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DuckTales Premiere “Woo-oo”

ducktales_2017_by_xeternalflamebryx-db1zb8bWhen Disney set out to reintroduce DuckTales to a new generation of youngsters they clearly decided the most enduring legacy of the late 1980s cartoon series was its catchy theme song. Penned by Mark Mueller and covered in exhausting detail in a new Vanity Fair piece, the DuckTales theme has remained a unifying force of nostalgia for those who heard and watched cartoons during its run. It’s upbeat, poppy, and entrancingly catchy qualities are essentially the one aspect of the old cartoon preserved almost exactly for this new edition of DuckTales. Sure, it’s now sung by Felicia Barton and that final verse is altered ever so slightly, but it’s relatively unchanged from its origins and it still rocks.

The theme has been a central part to the advertising blitz laid out by Disney which seems to know it has something in DuckTales. So confident is the sense coming from the company that it’s a wonder this wasn’t attempted sooner. Is there something magical about waiting for the 30th anniversary of the original program as opposed to the 10th or 20th? Or have we just arrived at a moment in time technologically speaking where this show can be done at a reasonable cost without resorting to the 3D computer-generated imagery of many of Disney’s modern cartoons? Whatever the reason, the song appeared in a quick teaser for the show last year along with the unmistakable “Yeah!” of Donald Duck. The new cast was introduced via a YouTube video where they all sing the song with great exuberance and some pretty impressive timing. And why not? The song is perhaps the best cartoon theme ever concocted and should be leaned upon heavily to bring this franchise back.

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The money bin is still a thing, and looks to be harder to penetrate this time around.

And DuckTales is indeed back. Saturday August 12th marked the debut for the new series, and much like its predecessor, it debuted with an hour long special. Disney XD was the chosen landing spot and the entire day’s programming has been dedicated to airing the new episode of DuckTales, titled “Woo-oo”, for the entire duration of the day. It’s a bold way to announce a new show and it will also be streaming on Disney’s websites and apps presumably until the show’s re-debut in September.

Resurrecting a beloved franchise isn’t easy and often thankless. Fanbases seem to become increasingly protective of that which they love as time marches forward and the slightest change can cause the biggest disruptions. Perhaps that’s why the show has felt so secretive with Disney waiting what felt like an eternity before showing off even a still image from the show. In general, it seems most took the show’s new look with enthusiasm. Scrooge now sports his traditional red coat from the comics from which he first made his name. The show is presented in 2D as opposed to 3D, and all of the familiar faces are still there. The children have received a makeover, as expected, but they don’t feel as forced as the ones the nephews got for the short-lived Quack Pack program in which Disney seemed to be forcing teenaged culture into the show in a mostly unauthentic fashion. The show also promised to send its cast on more timeless adventures, seeking treasure and uncovering all manners fantastic all while maintaining not just the spirit of the original toon, but those Carl Barks stories as well.

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Expect to see some old foes pop-up eventually.

Naturally, some voices had to change as well and Disney kept its casting decisions under wraps for some time. Alan Young was basically the only Scrooge my generation knew, but Father Time made sure it wouldn’t be possible for him to continue the role for the new series (RIP). David Tennant has brought his Scottish charm to the new series. His Scrooge is a lot more youthful sounding, but comes across as authentic and dashing and I think it’s a voice that will suit him. Terry McGovern, who voiced Launchpad McQuack in the original series as well as in Darkwing Duck, lobbied hard for the role here but was passed over in favor of Beck Bennet. Bennett is fine, and I understand the feeling in the building that this should be a new show for a new generation, but Bennett basically sounds like he’s doing his best McGovern impression which makes me wonder what’s the point in re-casting him? The nephews Huey, Dewey, and Louie have unique voice actors for really the first time in their existence in Danny Pudi, Ben Schwartz, and Bobby Moynihan. I’ll miss the adorable duck voice of Russi Taylor, but I can’t argue against the decision to make the nephews feel like distinguishable characters from one another. It used to be that only the color of their shirt differentiated one from the other, but in this series all three have their own unique personality. It seems like Huey will be the boy scout, Dewey the crafty trouble-maker, and Louie more of a laid back sort. Kate Micucci is Webby, who too seems like she’ll have a more pronounced character other than girl duck. Mrs. Beakly has perhaps received the most pronounced makeover as she’s gone from grandma-like in appearance to a hulking behemoth. She’s voiced by Toks Olagundoye and I’m curious to see what kind of backstory has been crafted for her to explain this brawny physique. Last, but certainly not least, is Donald Duck voiced by the irreplaceable Tony Anselmo. Donald was reduced to a cameo role for the original DuckTales due in part to Disney being sensitive about using its classic characters for TV and over concerns of his sometimes unintelligible speech pattern. Thankfully Donald has been restored to full-time cast member as he was in the comics and DuckTales 2017 already has a huge leg-up over the original.

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Donald and his nephews have a very hum-drum sort of existence when the show opens.

