Tag Archives: goofy

The Other Disney Afternoon Games

Capcom recently released a digital collection of NES games called The Disney Afternoon Collection. It’s available for Playstation 4, Steam, and Xbox One (though curiously not for a Nintendo console despite all of the games originating from one)and is a pretty solid collection of not quite classic games at a budget friendly price. And that last part can’t be understated since copies of DuckTales II sell for hundreds of dollars on the aftermarket thanks to low release totals. By most measures, the collection of games represent Capcom’s best licensed titles, but certainly not all of them. It also doesn’t capture every title released with the Disney Afternoon branding and this post is about the leftovers.

1Bonkers (Super Nintendo 1994)

 

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Expect some indirect cameos from famous Disney characters.

Bonkers was a short-lived series that ran from September 1993 to February 1994. In that window, the show managed to feature 65 episodes, the magic number for most Disney cartoons as that met syndication guidelines. Bonkers is reminiscent of Who Framed Roger Rabbit? as it pairs a cartoon bobcat with a human who both work for the Toon Police. They go around solving crimes in a toon world that’s basically inhabited by all of Disney’s classic characters, many of whom make cameos in the show. Disney even allowed Mickey to cameo breaking with tradition that basically kept Mickey shielded from the television properties.

 

In December of ’94 Bonkers came to the Super Nintendo. In a game developed by Capcom (who else?), Bonkers allowed the player to play as the titular character as he tried to recover some famous cartoon assets stolen from a museum. His partner, Lucky, is laid up in a hospital bed forcing Bonkers to go solo. The items he needs to recover, and the places he visits to find them, should feel familiar to Disney fans young and old as they include Mickey’s iconic sorcerer’s hat and Ariel’s voice.

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The Genesis Bonkers wasn’t developed by Capcom and took the gameplay in a very different direction.

The gameplay for Bonkers is very similar to a Konami contemporary, Buster Busts Loose, released in ’93 and based on the Tiny Toons character Buster Bunny. Both games are platformers with large sprites where a main feature of gameplay is a dash meter. Bonkers can dash as a means of attack and to navigate the levels. Special items will bestow upon him invincibility and unlimited dash for a brief period, which is also a feature of an earlier Capcom Mega Drive/Genesis title Quackshot starring Donald Duck. The dash is your bread and butter and what a player needs to master in order to make it through the game. In addition to that, Bonkers can take out most enemies Mario style with a jump attack and he also can toss bombs, though his supply is limited. The game contains just five levels, with the first three being selectable from the game’s hub menu and can be completed in any order. Bonkers never earns additional power-ups or special abilities beyond what he starts with, so there’s no preferred order to them.

 

Bonkers for the SNES is a solid title, though not really spectacular so it’s not surprising to see it’s not a fondly remembered one. The cartoon from which it came is also not one that possesses a huge following, though it was an interesting premise and is probably worthy of revisiting. Bonkers also received another video game, this one for the Genesis and developed by Sega. It’s kind of like a tower defense game in which Bonkers is primarily featured in the foreground defending a position by tossing items at enemies in the background. There are some platforming parts as well, but most probably agree that the SNES game is superior. There was also a Brazil-only Game Gear title called Bonkers: Wax Up! that I know very little about. Judging it based on some YouTube long plays, it doesn’t look like a title that needs to be sought out.

250px-SNES_Goof_Troop_BoxGoof Troop (Super Nintendo 1993)

Following DuckTales, the flagship series for the Disney Afternoon seemed to shift to Goof Troop. Starring Goofy and his son Max, Goof Troop was a mostly wholesome program about adolescence and being a single parent. It’s really melancholy for a series starring Goofy and definitely added a new dimension to a mostly one-note character. For fans of the more action-oriented cartoons like Rescue Rangers and Darkwing Duck, Goof Troop was a bit of a hard sell, but I recall watching it somewhat frequently and thinking it all right.

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A standard screen in Goof Troop with a standard set of obstacles for Goofy to navigate.

The game is definitely an odd duck amongst the other Disney Afternoon titles. Once again developed by Capcom, Goof Troop is an adventure game in which the player controls either Goofy or Max and simultaneous co-op is possible. I suppose it isn’t surprising that the game is unlike its sister titles since Goof Troop, being more of a sitcom than most cartoons, doesn’t have a natural ability to become a video game. In this one, Goofy and Max somehow end up ship-wrecked on an island and need to find a way off of it. It’s basically a survival game, and the player controls one of the two Goofs from a top-down perspective similar to The Legend of Zelda. Goofy and Max can hold a maximum of two items at a time, and the player has to constantly find and drop items in order to progress. The game is more puzzle-like than the others, and since Goofy and Max can’t directly damage the enemies they encounter you’re almost encouraged to avoid conflict.

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Co-op is the preferred way to tackle this one.

The game was developed by Shinji Mikami, who was basically the mind behind Resident Evil. Yes, Resident Evil owes something to Goof Troop and it’s rather remarkable to see how some of the survival elements from that series were first born in Goof Troop. Even right down to how awkward it is to control Goofy and Max and how frustrating it can be to avoid enemies. The game feels like it’s designed for two players as opposed to one as some rooms are really hard to clear without the aid of a second player. The other player can help act as a lure for enemies allowing player one to activate a switch, move a block, or trigger something else on the screen. In two player mode, Goofy and Max can only hold one item each, but it’s an easy trade-off to make in order to gain an ally. Playing solo, I had a hell of a time trying to clear one room where the enemies could kick blocks, blocks that I needed to kick into a certain spot to pass the room. The problem was getting to the enemies and taking them out before they could kick one into a spot where I couldn’t make any use of it, forcing me to leave the screen and re-enter, also re-spawning the enemies.

