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Mickey's Magical Christmas: Snowed In at the House of Mouse DVD Review

Buy Mickey's Magical Christmas: Snowed In at the House of Mouse on DVD from Amazon.com Mickey's Magical Christmas: Snowed In at the House of Mouse
Movie & DVD Details

Directors: Tony Craig, Roberts Gannaway, Burny Mattinson, Jack Hannah / Writers: Thomas Hart, Jess Winfield, Bill Berg, Burny Mattinson, Tony L. Marino, Ed Gombert, Don Griffith, Alan Young, Alan Dineheart, Charles Dickens, Milt Schaffer

Voice Cast: Wayne Allwine (Mickey Mouse), Tony Anselmo (Donald Duck, Huey, Dewey, Louie), Bill Farmer (Goofy, Pluto, Practical Pig), Russi Taylor (Minnie Mouse), Corey Burton (Ludwig Von Drake, Mad Hatter, Grumpy, Gus, Captain Hook), John Cleese ("The Nutcracker" Narrator), Tress MacNeille (Daisy Duck, Chip, Dale), Eddie Carroll (Jiminy Cricket), Jodi Benson (Ariel), Paige O'Hara (Belle), Robby Benson (Beast), Jennifer Hale (Cinderella), Kevin Schon (Timon), Ernie Sabella (Pumbaa), Jonathan Freeman (Jafar), Pat Carroll (Ursula), April Winchell (Mother Von Drake), Michael Welch (Pinocchio), Peter Cullen (Eeyore), Mark Moseley (Mushu), J.P. Manoux (Kuzco), Rob Paulsen (Jaq), Carlos Alazraqui (Panchito), Jeff Bennett (Mr. Jollyland), Frank Welker (Abominable Snowman), Maurice LaMarche / Mickey's Christmas Carol: Alan Young (Scrooge McDuck), Wayne Allwine (Mickey Mouse), Hal Smith (Goofy), Will Ryan (Willie the Giant, Pete), Eddy Carroll (Jiminy Cricket), Patricia Parris (Daisy Duck), Dick Billingsley (Tiny Tim), Clarence Nash (Donald Duck) / Pluto's Christmas Tree: James MacDonald (Mickey Mouse, Chip), Pinto Colvig (Pluto), Dessie Flynn (Dale)

Songs: "Oh What a Merry Christmas Day", "The Best Christmas of All"

Running Time: 62 Minutes / Rating: Not Rated / Video Debut: November 6, 2001

1.33:1 Fullscreen, DTS 5.1 (English), Dolby Digital 5.1 (English)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired; Closed Captioned; Extras Not Subtitled
Release Date: November 3, 2009 / Suggested Retail Price: $26.99
Single-sided, single-layered disc (DVD-5) / White Keepcase in Embossed, Holographic Slipcover

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The general public has no reason to know exactly what to expect from Mickey's Magical Christmas: Snowed In at the House of Mouse, especially distanced eight years from the DVD premiere's initial and most forceful marketing campaign. The front cover of this new 2009 edition calls it a "full-length holiday adventure" and features three Disney princesses behind some of the company's most iconic cartoon personalities.
The back proclaims it "Disney's most popular holiday movie ever" and displays Winnie the Pooh, Tigger, Tinker Bell, Pinocchio, and characters from 101 Dalmatians and The Lion King.

The operative part of that long title, its final three words, also named an animated television series. "House of Mouse" ran from the beginning of 2001 to the end of 2002, having 52 half-hour episodes aired during that time. Besides enduring the branding crossover from One Saturday Morning to ABC Kids, "House" also regularly featured on Disney Channel's schedules.

The series' concept was one that no Disney fan could dislike. The House of Mouse is a nightclub run by Mickey Mouse and his assorted friends. It is frequented by a wide variety of characters from Disney's animated features and shorts. The company's flashiest figures and most enduringly popular properties, like '90s Renaissance features Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin, are given fairly prominent representation. But far lesser-known creations, those as obscure as Ranger J. Audubon Woodlore, can also be spotted from time to time. Penguins from Mary Poppins are waiters. Despite being killed off and having no reason to fraternize with their enemies, villains are welcome. So are sea creatures from The Little Mermaid, who count among the establishment's clientele despite its land setting. Many characters have their original voice actors return (or if not, their DTV replacements).

Daisy and Goofy are among the many who try to cheer up an unseasonable Donald Duck in "Mickey's Magical Christmas: Snowed In at the House of Mouse." Christmas magic transforms Jafar's staff into a giant candy cane, to the amusement of his "Aladdin" tablemates Abu, Iago, and Genie.

