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Dec. 3 – Duck the Halls: A Mickey Mouse Christmas Special

Duck_the_Halls_-_TitleBy the time 2016 drew to a close I got the sense that people were ready to say goodbye to the year. It may have brought some bad times, but lets at least remember it for one of the good things it contributed to society:  a brand new Mickey Mouse Christmas special! Not since 2004’s Mickey’s Twice Upon A Christmas had television been blessed with a new holiday special starring Disney’s world renowned mascot, and best of all, it was a Donald Duck special!

“Duck the Halls:  A Mickey Mouse Christmas Special” is a roughly 21 minute Mickey Mouse cartoon set in the new Mickey Mouse cartoon universe which launched in 2013. Most of those cartoons are around 4 minutes in length making “Duck the Halls” by far the longest of the bunch. The series has a distinctive look that’s well animated using modern techniques and features the voice cast you know and love. And for basically the first time ever, Mickey himself is actually very funny and the series is reliant on visual gags more so than jokes to induce laughter. It feels like an animator’s show which naturally draws comparisons to 90’s animated shows like Ren & Stimpy, Rocko’s Modern Life, and Animaniacs.

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Donald is looking forward to celebrating his first Christmas with his friends.

The cartoon opens with an intentionally classic Christmas vibe. There’s shots of the various characters welcoming Christmas set to song which is being sung in a crooner style meant to invoke memories of Bing Crosby. We see Goofy sloppily wrapping gifts, Pluto pulling Donald around in a make-shift sleigh, and Minnie baking fruit cake. The sequence ends on Mickey trimming the tree with the reveal that he’s the one singing with his voice suddenly shifting from the Crosby-esq voice to a more traditionally high-pitched Mickey. Daisy then shows up to spoil all of the fun as she reminds Donald they need to get the hell out of there and migrate, despite Donald’s protesting to stay and enjoy Christmas just once.

Mickey and the gang are borderline cruel in talking up Christmas as Donald struggles with his reality. Mickey recounts the Christmases of his youth when he strangely spoke with an old english accent. We get to see images of Mickey’s family, which I don’t recall any other short ever doing before. It’s probably not considered canon, but it is pretty neat. Goofy chimes in to talk-up Christmas too and his toes even turn into “missile-toes” and explode. None of this stops Daisy from dragging Donald out of there, but not before Mickey can give Donald his Christmas present:  a snowglobe that says “Wish You Were Here.”

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Mickey wants Donald to experience everything Christmas has to offer.

Donald has a crisis of conscious as they head down the highway, the present from Mickey and a billboard proclaiming X-Mas is Awesome!! being the last straw to cause him to jump out of Daisy’s SUV and send him running back to Mickey’s house. The gang is delighted to have Donald for the holidays, while down south Uncle Scrooge, Professor Ludwig, and the nephews are all bummed that Donald isn’t there for them to pull pranks on, experiment on, and do other activities Donald likely won’t miss. Back north, we get a montage set to song sung by Mickey all about his enthusiasm for sharing Christmas with Donald. Throughout the song they’re doing “Christmasy” things while Donald gets progressively sicker and sicker, due to the cold, culminating in his beak falling off while singing carols.

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The southern gang, all wondering when Donald is going to give up on Christmas and show up.

Following the musical number, Donald is in rough shape. His feathers are falling off and he had to tape his beak back on. Goofy makes the obvious observation that he looks like death, before giving him some hot coco that is much too hot. Meanwhile, Daisy and the gang miss their duck and all have begun to worry about Donald’s well-being. They had expected him to give up on Christmas by now. Mickey is worried about Donald too as he’s getting really bad, and when Daisy calls it’s decided that Donald needs to get south pronto, the only problem is Donald is so close to Christmas morning at this point that he’s not giving up. He snaps, and runs out of Mickey’s house featherless wearing a tree skirt as a cape and other trimmings as an outfit. They chase after him and Donald eventually crashes through a barn and ends up in a manger in a scene that might border on sacrilege for some, but not me as Donald is bigger than Jesus.

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Donald’s finally lost it.