Goof Troop is an interesting game, and played through the lens of knowing it’s a pseudo Resident Evil predecessor certainly adds to it. As a change of pace from the other Capcom developed Disney Afternoon games, it’s acceptable, but I found it a bit too frustrating to really want to come back to it again and again. Given the license though, this is probably the best Capcom could have done short of just making a platformer that made little thematic sense.

250px-Gargoyles_game_coverGargoyles (Genesis 1995)

Lastly, we have Gargoyles, our only featured game to only be released on the Genesis without a SNES counterpart and (gasp!) to not be developed by Capcom. This one was done by Buena Vista Interactive, and if you know anything about Disney you know that’s likely the name for an internal studio. At some point, someone high up at the company must have got the bright idea that they could make more money if they developed their own games rather than licensing them out to Capcom. Big mistake, as doing so ultimately lead to a severe reduction in quality for Disney based video games and Gargoyles is no exception.

Gargoyles is a series I’ve covered pretty extensively here. It was basically The Disney Afternoon’s answer to WB’s Batman which aired during Fox’s afternoon block of programming. Batman was a hit, so naturally others copied it and Gargoyles was perhaps the most blatant. Don’t confuse that with criticism, as Gargoyles was a pretty entertaining show and was able to develop its own identity during its run. And unlike say Goof Troop, it pretty obviously lent itself well to video games being an action-oriented show starring some pretty bad ass characters.

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At least it looks pretty good.

The game stars Goliath and is essentially another platform-styled action game with some exploration elements. It’s sort of like DuckTales on steroids and with an overt gothic theme. The game starts off in the past with the fall of the castle and the gargoyles being turned to stone before taking the player to the present timeline. All of the main baddies from the show make an appearance, and Goliath handles like Goliath should possessing powerful strikes, a running attack, and the ability to climb walls and double-jump with his wings.

Visually, the game is probably the best out of any Disney Afternoon title and is one of the better looking Genesis titles around. The music even sounds great and you could almost trick someone into believing it came from a Super Nintendo. Sadly, that’s where the positives mostly dry-up. While the music is great, the sound effects are horrendous with awful enemy death screams that sound like they were recorded through a tin can. Goliath is a chore to control as negotiating tight spaces is problematic and his ability to cling to walls is automatic, resulting in numerous occasions where he’ll grab a wall when you don’t want him to. The opening level is particularly frustrating as it features lots of tiny spaces and towers to ascend. Enemies will routinely strike from offscreen and finding enough room to get a running start to smash through a wall can also be harder than it should be. Goliath should feel like a powerful beast, but he’s too easily felled by the humans who serve as foes. The rotten icing on the cake is spotty collision detection when attacking enemies, making their defeat feel wholly unsatisfying.

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There are plenty of familiar faces from the show.

Gargoyles is one of those games that I want to like, but it just makes it too hard to do so. It’s a great license that should have lead to a great, or at least passable, game and it looks awesome. Unfortunately, it just isn’t remotely fun and I’m sure lots of people were conned into buying, or renting, this one based on the track-record of Disney Afternoon titles and because the screenshots looked promising. The game ended up being released only in North America, and there was a Super Nintendo port planned but it was scrapped, either due to poor sales of the Genesis version or because the 16-bit era was essentially over. Stay away, stay far away.


#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.

 


Mickey Mouse: In Living Color, Volume 2

175px-DisneyTreasures03-mickeycolorAs the 1930’s came to an end and Disney transitioned into the 40’s, Mickey Mouse saw his starring roles in cartoon shorts dwindle.  He was, more or less, unofficially retired by the time the decade came to a close and relegated to hosting duties on television and as the official mascot of the Disney brand.  There were several factors contributing to the decreased screen-time for the world’s most famous mouse.  For one, Disney had moved on to feature-length productions and was producing fewer cartoon shorts.  And when Disney was producing shorts, Donald Duck was usually the star, not Mickey Mouse.  As the Disney brand grew, Mickey was not surprisingly delegated as the face of the company.  As such, Disney felt that Mickey needed to be a role model.  While the Mickey who starred in numerous black and white shorts could be kind of mischievous and a bit of a trickster, this new Mickey needed to embody a more wholesome image.  Donald Duck could be the bad boy, and as a result, the funnier of the two characters which made creating shorts for him a natural process.  Donald Duck could be the hero or the villain of any cartoon he starred in, while Mickey was forced to be the straight man.  Another reason why Mickey made fewer appearances in animation is because he was voiced by Walt Disney himself.  As the Disney empire grew, Walt found himself too busy to voice Mickey.  Eventually, he would hand over the voicing duties to sound effects man Jimmy MacDonald because of his too busy schedule.

