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
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
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.
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.
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.