Back to the Movies BONUS: Mickey’s Christmas Carol

Note: Back to the Movies is a special feature on the FilmNerds blog in which Matt Scalici will be watching the Top 50 highest-grossing movies of 1983 in order from 50 to 1.

In my original post on the 1983 re-release of Disney’s 1977 animated feature The Rescuers, I was initially unable to find out exactly what was behind the re-release, a question that was thankfully answered by some of our readers (check the comments section on my Rescuers post). In short, the answer is that in addition to a number of other factors, The Rescuers re-release provided Disney with an opportunity for a theatrical venue for its first attempt in three decades at a new Mickey Mouse cartoon. Disney’s franchise character had remained a major part of Disney’s overall branding but with no new material since the 1953 short “The Simple Things”, the character’s street cred was beginning to fade among Disney’s key target audience, children.

As reader David Wright pointed out, Disney was in the midst of a minor crisis in 1983, dealing with a major management transition as Roy Disney Jr. stepped down as well as a shifting of focus towards other revenue sources such as the theme parks and the newly-launched Disney Channel. Still, The Rescuers was a popular title in 1983 and the added bonus of a brand new Christmas-themed Mickey Mouse short was surely a big part of the draw for this release so I felt it deserved its own post here in Back to the Movies.

In terms of the story, I probably don’t have to say much. Odds are you’ve already seen one of the other 42 film adaptations of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol (that includes made-for-TV movies) so you know the drill: Scrooge is mean, three ghosts, Tiny Tim, a cooked goose for everyone. The main distinguishing quality here is that all the classic characters are played by established Disney characters, some from the Mickey Mouse clan and some from various other Disney animated features.

The star of the show is obviously Scrooge, played by the Disney character inspired by him, Scrooge McDuck. Scrooge was already a well-established comic book character for Disney (ask our contributor Ben Stark sometime if you’d like to hear more about that) but had appeared on film just once prior to Mickey’s Christmas Carol (in 1967’s Scrooge McDuck and Money). Scrooge is voiced here by the man who continued to voice the character throughout the ’80s and ’90s as the character became more popular, veteran TV actor Alan Young (best known as Wilbur from “Mister Ed”).

Mickey plays the part of kindly Bob Cratchett while Goofy is brilliantly cast as the ghost of Jacob Marley and Donald Duck (voiced for one last time by legendary voice actor Clarence Nash) plays Scrooge’s chipper nephew. Disney’s choices for the three Christmas ghosts were a little interesting but mostly good fits, with Jiminy Cricket playing the Ghost of Christmas Past, the giant from Mickey and the Bean Stalk as the Ghost of Christmas Present (a bit of an obscure choice but it works) and Mickey’s old arch-nemesis Pete as the Ghost of Christmas Future.

With a slim running time of just 24 minutes, the story gets a pretty quick treatment and works as a sort of quick parable that is especially effective for younger audiences. I remember seeing this as a child (I’m going to guess it was in the late ’80s when NBC had the TV rights to it) and remember this being my first introduction to the story of A Christmas Carol. I certainly wouldn’t say this cartoon highlights some of the elements like nostalgia and regret that other adaptations have done such a wonderful job with (including the Muppet version, which features for my money the most emotionally rich portrayal of Scrooge I’ve seen courtesy of Michael Caine) but in terms of introducing a young audience to this timeless story, it certainly covers all the bases.

This short is pretty easy to find these days, whether on DVD (as part of the Walt Disney Treasures box set), on TV (it currently airs on ABC Family every December) or on the internet, though you didn’t hear that from me (just search for it on Youtube).

Read my Back to the Movies review for The 1983 re-release of The Rescuers.