As a result, this final set of Mickey Mouse cartoons is much shorter than its predecessors.  It’s also not as good as the first Mickey Mouse:  In Living Color collection, but still contains some classic material and worthwhile bonus features.  Disc one includes the last of Mickey’s original run while disc two contains some of his more prominent starring roles and last theatrical short.  The set captures Mickey’s twilight years, and includes material from his three most prominent voice actors: Disney, MacDonald, and Wayne Allwine.  The set is, if nothing else, a nice piece of history for one of animation’s most famous characters.  The animation is top-notch Disney, as one would expect, making even the lesser shorts still fun to watch.

images-187This may be a lesser set when compared with the previous one, but there are still some classic shorts to be found on disc one.  Mickey often finds himself paired with other characters, such as Pluto, Donald, and Goofy.  in “Tugboat Mickey,” Mickey, Donald, and Goofy spend their time repairing an old boat and little goes right.  There’s plenty of slapstick humor in the same style as other shorts that grouped this trio together.  In “The Pointer,” Pluto and Mickey are out hunting and soon find themselves nose to nose with a bear.  Pluto probably gets equal screen time as Mickey and arguably steals the short.  This is common for Mickey though as the guest stars tend to generate the most laughs.  A personal favorite of mine for nostalgic reasons is “Mickey and the Seal.”  I remember watching this one as a kid and it involves Mickey being followed home from the zoo by a seal pup.  They get into some humorous situations as Mickey is unaware the seal followed him which climaxes is in a very entertaining bath tub scene.  There are some duds though, such as “The Nifty Nineties” and “The Simple Things.”  “The Nifty Nineties” is basically a love letter to the 1890’s.  It contains some nice music and pretty backgrounds, but it’s just really boring.  Nothing happens.  “The Simple Things” is another Mickey and Pluto short, and also the last Mickey Mouse short until the 1990’s.  It’s not so bad in a vacuum, but a lot of the gags are recycled from older Mickey, Pluto and Donald cartoons and have become worn out at this point.

There are some curious inclusions amongst the cartoons as well.  Namely, there are a few Pluto cartoons here that would have made more sense as part of the Pluto collections.  Perhaps Disney felt it needed to include more content on this one, but “Pluto’s Party” and “Pluto’s Christmas Tree” would have been more at home on the Pluto sets, but I can’t say I’m disappointed they’re here.  It’s actually more of a hindrance to the Pluto sets that they weren’t also included there.  The short, “Plutopia,” included on this set actually also shows up on The Complete Pluto, Volume Two as well.

Still breathtaking more than 70 years later.

Still breathtaking more than 70 years later.

In addition to the short-form cartoons are the longer feature appearances of Mickey.  Included on disc one, is “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” from Fantasia and “Mickey and the Beanstalk” from Fun and Fancy Free.  These end up being about three to four times the length of a typical cartoon short, and are essential to the Mickey Mouse legacy.  “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” kind of goes without saying, but for the record I will state it’s an iconic piece of American animation and possibly Mickey’s most famous appearance.  “Mickey and the Beanstalk” is less known, but important because it was the unofficial passing of the torch for the voice of Mickey from Walt Disney to Jimmy MacDonald as portions of the cartoon feature Mickey voiced by Disney and portions by MacDonald.  For a long time, it was thought that this was the last time Disney voiced Mickey, but it was actually revealed by MacDonald to film critic and set host Leonard Maltin that Walt reprised the role of Mickey for the intros to the Mickey Mouse Clubhouse television show.  Those intros, five in total, are included as a bonus feature on this set and are impossibly cool for fans of Disney and Mickey Mouse history.

The Prince and the Pauper is hardly a classic, but it's nice to have it included all the same.

The Prince and the Pauper is hardly a classic, but it’s nice to have it included all the same.

Disc two contains more special features as well as Mickey’s most recent cartoons.  The long-form shorts “Mickey’s Christmas Carol” and “The Prince and the Pauper” are featured.  I’ve written more than once on this blog about “Mickey’s Christmas Carol” so I won’t go into much detail here, but there’s some bonus content with some animators who worked on it which is worth checking out.  It’s a neat cartoon for many reasons, but also because it’s the first time Mickey Mouse was voiced by Wayne Allwine, who would eventually go on to become the longest running voice of Mickey Mouse until his death in 2009.  The cartoon also features the Uncle Scrooge character voiced by Allen Young, who would of course go on to voice Scrooge in the very successful DuckTales series.  The cartoon is also the last time Donald Duck was voiced by his original voice actor, Clarence Nash, making “Mickey’s Christmas Carol” one of the most historically significant cartoons ever produced by the Disney company.  “The Prince and the Pauper” is another twenty-four minute short.  Coincidentally, it was released to theaters with The Rescuers Down Under while “Mickey’s Christmas Carol” was released with The Rescuers (Disney apparently likes to group its mouse characters together).  It’s a fairly unremarkable short but does feature some nice animation, though its brightness contrasts it with the muted pallet of “Mickey’s Christmas Carol” in a way that kind of puts me off.  It is notable for being the last time Disney used the Xerox process for its animation, a process that had been in use since 101 Dalmatians.

Runaway Brain feels like it's mostly been forgotten, which is a shame because it's great fun.

Runaway Brain feels like it’s mostly been forgotten, which is a shame because it’s great fun.