They get Donald back to Mickey’s house where things look dire. Mickey makes a Christmas wish to save his friend’s life, and on cue, Santa arrives. He promptly gets stuck in the chimney, so Mickey and the gang steal his sleigh resolved to get Donald south. It’s at this point that “Duck the Halls” passes my personal reindeer test as the sleigh has all eight reindeer, plus Pluto for good measure (so many specials are too lazy to animate all eight reindeer, nine if you include the one with the shiny nose). They get south, and it includes a pretty good “warp speed” gag that I appreciate (since a warp speed button as exhibited in other specials makes no sense, even for flying reindeer), just as Daisy and the others were getting ready to head north to rescue Donald. They crash into the resort and it appears for a minute that Donald is dead, but he rises from a hot tub reborn! Santa even shows up to help use some Christmas magic to clean up the mess and even turn Pluto into an actual reindeer. He explains to Donald that Christmas doesn’t have to be celebrated exclusively in cold climates, Christmas is in your heart and is to be shared with the people you love! After these wise words, everyone has a wonderful Christmas celebration.

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Pluto living his dream.

“Duck the Halls” is a lot of fun. It’s got laughs, music, Santa, a wholesome Christmas message, and the production values to wrap it all up in a nice package. Tony Anselmo shines bright in his familiar role as Donald Duck as he’s able to capture Donald’s enthusiasm and joy for the holiday as well as his deteriorating physical condition throughout the show.  John Kassir debuts as Scrooge, and is notable as this was basically the first performance of Scrooge by someone not named Alan Young, who was one of 2016’s many victims. Interestingly, they could have given the role to David Tennant who is now voicing Scrooge in the DuckTales reboot, but perhaps they wanted to save his debut for that show’s premiere. Also, Young had voiced Scrooge previously in some shorts for this series and they may have wanted to cast someone who sounded like Young’s Scrooge as opposed to Tennant who is basically doing his own thing. Russi Taylor also gets to voice Donald’s nephews again, as they were also recast for the new DuckTales. They don’t really say or do much in this special, but it’s cool to hear Taylor’s version of the nephews once more. I also really like the look of Santa Claus in this one, as he basically looks like the old Santa from the MGM short that’s now in the public domain, red nose and all.

Duck_the_Halls_Mickey_Mouse_final_shotBeing a relatively new addition to the Christmas television landscape, “Duck the Halls” is likely airing multiple times this year on television, which is why I wanted to feature it early in this year’s countdown so you had a chance to find it on TV for yourself if you missed it in 2016. It’s also available on DVD as part of a collection that includes a Halloween special and some other shorts from the Mickey Mouse series. The set was released in August in limited numbers before receiving a wide release in September. I assume it will be well-stocked throughout the holidays should you desire to add this one to your collection. And why wouldn’t you? Mickey Mouse and Christmas go together like egg nog and bourbon. Actually, even better, because you can never have too much Mickey around the holidays where as too much egg nog can go south real fast. As for where it ranks among other Mickey/Donald Christmas cartoons? That’s hard to say as the old shorts are among my all-time favorites and I also adore Mickey’s Christmas Carol. This one is so decidedly different in its brand of humor that it really stands on its own, making comparisons difficult. Just the fact that it stands among those without feeling inferior is a good enough endorsement.

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The Scariest Story Ever – A Mickey Mouse Halloween Spooktacular!

Scariest_Story_Ever_Mickey(1)The new Mickey Mouse cartoons are pretty spectacular. They’re funny, look great, and best of all they’re keeping Mickey and the gang relevant as television stars and not just amusement park fixtures. And best of all, they seem to be embarking on a trend of holiday specials! I adore holiday themed specials, in particular Christmas and Halloween. They’re the two holidays that lend themselves the best to a special because they’re so visual. Last year, we received a brand new Mickey Mouse Christmas special called “Duck the Halls” and it was pretty great. As a follow-up, this year we’re getting a brand new Halloween special:  The Scariest Story Ever – A Mickey Mouse Halloween Spooktacular! The new special will debut on television this Sunday, October 8th, on the Disney Channel, but you can check it out right now by heading to your local big box retailer and picking it up on DVD as part of the Merry and Scary collection which includes “Duck the Halls” and an assortment of spooky shorts.

