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Mickey's Twice Upon a Christmas

As a kid, one of my favorite parts of Disneyland was walking down Main Street and looking into the store windows with their dioramas of Disney characters. Heck, that ploy worked more than once to sucker me into a Disney Store. So seeing Mickey, Donald and the gang in 3-D computer animation isn't as jarring as it could have been.

Yet when Disney announced they would be putting their characters into that format, the idea struck terror into the hearts of purists. It just wasn't the way they were meant to be, right?

Maybe Walt Disney couldn't have envisioned this back in the thirties, but his fictional children have made a decent transition into the 21st century with Mickey's Twice Upon a Christmas. Purists need to relax. As always, it comes down to storytelling that honors the characters, and this home video release has it.

A pseudo-sequel to the 2D Once Upon a Christmas, Twice follows the formula of packaging together short cartoons. Like an old episode of The Wonderful World of Disney, they come to life out of the pages of a book. To better show off the computer graphics, this one's a pop-up book, with characters jerking and spinning into surprisingly accomplished full computer animation.

While not a threat to Pixar or PDI, Disney Toonworks has put a lot of effort into this work. The characters move smoothly, and if the figure detail isn't quite as fine as a theatrical release might be, it seems appropriate. It might be disturbing to see every feather on Donald actually ruffle. As opposed to a load of other CGI efforts vying for your kids' attention this Christmas, Twice Upon a Christmas has heart, and shows that some effort went into it besides "hmmm...what can we use to push more dolls?"

(Face it - Disney doesn't need a video to do that. They've got a network.)

All the shorts have their charms, but with different sensibilities. That makes for a nice grab bag. Little girls will be charmed by Minnie and Daisy in an ice-skating competition. Their parents will smile over their back-up skaters being the hippos and alligators from Fantasia. Me? I identified with a cringing Mickey and Donald helpless before a catfight on ice.

Donald gets back to form trying to avoid the outside world (and his nephews) for some yuletide quiet. As most of Donald's classic cartoons come from the forties, the animators have set this one in that time period, though other shorts in the collection seem at least close to modern day.

In fact, without warning, Goofy has turned into an old man on us. Still goofy, of course, but now not only has his son Max gone off to college, the considerably less awkward scion is getting engaged. Their story flies by the fastest, but it also hits the most poignant note. However, the question must be asked. Why does Goofy get a continuity when all his friends are stuck in timelessness?

Case in point: Mickey and Minnie remain boyfriend and girlfriend. When will Mickey just pop the question? There's certainly no chance of his "seeing other people." Unless you count his best friend, Pluto, who here wanders off to the North Pole to get adopted by Santa's Reindeer.

As a slight bonus, or maybe more as a tease, the DVD includes a segment of deleted scenes and ideas. A short litany of ideas that didn't make the final cut, many seem strong enough to warrant another project in a couple of years, perhaps in Mickey's Three-D Upon a Holographic Christmas.

Disney Home Video has often excelled with their DVD extras, with games that may not excite parents too much, but keep the kids enthralled. The technology is understandably limited, so a "set-top game" can't begin to approach the level of even a bad videogame. So it's mostly trivia, or shape recognition. Here, however, Disney has delivered a pretty clever twist: "Guess What Donald Is Singing." Donald (presumably voiced by Tony Anselmo) warbles lines to classic Christmas songs, and you have to identify the next line. It's harder than it sounds, and it's also pretty funny.

Mickey's Twice Upon a Christmas marks a strong foray into CG for Disney's in-house production staff. While I still hope to see traditional animation coming out of the studio, as long as the end product remains this entertaining, I'll continue humbugging at purists.

Derek McCaw


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