animation that the Disney people are famous for and that it was a forced march through the Charles Dickens story without any ironic spin” Siskel believed there was not enough emphasis on Mickey’s character and did not rank with most of Disney’s full-length animated features. Critic Robin Allan stated that the “film calls to mind the similarities between Walt Disney and Charles Dickens, in terms of both the work they produced and their work ethic”
Mickey’s Christmas Carol was nominated for an Academy Award as Best Animated Short Subject of 1983; unfortunately, it lost to the clay stop-motion short Sundae, in New York. It was the first nomination for Mickey since 1948’s Mickey and the Seal.
Here is a list of the characters…Scrooge McDuck as Ebenezer Scrooge, Mickey Mouse as Bob Cratchit, Donald Duck as Fred Honeywell, Water Rat and Mole as Collectors for the Poor, Goofy as Jacob Marley, Jiminy Cricket as the Ghost of Christmas Past, Daisy Duck as Isabel, Willie the Giant as the Ghost of Christmas Present, Minnie Mouse as Mrs. Cratchit, Morty Fieldmouse as Tiny Tim, Ferdie Fieldmouse as Peter Cratchit, Melody Mouse as Martha Cratchit, Pete as the Ghost of Christmas Future, J. Thaddeus Toad as Mr. Fezziwig.
Cameo appearances include… Zeke “Big Bad” Wolf as a street corner Santa, and The Three Little Pigs, Singers standing with street corner Santa, also seen running in the street at the end. The biggest cameo gaggle of characters was in the Fezziwig dance sequence, they include… Gus Goose, Peter Pig, Paddy Pig, Clarabelle Cow, Horace Horsecollar, Clara Cluck, Grandma Duck, Chip and Dale, Huey, Dewey, and Louie (decorating a Christmas tree), Bongo the Bear and Lulubelle from Fun and Fancy Free, Cocky Locky from Chicken Little, Uncle Waldo from The Aristocats, Angus MacBadger from The Wind in the Willows, The Secretary Bird from Bedknobs and Broomsticks, Lady Kluck, Sis and Tagalong from Robin Hood, Skippy and Toby from Robin Hood, Mother Rabbit and Grandma Owl from Robin Hood, Otto from Robin Hood (a beggar in the streets), Two of the Three Little Wolves (seen running in the street), Cyril Proudbottom from The Wind in the Willows (pulling Donald’s cart at the end) and the Two of the weasels from The Wind in the Willows (gravediggers).
Here is a bit of Trivia…
A comic strip adaptation was created for Walt Disney’s Treasury of Classic tales Sunday newspaper strip. But due to an animator’s strike, it ran from October 3rd to December 26th, a year before the film was released. The sound of Pete’s evil laughter was later reused in the 2013 short Get a Horse! Pluto does not appear in this film. This is the last “official” theatrical Disney cartoon to start and end the classic way; where it starts with the Buena Vista logo and opening credits, and end with… The End. Walt Disney Productions. Russi Taylor recorded dialogue which was not used in the feature. This was Taylor’s first time performing Minnie, a role that she played until her death in 2019. In the Dickens version, Scrooges’ nephew is married, but in this story, he is not. Morty and Ferdie Fieldmouse, Mickey’s nephews first film appearance was the 1934 Mickey Mouse cartoon titled Mickey’s Steamroller. Aside from a cameo in 1938’s Boat Builders, they didn’t appear in animation again until Mickey’s Christmas Carol. They rarely appeared in animation. In the Mickey Mouse Works short “How to Haunt a House”, Goofy, having temporarily become a ghost for the short’s purposes, attempts to scare Donald, dressing up as Jacob Marley at one point. The scene in which Scrooge hangs over a fiery grave was likely the inspiration to use a similar scene in the 2009 film version of A Christmas Carol. The Little Golden Book story includes a scene that does not appear in the film, as Mickey/Cratchit slogs on home, he stops to rest and thinks about how his family is waiting for him. When arrives home to greet his family, with Minnie/Mrs. Cratchit telling him that she really wishes Scrooge payed him a better salary. In a Goof Troop episode entitled “Wrecks, Lies & Videotape” there is a scene in which Goofy poses as a Jacob Marley like ghost to warn Pete what will happen if he doesn’t change his ways.
All in all, this should be a much-watch Christmas story for the entire family. Much like Mickey, who has not appeared for 30 years, the amazing multitude of classic and famous past Disney characters supporting the feature is almost like saying that no matter what future stories and characters that may come, it was Mickey and the classic characters that made Disney what it is today.