The last short include on the collection is, up until very recently, the last Mickey Mouse short, “Runaway Brain.”  Released in 1995 along with A Goofy Movie, it features Mickey and Minnie (voiced by Allwine’s real-life wife Russi Taylor) and marks the debut of mad scientist Dr. Frankenollie (named after longtime Disney animators Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston), who is voiced in the short by Kelsey Grammar.  The plot involves Mickey forgetting his anniversary with Minnie and trying to make up for it by volunteering for a science experiment to earn money for a Hawaiian vacation.  Mickey ends up as a mindless beast and it’s a pretty entertaining cartoon short.  It served as a nice way for Mickey to bow out of animation, though starting in 2013 new Mickey Mouse shorts have been in production featuring a new style and approach in terms of both look and content.

Mickey Mouse: In Living Color, Volume Two isn’t quite as good as Volume One, but there’s enough here that any Disney fan should own it.  More than anything, this set is a piece of Disney history as it documents the changing look of Mickey Mouse as well as the men who gave voice to him.  There’s a little bit of sadness to it as well, as Mickey quietly exited the world of animation with little fanfare or celebration.  It seems like he deserved better, and it’s too bad that generations of kids have grown up without new Mickey Mouse cartoons.  The most recent shorts produced actually aren’t bad, and the few I’ve seen I’ve enjoyed but it doesn’t seem like they get much attention.  Disney would do well to make an effort to keep Mickey’s animation presence alive and well by celebrating his legacy more and pushing his current shorts.  Kids today deserve to know Mickey Mouse as more than a theme park attraction and brand.

Mickey Mouse:  In Living Color, Volume Two

  • Society Dog Show
  • The Pointer
  • Tugboat Mickey
  • Pluto’s Dream House
  • Mr. Mouse Takes a Trip
  • The Little Whirlwind
  • The Nifty Nineties
  • Orphan’s Benefit (1941)
  • Mickey’s Birthday Party
  • Symphony Hour
  • Mickey’s Delayed Date
  • Mickey Down Under
  • Mickey and the Seal
  • Plutopia
  • R’Coon Dawg
  • Pluto’s Party
  • Pluto’s Christmas Tree
  • The Simple Things
  • The Sorcerer’s Apprentice
  • Mickey and the Beanstalk
  • Mickey’s Christmas Carol
  • The Prince and the Pauper
  • Runaway Brain

 


A Mickey Mouse Christmas

Mickey Mouse has appeared in many Christmas themed specials and shorts over the years.  I suppose that should be expected of a character who has been around for over 80 years.  I don’t think he’s appeared in more Christmas specials than any other popular character (the boys in South Park actually had a nice streak going on of a Christmas special nearly every year) but he’s certainly in the discussion.  Many of Mickey’s Christmas exploits took place on the big screen in the form of shorts, but have since become television staples during the Christmas season.  Rather than make an individual post here and there on certain ones, I’ve decided to make one long post that hits on the ones I’m most familiar with.  This list isn’t exhaustive as I’m sure there are more modern television specials that I’m not familiar with, but consider this a good start.  The following list is in chronological order, starting with the earliest.  They’re all available on DVD in some fashion, and the old shorts can be found on youtube as well (Disney is pretty lax with its old shorts when it comes to youtube, probably because the Treasures line of DVDs is out of print)

Mickey’s Good Deed (1932)

The original version was in black and white, but colorized versions exist today.

The original version was in black and white, but colorized versions exist today.

Mickey’s rise to fame nearly coincided with The Great Depression.  As such, it’s a pretty common site to see Mickey depicted poor and penniless.  In Mickey’s Good Deed, he’s a street performer looking to make a buck.  As far as we know, his only possessions are his cello and Pluto.  After a day of playing, Mickey and Pluto look to score some dinner and find that passer-byes have been tossing nuts and bolts into Mickey’s cup instead of coins.  Down on their luck, Mickey has a mishap that leads to the destruction of his cello, while a rich pig offers to buy Pluto for his bratty kid.  Mickey, of course, refuses but he soon happens upon a family of poor cats.  Wanting to give them a good Christmas, Mickey reluctantly sells his dog, dresses up as Santa, and gives the cat family a nice Christmas.  Pluto, meanwhile, is miserable as he’s abused by the bratty boy pig leading to the father tossing him out and spanking his kid.  Pluto is able to happen upon a despondent Mickey and we get a nice, happy ending.  It’s a cute little Christmas short that unfortunately is never shown on air because of one instance of perceived racist imagery.  A little balloon the Santa Mickey carries appears to depict a blackface character portrait on it.  This means the short is relegated to the vault section on the release Mickey Mouse In Black and White Volume 2.  Despite that, it’s actually been released here and there on VHS and DVD, including a colorized version on the most recent release Holiday Celebration with Mickey and Pals.

Toy Tinkers (1949)

It's all-out war when Chip and Dale sneak into Donald's house.

It’s all-out war when Chip and Dale sneak into Donald’s house.

I’m cheating here, because this is actually a Donald Duck short and does not feature Mickey, but who cares?  This Christmas themed short pits Donald versus perhaps his most famous antagonists:  Chip and Dale.  While out chopping down a Christmas tree, the mischievous chipmunks take notice and follow Donald back to his home where they see a nice, warm environment and bowls full of nuts.  The duo slip in and immediately start using the toys around the tree to transport the nuts out of there.  Donald, not one for charity, takes note and a full-scale battle breaks out over the nuts with the two using pop guns and toy cannons on each other.  It’s a silly, and fun short where Donald is mostly punished for his cruelty (and because it’s more fun to see Donald lose his temper) and things mostly work out for Chip and Dale.  Unlike Mickey’s Good Deed, this one will pop up from time to time on the Disney channel during the holiday season.  Otherwise, it can be found on some compilation releases and the Treasures release The Chronological Donald Volume 3.

