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Mickey's Christmas Carol: 30th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy Review

Mickey's Christmas Carol: 30th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy combo pack cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Mickey's Christmas Carol (1983)
Special, Blu-ray & DVD Details

Director: Burny Mattinson / Writers: Burny Mattinson, Tony Marino, Ed Gombert, Don Griffith, Alan Young, Allan Dinehart (story adaptation); Charles Dickens (A Christmas Carol)

Voice Cast: Alan Young (Ebenezer Scrooge/Scrooge McDuck), Wayne Allwine (Bob Cratchit/Mickey Mouse, Weasel Gravedigger, Beggar/Otto), Hal Smith (Jacob Marley's Ghost/Goofy, Collector for the Poor #1/Rat), Will Ryan (Collector for the Poor #2/Mole, The Ghost of Christmas Present/Willie the Giant, The Ghost of Christmas Future/Pete), Eddie Carroll (The Ghost of Christmas Past/Jiminy Cricket), Patricia Parris (Belle/Daisy Duck), Dick Billingsley (Tiny Tim/Morty Fieldmouse), Clarence Nash (Nephew Fred/Donald Duck)

Theatrical Release: December 16, 1983 / Running Time: 26 Minutes (plus 32 Minutes of Bonus Shorts) / Rating: G

Also includes:
Yodelberg (2013), The Hockey Champ (1939), Pluto's Christmas Tree (1952), The Art of Skiing (1941), Corn Chips (1951)

Mickey's Christmas Carol & Yodelberg: 1.78:1 Widescreen (DVD Anamorphic); Others: 1.33:1 Fullscreen (Original Aspect Ratio)
Both formats: Dolby Surround 2.0 (English, French, Spanish)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, French, Spanish; Extras Subtitled; DVD Closed Captioned
Blu-ray & DVD Release Date: November 5, 2013 / Suggested Retail Price: $36.99
Two single-sided, single-layered discs (BD-25 & DVD-5) / Blue Keepcase with Side Snap in Embossed Cardboard Slipcover
Also available as DVD + Digital Copy ($29.99 SRP) and on Amazon Instant Video

Mickey's Christmas Carol previously released to DVD on Mickey's Magical Christmas (2001 & 2009; Review), Walt Disney Treasures: Mickey Mouse in Living Color, Volume Two (2004; Review), Classic Cartoon Favorites: Volume 9 - Classic Holiday Stories (2005; Review), and Walt Disney Animation Collection: Classic Short Films - Volume 7 (2009; Review)

Buy Mickey's Christmas Carol from Amazon.com: Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy DVD + Digital Copy Instant Video

One of the more prominent areas of Disney's catalog lacking attention on Blu-ray is the animated short. A few have turned up as bonus features on animated films to which they are thematically related. Many of those, though, haven't even been remastered or presented in high definition. There has never been a compilation devoted just to shorts. Until now.
The holidays bring out the best in some and Disney appears to be among them, with Tuesday yielding their first Blu-ray release consisting entirely of short films.

This two-disc Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy combo pack is called the 30th Anniversary Edition of Mickey's Christmas Carol. And though that milestone-celebrating 1983 featurette short is the main attraction, it is joined by five additional shorts that are set at Christmastime or winter.

Originally shown in theaters before a reissue of The Rescuers, Mickey's Christmas Carol is something of a landmark in Disney animation. The concept of adapting Charles Dickens' immortal 1843 novella was not new, but not yet played out in the early 1980s. Sure, Mr. Magoo, Rich Little, Looney Tunes, and Rankin-Bass had put their colorful spin on the seasonal redemption tale on television, but more than a decade had passed since the last theatrical adaptation. As wonderful as it is, even in condensed and comical form, it's not Dickens' story that distinguishes Disney's cartoon version.

Ebenezer Scrooge (Scrooge McDuck) is frightened to get a late night visit from his deceased partner Jacob Marley (Goofy) in "Mickey's Christmas Carol."

No, the two big claims to fame of Mickey's Christmas Carol are its inspired use of Disney's rich canon of characters and its role in the developing careers of many important animation filmmakers. This short was Mickey Mouse's first piece of theatrical animation in over thirty years. Despite his titular status, Mickey holds a supporting role as Bob Cratchit. The part of Ebenezer Scrooge, of course, is filled by Scrooge McDuck, a miserly millionaire until then predominantly featured in comic books as the uncle of Donald Duck and great-uncle of triplets Huey, Dewey, and Louie.

Scrooge had starred in the 1967 short Scrooge McDuck and Money and would soon become a fixture on television's "DuckTales." His perfect casting as his namesake protagonist was a stroke of genius around which everything fell into place.
Of course, his nephew Fred would be played by Donald Duck. And as long as they were mining their famous personalities, Disney would have Goofy play the ghost of Marley, Jiminy Cricket, Willie the giant from Fun and Fancy Free, and Pete the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future. The short even goes further, placing supporting characters from The Wind in the Willows and Robin Hood in fitting minor roles. That design makes this sort of a predecessor to like-minded modern Disney works like "House of Mouse" and Kingdom Hearts. It's one of the earliest instances of Disney celebrating its body of work and rewarding those intimately familiar with it.

