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  • Year: 1983
  • Director: Bunny Mattinson
  • Starring: Alan Young, Wayne Allwine, Hal Smith

An adaptation of A Christmas Carol is something of a right of passage for a cartoon, like you’ve made it as a series if you’ve done a version of A Christmas Carol. It seems like every popular cartoon series has had their own version.

every
EVERY.    SINGLE.    ONE

By the 1980s, Mickey Mouse’s popularity had waned considerably, not being in a theatrical short since 1953’s The Simple Things. Disney itself was in an animation slump, only releasing a new animated feature every few years. Mickey Mouse’s comeback came in the form of Mickey’s Christmas Carol, a 25-minute theatrical short shown before a re-release of The Rescuers.

The title may be a bit misleading as Mickey Mouse (Wayne Allwine) is not playing Ebenezer Scrooge, but rather Bob Cratchit. This is one of many wonderful “casting” decisions, as Mickey and Cratchit are both put-upon nice guys who rarely catch a break.

Scrooge is played by (who else?) Scrooge McDuck, voiced wonderfully by Alan Young. I love how the “bah” in his “bah humbug” sort of sounds like a quack. I have criticized previous Scrooges for being cartoonishly evil, but since Scrooge is a cartoon here, I’ll be a little more generous. That said, this Scrooge goes out of his way to be a horrible person… err duck. Right at the beginning of the film, he breaks the fourth wall by telling the audience that while Marley left him the money for a tombstone, he buried him at sea.

goofy
Dogs like water, right?

Scrooge also has Cratchit do his laundry for the smallest of raises. Worst of all, we learn in the past segment that Scrooge and his fiancee Isabelle (Daisy Duck) broke up because she paid the mortgage late on their future honeymoon cottage. There are bits of dark humor like this scattered throughout, but they always add to the story instead of slowing it down. This one in particular always makes me laugh.

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With such an expansive character base to work with, you would think that there would be a perfect Disney character for every character in A Christmas Carol, and for the most part, there is. We get Ratty and Moley from The Wind in the Willows as the charity workers, Pete (Mickey’s nemesis) as Christmas Future, and Donald Duck in a surprising kind-hearted turn as Scrooge’s nephew Fred. The only weird thing about this is that apparently Scrooge was engaged to Daisy, who is usually portrayed as Donald’s love interest. Just don’t think about that one too much.

If I had to single out one supporting character…

AlecGuinness
Let me guess, the Ghost of Christmas Present.

Alec Guinness, didn’t you do enough disapproving in the last review? At this point, your thoughts mean no more than a handful of dust.

As I was saying, the Ghost of Christmas Present is played by Willie the Giant from Mickey and the Beanstalk, who is both jolly and dim-witted. This film does a great job of letting the characters keep their traits from their original films while also fitting right into the Dickens mold. Plus, how many times has an actual giant played the role?

turkey
Look at all the food… turkey, pig, chicken, duck.

Christmas Present also has a great bit where he opens up Scrooge’s roof, steps outside, closes it, and picks up a streetlight as a flashlight. I know I’ve gone out of my way in almost every review to talk about how great Christmas Present is, but I feel like the actors (and in this case animators) are always trying to make the most out of his screen time, and it shows.

There are, however, a few casting choices that seem strange. Jiminy Cricket plays Christmas Past, which always felt a bit off to me. Sure, he was Pinocchio’s conscience, but he is really rude to Scrooge without really pitying him. The other choice that bothers me is Goofy as Jacob Marley. Of all the classic Disney villains and scumbags, they chose Goofy. Why not the Magic Mirror from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs or Honest John from Pinocchio?  It is nearly impossible to imagine Scrooge McDuck and Goofy being equally evil co-workers.

Surprisingly for Disney, the story is told very straight. In fact, this is probably one of the most accurate Disney adaptations ever made.

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Next, of course, to this history lesson.

Disney does not shy away from the darker themes of the story at all. Heck, I don’t think the Cratchits have ever looked poorer.

bow
Couldn’t have taken one thing from that feast in Scrooge’s living room?

Hey kids, you know Mickey Mouse? Yeah, his kid’s gonna die soon. Good luck getting over that one. Okay, okay, so they don’t technically say the word die. The light in the house goes out and the ghost disappears before Scrooge can actually say it, but we do see this in the Christmas Future portion.