The premiere opens with Donald and his nephews aboard a houseboat that they apparently live on. It’s seen better days, and Donald is preparing for a job interview. When he realizes he can’t leave his nephews home alone, he decides to ask his estranged uncle for a favor. We find Scrooge in a state of depression as his life has become rather mundane and unexciting. He’s still fabulously wealthy, but doesn’t appear to be living a truly rich life. He and Donald had an unexplained falling out and their first encounter in many years is hardly warm and fuzzy. Still, Scrooge agrees to help out his nephew by watching his grand-nephews, who before today had no idea they were related to the famous Scrooge McDuck. They think they’re meeting a great adventurer, but are pretty disappointed in what is presented to them. They soon meet Webby, the grand daughter of Mrs. Beakly who lives with Scrooge and takes care of the household. Webby is starved for adventure and her sheltered life in the mansion appears to be driving her a little crazy. The boys and Webby make some fun discoveries while poking around the mansion, which helps to bring out Scrooge’s adventurous side. Meanwhile, Donald gets his job, but his new employer is going to cause some problems for his uncle. Everyone ends up on a collision course for Atlantis, the adventure is appropriately grand.

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Scrooge will have no shortage of enemies and challengers to his title of World’s Wealthiest Duck.

Right off the bat I find myself in love with the visual style of DuckTales. There’s a very Barksian quality to the look of the show with some of the images appearing very influenced by Barks’ later works of art. The animation is undoubtedly done on a computer, whether it’s done South Park style by creating 2D models that are animated or if they’re hand-drawn onto computer tablets I do not know, but it does work. It’s not stiff and it’s not lazy and it doesn’t really look like anything else on television right now. Scrooge warms up to his adventuring lifestyle pretty fast, but it’s fun so I’m not going to quibble with a fast-moving plot. The adolescents are convincing and there is room for exploration with all of them. Mostly, of course, I really am fascinated by this Donald Duck. He possesses his trademarked short temper, but it also appears he’ll be the voice of reason in the group who at least tries to keep everyone in check. It’s a role Donald has really never served on film and it will be a lot of fun exploring this rarely seen side of an 80 year old character. The easter eggs and callbacks are also handled as well as fan-service can be with only one line spoken by a reporter sounding forced, but I won’t pretend like I didn’t enjoy it. And I really loved the reveal at the very end of the episode, which I won’t spoil here, as it seems to suggest this version of DuckTales will have something very new to explore.

If you can’t tell, I’m pretty high on this new version of DuckTales. I may have done things a little differently if given the chance, but I can’t deny the finished product looks and feels great. This show has a lot of potential and something about the way it’s being marketed just exudes an infectious amount of confidence in the material that’s very reassuring. It sounds like there’s a lot of fun stuff to look forward to on the horizon, with other Disney Afternoon properties even rumored to resurface. Whether you loved the original series or never watched it, I encourage you to check out DuckTales as this looks like it’s going to be a really fun ride.


The Chronological Donald Volume 3

donaldv3-covIn 1949 a little short was released called “Donald’s Happy Birthday.” The short starred Donald Duck, naturally, and depicted his nephews Huey, Dewey, and Luey trying to find a birthday present for their beloved uncle. They settle on a box of cigars, but needing some cash to actually buy it, decide to do some yard work for their uncle. Donald is handed an invoice of $2.98, the cost of the cigars, and deeming it a fair price for all of the yard work they did he happily pays out. Unfortunately for the young ones, he also makes them deposit their earnings in their piggy back. The rest of the cartoon follows the nephews as they try to get their hands on the piggy bank, eventually outwitting their uncle and doing so, only to be caught with the cigars after the fact. Donald, thinking they purchased these for themselves, decides to teach them a lesson and makes the boys smoke the entire box of cigars only to discover a birthday card at the bottom of the box. Realizing his mistake, Donald is embarrassed and cartoonishly shrinks on screen to the size of a bug and slips out of the boys’ treehouse.

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Donald’s punishment of his nephews lands this cartoon in the dreaded “Vault.”

This cartoon depicts Donald Duck’s birthday as March 13th, most likely because someone found that to be a fittingly unlucky number for Donald’s birthday to fall on. In actuality, Disney recognizes Donald’s birthday as today, June 9th, and dates him back to 1934 when he debuted in the Silly Symphonies short “The Wise Little Hen.” This cartoon, and many others, can be found on the Walt Disney Treasures release The Chronological Donald Volume Three, and what better time than now to revisit this set and give you a rundown of its contents!

Now, I realize I’ve done an entry on Volume One of this series, but not Two, so I’m skipping to Volume Three on account of Donald’s birthday, but I do intend to (eventually) make an entry on all four volumes. In truth, Volume Three is probably the best of the four, though it’s really close between this one and Volume Two. Volume One is just a step behind, and Volume Four is light on classic content as it was essentially a leftovers release. More on those another time. Volume Three though is noteworthy because it contains a lot of Donald’s classic foils, and marks the debut of his decades long rivalry with Chip and Dale.

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Early appearances of Dale had him with a black nose like Chip, it would soon be changed to red to differentiate the two.

Chip and Dale (or more commonly expressed as Chip ‘n’ Dale) debuted in the Pluto short “Private Pluto.” In that, they were nameless and basically indistinguishable from each other, but they still did a bang-up job on old Pluto. Their official first appearance is in the Donald short contained on this set, simply titled “Chip an’ Dale.” In a setup that will be repeated numerous times, Donald chops down a tree that also happens to be the home for the little chipmunks. They follow him home to a rustic cabin where they proceed to make life difficult for the duck basically destroying his cabin in the process. For the most part, Donald’s encounters with Chip and Dale start off the same with him wronging them either inadvertently or intentionally, and then when presented with an opportunity to do right by them, he decides to mock them leading to a whole host of shenanigans that result in Chip and Dale getting the better of Donald. “Crazy Over Daisy” is unique though in that Chip and Dale essentially pick a fight with Donald by teasing him over his appearance as he heads off to woo Daisy. Even though the duo is in the wrong in this one, they still come out on top because they’re Chip and Dale. His battles with the duo are classic, and there isn’t a bad Donald Duck short that contains the two. Not all of his match-ups with Chip and Dale are captured on Volume Three as several carry over to Volume Four, but some of the best are, including a personal favorite of mine, “Toy Tinkers,” which I’ve written about before.

