Suspended Animation #299
At this holiday time of year, one of the Disney cartoons that always gets shown is Mickey’s Christmas Carol (1983). It was the first theatrical film to feature Mickey Mouse in thirty years since the release of The Simple Things (1953) and the last time Clarence Nash voiced Donald Duck.
After its theatrical release attached to a December 1983 re-release of the Disney animated feature The Rescuers (1977), Mickey’s Christmas Carol has been seen on ABC, NBC, CBS, The Disney Channel, Toon Disney and ABC Family (now Freeform). In addition, it has been released multiple times to various home video formats. The shot of Mickey Mouse holding Tiny Tim’s crutch is seen in the opening of the videogame Epic Mickey.
Storyman Burny Mattinson had always wanted to do a film featuring all of the Fab Five (aka “The Standard Characters”, Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Goofy, Pluto) and he was familiar with a 1975 Disneyland Storyteller Record album titled An Adaptation of Dickens’ Christmas Carol Performed by the Walt Disney Players written by Alan Young who also performed as Uncle Scrooge and Merlin, Mickey Mouse and Tiny Tim.
Burny sent it to CEO Ron Miller, along with his suggestions to make it a half hour animated special. Miller thought it was a great idea and gave Mattinson the approval to produce and direct the project. It was Mattinson’s first directorial assignment, but was so successful he later went on to co-direct The Great Mouse Detective (1986).
The animators included Glen Keane, who drew Willie the Giant (as well as some scenes with Scrooge and Goofy) and used the movement of his 18-month-old child as an inspiration; Mark Henn concentrated on Mickey Mouse.
Ed Gombert worked on Donald Duck, Ratty and Mole (and whose work on the last two characters earned him praise from Disney Legends Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston who had originally animated the pair); David Block focused on Scrooge (making him in design much like Ludwig von Drake); Randy Cartwright did the work on Goofy (but also worked on the Daisy and Scrooge scene) and Dale Baer and his wife Jane’s work included Scrooge’s visit to the graveyard with the Ghost of Christmas Future.
The very talented Michael Peraza, who among other things designed the distinctive title cards, added some story and staging ideas for the graveyard scene, including charcoal sketches that started as a silhouette of Pete and then had him lit by the light of his cigar. That bit of business became controversial and the subject of much discussion because a Disney character, even a villain, was smoking on screen and it was almost cut.
Peraza was given one of the door knockers used in the Bank of England set in Mary Poppins (1964) to use as reference for Scrooge’s door knocker that transforms into the face of Jacob “Goofy” Marley. Peraza also built various set models (counting house, Mickey’s desk, Scrooge’s desk, Scrooge’s stairway and his bedroom) to be used as physical references for the animators.
Other animation was done by Matthew O’Callaghan, Retta Davidson, Walt Stanchfield, Toby Shelton, and John Lasseter (who worked on Jiminy Cricket and Scrooge soaring over the rooftops and came up with the business of Scrooge scrambling to the top of Jiminy’s open umbrella) but some artists didn’t get credit.
Peraza’s wife, Patty, who did a lot of the effects animation for the film, including snow gusts, fire, shadows and more fell short by about ten feet worth of work to get a screen credit. Mark Dindal did get credit for working on effects and would later go on to be an animation director.
Burny’s wife Sylvia oversaw all the assistants and the final cleanup. Layout was by Peraza, Sylvia Roemer, and Garry Eggleston. Don Griffith also did a lot of initial design work for the film setting the style for the backgrounds.
It was the last theatrical film featuring Clarence Nash at the age of 79 as the voice of Donald Duck and the first theatrical film featuring Wayne Allwine as the voice of Mickey Mouse. Some uncredited voice work was done by Glen Keane, John Lasseter, Mike and Patty Peraza, Mark Henn and Randy Cartwright, who supplied background vocals in some of the crowd scenes.
The film was filled with cameos of classic Disney animated characters (mostly during the Fezziwig dance scene, but also in the street) including The Three Little Pigs, the Big Bad Wolf, Toby Tortoise, Max Hare, Clara Cluck, Gus Goose, Peter Pig, Clarabelle Cow, Horace Horsecollar, Grandma Duck, Chip’n’Dale, Huey, Dewey, Louie, Angus MacBadger, Mr. Toad, The Naboombu Secretary Bird (Bedknobs and Broomsticks), Lady Kluck, Skippy Bunny, Toby Turtle (the last three from Robin Hood), two of the Three Little Wolves, Cyril Proudbottom and two unnamed weasels from The Wind in the Willows, among others.
The film was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film in 1984 but lost to the clay stop motion short Sundae in New York that celebrated New York. It was the first Oscar nomination for a Mickey Mouse short since Mickey and the Seal (1948).
At one point, it was considered making the film a prime-time annual Christmas special on CBS, much like other popular half-hour animated Christmas shows. However, a somewhat lengthy strike during the production of the film seems to have killed that idea.
At another point, it was discussed about expanding it into a feature film, but top executives felt that the film would only be able to be shown at the holiday season and so would not generate enough income on re-issues.
Ron Miller was interested in the idea of a feature and Mattinson offered suggestions for expansion, including having Scrooge pass a pet store every day on the way to work with an eager Pluto in the window. Scrooge was immune to the dog’s charms but at the end would eventually bring him home to Tiny Tim.
“It came awfully close,” said Mattinson whose dream was an animated feature length film with the Fab Five.
The Black Cauldron (1985) and Mickey’s Christmas Carol were the last animated films to complete production in the original animation studio building in Burbank, before the department was moved to a location in Glendale and the studio reformatted the animation buildings into executive offices. Today, the featurette is considered a “classic” and inspired other featurettes with the Fab Five like The Prince and the Pauper.
And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God bless Us, Every One!