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The Media Man Reviews: Mickey's Once Upon A Christmas

Title card

Say what you want about Disney, but I think we can all agree that Disney knows how to make our Christmases merry and bright.


Whether it's all the merchandise they make for this time of year, all the Christmas decorations or their many cartoons and specials they make, Christmas just doesn't feel like Christmas unless Disney is a part of it. At least to me anyway. And there's one thing from Disney that always gets me in the spirit of the holiday. And that is Mickey's Once Upon A Christmas.

Released in 1999, this direct-to-video movie has become a cult favourite for many Disney fans and is as much a staple of the holidays as A Christmas Carol or The Grinch or The Snowman and so forth. It must've become quite popular because in 2004, it got a sequel titled Mickey's Twice Upon A Christmas. It...wasn't good. Unlike this movie, the sequel is often left in the dust and overlooked in favour of this one and for good reason. It was a mediocre follow-up that isn't worth being a part of anyone's Christmas.


So with that said, is Mickey's Once Upon A Christmas a present worth opening on Christmas Day? Or is it just another lump of coal in your stocking? Let's wish one another a Merry Christmas and find out...


Section 1: The Story


"Story" isn't the right word here since this is an anthology film with three stories rather than one. As a result, let's go over them one-by-one:


The first segment is "Stuck on Christmas", starring Donald Duck and his nephews Huey, Dewey and Louie. This segment sees the nephews trapped in a Groundhog Day loop as they wish it were Christmas everyday and quickly come to regret it.

The second segment is "A Very Goofy Christmas", starring Goofy and Max. This segment sees Goofy trying to prove to Max that Santa Claus is real thanks to Pete throwing his beliefs into doubt.


And finally we have "Mickey and Minnie's Gift of the Magi", starring Mickey and Minnie Mouse. It's pretty much The Gift of the Magi but with Mickey and Minnie telling the story.


The stories are as simple as they get, and really that's all they need to be. It's a Christmas movie starring beloved Disney characters, a simple story is what you expect from them and they don't need to be anything more. As a result, we get a very charming and touching set of stories that make this film enjoyable to watch, especially at Christmas time. They really do give the viewer the warm and fuzzy feeling of the holiday that they'd tune into a Christmas special for at this time of year. And despite this being a direct-to-video movie, it's clear that the makers of this film wanted to make a fun and enjoyable Christmas movie for people to watch and enjoy every December and you can feel it from the heart-warming tone and sweet messages of the film that they really cared and wanted this to be a special Christmas treat for their viewers.


I also like how each story has its own message to give and its own lesson to take away from it all. "Stuck on Christmas" teaches us how important it is that Christmas is only once a year and not everyday as it would quickly get old and not feel so special anymore and also that Christmas isn't just about the gifts and decorations, it's about caring for others and sharing your love, kindness and goodwill to those you love. It was especially effective when the nephews see how their antics spoiled Christmas for everyone and they vow to make up for it in the next loop to make it the best Christmas ever.


"A Very Goofy Christmas" has a heavy theme on belief and how important it can be to others. We see that Goofy's belief in Santa Claus means so much to him that he wants to share it with his son and prove to Max that Santa is real and Max sees that Goofy's belief means so much to him that even he tries to put a smile on his father's face after he becomes disappointed with the possibility that Santa may not be real at all. Some may feel Santa turning out to be real is a bit of a cop-out and goes against the message but I feel it still works in the end.


"Mickey and Minnie's Gift of the Magi" naturally has a theme of love and care for others. Mickey and Minnie have to trade away their possessions to get the Christmas gifts they want to give each other which naturally makes the gifts useless in the end, but it's not the gifts that mattered overall. The thought that went into them and what they had to do to get those gifts was what mattered and is ultimately what Christmas is all about. It's always a sweet and important message to take away, especially as many out there forget how Christmas isn't just about expensive gifts and all that. And naturally it's what makes this short the most touching of the three.


Not only does this movie have a large heart, a lot of Christmas spirit and some wonderful lessons to take away from it, but it can also be pretty funny to watch at times with some effective slapstick comedy here and there so there's more reasons to enjoy it than just the sweet Christmas stuff. There's even some pretty clever jokes such as one in "A Very Goofy Christmas" which I won't spoil because it'll be funnier if you see it for yourself rather than me describe it to you.


So this movie has everything it needs to be a solid Christmas film, right? It sure does and while there are flaws, it feels like I'm resorting to nit-picking in order to find any. As I say, these are very simple stories with not much depth to them so those who prefer more engaging and thought-provoking media won't get much out of this. Even for those who enjoy Christmas media, they may find this movie a little too generic for their tastes as the stories and lessons are pretty common in other Christmas media and the outcomes are pretty predictable so there's nothing really that stands out from this movie other than it stars Mickey and friends.