More significant than that colorful, entertaining presentation is the assembly of talent behind the scenes. Virtually everyone who would feature in Disney's 1990s animation renaissance cut their teeth or honed their craft here, including writer/director Burny Mattinson, animators Glen Keane, Mark Henn, and Randy Cartwright, producer Don Hahn (as a mere production assistant), and effects animator Mark Dindal (later, the director of The Emperor's New Groove). Even game-changing Pixar chief John Lasseter picks up his biggest credit from his first years at Disney, as one of sixteen in a group called "creative talents."

Of course, even if you don't recognize all the minor characters or any names in the credits, you're still likely to enjoy Mickey's Christmas Carol for its swift, heartwarming retelling of one of the English language's most powerful and enduring stories. A union of two entities as widely beloved as Dickens' A Christmas Carol and Disney animation is bound to delight and this doesn't disappoint, no matter how many times you've been exposed to the tale or of this particular incarnation.

It's possible to have been exposed to this short on no fewer than four DVDs: first, edited into the 2001 direct-to-video Mickey's Magical Christmas: Snowed In at the House of Mouse, then in a more complete form on Disc 2 of the Walt Disney Treasures' 2004 tin Mickey Mouse in Living Color, Volume Two, and again in a comparable pair of holiday short compilations, 2005's Classic Holiday Stories (Volume 9 in the Classic Cartoon Favorites line) and 2009's self-titled entry as the seventh and final volume in the Walt Disney Animation Collection: Classic Short Films series. (If you'd like, feel free to also count the 2009 repackaging of Mickey's Magical Christmas.)

Mickey and Minnie Mouse head the Cratchits in "Mickey's Christmas Carol." Mickey Mouse tries to ascend a mountain but avoid an avalanche as he encounters a Yeti in 2013's "Yodelberg."

This set's remaining five shorts are designated as bonus features, but follow Mickey's Christmas Carol in the feature presentation too in the following order:

Yodelberg (2013) (3:33)
This short is advertised as "all-new" and it's a head-scratcher, until you learn that it is actually the second episode of Disney Channel's Emmy-winning current "Mickey Mouse" series of 3 minute shorts. This oddly-styled, Flash-animated toon sees Mickey to try to climb the Swiss Alps to get to Minnie while staying quiet to avoid an avalanche. In this company, at least, this short is decidedly not good, but at least it's mercifully short.

The Hockey Champ (1939) (7:28)
Donald Duck plays ice hockey on a frozen lake with his nephews Huey, Dewey, and Louie, and attempts to outsmart them.

Pluto's Christmas Tree (1952) (6:46)
One of the last and best shorts in Mickey's original run, this fun cartoon brings Chip 'n Dale inside Mickey's home, to Pluto's irritation, via the Christmas tree that Mickey chops down.

The Art of Skiing (1941) (7:54)
One of Goofy's narrated how-to shorts, this aims to teach you the art of skiing (pronounced "sheeing") with a series of gags putting Goofy in the midst of mishaps.

Corn Chips (1951) (6:57)
Chip 'n Dale crash Donald's house when he's making popcorn. Inevitably, war ensues.

Donald and his nephews Huey, Dewey, and Louie engage in one-upmanship in 1939's "The Hockey Champ." It's probably not a good idea to learn "The Art of Skiing" from Goofy.

VIDEO and AUDIO

Disney recently stopped listing aspect ratio information on the back of their cases.
This is one release that could use that information. Mickey's Christmas Carol was presented in 1.66:1 widescreen on its Walt Disney Treasures DVD. Its other DVD releases, however, have presented it in 1.33:1 fullscreen and an in an open matte version displaying more visuals at the top and bottom of the frame. You'd suspect that Blu-ray would choose the matted widescreen version and indeed it does, albeit matting even further to 1.78:1. Of course, there's ample room on the disc to have included the 1.33:1 version too and it would have had some secondary value. But Disney tries to avoid complication wherever possible and so it's a widescreen-only release for the title attraction.

Those of us who grew up with the short on a quickly-degrading homemade VHS recording will immediately find this Blu-ray presentation stunning. The picture is perfectly stable, steady, sharp, and clean. If anything, it's a touch too clean, as long shots seem to lack detail in a way that slightly resembles summer's disappointing The Sword in the Stone transfer. Thankfully, Christmas Carol doesn't suffer from anywhere near as indiscriminate digital noise reduction. Long shots just don't seem to match the otherwise highly satisfying transfer.

The five bonus shorts are also presented in full 1080p high definition and with the same level of care. Yodelberg fills the now-standard 1.78:1 frame, while others maintain their original 1.33:1 ratios (actually, most are the TV standard 1.33:1, but Skiing is in the more precise 1.37:1 Academy Ratio). Yodelberg obviously looks perfect, as a 2013 television production should. The far older others sport terrific video, too, and not just for their age. Their visuals remain true to cartoons' established looks, only they're a lot sharper, cleaner, and better defined than before. Even those treated to exemplary restorations in the Walt Disney Treasures line show clear improvement here.