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Donald and Spike.

Donald has more foils than just the chipmunks though, and this set contains some other entertaining ones that have been lost to time. The animators knew him as Spike, but it seems he is more often referred to as Buzz Buss these days, but either way he’s a little bee character who runs into Donald more than once. Often he’s either guarding or collecting honey to store for himself or other bees and Donald decides he needs to get his hands on it. A version of the character debuts in “Window Cleaners” from volume one, but his established look is first debuted in “Inferior Decorator” from this set. In it, he mistakes Donald’s wallpaper and its floral pattern for actual flowers and can’t understand why he isn’t able to draw pollen from them. When Donald mocks him, he decides to get revenge. He’s also featured in “Honey Harvester,” “Slide, Donald, Slide” and “Bee at the Beach.” The latter of which is in the “Vault” section of this release, though I haven’t been able to figure out why.

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Donald’s forgotten adversary, Bootle Beetle.

An even lesser known adversary of Donald Duck also debuts in these shorts and that’s Bootle Beetle. To my knowledge, the character is never referenced any longer (I’ve at least seen Spike show up on The Mickey Mouse Clubhouse program). He resembles Jiminy Cricket, and like Spike, he usually clashes with Donald when Donald invades his habitat. He debuts in the short that bares his name and repeats in a few others. Interestingly, in the short “Sea Salts” he and Donald are shown as old folks reflecting on how they used to clash and ultimately became friends seeming to suggest this was to be a timeless rivalry. It wasn’t, though that’s not due to any fault with the shorts. Like the other characters, Bootle Beetle is a fun one to follow because of his diminutive size which allows the animators to have fun with the setting. The character also appeared in a non-Donald short called “Morris the Midget Moose” and in Disney comics as a friend of Bucky Bug’s.

Other characters are also featured such as Daisy and more from Donald’s nephews. There’s also a lion character that Donald has been known to tangle with from time to time. Other humorous sequences that didn’t need any additional star power include “The Trial of Donald Duck” where Donald gets stuck with a huge tab at a restaurant and is taken to court over it. Goofy appears in “Crazy With the Heat” in which the pair find themselves stranded in the desert. Goofy was fair game to include in Donald shorts, as was Pluto, but don’t expect to see Mickey. Probably the best short on the set is “Donald’s Dilemma” which features Daisy prominently as she recounts her own dilemma to a psychiatrist. In it, Donald is knocked on the head and loses his memory but gains the a singing voice reminiscent of Frank Sinatra and Daisy isn’t sure which Donald she likes more. And did I mention “Toy Tinkers” is on this set?!

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In “Donald’s Dilemma,” Daisy starts off liking the new Donald but he soon has no time for her when he comes a big star.

The set is not without bonus features, though since the shorts take up most of the space on the discs, they are a bit light. In addition to standard galleries you’re not likely to view more than once, there’s some featurettes on sculpting Donald in three dimensions and another on his many looks. Probably the best special feature is the easter eggs containing the opening sequence to The Mickey Mouse Club and the various different endings of Donald smashing the gong. And like the other sets, this one contains a Vault section that requires you to sit through a lecture from film critic and historian Leonard Maltin. The lectures get old, but at least these shorts are presented uncut. Most are only in the vaulted section for smoking and alcohol use so it’s nothing particularly salacious.

The Chronological Donald Duck Volume Three is a great set and basically includes the best of director Jack Hannah, who handled most of Donald’s films post World War II. Hannah’s films are a bit more gag-reliant and very similar to Looney Tunes/Merrie Melodies shorts, but are no less fun. Directors Jack King and Jack Kinney are also featured. Since the Walt Disney Treasures line was produced in limited quantities, these sets are hard to get ahold of at a decent price in 2017. If you have to get only one, Volume Three might be your best bet, though I consistently see Volume Two priced lower on the after-market. Either one is a can’t lose purchase if you appreciate classic animation and Donald Duck. The shorts are all presented in their original aspect ratios with no cuts and look quite good for a DVD release. And unless Disney decides to do a Blu Ray for these, they probably won’t ever look better. Considering Disney seems to place a low value on its old shorts (they’re almost never shown on television and are readily available to watch on youtube) holding out for a better release, or even re-release, seems unlikely. And what better way to celebrate Donald’s birthday than by watching some of his classic works?

The Shorts:

  • 1947
    • Straight Shooters
    • Sleepy Time Donald
    • Donald’s Dilemma
    • Crazy With the Heat
    • Bootle Beetle
    • Wide Open Spaces
    • Chip An’ Dale
  • 1948
    • Drip Dippy Donald
    • Daddy Duck
    • Donald’s Dream Voice
    • The Trial of Donald Duck
    • Inferior Decorator
    • Soup’s On
  • 1949
    • Sea Salts
    • Winter Storage
    • Honey Harvester
    • All in a Nutshell
    • The Greener Yard
    • Slide, Donald, Slide
    • Toy Tinkers
  • 1950
    • Lion Around
    • Crazy Over Daisy
    • Trailer Horn
    • Hook, Lion and Sinker
    • Out on A Limb
  • From The Vault
    • Clown of the Jungle (Disc One 1947)
    • Three for Breakfast (Disc One 1948)
    • Tea for Two Hundred (Disc One 1948)
    • Donald’s Happy Birthday (Disc Two 1949)
    • Bee At The Beach (Disc Two 1950)

A Quiet Change for a Loud Duck

donald-duck-madOne of the things I admire about the Walt Disney Company is the care in which they manage their most famous assets. Specifically, I’m speaking of Mickey Mouse and the practice of passing on the role to Disney Studio lifers.