But one thing that always bugs me about this movie is the time loop established in "Stuck on Christmas". OK, the nephews wish it could be Christmas everyday. Fair enough. But why is it a time loop where it's pretty much the same day over and over? They wished it could be Christmas everyday, not that they wanted a repeat of that same day. There was no reason for this thing to be a time loop story other than I guess it saved money on their animation budget or something. I feel The Fairly Odd Parents did this plot more logically and creatively. They could've executed this plot just fine without the time loop stuff in my eyes.


Also in "Mickey and Minnie's Gift of the Magi", Minnie being given a fruitcake as her "Christmas bonus" just felt too forced for me. They could've thought of a more logical way for her to be unable to afford Mickey's present than just having her boss give her a fruitcake. They managed it with Mickey so why they rushed it with Minnie is anyone's guess. Speaking of, I feel this one focused too much on Mickey and so Minnie's subplot feels like an afterthought. They should've balanced the focus between them both better in my opinion.


As is, there's very little to complain about overall, especially as this movie has one job and does it beautifully. All it had to do was be a fun Christmas movie that gives one a holly jolly feeling of the season and it succeeds with flying colours. If you want some sweet and simple fun this Christmas, then this is the movie for you...


(Oh and if you're curious "Stuck on Christmas" is my favourite of the three.)


Section 2: The Characters


Mickey and the gang are just the people you want if you're making a simple, touching Christmas movie and they're well casted in the roles they play in each segment.


"Stuck on Christmas" features Donald Duck (voiced by Tony Anselmo) and his nephews Huey, Dewey and Louie (all voiced by Russi Taylor). The nephews are their usual fun loving selves and they embody the feeling of being a kid at Christmas. They enjoy it so much that they even wish for it to be Christmas every day, though they come to regret it. In the end they learn what Christmas is all about and what really makes it special. They were the right characters to tell this kind of story for this anthology while Donald, Daisy, Scrooge and Aunt Gertie (who was created for this movie) play a supporting role for them. It is funny how the short's called "Donald Duck: Stuck on Christmas" when the nephews are obviously the stars here. XD


"A Very Goofy Christmas" stars Goofy (voiced by Bill Farmer) and Max (voiced by a young Shaun Fleming) with classic Mickey Mouse villain Pete (voiced by Jim Cummings) playing a sort of antagonist role here. I do like how we get to see Max as a kid here as most Disney media portrays him as a teenager nowadays, probably because of A Goofy Movie and his portrayal here is well done. He feels like a kid and they don't make him too much of an attempt to be "cool" for the kids in the audience at least. I can also imagine many kids sympathizing with him as they too have their beliefs shaken in the whole "Is Santa Claus real?" debate. He and Goofy play their parts well too and having Pete as the one to start the whole conflict makes perfect sense given he's the usual enemy for Mickey and friends.


And finally "Mickey and Minnie's Gift of the Magi" stars Mickey Mouse (voiced by Wayne Allwine) and Minnie Mouse (voiced by Russi Taylor) in their own adaptation of the classic The Gift of the Magi story by O. Henry. These two were the PERFECT characters to carry out such an adaptation with how wholesome and sweet their relationship is and it also feels right that Disney's mascot is saved for last with this film. What better way to close off than with the segment focused on Disney's mascot? As expected, they have a lot of the film's most romantic and adorable scenes together and it's just too sweet for words to watch.


We also have a narrator (voiced by Kelsey Grammar) who narrates the parts in-between segments. Getting a man like him to be the narrator was perfect casting in my eyes. His soft reading voice really adds to the whimsical nature of a fun Christmas story and what makes his narration even more enjoyable is how even he sounds like he's pretty into it despite only being a narrator. Who knew that Sideshow Bob could give warm and charming narrations for a Christmas movie?


These are simple characters telling simple stories but that's not a bad thing of course. If anything, it further shows why this film just works so well. These were the perfect characters to tell these three stories and they play their roles perfectly. If you enjoy seeing your favourite Disney characters telling their own Christmas stories then you'll be satisfied with how they're handled and portrayed here.


Section 3: The Animation


This is a direct-to-video movie so obviously the animation won't be the best, but it DOES look really nice for a direct-to-video project. I'd probably say this is one of Disney's best looking direct-to-video films.


