Animation Cel-ebration
December 4, 2023 posted by Michael Lyons

A Very Merry Mickey: A Tribute to “Pluto’s Christmas Tree”

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


  • “Pluto’s Christmas Tree” is one of the best shorts of the era. It shows why Disney animation stood out from all the rest. Not only are there moments of broad comedy, but there is also heart and warmth. Chip ‘n’ Dale provide a child’s eye view of what a Christmas tree is like up close. Plus they are ornament-size so that they can interact with the various ornaments. The scene with Mickey trying to light Dale as a Christmas Santa candle is hilarious. My favorite scene is the very end, when Mickey forgives Pluto when he sees the chipmunks, and the three carolers arrive. Though I have always felt that the utter destruction of the tree was a bit extreme. At least the branches could have stayed intact so that it could be re-used, although the laws of cartoon physics are such that I suppose the tree could magically get restored in the blink of an eye.

    Like so many others, I, too, first encountered this short as part of the special “From All of Us to All of You.”

  • You can already see the shortcuts kicking in (no footprints left in the snow), but it’s fast-paced and has some terrific gags. Still have fond memories of seeing this on a school projector during the fourth grade Christmas party (1976).

  • I’ve always felt Pluto was a more fitting adversary for Chip and Dale than Donald, partially from the fact that it felt more natural to have a dog go up against chipmunks rather than a duck (in principle, was also part of why the Daffy vs. Speedy shorts in the 60s were not good).

    Furthermore, Pluto’s hit-or-miss cartoons could have used Chip and Dale in his shorts far more than Donald, and Pluto’s Christmas Tree reinforces that in a good way! Maybe this should have been the finale for the Mickey Mouse-billed shorts instead of The Simple Things, at least they would have gone out on a fun note.

    • At least it felt more in character for Donald to really feud with something unlike Daffy.

  • A lovely little thing, like most Mickeys. I hope someday there will be justice paid to these gems against the Kricfalusian hypocrisy.

    • define the “Kricfalusian hypocrisy”

      • Hypocrisy was the wrong word–I mean Kricfalusian anti-Disney slander.

  • I believe that part of the appeal is that, in spite of some shortcuts, the characters are animated with such appeal by masters like Fred Moore and Bill Justice. By the way, that’s Clarence “Ducky” Nash as Mickey here (also note that only Donald’s voice is distinguishable among the carolers).

    Still, it can be a bit of a shock to see Mickey going full-on Homer Simpson (“Why you little!”) on Pluto when he wrecks the tree.

    • Funnily enough, many listings mention that Jimmy McDonald provided Mickey’s voice for this cartoon. I’d like to know the source about Nash as Mickey’s voice here given that he also provided it for “The Dognapper” (1934).

      Thanks in any case!

      • Keith Scott’s book on voice actors says so. It and J. B. Kaufman’s Mickey book also credit Nash on “Plutopia”, “R’coon Dawg” and “Pluto’s Party”.

        • JB found the paperwork covering Nash’s Mickey recording sessions (scheduling, recording) on these 1950s cartoons in the Archives—it’s been verified.

          • Thanks to both of you, Rick & David!

            Great to know that Clarence “Ducky” Nash subbed for Jimmy McDonald in these 3 cartoons as well, quite identical to what he did in “The Dognapper” (1934) when Walt Disney was touring Europe, which is why he voiced Mickey Mouse there in addition to Donald Duck.

  • The Fred Moore bits are as conspicuous as Tyer`s on the average Terrytoons.

    • Because Fred Moore was a master.

  • Poor Mickey. Once such a huge star and then relegated to what’s almost a cameo role in his own cartoon while the other characters are getting the laughs. As with many Hollywood legends, plastic surgery killed his career: the flesh face and eye whites made him bland. Maybe that’s why they continued to use the real Mickey face to open his cartoons, even as they were winding down in the ’50s.

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