Mickey was first voiced by Walt himself, which I would guess most people are aware of. Next came Jimmy MacDonald, a veteran sound effects man at the company, who took over during production of Mickey and the Beanstalk from the Fun and Fancy Free package film. MacDonald would then hand the role over to his assistant, Wayne Allwine, who is the voice many of my peers grew up knowing from television and Disney World attractions. Along the way, other actors chipped in here and there, but no one else voiced Mickey full-time. Since Allwine’s passing in 2009, the role has actually been passed on to two individuals:  Bret Iwan and Chris Diamontopolous. Not to disparage the work of either of the current Mickeys, their taking on the role ended the tradition of longtime Disney employees taking over, which is kind of unfortunate. Part of that can be blamed on Allwine’s sudden passing, but even before that when his health was failing, Iwan was hired to be Allwine’s understudy, though the two never got to work together.

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Clarence Nash, Donald’s original voice actor and creator, held the role from 1934-1985.

After Mickey, the most famous Disney character is likely Donald Duck, and Donald has benefitted from having just two voice actors in his 80-plus years of existence. Clarence Nash was the first to provide a voice for the irascible duck, and he did so up until his death in 1985 when the role was then passed on to Tony Anselmo, an animator with the company. As Anselmo tells it, Nash was quietly and unofficially training him for the gig for quite sometime leading up to his death from cancer. It was also Nash who told Anselmo that he would take over as the voice of Donald in what was probably a pretty emotional moment for the both of them.

When only two people have handled a singular role, it’s fun to analyze the two and figure out who did it better. Of course, Nash is the original and will always represent the best of Donald Duck. He voiced the character for all of Donald’s classic theatrical shorts as well as his appearances in Mickey Mouse shorts, with his final theatrical performance being Mickey’s Christmas Carol. Anselmo’s Donald is very close to Nash’s, and I’d wager most people can’t tell the difference upon a casual viewing. For those who consider themselves duck enthusiasts, Anselmo’s Donald is definitely a littler higher, and raspier. His delivery allows Donald to better enunciate, which probably makes his version more suitable for early childhood programs like The Mickey Mouse Clubhouse. Anselmo’s Donald does sound like it requires more effort, and sometimes it sounds too gassy. Voicing Donald is not an easy thing, and Nash was even said to have even passed out during a recording session, so I don’t intend for that to sound like criticism of Anselmo’s work, but as an observation.

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Tony Anselmo took over for Nash and was hired out of the animation department.

Very quietly though, Donald has been given a new voice. Just released this past January, a new cartoon starring Mickey and the gang began airing on the Disney Channel:  Mickey and the Roadster Racers. It’s said to be a pseudo-sequel series for The Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, though the target audience is definitely older by a few years. The show stars the same cast:  Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Daisy, Goofy, and Pluto with numerous appearances by the likes of Chip and Dale, Pete, Clarabelle Cow, and other Disney staples. They even featured an episode with a Three Caballeros reunion and a rare Horace Horsecollar appearance (I know these things because I’m a father to a Mickey Mouse addict).

Because I’m a Donald Duck nerd, I noticed when watching the first episode that he sounded a little different. When I pulled up IMDB at the time it didn’t list a voice actor (I took my son to an early viewing of the show in October), but I kept checking as TV spots were regularly aired to remind me and eventually a voice cast appeared with this name beside Donald Duck:  Daniel Ross.

I’ve been unable to find any info on why Donald was recast. The prevailing theory seems to be that Anselmo doesn’t have the time, or his voice can’t handle, voicing Donald in multiple series. This summer, a reboot of DuckTales is set to begin airing which is said to feature Donald more heavily than the original did. There’s also Mickey Mouse shorts, the occasional Clubhouse special, and whatever other roles come up throughout the course of the year so perhaps Anselmo just can’t handle another full-time series.

Like the guys who took over for Mickey, Ross is a professional voice actor and not someone previously tied to the company. It would seem a once time-honored tradition is no more, and as the actors who have played these characters for years get older they’ll be replaced with talent from outside of Disney. A part of me is disappointed in that, though I don’t begrudge anyone for taking on such an iconic role as Donald Duck or Mickey Mouse. From what I’ve observed, Ross’s Donald is very similar to Anselmo’s. It’s quite raspy, as opposed to Nash’s more guttural performance. Ross apparently got the job through conventional means, and I found one story on the subject that’s pretty cute online, but couldn’t find anything relating to Anselmo and why he isn’t voicing the character. I’d be curious to know if Anselmo intends to stop voicing the character in the near future (he’s only 56) and if he turned down doing the series. I also wish the company made a bigger deal about Donald getting a new voice, it’s only his third voice actor, after all. Unlike with Mickey, I’m not aware of anyone else even filling in for a spot here or there for Donald which is pretty incredible (though Nash was understandably likely never as busy as Walt Disney was which is what lead to Mickey having an occasional fill-in, once even voiced by Nash) and it would have been nice to see the company acknowledge that, even if it was just a simple press release. I noticed though, and I doubt I’m the only one, so congratulations to Daniel Ross. I would guess Anselmo isn’t going anywhere, especially with Donald less than 20 years away from turning 100, which is probably a nice goal to aim for. I suspect when that day comes there will be a far bigger celebration for America’s favorite duck than what was made of his new voice.