Pluto’s Christmas Tree (1952)

Pluto is very protective of his Christmas tree.

Pluto is very protective of his Christmas tree.

Despite what it’s title suggests, Pluto’s Christmas Tree is actually considered a Mickey Mouse short instead of a Pluto one, for some reason.  It’s also one of the few shorts to feature Jimmy Macdonald as Mickey Mouse, as Walt found he didn’t have the time to voice the character any longer.  Pluto’s Christmas Tree is actually fairly similar to Toy Tinkers.  Mickey and Pluto set out to get a Christmas tree and they settle on one that happens to be occupied by Chip and Dale.  Once inside the house, Chip and Dale immediately start to make themselves comfortable in the Christmas tree while Pluto takes notice.  Pluto tries, in vain, to point out the chipmunks to Mickey who just sees Pluto’s antics as the usual.  Eventually he can’t take it anymore and attacks the tree, finally revealing the chipmunks to Mickey who basically has the opposite reaction as Pluto.  The short ends with Christmas carols, where the chipmunks take issue with Pluto’s singing voice.  This is another wildly entertaining Chip and Dale story mostly full of slapstick humor.  This one is really easy to get ahold of as it’s been released several times on VHS and DVD and is one of the most well-received Disney shorts.

Mickey’s Christmas Carol (1983)

Not a Christmas season goes by where I don't watch this one numerous times.

Not a Christmas season goes by where I don’t watch this one numerous times.

Mickey’s Christmas Carol is fairly recent compared with the other shorts.  It’s also quite easy to catch on television or find on DVD and was even recently rereleased on Blu Ray (along with Pluto’s Christmas Tree, among others) this year.  It’s the classic Dickens’ tale with Mickey as Bob Cratchit and Minnie as his wife.  Scrooge McDuck is, naturally, the film’s Scrooge while other Disney characters show up in supporting roles.  As far as takes on A Christmas Carol go, this one is my favorite as it’s both funny and poignant and the inclusion of Disney characters somehow makes it more relatable.  The recent re-release does make it all the more obvious that one giant Christmas release from Disney is necessary.  Mickey’s Christmas Carol is also how many were first introduced to the longest running voice of Mickey Mouse, Wayne Allwine (who passed away in 2009), and also marks the final performance of the original Donald, Clarence “Ducky” Nash.

Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmas (1999)

Once Upon a Christmas is far from timeless, but it is nice to see all of the Disney characters together at Christmas time once again.

Once Upon a Christmas is far from timeless, but it is nice to see all of the Disney characters together at Christmas time once again.

Once Upon a Christmas is a traditionally animated direct-to-video collection of three shorts starring Donald, Goofy, and Mickey.  It’s shown annually on television still and represents the modern Mickey Mouse and friends.  The first short, titled Stuck on Christmas, stars Donald and his nephews Huey, Dewey, and Louie and is a take on the story of What if Christmas Were Every Day?  In it, the three boys wish it could be Christmas every day and are then forced to deal with the consequences.  It’s a bit like Groundhog Day, in that the boys need to be considerate of others and have the perfect day to undo the spell.  The second short, A Very Goofy Christmas, stars Goofy and his son Max as Goofy tries to prove to Max that there is a Santa Claus after their neighbor Pete informs him there’s no such thing.  The third short, Mickey and Minnie’s The Gift of the Magi, once again depicts Mickey as rather poor as both he and Minnie try to scrounge up some money to buy each other the perfect Christmas gift with both discovering the only thing that matters is having each other.  The animation on all three is pretty well done and it’s kind of fun to see modernized versions of the characters.  Aside from the Mickey short, the others tend to run a bit too long and run out of steam towards the end.  It’s a solid Christmas special but falls short of being a classic due mostly to the pacing issues.

Mickey’s Twice Upon a Christmas (2004)

Another direct-to-video Christmas special, Mickey’s Twice Upon a Christmas is naturally the sequel to Once Upon

The CG look for the characters just doesn't do it for me, and as you can see here, the backgrounds suffer too.

The CG look for the characters just doesn’t do it for me, and as you can see here, the backgrounds suffer too.

