Reviewed by
Colin Jacobson

Title: Mickey's Once Upon A Christmas (1999)
Studio Line: Disney

Disney's biggest stars shine in a magical all-new movie - sure to become a holiday classic! Mickey, Minnie, and their famous friends Goofy, Donald, Daisy and Pluto gather together to reminisce about love, magic and surprises in three wonder-filled stories of Christmas past.

In the fine tradition of Disney's superb storytelling, Minnie and Mickey recall the year they both gave up what was most important to them for the sake of the other, making for one unforgettable Christmas. Goofy and Max retell when they experienced a series of hilarious but season-shaking events…until a visit from the real Santa made it a most magical holiday. Thinking back to when they wished Christmas was every day, Donald's nephew, Huey, Dewey and Louie, remember their dream turning into a comical catastrophe, eventually learning what true holiday sprirt is all about.

Featuring the entire cast in a finale of merry, magical Christmas songs, all the excitement of Mickey's Once Upon A Christmas is ready to unwrap for holiday family fun!

Director: Various
Cast: Various
DVD: Standard 1.33:1; audio English Digital Stereo; subtitles none; closed-captioned; single side - single layer; 18 chapters; rated NR; $24.99; street date 12/7/99.
Supplements: None.
Purchase: DVD

Picture/Sound/Extras: A-/B+/F

As a big fan of Disney animation, I've never been quite sure what to think of their "direct to video" (DTV) offerings. Should these be considered part of the whole animated pantheon, or are they bastard children?

The more of them I see, the more inclined I am to go with the latter assessment. Some of these programs provide mild pleasures, but they clearly don't belong in the same class as Disney's features.

I wasn't disappointed by Mickey's Once Upon A Christmas but that's because I expected so little from it. It offers a mildly diverting and entertaining program but nothing found on this DVD seems very clever, witty, compelling or displays much of a spark; this is pretty rote filmmaking that delivers some minor fun but nothing more.

MOUAC offers three separate vignettes that each features different Disney stars; Donald Duck is in the first, Goofy appears second, and Mickey Mouse rounds out the bunch. Two of the three stories take their plots from other properties. Donald's piece - which really stars his nephews, Huey, Dewey and Louie, and places the Duck himself in a supporting role - baldly rips off the 1993 hit Bill Murray film Groundhog Day. In this program, the nephews act selfishly on Christmas Day and - after they wish for it to happen - are stuck repeating Christmas everyday until they straighten out their acts. Obviously this program is awfully derivative of the Murray movie, but it still provides some modest fun.

The other non-original story retells "The Gift of the Magi" with Mickey and Minnie in the leading parts. I thought this was the weakest of the three, mainly because after all these years, Mickey and Minnie remain pretty dull characters. (Originally, Mickey was a much more volatile guy, but his enormous popularity caused Disney to back off those tendencies and make him much more bland; Donald came about in an attempt to create a more fiery persona who could behave in all the ways the filmmakers no longer allowed Mickey to act.)

Finally, we see Goofy and his son Max in a story that confronts the potential nonexistence of Santa Claus. Although there's something about Max that I dislike - he seems like such a blatant attempt to give us a "cool", modern Disney character - this feature actually had some of the most entertaining moments. Overall, I preferred the Duck tale, but the scenes in which a disheartened and depressed Goof attempts to deal with the Santa-related revelations were most entertaining. The remainder of the program was nothing special, but at least it offered some small fun.

However, since "small fun" is about the most fun MOUAC can muster, that's not much of a recommendation. The animation in this piece seems pretty stiff and lifeless, but it gives us approximately the level of animation we'd expect from this kind of program. That's not good, but I can't call it a disappointment either.

The DVD:

Mickey's Once Upon A Christmas appears in its original 1.33:1 aspect ratio on this single-sided, single-layered DVD; the image has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Though the animation also seems pretty flat, this DVD offers a rather strong picture.

Sharpness seems consistently fine here, with virtually no examples of any softness. I also saw no evidence of any moiré effects or jagged edges. Print flaws are not a problem, as I detected no scratches, nicks, speckles or concerns of any sort. Colors look generally quite good; for the most part they seem bold and vibrant, but at times they appear a bit noisy. Black levels are deep and rich, and shadow detail looks excellent. There's not much to say because it's a very solid image.

The sound mix works well in its own right. The forward soundstage is tremendously broad and smooth. Audio seems well-placed in the front three channels, with active use of the left and right speakers, and sounds blend and pan cleanly between them. The rears mainly offer light embellishment of the music and effects, but we hear occasional split surround usage as well; it's a relatively modest affair but it works nicely.

Quality seems very good. Dialogue is clear and natural - well, as natural as one can get for such unnatural voices; of course, sometimes it's tough to understand, but that's because of the vocal design of characters like Donald Duck and Chip 'n Dale. Effects are realistic and lack distortion; they add some nice spark to the production. Music seems pretty smooth and clean, but it could use a bit more bass; the soundtrack doesn't appear flat but I just thought it needs some more "oomph" from the low end. Ultimately, it's a pretty good little soundtrack.

The supplements are the greatest flaw of this DVD: there's nothing here. Why am I not surprised?

Disney fans who want something to watch at Christmas have little to enjoy, as Mickey's Once Upon A Christmas doesn't do much to make the holidays light. The DVD features very good picture and sound but provides absolutely no extras. If you want family entertainment at Christmas, go for something like A Christmas Story or The Nightmare Before Christmas; either of those will be much more enjoyable than this mediocre piece.

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