The fall and winter of 1952 saw many at the Disney Studio in a holiday mood. In October that year, Disney released the Donald Duck short that would become a Halloween classic, Trick or Treat. And, just a month later, the Disney artists would get into the Christmas spirit with a short that has become equally classic and a staple of the holiday season, for many, Pluto’s Christmas Tree.
As Trick or Treat does for Halloween, Pluto’s Christmas Tree packs so much of the feelings of the season into a sparse seven minutes that one wishes it was longer. It could be because many of the same artists worked on both shorts.
Both were directed by Jack Hannah, a Disney Legend, who helmed a number of the studio’s now classic shorts and had a talent for leading artists to realize character and story in a short span of time.
The film subject opens with a beautiful title shot of Christmas cards propped up next to a candle. The camera zooms in on one of the cards, and the still image of the cozy, decorated house, in the snow comes to life. It’s one of several evocative moments in Pluto’s Christmas Tree courtesy of the film’s layout artist, Yale Gracey and Thelma Witmer, the background artist.
Mickey bursts out of the house with Pluto and heads into the nearby woods to search for their Christmas tree. Chip ‘n Dale are in a nearby tree, and when they see Pluto, they, of course, begin torturing him by pelting him with acorns.
However, as karma would have it, Mickey winds up chopping down the pine tree that the two chipmunks live in and takes it into the house.
Mickey and Pluto decorate the tree with Christmas ornaments and lights, and Chip ‘n Dale find themselves inside the decorated Christmas tree. Here is where Pluto’s Christmas Tree includes animation that sparkles with seasonal magic as the chipmunks interact with the ornaments and lights (and live out so many childhood dreams of being able to play inside a Christmas tree).
Chip ‘n Dale also continues their torture of poor Pluto, who spots them within the tree, and tries to tell Mickey about the chipmunks (but his owner remains oblivious).
When Mickey leaves the room, Chip ‘n Dale escape the tree and make their way over the mantle of the fireplace, where, in an ingenious sight-gag moment, Dale attempts to disguise himself as a Santa candle. After the wick on his head is lit by Mickey, Chip rushes over with the “snuffer” and puts the candle out.
This moment from Pluto’s Christmas Tree has become so famous it was re-created as an ornament by the Walt Disney Classics collection in 1997 and by Hallmark in 2016.
Eventually, in the short, Pluto chases Chip ‘n Dale into the tree, taking everything down. In a moment out of character, Mickey gets angry with Pluto, until he discovers Chip ‘n Dale in the tree (“Pluto! We have chipmunks in our tree!”). Pluto is frustrated and about to lash out until the sound of Christmas carolers is heard outside.
When they all look out, they see other members of Disney’s “Fab Five” making a cameo appearance, as Minnie, Donald, and Goofy are outside the house, caroling and singing “Deck the Halls.” Inside the house, Chip ‘n Dale join in, and Pluto “howls” the ending bars of the song but is cut off as Chip ‘n Dale slap a “Do Not Open Until Christmas” label over his mouth; in the short’s concluding gag.
Released on November 21st, 1952, Pluto’s Christmas Tree became well-known to many through its numerous showings on television, most famously as part of “From All of Us to All of You,” a Christmas episode of Disney’s anthology television series. It first aired on December 19, 1958, as part of Walt Disney Presents and then later as part of other Disney TV series iterations.
In the episode, Jiminy Cricket shows the viewers “Christmas cards” that have been received from friends. These cards then lead into clips from Disney short subjects and animated features. One of these cards was from Chip ‘n Dale, which segues into Pluto’s Christmas Tree.
The short was also a part of several home video compilations of classic Disney cartoons, allowing multiple generations to grow up with it during the holiday season.
Now, seventy-one years later, Pluto’s Christmas Tree is available in pristine glory on Disney+. Much like many Disney and Christmas traditions, it’s nice that this one continues year after year.
Pluto’s Christmas Tree