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Mickey’s house all tricked out for Halloween.

The special opens with Mickey, Donald, and Goofy out trick or treating with the nephews Huey, Dewey, Louie and the seldom seen mouse nephews Ferdi and Morty. Right away, this special is after my heart as the duck nephews are sporting the same costumes they wore in the classic Donald Duck short “Trick or Treat.” A nice little bobbing tune plays as the group does Halloween stuff before returning to Mickey’s house which is decked out in full Halloween decor. It’s there the story comes into focus as the kids demand a scary story from Uncle Mickey who is happy to oblige.

The special takes on an anthology format and parodies three classic tales:  Frankenstein, Dracula, and a take on Hansel and Gretel. The Frankenstein one features Goofy as Dr. Frankenstein and Donald as his assistant as they construct a monster who’s not quite what the kids are expecting. Unsatisfied with Mickey’s ability to spin a scary tale, Goofy and Donald assist with the second one which casts the trio as vampire hunters after Dracula. The Hansel and Gretel tale is the third and final one as the kids weren’t scared by either of the first two. In that one, the kids are inserted into the tale as a gang of rotten kids who steal pies and find themselves seduced by the tastiest pie of all which happens to be baked by a witch who wants to eat them.

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Mickey trying to scare the kids.

By and large, this special is designed to induce laughter. They’re more joke-reliant than the usual Mickey cartoons which tend to heavily rely on visual gags. That’s not to say there are no visual gags to be found. In fact, there are some pretty good ones especially in the Dracula portion in particular. I really liked the one where the vampire places Donald’s stretched out neck in a hot dog bun as he prepares to indulge himself in some duck blood. The more traditional jokes involve Goofy freaking himself out with a sock puppet and Donald trying to tell a scary story but no one can understand him.

Visually the show looks great. I love how vibrant the colors are and the backgrounds have a gritty quality at times that lends itself well to the Halloween vibe. Mickey is in a costume that features a sunflower on his hat and the flower always takes the place of one of his ears, which is a fun visual treat to follow throughout the episode. Goofy is in his Super Goof attire which is a nice callback as well to that version of the character. There’s a musical number early on that’s pretty silly and thus amusing and the usual voice cast appears. If you like your duck nephews voiced by Russi Taylor, as they were in the 80s, then you’ll be happy to know she voices them in this special, as she did in the previous one as well. The special also has some genuinely spooky imagery, but not enough to frighten my 2 and half year old (he refers to this as the Scary Mickey Cartoon and has been watching it incessantly the past week) so I wouldn’t be too concerned about it being too scary for kids. As always though, if you have an easily frightened child you’re best off watching it by yourself first to see if you think it’s something that will frighten your kid. The only thing about the special I don’t particularly care for is the obvious “made for TV” breaks inserted into it when scenes just end and fade to black. They could have created transitions and just edit them out for TV. I always appreciate it when a retail version of a TV special has slightly more content than what ends up on television.

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Can’t wait for the TV broadcast? You can pick this one up on DVD with the Christmas special as well.

“The Scariest Story Ever” is likely to be repeated quite a bit this month. As of this writing, I’m not aware of any non cable airings planned, but it would be nice to see this paired with the “Toy Story of Terror” TV special and aired on a major network so more people can see it. I love that Mickey and the gang are being revived for a new audience so getting them on major networks would really help boost the popularity of the brand. Every kid should get to grow up with Mickey, Donald, Goofy and all the rest. Here’s hoping more holiday specials are on the way in the years to come.