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Of course, the darkest scenes come during Christmas Future. I have to say, this film has a very innovative way of displaying the Christmas Future scenes. Scrooge and the Ghost of Christmas Future are in the graveyard the whole time, and Christmas Future points to various short scenes that take place there, whether it be the Cratchits mourning their son or two gravediggers talking about Scrooge’s death. Every version has its own interpretation of the future scenes, but this one is both a great artistic and time-saving choice.

For the second consecutive adaptation, Christmas Future unmasks himself and throws Scrooge into hell. To be fair, as in the death scene above, they don’t call it hell, but what does this look like?

hell2
Is this a a metaphor for Disney in the 1980s?

Yes, this scene is kind of silly, but it was so much worse in Scrooge 1970. It’s actually kind of creepy here. Believe it or not, the Disney animated cartoon is creepier than the live action movie. Perhaps it works because we know all along that Christmas Future is clearly someone in a robe. The cigar kind of gives that one away.

pete
Why is Groucho Marx showing me this?

When he does take off the hood and reveal himself to be Pete, it’s still harrowing, with Pete calling Scrooge “the richest man in the cemetery” and laughing maniacally as he throws him down. Thankfully, there is no scene in hell this time.

Though this version is short, the Christmas morning scene is not rushed. Actually, this is one of the better versions of this scene put to film. The scene is actually underplayed as opposed to most over-the-top, goofy versions of this scene. Sure, Scrooge is running around and laughing, but you believe he is full of pure joy. He is also laughing at himself, like Alastair Sim and later George C. Scott would do. This may sound silly, but Scrooge McDuck is one of the only Scrooges who I believe as a character before and after the transformation.

It pretty much goes without saying in a Disney film, but the animation is beautiful. Even though there are characters from a wide selection of movies, they all blend together wonderfully. The music is also great, particularly “Oh What a Merry Christmas Day,” which plays over the opening credits and peppers the score throughout. Speaking of the credits, just look one at the drawings shown over them.

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These look like hand-drawings on crumpled-up wrapping paper. It’s a great little touch. Like so many other versions, the whole thing is just drenched in Christmas spirit.

Mickey’s Christmas Carol was the first version I ever saw, as I’m sure it was for many others, and it really is a great introduction to the story. Of all the cartoons that tell the story with existing characters, it is definitely the best. Sure, I kind of wish we had gotten a full-length feature film instead, or at least an hour-long TV special, but for what it is, it does a really good job. Let’s see how it holds up against the others.

Story (20/30 Points)

This is really tough to call, because it does alright for 25 minutes, but it still feels rushed. Christmas Future is done well, but Christmas Past and especially Present go by way too fast.

Scrooge (25/30 Points)

So you’re telling me a Scottish duck is one of the best Ebenezer Scrooges? Yes, that is exactly what I’m telling you. I actually completely believe both sides of this Scrooge, and that is really rare. Alan Young, who is not Scottish, somehow manages to pull off a Scottish cartoon character without resorting to stereotype, and he really nails the emotional scenes

Ghosts (6/10 Points)

Goofy as Jacob Marley is really out of place and honestly not that funny. Jiminy Cricket is really judgmental, but Willie the Giant and Pete are both great choices for their respective ghosts.

Bob Cratchit (8/10 Points)

It’s a short film, so we don’t see much of him, but Mickey Mouse as Bob Cratchit is perfect casting. This was the first time Wayne Allwine (a longtime voice of Mickey Mouse) voiced him, and he does spectacularly.

Supporting Characters (7/10 Points)

Ratty and Mole are enjoyable as the charity workers, and Donald is good in his brief performance as Fred. There are also many cameos from other Disney characters that are fun to pick out.

Experience (9/10 Points)

“Oh What a Merry Christmas Day” is a beautiful song that is sure to elicit nostalgia for those who saw this years ago. Mickey’s Christmas Carol manages to be a faithful Dickens adaptation, while still being completely 100% Disney, which is very impressive.

Final Score: 75%

It’s not perfect, and watching it now, it all goes by too fast, but Mickey’s Christmas Carol is a very well done short. Even if you didn’t see it as a child, it will still entertain you with its humor and charm. Everything good here has been done better in another version, sure, but this is definitely a good place to start.

On Wednesday, we’re going to take a look at A Christmas Carol starring George C. Scott.

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