a Christmas, though the stories contain no obvious references to the previous ones.  Differing itself from its predecessor, Twice Upon a Christmas is entirely computer animated and the results are something less than spectacular.  The characters are mostly harmed by the transition to 3D models which makes sense considering they were never drawn for such a look to begin with.  This collection also contains five shorts which does address the pacing issues from the first set.  The shorts are:  Belles on Ice, Christmas: Impossible, Christmas Maximus, Donald’s Gift, and Mickey’s Dog-Gone Christmas.  The first one stars Minnie and Daisy as competitive figure skaters and is easily the worst of the set.  There just isn’t much to it.  Christmas: Impossible stars Huey, Dewey, and Louie as they sneak into Santa’s workshop to get on the nice list.  It’s kind of cute, but the CG really shows its limitations as the should-be wondrous Santa’s workshop is really unimpressive looking.  Christmas Maximus stars Goofy and Max, who’s now returning home for the holidays from college with his new sweetheart.  It’s only slightly better than Belles on Ice but is ultimately forgettable.  I also found Max’s look to be really off-putting for some reason.  Donald’s Gift is a rather simple Donald tale where his grumpiness and overall bad demeanor nearly ruin Christmas for his family, but he redeems himself in the end.  I’m a Donald sucker, so I was entertained by this one but it can’t hold a candle to Donald’s classic shorts.  Mickey’s Dog-Gone Christmas is definitely the strongest of the collection as Pluto runs away to the North Pole after Mickey gets mad at him.  There he befriends Santa’s reindeer and adopts the moniker Murray (Murray Christmas, get it?!) and even gets to fly.  The reindeer characters are entertaining, and the CG look actually works for Pluto, though I still prefer the traditional look.  Eventually Pluto is reunited by Santa with his depressed owner and everyone’s happy in the end.  Overall, this is a weak collection and the CG makes it hard to watch.  Check it out if you happen to catch it on TV, but don’t feel like you need to go out of your way to see it.


The Chronological Donald Volume One

The Chronological Donald Volume One

The Chronological Donald Volume One

Mickey Mouse is the character that launched an empire.  When Walt’s darling little mouse took to the screen he captured the hearts of millions of movie-goers in the 1930’s, adult and children alike.  And even though he’s no longer a big part of Disney’s animation output, the theme parks and other merchandising have made sure that Mickey has never faded far from the spotlight. His earliest exploits though are thematically different from what is presented as Mickey Mouse today.  Sure the obvious distinction of Mickey no longer appearing in black and white is clear, but it’s his character traits that are most notable.  In his earliest days, Mickey was more like Bugs Bunny in that he was a bit of a trouble-maker.  He was never on Bugs’ level in that regard, but he did partake in things some parents were not overly fond with.  The cartoon that famously introduced the character Pluto, “The Chain Gang,” begins with Mickey in prison, of all places.  He smoked, he drank, and he could be a bit of a jerk in those old cartoons.  Walt Disney, after hearing the complaints from some parents, decided he needed Mickey to be the face of his company, and as a result, he needed to clean him up just a bit.  His cartoons still needed the characteristics he was about to excise from Mickey, so he took them (and then some) and applied them to a new character, an anthropomorphic duck he named Donald.

Donald took off like a rocket.  His easily irritable and temperamental nature made him a hit with fans who either rooted for him or against him.  His tendency to exhibit wild mood swings added a charge of electricity to his cartoons; fans knew the tantrum was coming, they just didn’t know when.  At first, Donald appeared alongside Mickey for the most part, but soon his popularity earned him his own series allowing him to surpass Mickey himself in terms of popularity.  To date, no other Disney character has appeared in more cartoons than Donald and he’s appeared in more comic strips than any character who doesn’t wear tights and fight crime.  Donald Duck is recognized all over the world and has become an institution, so it should come as no surprise that he has several DVD releases in the Walt Disney Treasures line as well.

I love Donald and always have.  I liked Mickey too when I was a kid, and I always had a fondness for Pluto, but Donald was my favorite.  He’s just an inherently funny character and a lot of that comes from the performance of Clarence “Ducky” Nash, Donald’s voice actor from the 1930’s thru to the early 80’s concluding with Mickey’s Christmas Carol.  That semi-intelligible voice is perfect for the character.  It sounds like something that would come from a duck, if a duck could speak.  Of course, that impression may only exist because Donald has been around for over 70 years but that certainly must have been the sentiment when Nash was awarded the role.  Sometimes it’s nearly impossible to figure out what Donald is saying, but that adds to the humor.  Early on, other duck characters that would appear in Donald cartoons, including Daisy, would speak like Donald but overtime that was dropped.  Donald’s nephews, Huey, Dewey, and Louie, exhibited a lesser but similar speech pattern until DuckTales when they were basically made to speak somewhat normal.

Sharks find ducks tasty.

Sharks find ducks tasty.

The Chronological Donald was released in four parts from 2005-2008.  As the name implies, the shorts appear in chronological order beginning with Donald’s debut from the Silly Symphonies series “The Wise Little Hen.”  This makes Donald the rare character to debut in color before black and white.  His first appearance with Mickey came in the short “Orphan’s Benefit” which can be found on the set Mickey Mouse in Black and White.  It would have been nice to have it here too to mark the occasion as several other sets contain overlapping cartoons, but oh well.  After “The Wise Little Hen,” the rest of the shorts are Donald cartoons though he wasn’t officially given his own series until 1937 with the first short being “Don Donald.”  Mickey doesn’t appear in any of these cartoons (with the exception of one brief cameo), but Pluto and Goofy make appearances as Disney seemed to enjoy pairing Donald with those two.  This set also contains the debut of Donald’s nephews in the cartoon appropriately titled “Donald’s Nephews.”  We’re also introduced to Donald’s cousin Gus in one short who never made another appearance that I’m aware of.