Mickey Mouse Season One

disney_mickey_mouse_vol_1For many years Mickey Mouse was the star of Disney’s theatrical shorts. As his popularity grew he started to shift into more of a supporting role while the likes of Donald Duck, Goofy, and even his dog Pluto stepped in to do more of the heavy lifting with the shorts business. Mickey Mouse became more than just a cartoon character, he became a symbol of the Walt Disney Company which soon branched out from the movie theaters to television, merchandising, theme parks, and now own Spider-Man, Luke Skywalker, and have an omnipresence unlike any other. Through it all, Mickey has remained the top figurehead, especially after the passing of Walt Disney who has really been the only public face associated with the company that the average person could pick out of a line-up. With Mickey in that capacity, his animated outings dwindled. He’d show up here in there, most famously in 1983’s Mickey’s Christmas Carol and 1995’s Runaway Brain. His presence was bolstered on television, but mostly in the realm of programming for the very young. Perhaps someone at Disney was unhappy with the status of the company’s mascot, and the characters associated with him, as in 2013 he was brought out of his forced retirement to resume the role he was born to play.

Simply titled Mickey Mouse, the 2013 “show” isn’t much of a show at all, but just branding for a new line of short cartoons. They primarily air as filler on the various Disney cable platforms and can be easily found on various Disney websites. They’re also packaged together in groups of three for more traditional block programming, but considering their short run time of approximately 4 minutes, even these blocks are quite brief. The first season of shorts was released on DVD in August of 2014. Now three years later, it’s still the only season of the program to receive a physical release (a holiday collection was just released on August 29th, 2017 in limited quantities) and may end being the only one to receive such.

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Goofy’s new look comes across as the most drastic of the main cast.

The series is credited to Paul Rudish who was long associated with Cartoon Network before developing this program. Most of the voice actors associated with the classic Disney characters were brought on to voice their respective character. Bill Farmer is Goofy, Tony Anselmo is Donald, Russi Taylor voices Minnie Mouse, and Tress MacNeille does Daisy. The only exception was with the star character himself:  Mickey Mouse. Mickey had been voiced by Brett Iwan since the passing of Wayne Allwine who had been voicing Mickey since the late 70s. Someone involved with the casting of this show felt Iwan’s portrayal of Mickey wasn’t suited for a more cartoon-like portrayal so Chris Diamantopoulos was hired to voice Mickey. This basically means that for the first time in Mickey’s 80+ years existence he has two official voice actors. While it’s true a number of individuals stepped in during the Walt years to voice Mickey here and there, none were ever considered an official voice of The Mouse. It’s strange and somewhat upsetting for Disney historians (I tackled the subject in this post about Donald Duck suddenly having two voices) for Mickey to have more than one official voice, but I suppose it is what it is.

Brett Iwan probably could have handled voicing Mickey just fine for these shorts. Ignoring that though, Diamantopoulos’ Mickey is similar in that he’s still a high-voiced character with a smooth delivery. This Mickey is more manic than what we’re accustomed to seeing. He often overreacts to simple slights and obstacles and is prone to screaming. Most of the characters are interpreted through this more outlandish lens as the toon quality of the show is emphasized in almost every scene. Minnie is very similar in attitude to Mickey as she’s more or less a female version of the same character. That doesn’t mean she’s uninteresting as she still possesses a personality, it just happens to be very similar to Mickey’s making the two feel like a natural couple who’s been together for decades – which they have! Daisy, on the other hand, is snobbish and materialistic and often likes to brag about her man, err duck, Donald. Goofy is more dim-witted than ever, and he’s also seen the most extreme redesign. The other characters are basically just stylized takes on their classic looks, but Goofy almost looks like a different character. His model reminds me of the George & Junior 90’s “What A Cartoon” show designs. He’s kept his hat and vest, but ditched his pants and even grew a tale. He’s pretty gross too, with stinky feet and is seen scratching himself and picking lint out of his belly button. Donald actually comes across as slightly more mellow than his usual persona. He’s sometimes dismissive of Mickey, but still has his meltdowns. He’s a bit mean-spirited too and isn’t above laughing at another’s misfortune, and that’s pretty much in tune with his classic portrayal. Appearing sporadically is Peg-Legged Pete voiced by Jim Cummings. For the first time in a long time, Pete is even portrayed with his old peg leg. This is also the most cat-like his appearance has been outside of his earliest appearances.

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Mickey’s ears sometimes have a mind of their own.

