Friday, December 12, 2008

Bah Humblog: Stave the First - Mickey's Christmas Carol


(Seriously, though, The Rescuers is pretty awesome.)

Ah, the first version of the classic story I ever saw. What better way to kick off the blog? With a version that's not talking funny animals, you say? Well, shut up.

(My favorite Scotsman who movied to America at the age of 13 and grew up to become a captain of industry. Although after him and Andrew Carnegie, I'm not sure where else to go.)

THE GOOD - The decision was wisely made to tell a straight-up adaptation of A Christmas Carol, changing the names of all the characters, keeping it in 1880s England, etc. So it was able to avoid being like one of those Christmas Carol episodes of “Family Ties”, or whatever. Also, it was a theatrical movie, originally the pre-show to a re-release of “The Rescuers”, so the animation is top-notch.

(You know, when you threaten the guy with hell, it makes his repentance seem less sincere.)

THE BAD - Jeepers, this thing is short. At 25 minutes or so, there’s basically no time for any of the ghosts to show him anything more than one or two little scenes. Kind of implies Scrooge didn’t need much in the way of convincing. He was probably all ready to change, but just couldn’t find the time.

(Hey, Cratchit, Charlie Brown called, he wants his tree back.)

THE OTHERWISE WORTHY OF MENTION - They re-released The Rescuers? Huh. No characters from The Rescuers appear, which is too bad, because most movies could do with a little more Eva Gabor. Also, not that it’s specific to this movie, and not that it’s something hacky stand-ups haven’t covered well, but why all the nephews? Donald is Scrooge’s nephew, Huey, Dewey, and Louie are Donald’s nephews, etcetera. The only one who has a natural child is freakin’ Goofy. And not even Disney knows where these kids come from. I have a copy of the McDuck family tree. Scrooge’s sister Hortense marries Quackmore Duck, they have two kids, Donald and Della. Della marries… and there’s just a blank circle, covered by a branch. Are Huey, Dewey, and Louie bastards or something? Because that’s what this thing seems to be implying. It would explain why their name is Duck. Then again, so is Daisy‘s, who we can assume to be no relation. And her three nieces are ALSO named Duck! And they’re confirmed to be her sister’s kids, not that anyone knows who her sister is. I swear to Gald, there’s some Blue Velvet-level secret-keeping going on in Duckburg.

(I would love to see Mickey get smacked with that thing, and if that makes me a bad person, so be it.)

SCROOGE - Played, naturally, by Scrooge McDuck, for the first time ever by Alan Young. Of course, since Scrooge was only ever in one cartoon prior to this, it’s not that impressive. Anyway, there’s not much effort needed in adapting him to suit this story. He’s always been a crabby old tightwad with a heart of gold, so all they had to do was hold off on the gold-heart stuff until the end. Watching this as a child, I was fascinated by Scrooge’s nightcap, and I frequently wear hats to bed to this very day.

(And now, my Hal Smith impression. Gawrsh! A-hyuk! Wah-hoo-hoo! Can I have my paycheck now?)

MARLEY - Every time there’s one of these use existing characters to adapt an old story movies, someone only gets a part due to a combination of there not really being a part that’s right for them and there being nobody in the set cast that can fill the part well, but they have to have a part because they‘re a major character. And so it is with poor Goofy. There’s nothing really Marley-like about him, but where else were they going to put him? So he shuffles around doing his little pratfalls and all that, and it’s just kind of blah. HIGH POINT: Scrooge compliments him for his former ruthlessness, and he looks proud for a minute before remembering he’s supposed to be sorry. LOW POINT. When he walks through a wall, only to trip on a cane. If he can go through a wall, why not a cane? And why would falling down the stairs bother him? Was it just an excuse to put in the “WAAAAAHHH-HOO-HOO-HOO!” sound effect? Of course it was.

(Things I would love to her Jiminy Cricket say: "I'ma cut you!")