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Donald is to be voiced by Tony Anselmo in the upcoming DuckTales reboot.


Lego: Disney’s Cinderella Castle

disney-lego-castle-5This past spring Lego released its third line of mini figures to be based on an official license. Following two straight years of The Simpsons, Lego turned to Disney and its cast of classic characters. Going with a mix of old school, Pixar, and movie characters not touched by the existing Lego Disney Princess line, the line appeared to sell really well for Lego and the likelihood of future releases for the license seemed almost certain. I reviewed those figures back when they came out, and in that review I mentioned my desire to see Lego tackle some famous Disney World and Disneyland attractions, specifically Cinderella’s Castle from Walt Disney World. Ask and you shall receive, as it wasn’t too long after the fact that Lego did indeed announce such a set was coming late in the summer.

Now, my wife is a Disney fanatic. She loves Disney and going to the park, so much so that I made sure I proposed to her in front of the imposing castle. Considering I purchased myself a pair of Simpsons sets and a Ghostbusters Firehouse, I kind of owed it to her to get this set as well. It arrived at the end of August, but since we were in the middle of moving to a new house, construction did not commence until the first week of September. After a fairly leisurely build schedule, we completed this masterpiece over the weekend and both my wife and I are quite pleased with the results.

First and foremost, this set is large and expensive. It retails for $350, which seems to be the going rate for 4,000+ piece sets based on a licensed brand. It’s the same price as the Ghostbusters set, and comparable to some Star Wars sets as well (though cheaper than the upcoming Death Star re-release). Disney is likely not a cheap license to acquire, so there was little sticker shock for me, as much as I hate to spend that kind of money on what ends up being a big plastic, sculpture of sorts. Compared to the firehouse, it’s probably a lesser value. The piece count is comparable, but many of the pieces to the castle are of the smaller variety. It’s been many years since I last built a Lego castle of any kind, but I’m left to believe there are a fair amount of unique pieces to this set, which is obviously a factor in cost. There is minimal use of stickers, which is something any expensive set should be trying to achieve. All of the stickers felt reasonable to me as they’re basically confined to the outer brick detail for the wall (which are simple to place), three shields that adorn the main hall, and a single mirrored sticker for, naturally, a mirror. There are some printed pieces that, in a lesser set, could have opted for stickers instead.

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A look at The Royal Suite. Below it is where Mickey hides his sorcerer garb and above it is the domain of the Evil Queen.

The mini figure count is where this set may come up short for some. The Ghostbusters set came with 9, and even the Kwik-E-Mart came with 6. Cinderella’s Castle comes with 5, four of which are re-releases with one being unique to the set. Of the four, Donald Duck is the only one who is identical to the mini figure released a few months back. It always disappoints me when a toy line repeats a figure within a set. It would have been easy enough to re-color Donald as he sometimes sports a white cap instead of a blue one. Or even just lighten the color of his shirt, or gone with a full reprint of his body to match one of his many Disney World attires. Both Daisy and Minnie are re-colored versions of their previous release. Daisy has a pink color scheme while Minnie is in her more traditional red and white polka-dot attire. Mickey is the only one getting a whole new outfit as he’s in his park-appropriate tuxedo. Tinker Belle is the new addition, and she fits in with the previously released Peter Pan and Captain Hook and also makes sense as she’s pretty central to the various Disney World ceremonies centered around the castle. Disappointingly, she does not come with a flight “peg” like the ghosts did with the firehouse making it hard to find a fun place to pose her on the castle. As a figure, her likeness is well-done and includes two wands, wings, a hair piece, and a fabric skirt. In addition to those five figures, there’s also two sets of display armor for the interior of the castle that are essentially mini figures with all black heads.

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A closer look at the infamous mirror. Below is a chest containing her spell components with the fireworks shooter behind.

Building the castle is a pretty painless experience. There’s some very large pieces composing the outer wall area which makes that fairly simple. As you start to move up the castle and towards the towers, more small pieces are introduced and there are some tedious spots. The numerous little white accents you see along the top of the walls and around the towers can drive you mad if you’re insistent about making sure everything is perfectly square. Some of those pieces are anchored by solid bricks behind them, while others are on blue pegs. Those ones have a tendency to swing and I found them irritating. Other places, like around the front clock above the main door, are resting as opposed to being snapped in tight which is something I do not care for. I want everything on a Lego set to be as solid as possible, and the only resting items should be the kind that need to be easily removed like the roof on a house. The set builds basically in three parts:  the outer wall and main hall, the base of the tower, and the tallest main tower itself. The last step in the process is putting all three together and they go together very simply. In total, there are 14 steps in the instruction booklet and there are quite a few leftover pieces when complete. Mostly, they’re small pieces that could be easily lost or overlooked while there are a couple of spare accessories, like a second pair of shears and a sword. I did notice at least one printing error in the booklet where some of the necessary parts for one step are not included in the parts summary at the top of the page. They’re mistakenly included in the following step, even though the graphic for placing them is on the previous step. It’s an easily catchable error as the parts are a couple of traditional bricks, but just be on the lookout (I think it was part of step 11 or 12).

