Reviewed by
Colin Jacobson

Title: Mickey's Once Upon A Christmas: Gold Collection (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 DD 5.1, French & Spanish DD 5.1; subtitles none; closed-captioned; single sided - single layered; 18 chapters; rated NR; 72 min.; $29.99; street date 10/31/00.
Supplements: "Deck The Halls" Music Video Performed by SHeDAISY; "The Gift Of The Magi" DVD Storybook; "Deck The Halls" Sing-Along; "Jingle Bells" Sing-Along.
Purchase: DVD

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

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 DTV programs provide a few mild pleasures, but they clearly don't belong in the same class as Disney's feature films.

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

MOUAC offers three separate vignettes that each featured different Disney stars; Donald Duck was in the first, Goofy appeared second, and Mickey Mouse rounded out the bunch. Two of the three stories took their plots from other properties. Called “Stuck On Christmas”, Donald's piece - which really starred his nephews, Huey, Dewey and Louie, and places the Duck himself in a supporting role - baldly ripped off the 1993 Bill Murray hit 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 was awfully derivative of the Murray movie, but it still provided some modest fun.

The other non-original story retold "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. It was difficult to maintain much interest in the tale just because M & M were so uninteresting. (Originally, Mickey was a much more volatile guy, but his enormous popularity caused Disney to back off those tendencies and make him 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 the most entertaining. The remainder of the program was nothing special, but at least it offered some modest fun.

However, since "modest fun" is about the most excitement Mickey’s Once Upon A Christmas can muster, that's not much of a recommendation. The animation in this piece seemed pretty stiff and lifeless, but it gave us approximately the level of work we'd expect from this kind of program. That's not particularly 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 seemed consistently fine here, with virtually no examples of any softness. As a whole, the movie looked nicely crisp and well-defined. I also saw no evidence of any moiré effects or jagged edges. Print flaws were not a problem, as I detected no scratches, nicks, speckles or concerns of any sort, and I also witnessed no grain.

Colors generally looked quite good. For the most part they seemed bold and vibrant, but at times they could appear a bit noisy. Black levels were deep and rich throughout the film, and shadow detail looked excellent; all low-light situations came across as clear and easily-discernible. All in all, MUOAC presented a very solid picture.

The Dolby Digital 5.1 sound mix worked well in its own right. The forward soundstage was tremendously broad and smooth. Audio seemed well-placed in the front three channels, with active use of the left and right speakers, and sounds blended and panned cleanly between them. The rears mainly offered light embellishment of the music and effects, but we hear occasional split surround usage as well. It's a relatively modest affair but it worked nicely.

Quality seemed very good as well Dialogue is clear and natural - well, as natural as one can get for such unnatural voices; sometimes the participants are tough to understand, but that's because the vocal design of characters like Donald Duck and Chip 'n Dale makes them nearly-incoherent. Effects were realistic and lacked distortion; they added some nice spark to the production. Music seemed pretty smooth and clean, but it could have used a bit more bass; the soundtrack didn't appear flat but I thought it needed some more "oomph" from the low end. Ultimately, it's a pretty good mix that adequately served the material.

This new “Gold Classic Collection” release of MOUAC replaces an older featureless edition. Don’t get too excited, however, as the new title doesn’t add a whole lot of extras. First up in a music video from a group called “SHeDAISY”. These three young women sing “Deck the Halls” in a rendition that includes snippets of some other Christmas tunes as well. The video combines shots of the women as they lip-synch with snippets from MOUAC and a vague storyline about an old lady who experiences some Christmas magic. It’s pretty lame, but at least the SHeDAISYs are cute.

“The Gift of the Magi DVD Storybook” offers kids a chance to read this tale from the movie. As with other programs in this series, the “Storybook” offers the chance for little ones to read the tale on their own or have it narrated to them.

Another interactive feature is called “Deck the Halls Sing-Along”. This is the traditional version of the tune, not the SHeDAISY remake. We see cartoon footage - mainly of Mickey, Pluto and Chip ‘n Dale - with the lyrics at the bottom of the screen. Another “Sing-Along” appears as well for “Jingle Bells”. The cartoon clips feature Donald at the start but mainly come from the “Once Upon a Wintertime” segment of Melody Time.

It just wouldn’t be a Disney Gold Classic Collection DVD without those much-disliked trailers at the start of the disc, and MOUAC includes four. We find ads for Buzz Lightyear of Star Command: The Adventure Begins, Fantasia 2000, Toy Story 2, and Lady and the Tramp II: Scamp’s Adventure. Since these are easily avoided through a push of the “menu” button on your remote, they don’t pose much of an inconvenience.

Disney fans who want something to watch at Christmas have few prospects, as Mickey's Once Upon A Christmas doesn't do much to make the holidays light. It’s a watchable and mildly entertaining piece, but it doesn’t provide a lot of pleasure or creativity. The DVD features very good picture and sound but provides only a few modest extras. If you want family entertainment at Christmas, go for something like Holiday Inn, How the Grinch Stole Christmas or The Nightmare Before Christmas; any of those will be much more enjoyable than this mediocre piece.

Note: This new re-release of Mickey’s Once Upon A Christmas replaces the original DVD from December 1999. The two differ in a few respects. The new version adds a few modest supplemental features - the original included absolutely none - but also lists for a price that’s five dollars higher than the first disc. If you can find the older DVD, you may want to forego the supplements and save a few bucks.

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