For the most part, these shorts try to put Donald in a new role in each one.  That role is either an official one like “Officer Duck” or making him a golfer or a celebrity chaser.  Some of the ideas repeat, such as “Donald’s Ostrich” and “Donald’s Penguin.”  There’s repeating gags too, of course the most famous being Donald’s tantrum where he thrusts out one arm and swings the other while hopping up and down.  If he doesn’t assume this pose in every cartoon, well then he does in almost every one.  It’s hard for me to choose a favorite, as several shorts here are ones I’m familiar with from my childhood so they have a nostalgic quality for me.  “Sea Scouts” is one where Donald and his nephews are sailors and have to contend with a shark.  It’s a mostly slapstick affair with a great sequence of Donald trying to keep from getting swallowed by the shark.  “Beach Picnic” is another where Donald finds his water float to be uncooperative and Pluto finds himself victimized by the irascible duck.  This cartoon also contains the Pluto fly paper gag, one that shows up in several other cartoons.

This set was created before the vault concept was created for this series.  For those unaware, the vaulted cartoons are ones that contain offensive material.  Leonard Maltin is the host for the set and he does comment on some of the shorts.  The most common bit of offensive material is stereotypical portrayals of native americans.  Anyone around the age of thirty who grew up watching old Warner Bros. shorts or Disney cartoons (including feature-length films such as Peter Pan) should be familiar with this kind of material.  I don’t tell people how to raise their kids so if you’re not familiar with this kind of stuff and are weary about showing it to your kids do some research.  In the case of Donald Duck shorts, a great many can be viewed on video sites for free making it easy to preview the material first.

Things rarely end well for Donald.

Things rarely end well for Donald.

Of course, if you want to purchase such a set for your kids know that it isn’t easy.  Disney only released a limited amount figuring only collectors and Disney diehards would be interested so walking into a store and simply buying a set of Donald Duck cartoons is basically impossible.  Volume One was produced in larger numbers than others but still can command a hefty price.  Amazon has it currently priced at $65 and volume two at $54 with volumes three and four jumping over $100.  I don’t know if they’re worth it, but if you do love Donald and want some of his cartoons you will find this to be a quality set.  The DVDs came housed in a plastic DVD case which in turn is packaged in a silver tin.  The only negative to the packaging is that the tin can be prone to denting in the shipping process.  The cartoons look great for the most part, especially when one considers how old they are.  Some have survived better than others and it shows on some with the usual white Donald being a little dingy or sometimes yellowed.  The quality of the animation can’t be dulled by age though, and if anything, it only looks more impressive in today’s age where a lot of animation is low-budget or computer generated.  Hand drawn animation is practically dead and this set certainly helps to bring the viewer back to the golden age for animation.  Animation fans and Disney fans would do well to track these sets down.  I own three of the four, and the completest in me likely demands that I eventually get the fourth.  I’ve watched them all and on a lazy Sunday morning it’s not uncommon to find me on my couch with a cup of coffee and Donald Duck playing on my TV.

The shorts:

  • 1934
    • The Wise Little Hen
  • 1936
    • Donald and Pluto
  • 1937
    • Don Donald
    • Modern Inventions
    • Donald’s Ostrich
  • 1938
    • Self Control
    • Donald’s Better Self
    • Donald’s Nephews
    • Polar Trappers (with Goofy)
    • Good Scouts
    • The Fox Hunt (with Goofy)
    • Donald’s Golf Game
  • 1939
    • Donald’s Lucky Day
    • The Hockey Champ
    • Donald’s Cousin Gus
    • Beach Picnic
    • Sea Scouts
    • Donald’s Penguin
    • The Autograph Hound
    • Officer Duck

Mickey Mouse: In Living Color

Mickey Mouse:  In Living Color

Mickey Mouse: In Living Color

I love classic cartoons.  They just seem to be so much more developed than present day television shorts.  There’s an emphasis placed on the score and plot while not forgetting the laughs.  The most iconic of cartoon characters from this era include Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck, but is any more well known than Mickey Mouse?  The mouse that built an empire, Mickey was Disney’s original star.  While he ruled the world in the 20’s during his black and white career, he was eclipsed later on by other characters, most notably brand-mate Donald Duck.  Mickey was eclipsed more out of choice than anything.  He became the Disney brand which necessitated him becoming a more wholesome character.  Early portrayals had him playing the role of the trickster at times, but he evolved into more of a straight man (err, mouse) with Donald becoming the more devious character.

As a result, while he wasn’t the most watched cartoon character in the 1930’s he still received all-star quality toons.  When Disney set out to re-release collections of their classic shorts they wisely lead off with this set, Mickey Mouse:  In Living Color which covers the years 1935-1938.  Some of Mickey’s most famous shorts are contained on this set and all appear uncut (save for a minor audio change in “Clock Cleaners”).  Either Disney wanted to create strong demand for these collections, or the company failed to predict how popular they would become because now they can be hard to come by.  They’re worth it though for animation buffs and I’m going to tell you why.

I currently own three sets from the Walt Disney Treasures line.  This one as well as Donald Duck Volume 2 and Mickey Mouse: In Black and White Volume 2.  Picking a favorite is an exercise in futility, and this one is a great starting point for anyone.  It features a total of 26 shorts (listed at the end of this post) all starring Mickey with many featuring Donald, Goofy, Minnie and Pluto.  Perhaps starring is too strong a word as some of the ensemble pieces feature equal screen time for the trio of Mickey, Donald and Goofy and some feature very little of Mickey.  There’s also an easter egg short that’s kind of amusing as it was sponsored by Nabisco so it’s basically an extended commercial (and may have been the first Mickey cartoon to give him pupils).

