Chalk this one up as a good concept that flops in its execution. I’d never heard of the Disney TV series called The House of Mouse before I got this new “direct to video” DVD called Mickey’s Magical Christmas: Snowed in at the House of Mouse. Apparently the program works on the conceit that Mickey Mouse has created his own nightclub at which all of the Disney animated characters congregate. This includes heroes, villains, and everyone in between, as all mass to party.
And watch cartoons, apparently. House seems like little more than a new way to package a mix of old and new animated shorts, and that’s all we discover during Magical. The program combines some recently created pieces as well as a few vintage clips from two different eras.
Of the four shorts seen here, two are new pieces while the other two come from older sources. Not surprisingly, the vintage materials are the most interesting. Actually, only one really matches the normal concept of “vintage” footage: “Pluto’s Christmas Tree”, a short from 1952. In this piece, Mickey brings back a Christmas tree with two inhabitants: Chip ‘n Dale. Pluto doesn’t cotton to their presence in his abode, and he wreaks gentle havoc as he attempts to evict them from the home. This program has gotten a great deal of exposure in the past, so it may look familiar. It’s a good little clip but not anything terribly special.
The other older clip will seem ancient to the younger fans, but old fogies like myself view it as a young pup. “Mickey’s Christmas Carol” was made in 1983, and Snowed In includes the entire fairly long short. The program casts Disney favorites in the main roles, with Scrooge McDuck logically put in the lead as Ebenezer Scrooge. Mickey himself plays Bob Cratchit, while Donald Duck portrays Scrooge’s nephew Fred. Goofy comes back as the ghostly Jacob Marley, while Jiminy Cricket, Willie the Giant, and Pete all perform as various Christmas ghosts.
There’s nothing new on display here, but the retelling of the classic works reasonably well. The program zips through the tale awfully quickly, and that leaves little room for nuance or detail. Nonetheless, our collective exposure to the story over the years helps fill in the gaps, and the brevity means that it becomes more suitable to shortened kiddie attention spans. Overall, “Carol” isn’t a classic but it’s an entertaining version of the narrative.
The newer shorts don’t fare as well. The show includes two of them, and they seem lackluster at best. The contrast between them and the higher-quality older clips makes the new ones appear ever less interesting. They aren’t really bad, I suppose, but they fail to deliver much pizzazz or entertainment.
As for the scenes that take place at the House of Mouse, these serve to bookend the shorts. They provide a minor plot in which a snowstorm strands the House-goers. Donald predictably has no Christmas spirit, so Mickey and the others need to bring him up to speed. Apparently nothing imbues a toon with yuletide warmth quicker than some old shorts, so we spend most of the show with these clips.
The whole “House of Mouse” concept never feels like anything more than a gimmick, and a weird one at that. The venue mixes Mickey and other stars of the classic shorts with characters from the feature films. Some of these feature the original voices, though obviously no one from the older flicks appears. However, we do hear actors like Robby Benson and Paige O’Hara of Beauty and the Beast, Jodi Benson of The Little Mermaid and Ernie Sabella of The Lion King.
Speaking of the Beast, I thought it was odd that he appeared here since the character changed back to a human at the end of the movie. Shouldn’t we see that hunky prince instead?
Okay, that area may define the essence of “nitpicking”. I can accept the conglomeration of cartoon characters at a nightclub but it bugs me that we get the wrong physical version of one of them. Well, sue me - it makes no sense!
Unfortunately, that’s not my sole complaint about Mickey’s Magical Christmas: Snowed in at the House of Mouse. The program uses a bizarre gimmick to showcase a hodgepodge of animated shorts that run the gamut from pretty decent to seriously bland. Nothing about the show seems inspired or winning, and it comes across as little more than a cheesy way to milk some old properties.
Exciting trivia note: fans will be happy to note that Niki Haris - longtime backup singer for Madonna who can be seen on the Truth or Dare, Girlie Show, Drowned World and Immaculate Collection DVDs - performed as part of the show’s chorus. Yes, watching the credits can be fun!
Mickey’s Magical Christmas: Snowed in at the House of Mouse appears in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on this single-sided, single-layered DVD; due to those dimensions, the image has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Because the program featured clips from a span of years, their quality varied, but as a whole the show looked fairly good.
The recent material that comprised most of Magical demonstrated the usual concerns seen in cheap animation. Sharpness generally appeared reasonably concise and distinct, but some softness affected a few wider shots. Those concerns weren’t as evident during the older clips, though some of the “Christmas Carol” scenes came across as a little fuzzy at times. Moiré effects and jagged edges caused no concerns, and print flaws seemed relatively minor. Really, only the two “vintage” clips displayed any problems, as I saw a few speckles and a smidgen of grit during the Pluto short and “Carol”. However, these problems appeared pretty minor and didn’t create any significant concerns.
