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|Kevin Krock, editor|
With the Christmas season just around the corner, Disney recently released two direct- to- video DVDs to get you into the Christmas spirit: Mickey’s Magical Christmas: Snowed in at the House of Mouse and Recess Christmas: Miracle on Third Street. Both titles are based on concepts developed for ABC’s Saturday morning television lineup, and while the characters of the two shows are different, the two DVDs share very similar formulas. Both are essentially "package features" that involve several retrospective animated shorts tied together with very loose plots.
Mickey’s Magical Christmas is set in the "hippest new club in toon town," Disney’s House of Mouse. Mickey Mouse is the master of ceremonies for the evening, and he has invited dozens of his cartoon buddies to the club to share their favorite Christmas stories, including just about everyone from the Three Little Pigs and Kuzco the llama from The Emperor's New Groove to most of the villains. As a side note, a number of the original character voice actors have returned for the show, including Jodi Benson (Ariel from The Little Mermaid), Robby Benson (Beast from Beauty and the Beast), and Ernie Sabella (Pumbaa from The Lion King).
During the festivities, the crowd learns that they have been trapped in the club by a snowstorm, but with this group, the fun is just starting. Donald Duck, has lost his Christmas spirit however, and it is up to Mickey, Minnie, Goofy, and Daisy to bring out some old and new "holiday home movies" to help cheer him up.
The shorts in Mickey’s Magical Christmas are, "Donald on Ice," "The Nutcracker," "Pluto’s Christmas Tree," and the surprisingly unadvertised "Mickey’s Christmas Carol," which at almost 30 minutes long, takes up just about half of the disc runtime! The first two shorts were produced in the last couple of years and fit in with the animation style of the House of Mouse. The Pluto short is from 1953, and "Mickey’s Christmas Carol" is from 1983. Both have a more "classic" Disney animation style, and look less like they were made just for television.
All the animation in the House of Mouse scenes are new, even for the classic characters, and a few scenes contain cute sight gags that take advantage of the wide variety of characters present in the club. Many of the House of Mouse gags seem designed for children however, and as my wife said after about 10 minutes of the disc, "Better get a cheap bottle of wine, because you’ll need it to go with all the cheese."
As for the "plot" of Recess Christmas: Miracle on Third Street, basically Principal Prickly, Miss Finster, and Miss Grotke get stuck in a car together when Prickly’s car slides off the road and into a snow bank. During their wait to be rescued, the three reminisce about their interactions with the Recess gang, ultimately concluding that deep down, the kids are actually pretty good.
Making up the bulk of the 65-minute disc are four animated shorts: "Principal for a Day," "The Great Can Drive," "Weekend at Muriel’s," and "Yes, Mikey, Santa Does Shave." Each seems to be pretty typical Recess television show fare, since they appear to have been taken directly from the TV show. Unfortunately, the DVD never feels like anything more than a jumble of similarly themed but disjointed shorts.
Both discs contain only a minimal amount of bonus material. Mickey’s Magical Christmas contains only one item of note: the premiere episode of "House of Mouse," which makes for a good introduction to the premise of the feature. "The Sounds of Christmas" and the two sing-along songs are somewhat cute, but are both quite short.
Unfortunately, Recess Christmas contains even less. The only bonus material on this disc is a series of slideshow "Holiday Tradition Oral Reports" given by Recess gang characters Spinelli, Gus, and Mikey. The series totals about three minutes or so, and it pretty forgettable. For DVDs, there is not much on either of these discs to truly set them apart from typical VHS releases.
The Video, Audio and Interface
For the most part, the video on both discs is quite acceptable. Because of the various ages of the shorts, the quality of the video varies a bit, but in general, the prints used for the transfer appear to be clean and reasonably detailed. I did notice some occasional blurring problems on a couple of the Recess Christmas shorts, but they were very transient and only minor annoyances. For children, the anticipated primary viewers, these problems will probably not be noticed.
The audio was also acceptable, but nothing out of the ordinary. I am not entirely sure why Disney included both a Dolby Digital 5.1 and a DTS soundtrack, since most of the material was probably originally mastered in stereo for broadcast television. There are occasions when the surround speakers kick in, but it mainly occurs with the music. Generally, the soundtracks will sound fine on everything from stereo television speakers to a more advanced home theater.
Finally, the interfaces on both discs are downright disappointing. After a string of wonderful examples of DVD user interfaces, Disney dropped the ball, and apparently along the lines of the show plots, provided us with a retrospective look at DVD interfaces. Both discs have simple static menus with music accompanying each screen. To add to the problem, the sound levels on the menu music are way off and very loud relative to the movies. So, grab your stereo or TV remotes and prepare to adjust your volume each time you go to a menu.
The Final Evaluation
The Recess Christmas disc is pretty forgettable. There is no real story to tie everything together, and the shorts in the show are only of passing interest to adults. Additionally, the almost complete lack of bonus material makes this a tough DVD to recommend over its VHS companion, if at all. Save up the money and spend it on one of the Walt Disney Treasures DVDs in December. If you must watch it at the insistence of your children, just rent it.
Mickey’s Magical Christmas is the better of the two discs, but it too has a somewhat limited audience. The small quantity of bonus material also makes this DVD difficult to recommend over the VHS copy, but the ability to chapter skip to the sections you like, and the fairly high quality audio and video make up for the goodie shortcoming somewhat and make the DVD a better choice for selective viewing. Additionally, the occasionally interesting House of Mouse club scenes, the wide variety of characters in the club, and a couple of classic animated holiday shorts should help keep the adults mildly interested, while the children will probably be interested in everything.
The best part of the disc, though, is having "Mickey’s Christmas Carol" available on DVD for the first time. You will however, have to skip past a few less- than- enthralling video chapters. The DVD is worth a rental, and depending on how much you like either "House of Mouse" or "Mickey’s Christmas Carol," you may want to pick up this disc on sale somewhere for under $20.
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