PAST - Played by Jiminy Cricket. Not much to say here. The kindest and gentlest spirit is played by a friendly little cricket-dude. Pokes a little fun at Scrooge, but mostly just shows him the ol’ good times. One thing I did notice is that the part of the book where Scrooge gets angry at the spirit for dragging up painful memories and basically kills it was taken out. This is the second time Jiminy has escaped death by the grace of Disney. In the original book Pinocchio, the nameless cricket shows up in Gepetto’s house and tells Pinocchio to get a job, whereupon the puppet throws a hammer at his head and kills him. That book is pretty fucked-up.

(Sure, why not?)

PRESENT - The writers have made an odd choice here in casting the giant from Mickey and the Beanstalk in this role. He’s a fun character, sure, but his only appearance prior to this was as a villain in half of a 35-year-old anthology movie. He’s great in this, though, stomping around tearing the roofs off of houses to show Christmas joy. And I like the idea of a huge ghost that uses his physical prowess to manhandle Scrooge into seeing what he shows. Incidentally, in the original treatment, Present was played by Pinocchio’s Blue Fairy. (Past was Merlin, and future the old lady version of the queen from Snow White.) Makes sense, what with her being all about conscience and all. Of course, in the book, she tries to put Pinocchio into a coffin because he refuses to take some medicine, then later fakes her death and makes him think it was his fault. Fucked. Up.

(Oh my god! THAT'S how you spell Ebenezer?)

FUTURE - I like this one. Future is always so impassive, just pointing this way and that registering no reaction, rail-thin and faceless. This one is fat and obnoxious, and has scowly eyes peering out of his cowly hood. He blows cigar smoke in Scrooge’s face, and instead of solemnly hovering, stands around impatiently with his hands on his hips. When Scrooge asks whose grave he’s standing on, the ghost is positively delighted. “It’s yours, Ebenezer!” He laughs, throwing back his hood, “The richest man in the cemetery!” That’s pretty awesome. He is, of course, played by Pete, because Pete is the only notable bad guy in the entire Disney cast. His one line is voiced by Will Ryan, and it sounded really off to me, until I realized that I’ve only ever known Pete to be played by Jim Cummings, and his Pete voice is pretty much his generic tough guy voice. So it’s more likely he’s doing it wrong. By the way, what is Pete? A cat?

(Belinda! No grinding on the popcorn!)

- Can we all agree that Mickey Mouse is annoying? That stupid little giggle he does, that voice, the near lack of a personality, the weak-willed good-guy attitude. Well, anyway, he’s playing Bob Cratchit, so all he has to do is snivel around the place getting shit on, which is about par for the course for Mickey. To be fair, he was kinda cool in some of his middle shorts, like the late 40s or so. But this is not them. In this, Mickey is full into generic, personality-free corporate mascot mode. And every time he does that stupid little giggle, he reminds me of Vince Vaughn as Norman Bates. This is the first time Mickey is played by Wayne Allwine. For those of you who are fans of Adorable Trivia, Allwine is arried to Russi Taylor, who plays Minnie Mouse. Awwwwww… (Not in this though. She would have, but Mrs C. doesn’t get any lines.)

(I can make it on my own!)

TINY TIM - Played by Morty Fieldmouse according to Wikipedia, though it could easily be Ferdie. The other one plays the other kid. They’re Mickey’s nephews in the regular continuity, because anything the Ducks can do awesome, the Mice can do half-assed. Still, the kid’s cute, and there’s something about the way he gimps down the stairs that just tugs at the heart. Frankly, Tim is always played as a freakin’ saint, and a cute baby mouse is just the icing on the cake. And while I think I may have mentioned I’m none to fond of Mickey, the sight of him tearfully laying a crutch down in front of a gravestone is pretty devastating, and the animators did a wonderful job on the moment immediately after, when he looks up and realizes he’ll never see his son again. Since this entry wasn’t that funny, I’d like to mention that in the book Pinocchio, Gepetto hates children, and the first thing Pinocchio does is bite him and steal his wig.

(I am a well-rounded character, dammit!)

FEZZIWIG - Blink and you miss him. The Fezz is played by Mr. Toad from The Wind in the Willows. He fiddles while Rome burns. I mean while his employees dance.

(Aww. He's still dressed like a sailor. Was he ever actually in the navy?)