That inspired premise didn't quite live up to all its promise. The material in the club amounted to little more than punny one-liners announcing characters' presence. The club's main attraction was cartoon shorts, a few of which were original but most of which had been created just a few years earlier for the even shorter-lived "Mickey Mouse Works." The unfamiliar shorts, which star Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Goofy, Pluto, and Ludwig Von Drake, are kind of bland. You can enjoy them, but you have to make an effort to do so. Of course, a similar criticism can be lobbed at Disney's classic cartoon shorts, after which these segments are surely modeled. But at least those shorts of the '30s, '40s, and '50s have historical significance and weren't quite as produced in mass.

The show still packed plenty of appeal, but its recycling tactics took precedence over the more fascinating, funny, and fan-oriented original content. The rich possibilities of regular Disney canon gatherings never were satisfactorily explored, instead being mined merely for transitional gags. Such limitations are evident on Snowed In, the first of two barely feature-length holiday videos "House of Mouse" spawned.

As the movie opens, the club's Christmas Eve show has just wrapped up, and Mickey et al. are surprised to learn they're all snowed in. They decide to hold a holiday party right then and there. For a plot, we get this: Donald Duck is not in the Christmas spirit. When Charlie Brown faced that dilemma thirty-six years earlier, he had his reasons and outlets. Here, Donald has few of either and the concept just feels lazy. It's no surprise that the House of Mouse gang tries to cheer up Donald with cartoons.

Ebenezer Scrooge (Scrooge McDuck) holds onto The Ghost of Christmas Past (Jiminy Cricket) as they fly down over snowy England in "Mickey's Christmas Carol." Minnie Mouse plays Maria and Mickey her enchanting doll in John Cleese-narrated "The Nutcracker", recycled from "Mickey Mouse Works."

The prescribed viewing includes the Oscar-nominated 1983 featurette Mickey's Christmas Carol, in which Scrooge McDuck is visited by his late partner (Goofy) and three ghosts (Jiminy Cricket, Fun and Fancy Free giant Willie, and Pete) to change his miserly ways. Back in 2001, having this over 20-minute short included was cause for celebration, for it marked its DVD debut.
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It has since been released to DVD three additional times, each in a more complete form. The same is true of another Disney holiday favorite exhibited here: the 1952 short Pluto's Christmas Tree, which has accompanied Carol on all three of its subsequent sets.

The other two recycled shorts date back only to 1999 "Mickey Mouse Works" episodes. Donald gets into some ice-cracking, tree-falling mayhem when his nephews enter a snowman contest. And John Cleese narrates an unappealing retelling of "The Nutcracker", starring Minnie, Mickey, and Donald and featuring rock 'n roll remixes of Tchaikovsky ballets. Another "Mouse Works" segment -- "Mickey's Christmas Chaos" -- is also briefly sampled.

The program reaches its quasi-movie status (end credits are needed to pass the 1-hour mark) with some scattered moments at the House of Mouse. Among these bits are characters making Christmas wishes and sharing what they're thankful for, Ludwig von Drake explaining the science of Santa, and the obligatory musical finale in which the entire House sings "The Best Christmas of All."

Mickey gets some predictable advice from Jiminy Cricket on how to lift Donald's spirits: wish upon a star. Pluto becomes very protective of the Christmas tree Chip 'n Dale called home before Mickey chopped it down.

Snowed In provides some entertainment value, most notably in the two classic shorts that rank among Disney's all-time finest and the few fleeting bits that illustrate why the "House of Mouse" concept is so fun and clever (in theory). But it's hard to imagine less effort going into this. In order to have an attractive and colorful "Christmas movie" on store shelves, Disney had taken similar shortcuts before -- 1999's Winnie the Pooh: Seasons of Giving -- and they would do so again later -- 2005's Disney Princess: A Christmas of Enchantment.
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The practice is commonplace for both of those brands. I guess it is for "House of Mouse" too, which is sad because its creative conceit deserved better.

This new edition of Mickey's Magical Christmas is a repackaging in every sense. Although the cover art boasts FastPlay, such cutting-edge technology had not yet been invented in 2001 and the DVD is thus unequipped with it. The disc has been shorn of its colorful artwork and been joined by some Disney Movie Rewards points. But the data within has not been touched, as made obvious by dates and appearances.

VIDEO and AUDIO

Although multiple sources claim that "House of Mouse" was created in high definition widescreen, both the feature and the bonus episode are seen in 1.33:1 fullscreen here. The picture is a touch soft in color and sharpness (the former being in line with the show's televised palette). It is, however, utterly clean and generally terrific, with only mild wear seen on Pluto's Christmas Tree and Mickey's Christmas Carol.

In a blast from DVD's past, a DTS 5.1 track is offered. It doesn't offer a dynamic or engulfing experience. In fact, the surround channels are hardly used at all. The front channels do not disappoint with their crisp elements. But you'd expect more from a DVD for which not one but two 5.1 mixes were crafted.