For Disney fans, building the castle offers other rewards beyond the simple satisfaction of construction as the set is loaded with numerous easter eggs. One of the earliest in the build process is the magic carpet from Aladdin being draped on a wall with the Genie’s lamp included as well. The enchanted rose from Beauty and the Beast receives its own room with a familiar looking candelabra looking on. The menacing spinning wheel from Sleeping Beauty is present, as well as the apple for the Evil Queen from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. One of my favorites, is a stash of objects from Cinderella hidden under a steeple at the base of the tower which includes her famous glass slipper. There’s also a main suite, which I assume is to represent the actual Royal Suite from the actual castle in Disney World, as there’s nothing obvious within the room to tie it to a film. There’s also a kitchen which could be a stand-in for numerous films (the cleaver on the wall makes me think of Louie from The Little Mermaid) while there’s also an archery set atop the main wall in front of the tower. The included booklet connects that Merida from Pixar’s Brave, but I prefer to think of it as a an homage to Robin Hood, since everything else appears connected to a classic Disney film. There’s a fireworks shooter towards the top of the tower which is another connection to the actual tower in Disney World. By far though, my favorite is the room towards the middle of the set which features Mickey’s hat from The Sorcerer’s Apprentice as well as a couple of buckets and mops and a spell book for good measure. Sadly, the hat does not fit on the Mickey mini figure.

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High above where Tinker Belle dwells. I wish it came with a piece to simulate her flying around the tower.

When all is said and done, you’re left with a pretty imposing looking structure. It’s easily the tallest Lego structure I own and I assume it ranks among the tallest the company has ever produced. The likeness to the actual building is pretty impressive, though it’s certainly possible to nit-pick the Hell out of it. The open design on the back means it really only displays from the front. I don’t know if a clamshell design was considered, but it definitely would have added a considerable amount of pieces and complexity to the set. I’m guessing Lego chose to prioritize the front and making sure the size of the set felt appropriate for such an iconic landmark. I would also assume that, even though the box suggests this is for teens and adults, this castle has a lot of playability for a child given all the rooms and accessories. I wish the previously released mini figures supplemented it a little better, but the Disney Princess line obviously would fit in well and it’s a significant upgrade over that line’s Cinderella’s Castle.

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The finished product. It’s hard to get the whole thing in frame.

Where will Lego take Disney next? Given that The Simpsons received two waves of mini figures, I’ve been assuming Disney would too. There’s a more obvious fit between Disney and Lego than there was with The Simpsons so maybe this could continue for awhile. Even if Lego chooses not to devote entire lines of mini figures to the brand, there’s still a wealth of potential sets from the parks themselves. Sleeping Beauty Castle from Disneyland seems like an obvious potential candidate, while Main Street USA would fit in with this set. If they wanted to do something different but also tie it to a park, Mickey’s Fun Wheel from California Adventure would be another attractive piece for Disney enthisiasts to display. It’s fun to speculate but even more fun to build, so I hope the line continues beyond this set, even if my wallet does not.


Disney gets the Lego Treatment

maxresdefault-3Lego is one of the most popular toy manufacturers on the planet. They’ve become known for their building block style toys that come in various shapes, sizes, and colors and can be combined to form castles, pirate ships, space crafts, and other fantastic designs. They also have struck gold with their mini figures, simplistic action figures that embody the Lego design and make great pilots, captains, and heroes to pair with the various sets. It used to be you had to buy a construction set to get a figure or two, but for several years now Lego has capitalized on the appeal of its mini figures by releasing them individually in blind bag assortments. Even more recently, Lego has decided to apply a popular license for these blind bag releases. For the past two years, that license was The Simpsons. I was rather fond of this decision and really it got me back into Lego after not buying a set since I was a kid. The Simpsons I feel still had legs and a series three would have been welcomed by me, but Lego has apparently killed that line and decided to go with a new license:  Disney.

Theming a line of figures on the Disney license is almost as broad as creating a line of “People” figures. The Walt Disney Company has been putting out animated and live action films for nearly a century. The company has its own television station full of original programming, plus it owns Pixar, Marvel, Star Wars, and ABC to name a few. And since Lego already makes Star Wars and Marvel sets, it stands to reason that their Disney themed wave of mini figures could include those franchises if it wanted to. What it really means for Lego is that its first wave of Disney mini figures is an amalgamation of a few popular Disney properties. The first set of 18 Disney figures contains popular Disney creations like Mickey Mouse and Donald, characters from classic animated films like Aladdin and Peter Pan, and also a few Pixar figures to round things out. There are likely fans out there who would have preferred it if Lego stuck to the classic animated films, or maybe even just the Mickey and friends line, but Lego opted to try to please a wide consumer base.

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A motley crew of Disney plastic.

As someone who likes Disney and is married to a woman who LOVES Disney, it meant i had to collect this line with the same vigor as I did with The Simpsons. The wave hit retail on May 1st, though a few lucky individuals probably found them earlier. Like other mini figure waves, this series is released in blind bags so the consumer doesn’t know what they’re buying, unless they’re willing to sit and prod at each bag to feel the figure out. As Lego did with The Simpsons, they’ve chosen to make custom head sculpts for a lot of the Disney characters, basically all of the non-humanoid ones. That means finding Mickey and Minnie when groping a plastic bag is actually pretty easy, same for Sticth as well as the ducks, Donald and Daisy. I actually found the entire wave pretty easy to feel out and went a perfect 18 for 18 with my purchases. Now, if only I had better luck at finding the figures at big box retailers. Stores like Target and Toys R Us sell each figure for 3.99 a piece, but I got stuck hitting up specialty shops that charged 6.99. The things I do for love.