FRED - You know, of all the corporate icon cartoon ducks with temper issues that play second banana to some manner of farm pest, Donald is my second favorite. It should be mentioned, though that while I like Daffy a bit more than Donald, I like Donald waaaaay more than I like Mickey. But then, I like Horace fucking Horsecollar more than I like Mickey. Donald is the obvious choice here, what with already being Scrooge’s nephew, but at first seems an odd choice for the holly-jolly Fred, given his famously short fuse. But he stays firmly on the up side of the mood swing here, and a happy Donald is one with relentless enthusiasm in the face of antipathy. A scene where he blows his top at Scrooge would be nice. Actually, that would be better in a straight-up adaptation. “Merry Christmas, Uncle!” “What is merry about it?” “Well, it’s such a joyous time!” “Humbug!” “Oh, fuck you, you dried up old sack of crap! Pardon me for hoping you could cheer up a little. Next year I‘ll listen to experience and not invite you to dinner. And when you die, I‘m stealing your hat.” But I digress, as usual. Donald is played for the last time by Clarence Nash, making him the only character voiced by his original actor. At 79 years old, he still sounds great, leading me to wonder if that was his actual voice and he was pushed into his career as the first professional voice actor by shame. Probably not.

(I say old chap! What do you mean you've never seen our movie?)

CHARITY CASE - The charity collectors are played by Mole and Rat from The Wind in the Willows. Factoring in that the future gravediggers are the Weasels, that movie is shockingly well-represented relative to it’s importance and quality. Scrooge has a finny bit at the beginning where he justifies not giving money to the poor because if the poor weren’t poor, these two would be out of a job. Later, he pays them in big gold coins he explicitly describes as “gold pieces“. 100 gold pieces? Where are we, Gondor? Or has Scrooge made his money from piracy? Or were the animators too lazy to look up Victorian British currency? If so, I don’t blame them. Before they decimalized, that shit was nuts.

(Those hats must have been so inconvenient in the wind.)

BELLE - Played by Daisy Duck. I’d make a joke about Scrooge makin’ time on his nephew’s girl, but looking at that family tree, nothing would surprise me. Standing under some mistletoe, she makes specific reference to her lips. That’s a little weird.

(Scrooge commences his plan to rid the world of the poor. Step 1: poisoning Bob. step 2: ??? step 3: PROFIT!)

OTHERS - A few characters from Robin Hood show up in the background here, including Skippy and his siblings and Lady Sassmouth. Wikipedia states : “The Robin Hood characters depicted in the special are possibly their descendants because the film Robin Hood takes place in 12th century England, and this special takes place in Victorian England.” It does not seem to bother Wikipedia that pretty much no other featured character was even born in 1845. Scrooge was born in 1867, according to Don Rosa, which I guess makes him closest. Of course, if we’re to assume Duck Tales to take place in the ‘80s, Rosa’s timeline doesn’t necessarily match up with animation. I mean, it can’t.

(I'd like to remind everyone that the man on the right started his career by playing the third lead with Meryl Streep and Kevin Kline in Sophie's Choice. Here he is backup dancing for Calista Flockhart singing "Santa Baby".)

A CHRISTMAS CAROL - Does anyone actually enjoy listening to Santa Baby? A woman croons orgasmically about… whoa. My word processor just autocorrected that to “orgasmic ally”. That’s so cool. Anyway… about all the inanely expensive things she wants for Christmas. It’s a stunning blend of crass commercialism, inappropriate sexual entendre, and just plain ickiness. Originally performed by Eartha Kitt, too, so you can add her weird voice to the mix. Apparently she did a sequel, entitled “This Year’s Santa Baby”. The mind boggles. The song has also been recorded by such diverse artists as Evanescence, RuPaul, Macy Gray, Miss Piggy, and those bastions of wholesome holiday entertainment, The Pussycat Dolls. It was also apparently recorded by DJ Run, but the less I know about that, the better.

(Nice hair, but you're a Duck, not a flock of seagulls.)

COMING UP NEXT - Another one that uses classic characters to tell an old story, only in a sadder way on account of the creator and one of the stars being recently dead, and the fact that we can now point to it and say with relative authority that that’s where the downfall began. Also, Michael Caine is in it!