Visually, the show is very 90s in its looks. Mickey and gang are still fundamentally cute in appearance, but they’re also shown in ugly lights too. When Mickey is worn out or sad his snout will droop making him resemble Mortimer Mouse more than Mickey. It’s a part of Mickey’s anatomy I’ve never seen emphasized before. His eyes and coloring are consistent with his first run of shorts in color. The only real change there is in his over-sized shorts which impossible stay around his waist. The artists and animators love playing with his ears. They slide around on his head, pop-up off of his skull when he screams, and at times they’re even detached. The physics in play are very much of the Looney Tunes variety, with that 90s twist popularized by the likes of Ren & Stimpy, Rocko’s Modern Life, and Animaniacs. The animation is done in a modern way, meaning it’s likely all CG, but it resembles classic animation with its 2D look and backgrounds.

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The animators do not shy away from portraying Mickey in an unfavorable light when the situation calls for it.

The show is very visual, with gags being the name of the game in a great many episodes, especially the season one shorts. Some of these gags are a play on the world and characters. The first broadcast short, “No Service,” tackles the age old question of why it’s permissible for Donald to strut around pants-less and Mickey without a shirt when the two are denied entry into Goofy’s burger joint. Donald ends up taking Mickey’s shorts so he can go inside and order food, leaving Mickey naked and vulnerable outside as he tries to hide from Minnie and Daisy. It’s one of the more hilarious shorts and lays the groundwork for basically all of the others in that Mickey is often presented with a simple obstacle or objective and he has to go through an awful lot to get around it. In “Stayin’ Cool,” Mickey, Donald, and Goofy have to try and beat the heat somehow. When they get tossed out of some guy’s pool they’re forced to search all over the city for a way to stay cool and wind up in an ice cream truck. You get some weird visual gags such as Goofy filling his shorts with ice cream. In “Third Wheel,” Goofy invites himself out on a date with Minnie and Mickey, and through some rather crazy machinations, the duo end up inside Goofy’s stomach enjoying a romantic dinner. When the camera leaves Goofy’s innards just as the two kiss, Goofy’s outer stomach starts a moving and a grooving. These suggestive visual gags are a bit shocking for those accustomed to only a certain brand of humor from Disney, and Mickey especially, but it’s hard to deny their effectiveness.

The music is appropriately upbeat for many of the high energy scenes in this collection of shorts. There’s also a nice sampling of low key jazz and big band music which is evocative of the classic shorts. And where appropriate, the shorts will even dig into Disney’s rich catalogue of original music here and there. There’s even cameos from classic Disney characters I won’t spoil, though some of my favorite cameos actually occur in later seasons. Some of the shorts take place in foreign countries, and in an interesting move, Mickey and his co-stars will speak the native language when the setting changes. Usually these shorts end up having minimal dialogue, but it’s a pretty neat attention to detail and down-right bold as well.

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Mickey’s mocking of Donald in “No Service” makes me laugh every time I see it.

Mickey Mouse is a great return for the ageless mouse and his cast of friends and foes. There’s an infectious energy in this cartoon series that can’t be ignored. Watching it, one gets a sense of appreciation for these characters on the part of the creators as well as a desire to re-imagine them to a point and place them in new settings and new situations to see how they would respond. I can understand if some longtime fans of Mickey and Goofy, especially, are uncomfortable with this take or find their look unappealing, but I do hope they can appreciate the humor in this series. Really, for the first time in his existence, Mickey Mouse is actually a funny character on his own. He’s been the straight man for so many years, and prior to that he was somewhat of a thrill seeker and even a trickster, but rarely comedic. The series is still ongoing and is in the midst of its fourth season with over 60 shorts released, plus the holiday specials. I hope more is on the way and a physical release is considered for the episodes that have been stranded on cable and the internet.  Season One includes 18 shorts, plus a brief making of type of feature that’s not really worth watching, and is readily available for less than 10 dollars. If you’re a Disney or animation fan it’s basically a no-brainer at such a low price point, and considering my own offspring is addicted to this disc, I can safely recommend it for children and adults alike.


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.