Slightly disappointing by comparison, each short is presented in plain Dolby 2.0 surround sound. The channel usage is more or less true to the films' original nature, but it's a little odd that Disney didn't spring for an uncompressed DTS-HD track, at least for Mickey's Christmas Carol, whose recordings sound dated, especially Scrooge for some reason. Nonetheless, these aren't shorts that are driven by their soundtracks and these presentations are preferable to the redubbings and remixes Disney has occasionally performed in places.

The Disney Intermission music videos apply a wreathy border around seasonal shorts, including ones not featured here ("Santa's Workshop"). Scrooge counts his money in the DVD's unwrapped main menu montage.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

I've already addressed the main bonus feature above, the shorts that Disney counts towards the disc's runtime
Disney Wonderland Express Miniature Snowglobe Train Collection Disney Tabletop Christmas Tree: The Wonderful World Of Disney
but also wants to make them look like value-adding "exciting extra content." One other thing falls into that category and more genuinely so. The Blu-ray is equipped with Disney Intermission, a pause-enhancing feature the studio has grown fond of. With this enabled by default, when you pause Mickey's Christmas Carol (but not the bonus shorts), within five seconds you'll be treated to three holiday songs (4:20): "Deck the Halls", "Jingle Bells", and "We Wish You a Merry Christmas."

They are performed aurally by Mickey, Donald, Daisy, Goofy, etc. while HD clips from these shorts and other wintry Disney animation play on screen, the edges of a wreath making the difference between their generally 1.33:1 visuals and the 16:9 hi-def frame. They're a fun but light addition, which don't even place most of the lyrics onscreen. I guess most will already be able to sing along, but like if you're going to put the "Fa La La"'s on, you might as well include the whole thing.

Watch a clip from Disney Intermission: "We Wish You a Merry Christmas":

The DVD, also available on its own with a digital copy, includes all the same shorts plus, of course, default FastPlay playback. But it does not add the Disney Intermission shorts, not even as just bonus videos.

The creative menu unwraps a present to reveal clips from Mickey's Christmas Carol inside. How has no one thought to employ such a design for a holiday title before?!

The two discs open with trailers for The Jungle Book: Diamond Edition, Frozen, and Planes, followed by an anti-smoking spot. Additional ads promote Disney Movie Rewards, Disney Parks, Monsters University, The Little Mermaid sequels 2-Movie Collection, Mary Poppins: 50th Anniversary Edition, and Tinker Bell's The Pirate Fairy.

The plainly-labeled blue and gray discs share a side-snapped blue keepcase with your Disney Movie Rewards/digital copy code and a Disney Movie Club ad. The case is topped by a slipcover with an embossed and glittery face.

The Ghost of Christmas Present (Willie the Giant) holds up Ebenezer Scrooge for some contemporary reflection. Chip 'n Dale go crazy for popcorn in "Corn Chips."

CLOSING THOUGHTS

The 30th anniversary Blu-ray debut of Mickey's Christmas Carol is cause for celebration. One of Disney's best, most substantial, and most rewatchable shorts, it's joined by other enduring highlights from Mickey and friends' classic short film reign.

With that said, the entire lot runs just 58 minutes (54 and change if you want to exclude the 2013 Disney Channel short) and only 62 if you want to count the bonus music videos.
That sure isn't much content for the combo pack's steep $36.99 list price. This set would be a no-brainer recommendation at half the price or with twice as much content. There are plenty of additional Christmasy shorts that would have been welcome and appropriate here (for example, the 1978 featurette The Small One that has accompanied Christmas Carol on its two most recent DVDs). Even the 1.33:1 open matted presentation of the title short would have sensibly bulked up the disc some.

At the same time, if you have any hopes of seeing more classic Disney animated shorts on Blu-ray, you've got to buy this. The typical customer for this will already have these shorts on DVD and, given the choice, probably wouldn't pay extra to get digital copies of them. But these are the prices one pays for being a loyal Disney animation collector and wanting to own these shorts in the best quality available.

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Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy / DVD + Digital Copy / Instant Video

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The Santa Clause Santa Claus: The Movie The Christmas Star Babes in Toyland Elf Fred Claus Four Christmases
New: Monsters University Gravity Falls: Six Strange Tales Coming Home for Christmas Cars (Ultimate Collector's Edition)
1980s Animation: Oliver & Company The Little Mermaid Who Framed Roger Rabbit DuckTales: Volume 1 A Chipmunk Christmas
Walt Disney Animation Collection: Classic Short Films, Volume 7: Mickey's Christmas Carol Classic Cartoon Favorites: Volume 9 - Classic Holiday Stories
Walt Disney Treasures: Mickey Mouse in Living Color, Volume Two Peanuts: Deluxe Holiday Collection

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Reviewed November 2, 2013.



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