 

Unlike The Simpsons, these Disney figures are not released alongside any standard Lego sets, which is a bummer. Lego does have a line of Disney centric Lego Friends sets which focus on the various princess characters. The Friends line is Lego’s girl line, because apparently girls can’t handle traditional mini figures and bricks, and it’s clear Lego avoided duplicating characters it had already released as part of that line. The set of 18 is mostly free of the princess characters, with the exception of a mermaid Ariel. Alice from Alice in Wonderland is also included, but I don’t think she’s ever been considered a “princess.” From the Mickey and Friends collection, we have Mickey, Minnie, Donald and Daisy. Any Disney fan immediately sees that list and says “Where’s Goofy?!” He’s missing in action here. The four who are included look pretty good though. Donald and Daisy even have a little duck “butt” piece which is pretty funny but also pragmatic. Mickey is kind of dull though as he comes with no unique pieces or accessories. He doesn’t even have a tail! That’s a problem I’ll address later as it’s a recurring problem. Not the tail, but the lack of accessories to go along with these figures.

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Ursula’s got it going on.

From the Disney animated classics group of films, there’s the following:  Alice, Cheshire Cat, Maleficent, Peter Pan, Captain Hook, Stitch, Ursula, Ariel, Aladdin, and the Genie. All are done fairly well, though characters like Aladdin and Pan suffer from being a bit too conventional and kind of boring in appearance. Genie suffers a little in that he’s fairly unique, but the efforts made to convey that don’t work so well. Instead of getting a more unique sculpt, he’s actually a standard mini figure with add-on pieces to round out his look. He does have a “ghost” lower body which is kind of neat, but he still doesn’t really look all that much like the Genie from Aladdin. Plus Lego got really cheap with his gold cuffs and only painted half of his wrist. Maleficent is unique in that she doesn’t have legs, but a triangular block for a base to simulate her robes. It works pretty well as a visual, though it’s probably not fun for kids to play with. Ursula is definitely the cream of the crop as she gets a uniquely sculpted lower body that looks great. Ariel does as well, but her tail is rather blocky and unappealing to look at. I get that Lego is supposed to be blocky, but there’s just something off with Ariel’s look.

 

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The piece Lego fanatics have been waiting years for:  duck butt.

Pixar is also featured, albeit in a minor way. There aren’t many Pixar characters that would work as Lego mini figures, but Lego did pick some suitable ones. From Toy Story, there’s Buzz Lightyear and the Alien, and from The Incredibles we have Mr. Incredible and his foe Syndrome. Buzz is the star of the four. While he doesn’t quite look like the Buzz we know and love, the unique pieces included give him a lot of personality. The Alien gets a unique head sculpt and looks fine, while Mr. Incredible and Syndrome look about as good as they can, though they’re a little boring. I don’t dislike any of the four, and actually really like Buzz, but I am left wishing Lego had stuck with more conventional Disney properties and gave Pixar its own wave.

 

With any release like this, it’s easy to zero in on what’s missing. Properties like Pinnochio, Snow White, and The Lion King are synonymous with Disney but not represented here. There’s also a lack of quality accessories that’s kind of disappointing. Mickey comes with none, when he should come with Pluto. He could have come with some clothing type accessories like his sorcerer’s hat, something which is better than nothing. Ursula comes with King Triton’s trident but not his crown, and Ariel comes with an oyster shell with a pink jewel in it. Maybe I need to watch The Little Mermaid again because I don’t remember that amongst her many treasures. I’d rather she come with a fork, I mean, dinglehopper, though a Flounder would have been better. Stitch, Cheshire Cat, and the Alien all come with no accessories, and Aladdin and the Genie both come with the same lamp. Couldn’t Aladdin at least have come with a black Jafar’s lamp? These figures aren’t really all that cheap, the least Lego could do is make sure each character has at least one appropriate accessory to round them out.

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Pan looks kind of bloodthirsty, not that Hook looks like any less of a maniac.

Criticisms aside, I do think this is a pretty solid wave of mini figures and a nice start for the Disney line. I assume there will at least be a wave two and I’m hopeful Lego will explore some Disney sets, especially if they’re based on Disney World or Disneyland. As far as a potential wave 2 is concerned, I would assume some characters are no-brainers. Goofy, Woody, and Jessie seem like locks. Near locks would include Mrs. Incredible, Frozone, and Jafar. If Lego really wants to stick with the films its already touched upon, then characters like King Triton and the Queen of Hearts certainly have a shot as well. I’m hopeful that Pinnochio and Jiminy Cricket get a look, and a Beast and Gaston would be pretty awesome. It’ll probably be nearly a year before we know what’s to come, but until then it will be fun to speculate.

UPDATE:  Well it took Lego a few months to unveil it, they did indeed confirm a Lego version of Disney World’s iconic Cinderella Castle is coming this September. It will retail for $350 (ouch!) and total over 4,000 pieces and come bundled with 5 mini figures. Making her traditional Lego debut will be Tinker Belle and she’s joined by a tuxedo-clad Mickey, a red polka-dot version of Minnie, a pink version of Daisy, and Donald, who appears to be identical to his previously released figure. It looks pretty slick, and it’s hard to argue with the character choices. The castle interior looks like it will be full of easter eggs, and possibly hints for future mini figures, and the only initial piece of criticism I could offer is the depth of the castle looks shallow. It likely would have benefitted from a hinged design to make the base at least appear bigger. Aside from that, it’s a nice piece of eye candy and something I’m going to have to buy for my Disney-obsessed wife.LEGO_71040_fi

 


#2 – Mickey’s Christmas Carol

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Mickey’s Christmas Carol (1983)

Mickey’s Christmas Carol marked the return of the most famous cartoon mouse to the big screen for the first time in 30 years. Once a staple of the cinematic experience, Mickey had been pushed aside for other characters (namely Donald Duck) and live-action features. It had been even longer since Mickey, Donald, and Goofy had all appeared in the same short.

