Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Mickey's Christmas Carol - Part One

For my first review, I would like to recap a little piece of film that is very near and dear to my heart: Mickey's Christmas Carol.

A Christmas Carol has always been one of my favorite stories for almost as long as I can remember, and Mickey is the reason for it. The story has so many wonderful themes, scenes, and characters.  Frankly, I just adore it.

My first exposure to the story was in 1993 when my parents taped an airing of Mickey's Christmas Carol. I was only three at the time, but I absolutely fell in love with the short.  Once the doorknocker had turned into Goofy/Marley's face, I was hooked.  While this might not be the best version of the story, it's still my personal favorite.

The short begins with some of the best opening titles I've ever seen---written on crumpled old paper that looks like classical sheet music, accompanied by my favorite Christmas song, "Oh, What a Merry Christmas Day" that does a wonderful job of setting the mood for the show.

After the lovely opening, we pan down into the smokey streets of London where we get the first of many Disney cameos--the Three Little Pigs and the Big Bad Wolf caroling together.  Even they've formed a holiday truce!  Otto the dog from Robin Hood, meanwhile, stands with a few companions, warming his hands (paws?) on a meager fire.  It is then that we are introduced to Ebeneezer Scrooge, playing fittingly enough by Scrooge McDuck.

Scrooge refuses Otto even a penny and continues on to work where he gives us the usual "Marley was dead to begin with" exposition.  Apparently, Marley left Scrooge enough money for his tombstone...and Scrooge had him buried at sea!

Scrooge dusts the snow off of the office's sign and enters, introducing us to our leading mouse--Mickey!  Yes, the classic "ears look the same no matter which way his head turns" Mickey.  Despite this being "his" Christmas Carol, the real star is Scrooge himself.  Poor Mickey really doesn't get that much screentime, when you think about it.

Mickey/Cratchit is caught with his hand in the coal bin, trying to thaw out his ink.  We get some nice interaction between Scrooge and Cratchit in this scene.  We learn that although Scrooge pays his sole employee almost nothing, he appears to treat Cratchit with the slightest bit of decency, when it comes to his attitude.  We also get a closer look at Scrooge's personality.  As the excellent blog "Old Sinner" puts it, Scrooge really enjoys being stingy.

In bursts Donald/Fred (Clarence Nash in his final performance) in a much more cheerful mood than the lovable Duck is usually in, accompanied by a tender instrumental version of "Oh What a Merry Christmas Day."  Despite Donald being absolutely adorable ("boy, oh boy!"), Scrooge, is quick to kick him out and then does the same to a pair of collectors for the poor (Mole and Ratty from The Wind in the Willows).  Interestingly enough, in the original version of Mickey's Christmas Carol (the short subject was originally a record), the collectors were played by Foulfellow and Gideon.  If you ask me, that's even more out of character than Goofy was!

We then enter my favorite portion of the film:  The Marley scene.  It left a huge impression on me as a child, and it still does.  There was just something about the pacing and atmosphere it created that was hauntingly beautiful about it.  Mickey/Cratchit leaves for the night, leaving Scrooge all alone in his work.  The sense of isolation builds as Scrooge finally leaves about two hours later.  The streets are deserted.  All of the lights in the houses are out.  The only illumination comes from a few streetlamps.  Everyone has gone to bed, leaving only Scrooge out in the cold.  Alone.
The snow swirls around Scrooge and we are suddenly at his house.  The soundtrack plays a low version of his leitmotif.  Scrooge begins to unlock his door when suddenly his unique lionhead doorknocker seamlessly morphs into the face of Goofy/Marley!  Scrooge gives it a honk on the nose, pissing the guy off (understandably).

Scrooge dashes inside and after a bit of shtick on the staircase with Marley's shadow, Scrooge is in his bedroom, cowering in a chair, as Marley makes his big entrance...tripping on a cane.

Yep, it's the same lovable old Goofy in one of his finest performances.  It's a very odd casting choice, seeing as one could never imagine Goofy as a nasty, old swindler.  However, since we're seeing Goofy after he's dead and remorseful for his previous actions, it somehow works.  He gives the classic Marley warning and leaves in a classic Goofy fashion--falling down the stairs, hollering all the way.

In a short scene I really like, Scrooge checks his room for ghosts while a short, lullaby-like theme plays.  Finding nothing, he settles into bed.  However, his night is only beginning...

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