Donald is disappointed his impression of "Steamboat Willie" Mickey Mouse doesn't bring down the House, which he's calling the House of Duck in bonus premiere "House of Mouse" episode "The Stolen Cartoons." Dressed as Santa Claus, Wayne Allwine leads five kids in a sound-enhanced reading of "A Visit from St. Nicholas." While the Cratchits aren't able to afford such luxuries as coffee and pumpkin pie, the "Sleigh Ride" sing-along composed of "Mickey's Christmas Carol" scenes is still appreciated.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS and PACKAGING

The main bonus feature is the premiere episode of "House of Mouse", elsewhere titled "The Stolen Cartoons" (23:07, Originally aired January 12, 2001). The club's landlord, Pete, looks to close down the House by preventing Mickey and company
(including "Quackstreet Boys" Huey, Dewey, and Louie) from fulfilling the lease's "show must go on" clause. Although the cartoons eventually go missing, we still get to see a "Pluto Gets the Paper" short involving cement, a "Donald's Dynamite" magic stage act, and, most substantially, the all-original Hickory Dickory Mickey in which Goofy's alarm clock keeps Mickey up the night before he is to drive Goofy to the airport. Also, to his excitement, Donald briefly gets put in charge. The episode is presented in Dolby Surround sound.

The short featurette "The Sounds of Christmas" (2:32) now has a bittersweet quality because it features Wayne Allwine, Mickey Mouse's voice from 1983 until his death earlier this year. Allwine shows a rehearsed group of five youngsters the props used to create sounds for classic Disney animation. He then leads the kids in making sound effects for an adapted version of Clement C. Moore's poem commonly called 'Twas the Night Before Christmas.

Finally, we get two numbers pulled from the Sing-Along Songs video A Very Merry Christmas. "Deck the Halls" (1:50) uses Pluto's Christmas Tree footage, while "Sleigh Ride" (1:55) takes its visuals from Mickey's Christmas Carol. A Mickey head in Santa cap bounces on the animated lyrics.

The disc loads with hilariously outdated sneak peeks promoting Return to Never Land, Atlantis: The Lost Empire, Cinderella II: Dreams Come True, and Recess Christmas: Miracle on Third Street. A second page of ads talks up the since-supplanted Peter Pan: Special Edition, The Hunchback of Notre Dame II, Santa Who?, and "House of Mouse" on Disney's One Saturday Morning.

Typical for a 2001 Disney DVD, the menus are 4x3 and static, though each is accompanied by a jazzy instrumental excerpt of a holiday standard.

Finally, we come to the one area in which this new edition might be considered an upgrade: packaging. The requisite cardboard slipcover goes all out in an effort to catch eyes with extensive embossing and holography. The old edition's chapter insert is replaced by a Disney Movie Rewards code sheet, which will bring you one step closer to getting a giant Baloo plushie for free.

Over seventy years' worth of animated Disney characters come together for closing song "The Best Christmas of All." How many of the sixty-one seen here can you identify? Huey, Dewey, and Louie try to act fast and protect their snowman contest entry from their clumsy uncle Donald in a short "Mickey Mouse Works" short.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Disney hasn't even bothered to update the trailers and menus for this new edition of Mickey's Magical Christmas. The disc is identical to the one released in 2001 and I suppose that's fitting on a feature that makes such liberal use of past work.
The only way to consider this an upgrade is on the basis of some Disney Movie Rewards points and a holographic slipcover. Oh, and the studio has trimmed three dollars off the original list price.

While I'm glad to see and now own this title, I can't say I enjoyed it or anticipate revisiting it much. It doesn't ever feel like the canon-wide holiday jamboree it should, instead playing like some great old cartoons and unimpressive newer ones strung together in as cheap and uncreative a way possible. It basically stands as a pricier and less coherent alternative to the hour-long holiday cartoon compilation that Disney put out just a month ago.

At the same time, it's notable for being one of just two "House of Mouse" DVDs released. It's mind-boggling that the series hasn't gotten proper DVD treatment, but that's not likely to change anytime soon, based on Disney's apparent kibosh on cartoon series collections. The show may have been too thrifty for its own good, but its original content was plenty entertaining, as evidenced by this disc's bonus episode.

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Related Reviews:
Winnie the Pooh: Seasons of Giving (10th Anniv.) Classic Short Films: Mickey's Christmas Carol A Muppets Christmas: Letters to Santa
New to DVD: Tinker Bell and the Lost Treasure Disney Educational Productions: Fall 2009 Orphan Whatever Works
Mickey's House of Villains Mickey's Twice Upon a Christmas Disney Princess: A Christmas of Enchantment
Mickey Mouse Clubhouse: Mickey Saves Santa and Other Mouseketales The Tigger Movie (10th Anniversary Edition)
Mickey Mouse Works: Walt Disney Treasures: Chronological Donald, Volume Four Mickey's Around the World in 80 Days
Cinderella II: Dreams Come True (Special Edition) Return to Never Land (Pixie-Powered Edition) Recess: School's Out

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Reviewed October 28, 2009.