Mickey’s Christmas Carol was released in 1983 along with the The Rescuers. As shorts go, it’s actually pretty long, which has helped it over the years in being shown on television because it fits easily into a standard half-hour time-slot. Mickey’s Christmas Carol also goes against one of my personal tenants of Christmas specials which is to avoid adaptations of A Christmas Carol and It’s A Wonderful Life. That’s often the path of the lazy, but Mickey’s Christmas Carol benefits as being one of the earlier adaptations, and for some reason, it just works.

The story is obviously familiar to most people. It’s a pretty straight-forward retelling of the Dickens classic just with Disney characters acting out the parts (only the animal characters though, no humans allowed). The cast features the old popular ones of Mickey, Donald, Goofy, and Minnie while also mixing in cameos from The Winds in the Willow, Silly Symphonies, and Robin Hood, among others. This is also the first short to feature Scrooge McDuck as the character he was born to play. He’s voiced by Alan Young, known to audiences as Wilbur from Mister Ed, who has continued to voice the character even into his 90’s. Another debut is Wayne Allwine as Mickey Mouse, just the third voice actor to portray the character. Clarence “Ducky” Nash also gets a final opportunity to voice Donald Duck, before the character would be passed onto Tony Anselmo. As a result, Mickey’s Christmas Carol feels like a really important short in the company’s history as there’s a lot of historical significance that can be attached to it.

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Gets me every time.

All of that stuff is great, but it wouldn’t matter if the story sucked. Instead, the story is told in a brisk, but not rushed, manner. The shots that need to linger, linger, and the ones that can be hurried along are. The animation is vintage Disney, with Scrooge walking home in the snow from his counting house probably my favorite shot. All of the right emotions hit, and Scrooge’s transformation from miserable miser to benevolent boss is done in a believable way. Just try to suppress the lump in your throat when Mickey is seen crying at the grave of Tiny Tim in the flash-forward. That sight would transform any man!

Mickey’s Christmas Carol has a special place in my heart. It was the lead-off special on a homemade VHS tape my mom made for my sister and I when we were really little. As a result, it’s also probably the Christmas special I’ve seen more than any other. Since Disney is omnipresent on television, Mickey’s Christmas Carol is shown quite frequently around the holidays, so hopefully you didn’t miss it this year. It’s also been released multiple times on DVD and Blu Ray, most recently just two years ago. Though if you really want to own a copy of it, I suggest you pony up the extra dollars for Mickey Mouse: In Living Color Volume 2 so you can also enjoy a bunch of Mickey’s other classic shorts.

 


#7 – Donald Duck: Toy Tinkers

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“Toy Tinkers” (1949)

For the number seven entry I am cheating a little, but only a little. I spelled it out in the intro to this feature, but I am considering theatrical shorts for this feature as long as they’ve basically been adopted by television. “Toy Tinkers” starring Donald Duck falls under that umbrella as it debuted in theaters in 1949. “Toy Tinkers” came during a time when Walt Disney was moving away from the short subject to focus on feature length films and television productions. Pretty much the only character still receiving shorts was Donald Duck, who had usurped Mickey Mouse’s role as lead character for cartoons. Mickey would receive short films here and there into the fifties, but Donald was the only one receiving consistent work.

“Toy Tinkers” is very similar to a later cartoon, “Pluto’s Christmas Tree,” because both feature Chip and Dale. In this cartoon, Chip and Dale sneak into Donald’s house after seeing him chop down a Christmas tree. When they get in they decide to stay due to its warmth and abundance of nuts. Donald, not being the friendliest duck, sees the duo and decides to have some fun at their expense. He even ends up pulling a gun on them after disguising himself as Santa Claus. Chip and Dale, of course, do not take this laying down and opt to fight back. They’ve had a few battles with Donald over the years, and just like in virtually every other one, they get the better of the duck after turning his living room into a war zone.

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Santa Donald: way better than Santa Claus.

“Toy Tinkers,” as the name implies, features lots of toys and gags centered around them. The tamest moments of the short feature Chip and Dale interacting with these toys in an innocent and curious way. The toys also play a vital role to the combat sequences that follow where pop guns, trains, and wind-up cars are put to use. It’s a clever little short that’s plenty charming. It doesn’t really feature much Christmas spirit, but makes up for it with its use of timeless characters. Seriously, if you can’t enjoy a Donald Duck cartoon then we can’t be friends.

“Toy Tinkers” can be found on the Chronological Donald Volume 3, a collection of Donald Duck cartoons that is long since out of print and mighty expensive on the resale market. There is a holiday DVD from about ten years ago that included it which is much easier on the wallet, “Holiday Celebration with Mickey and Pals,” if you wish to seek it out. The Disney Channel will sometimes slip it into its programming during December as well, especially if they need to fill some small gaps in programming, but you’ll have to keep your eyes peeled to find it. If you wish to make it easy on yourself, pretty much every old Disney short can be found on Youtube. Since the company isn’t actively trying to sell them, they must not care about their availability online.