Mickey and Donald are often friends but also often adversaries.

Mickey and Donald are often friends but also often adversaries.

A few feature Mickey playing off of Donald.  As I mentioned earlier, Mickey became relegated to the role of straight-man with Donald being relied upon for the comedy aspect.  Mickey’s most famous cartoon (other than “Steamboat Willy”) is probably “The Band Concert” where Donald tries to ingratiate himself to Mickey to hilarious results.  There’s also solo cartoons like “Thru the Mirror” which puts Mickey into the book “Through the Looking-Glass” and has him interacting with personified objects.  Fans of the 8 bit and 16 bit era Mickey video games will recognize several scenes from some of these cartoons.  “Thru the Mirror” is a visual delight and one of the stronger cartoons on the set.  For pure comedy there’s “Moose Hunters” which features the trio going after a moose and failing spectacularly.  Another I adore, partly because I had this cartoon on VHS as a kid, is “Mickey’s Trailer” which again features Donald and Goofy.  In this one, Goofy is towing Mickey’s camper while Mickey and Donald are inside.  Goofy, predictably “goofs up” and it leads to some amusing physical comedy.  There’s also a great sequence where Mickey has to get Donald out of bed and relies on the trailer’s technology to assist him.  Another nostalgic favorite for me is “On Ice” which used to be included, in quick clips, with the Mickey’s Christmas Carol broadcasts from the 80’s.  In it, Mickey teaches Minnie how to skate while Goofy tries to ice fish and Donald plays a prank on Pluto.  It’s one of the funnier cartoons included.

Some of these shorts offer a nice glimpse at the era from which they’re from.  In the 30’s, the nation was still coming out of The Great Depression and the short “Moving Day” reflects that as Mickey and Donald face eviction from their landlord.  “Mickey’s Polo Team” features several caricatures of popular actors from that period including the likes of Charlie Chaplin and Harpo Marx.  This  particular toon should be a real treat for film buffs out there and adds another dimension to the viewing experience.  Another short I was familiar with before picking up this set was “Brave Little Tailor.”  This one is another visual treat as it pits Mickey against a giant.  The plot is setup when the king confuses Mickey’s boast of killing seven flies in one blow with killing seven giants with one blow.  Mickey attempts to correct the viewpoint but when he finds out Princess Minnie is his reward if he solves the kingdom’s giant problem he finds it hard to say no.

Mickey Mouse in "Thru the Mirror."

Mickey Mouse in “Thru the Mirror.”

The set comes housed in a tin with images printed on both sides.  Later sets would replace the back print with an insert instead which is actually beneficial as these tins are susceptible to shelf ware.  Leonard Maltin is the host on all of them and there’s a mini documentary included where he goes over Mickey in the 30’s.  He’s also present to educate the masses since these cartoons are not always politically correct.  There’s smoking in some, even by the protagonists, and some jokes that may be considered tasteless.  This set is fairly harmless in that regard when compared with others.  Other sets contain episodes dubbed as “From the Vault” that usually contain images that could be considered racist.  This one contains no such section which is a good thing as those Vault sections contain a mandatory word of caution from Maltin that can’t be skipped.  It just becomes annoying whenever you want to watch those episodes and you have to sit through it each time.  I did mention that there is one edit on “Clock Cleaners” and that’s because some people insisted a Donald Duck line contained the word “fuck,” which was an absurd claim to make since Disney would have never tried to get away with such in the 30’s, let alone now.  Nevertheless, the line was replaced to avoid confusion but it has been released uncut in other sets.  I don’t consider it a big deal though and it’s not something that should affect anyone’s purchasing decision.

Mickey gets to take on a giant in "Brave Little Tailor."

Mickey gets to take on a giant in “Brave Little Tailor.”

This is a wonderful collection of cartoons and anyone who enjoys the medium should try and track down a copy.  Even though these sets only exist in standard definition, the visual quality is very good.  Especially considering these cartoons are over 70 years old.  Some are better than others, but there aren’t any that appear to have deteriorated too bad.  Mickey’s face is pretty much always white and doesn’t appear dirty.  The only one that seemed a little rough around the edges to me was “On Ice,” but it was nothing that could dampen the viewing experience.  This is a fun set to watch and it’s great to experience the joy of these shorts as an adult and I’m sure kids today would still get a kick out of them.  To a lot of children Mickey is just a logo, a character that is featured prominently at Disney’s theme parks, but few have experienced him as a cartoon star.  This set is from an era where Mickey was king of the cartoon world, and it’s not hard to see why.

As promised, here’s the full list of the cartoons included as part of this collection:

  • The Band Concert
  • Mickey’s Garden
  • On Ice
  • Pluto’s Judgement Day
  • Mickey’s Fire Brigade
  • Thru the Mirror
  • Mickey’s Circus
  • Mickey’s Elephant
  • Mickey’s Grand Opera
  • Mickey’s Polo Team
  • Alpine Climbers
  • Moving Day
  • Mickey’s Rival
  • Orphans Picnic
  • Hawaiian Holiday
  • Moose Hunters
  • The Worm Turns
  • Magician Mickey
  • Mickey’s Amateurs
  • Clock Cleaners
  • Lonesome Ghosts
  • Mickey’s Parrot
  • Boat Builders
  • The Whalers
  • Mickey’s Trailer
  • Brave Little Tailor