The usual Disney style is here again with Mickey and friends looking as they usually do and naturally the art-style works for this kind of movie. It adds to the appeal and how this is a Christmas present only Disney could give to us. Oddly enough, while the characters look consistent in all of the shorts, Pete is the one exception to this as he has two different looks between "A Very Goofy Christmas" and "Mickey and Minnie's Gift of the Magi" which I never really got. In the former he's given brown fur but in the latter he's got his more traditional black fur. What, did he dye his fur in-between segments or something? XD Even Daisy looks different between segments with her having the usual blue eyes and black pupils in "Stuck on Christmas" but then in "Gift of the Magi" and the finale, her pupils are dark blue instead. What was that about? Still, the characters look great here and we don't have too many off-model moments so they always look well-drawn throughout most of the film.


The character animation is on-point too. We have the usual movements and body language that these characters are famous for whether it's Donald Duck's temper tantrums, Goofy's clumsy antics or Mickey and Minnie being the most grounded of the bunch with Mickey having some of his more animated movements in certain scenes. They even reference a shot of him dancing towards the camera with his tongue hanging out like how he did in the short Mickey's Birthday Party, which is a neat call-back. I also like how they animate Huey, Dewey and Louie during the moments they're getting excited for Christmas. The sheer speed they display as they charge downstairs towards the presents is palpable and very much like a child at Christmas. Despite this being a direct-to-video movie, the characters have pretty fluid movements for the most part with very little if any stiff movements from anyone and it just makes them feel more alive and energetic as a result. It goes to show that sometimes with animation, it's not the budget you have to work with it's how you use it that gives out great animation.


The animation is not only surprisingly well-done with some good drawings on display and the characters being well-animated without looking too stiff as you might see in a direct-to-video movie, but they also manage to use it to its advantage during the comical scenes. There's a lot of great expressions throughout with the emotions of the characters being very clear to see no matter what the situation is and the comedy gives us some fun gags here and there whether it's Donald getting so angry he literally cooks an egg that lands on top of his head, Goofy's clumsiness getting him into all sorts of wacky hijinks, the turkey flying up the chimney and finding Santa's outfit in there and more. There's a even a rather funny moment where Mortimer gives Minnie her fruitcake and it seems to weigh as much as a brick for it drags her down once he places it in her hands and it DENTS the floor! Just what is that thing made of?! XD The comical scenes are well done with some great comic timing and expressions that make the gags even funnier as a result.


The backgrounds are also well done here too. We don't really have anything that interesting to look at, just average houses at Christmas time or a town at Christmas town but they're still well-drawn and immersive and they even manage to use the settings to their advantage, namely the mall scene in "A Very Goofy Christmas". The animators really go all out with the comedic hijinks that a mall setting can set up with Goofy getting into all kinds of crazy situations with the various stores in the mall or whatever objects are around for him to interact with. It once again shows just how much effort went into this movie despite it being direct-to-video.


Of course as it's a direct-to-video movie, the animation does have its shortcomings in places though thankfully not a lot. There are times when the characters can have weird expressions or be too expressive like the nephews in "Stuck on Christmas" where they have a wide-eyed stare for no real reason or when Pete makes a derpy face after whining about not getting his presents. And there are times where they had to cut corners to save on money whether it's having some characters in the crowd scenes not move an inch or even recycling character-models. The mall scene in "A Very Goofy Christmas" especially uses the same woman in a purple hat, sweater and grey trousers character about eight or nine times throughout. What, did this suddenly become a Pokémon game where we live in a world of clones? XD


As is, the animation is surprisingly good for a direct-to-video movie and is one of the finest examples of how even a cheap movie can have nice visuals. I wouldn't see these visuals will blow anyone away but the animation most certainly will give you something lovely to look at when you watch this film.


Conclusion


Mickey's Once Upon A Christmas is a charming stocking filler that'll give one a warm and fuzzy feeling to get you in the mood for Christmas. The stories are simple and fun, the Christmas spirit is very strong, the characters are as charming as ever, there's good wholesome messages to take away from it and the animation is pretty good by direct-to-video standards. I see easily why this film has the cult status it has and I happily watch it every December. It's so wholesome and lovely and I have a great time with it every Christmas. If you haven't seen it yourself, I recommend watching it. It's a perfect Yuletide treat for this special time of year. Just don't bother with the sequel, it's not worth it...


And that's it for this review. I hope you enjoyed it and I invite you all to share your thoughts down below. Do you like this movie? Do you not like it? Feel free to comment.


For now, I wish you all a Merry Christmas and I invite you to join me next week as we finish off 2023 with a review on The Indigo Disk DLC for Pokémon Scarlet and Violet and also a recap of the year for New Year's Eve. See you then media fans!

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