Colors varied mainly due to the source materials. Without question, the quality of the animation strongly affected the hues. The Pluto short demonstrated tones that were markedly more rich and lush than the relatively crude and simple colors of the modern clips. To be sure, those tones came across as acceptably distinct and vivid, but the older image put them to shame via its warmth and depth. “Carol” fell between the two, though its restrained palette made it a little harder to judge.
In addition, black levels consistently appeared rich and dense. Those elements were consistent throughout the different shorts, as was shadow detail. Low-light sequences came across as appropriately opaque but not excessively thick, as dim shots appeared clear and easily visible. Ultimately, Miracle offered a consistently good but unexceptional visual experience.
While the presence of both Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1 soundtracks may race some pulses, I wouldn’t get too excited, for the soundtrack of Miracle seemed pretty restrained. Overall I found the two mixes to sound virtually identical other than the fact that the DTS one seemed considerably louder. Once I accounted for volume differences, I couldn’t detect any other variations between the editions.
There was only so much the mixes could do, however, since significant portions of Miracle featured monaural sound. Both the Pluto short and “Carol” offered one-channel audio with no remixed expansion of the soundfield. As for the House of Mouse shots and the other shorts, except for the score they often seemed essentially mono as well. The music spread reasonably well to the sides, and a few ambient elements appeared at times, but as a whole, the image stayed pretty firmly within the center.
Surround usage appeared minimal. I heard a little reinforcement of some music and effects, and a smidgen of split-surround material crept through on a few occasions. For example, when Ludwig Von Drake rode a sled, it moved from one distinct location to another. However, the general ambience seemed subdued and didn’t add a lot to the package.
Audio quality was good but not tremendously strong. For the monaural sequences, the sound seemed just fine. These segments betrayed the limited response typical for one-channel presentations, and the advanced age of the Pluto clip obviously added greater restrictions, but overall I found them to offer nice, clear mono audio that seemed acceptably distinct and well defined.
As for the newer material, it also worked fairly well. Dialogue appeared natural and crisp, with no signs of edginess or problems related to intelligibility. Effects offered a minor aspect of the mix, but they came across as acceptably clean and accurate, and I detected no distortion. Music appeared surprisingly bland. The tunes weren’t distinctly flawed, but they failed to display much brightness or depth. Low-end response lacked much power, and the highs were slightly muted. The music seemed acceptable for the most part, but it didn’t appear as vivid as it should have. In the end, the soundtracks for Mickey’s Magical Christmas were serviceable but somewhat drab.
Mickey’s Magical Christmas doesn’t pack a slew of extras, but it includes one fairly substantial piece: the first episode of House of Mouse. This 23-minute and five-second program actually seems more entertaining than the Christmas rendition. It follows the attempts of villainous Pete to close the club and it focuses much more strongly on the interaction of various Disney characters; some shorts appear - all new, by the way - but they represent a less important aspect of the show. It’s still nothing special, but this episode is a more fun piece of work.
The Sounds of Christmas gives us a basic look at the creation of sound effects for animated flicks. Hosted by former sound effects editor and current voice of Mickey Wayne Allwine, this two and a half minute program mainly shows the rudiments of this art. It’s probably good for youngsters, but it’s too simple to be worth much for anyone else. (Half creepy, half cool trivia note: Allwine’s married to Russi Taylor, the voice of Minnie!)
Two Singalong Songs appear on the DVD. “Deck the Halls” comes alongside clips from “Pluto’s Christmas Tree”, while “Sleigh Ride” uses snippets of “Mickey’s Christmas Carol”. They did nothing for me, but if you like this kind of Karaoke feature, you might enjoy them.
Within the “Sneak Peeks” area, you’ll discover a slew of advertisements for other Disney offerings. Some of these appear at the start of the DVD as well; when the disc begins to play, we find trailers for Return to Neverland, Atlantis: The Lost Empire, A Recess Christmas: Miracle on Third Street, and Cinderella II: Dreams Come True. Within the “Sneak Peaks” domain itself, we see these promos plus additional clips for the upcoming special edition DVD of Peter Pan, The Hunchback of Notre Dame II, Disney’s One Saturday Morning, and Santa Who?
Blessed with a fun idea but cursed by lackluster execution, Mickey’s Magical Christmas: Snowed In At the House of Mouse offered a pretty drab program. A couple of older clips were entertaining, but as a whole the show seemed like a missed opportunity. The DVD itself provided pretty good picture quality with fairly mediocre sound and a small roster of extras highlighted by one nice piece. With all the strong family entertainment for the holidays, Mickey’s Magical Christmas shouldn’t be high on your list.