Disney Christmas Cartoonsby Jim Korkis, contributing writer
It certainly still feels like the holiday season to me as I sit here enjoying some great books that Santa and his elves brought me for Christmas and I finish off the last morsels of fruitcake. For Disney fans of "a certain age," like myself, one of the Christmas traditions was watching a very special showing on the Disney weekly television show.
Titled "From All of Us to All of You," the festive episode surrounded Jiminy Cricket with colorfully illustrated Christmas cards from the Disney characters (back in the days when people actually sent physical Christmas cards and displayed them on the mantel and tables or hung them around the living room) that transitioned into excerpts from Disney's classic cartoons.
That was a pretty big deal, because in the days before videotapes—much less Blu-ray discs—that was our only opportunity to see these animated treasures.
The show first aired December 19, 1958, and starting with its re-airings in 1963, the final segment was always reconfigured to showcase an excerpt from a current or upcoming Disney animated feature film.
In order to accommodate that change, the original opening and closing were cut completely, which was a criminal shame.
During his introduction, Walt Disney was shrunk to the size of a cricket by Tinker Bell's magic, because Walt said that Mickey Mouse and Jiminy Cricket insisted he appear "cricket-size" since"Christmas is bigger than all of us." Walt explains that the show is going to be put on by "our cartoon critters," but takes the time to wish home viewers "on behalf of the human members of our staff" a happy Christmas.
Standing on the fireplace mantel, Walt introduces Jiminy and Mickey and turns the show over to them. Jiminy explains, "One of the nicest things that can happen this time of the year is to receive Christmas cards from your friends. Our gang would like to present their cards and through them share some memorable moments."
Also eliminated was the closing sequence where Mickey Mouse plays the piano and Jiminy Cricket sings "When You Wish Upon A Star" which he says, "symbolizes faith, hope and all the things Christmas stands for. So this is my personal wish for you, something that can make Christmas everyday."
At the end of the song, a wide variety of Disney characters gathered around, including some animals and birds from Snow White, the birds from Cinderella (perched on Alice of Wonderland's lap), Pluto lying down next to Thumper and some young bunnies, Brer Bear, Brer Fox, the Seven Dwarfs, Goofy, Donald Duck and his nephews, the Three Little Pigs, and the mice from Cinderella.
Jiminy wished everyone a "Merry Christmas from All of Us to All of You" while the camera showed a "From All of Us" card on top of the fireplace mantel over a roaring fire, Christmas decorations and a Christmas tree as Tink waved her wand to create a big flash of light to close the show.
Like many of the episodes that featured compilations of classic cartoons, new animation (especially Jiminy interacting with the Christmas cards) was created especially for the show by Les Clark, Volus Jones, Al Coe and Bob McCrea.
Yale Gracey, Ray Huffine and John Hench were involved with the art design. In fact, Hench designed many of the Disney Studio Christmas cards so it is likely he designed most if not all of the cards shown in this show.
The catchy title tune was composed by lyricist Gil George (the pseudonym of Disney Studio nurse Hazel George) and award-winning composer Paul Smith who she was living with, as well as collaborating on some memorable tunes. The song was released that same year as a single on Disneyland Records label.
The show was written by Albert Bertino and Dave Detiege and directed by Jack Hannah and was later rerun on December 25, 1960, and December 22, 1963. That 1963 edition had a different ending with Jiminy Cricket explaining: "Of course, no Christmas would be complete without a surprise gift" so he shows a preview scene from the then-new animated feature, The Sword in the Stone.
That new 1963 edited version without Walt was later rerun in 1967 (publicizing Jungle Book instead of The Sword in the Stone), 1970 (The Aristocats), 1973 (Robin Hood), 1977 (Pete's Dragon), 1979 (Corn Chips cartoon included) and 1980 (Aristocats again for the re-release).
In 1983, it was repurposed and expanded to 90 minutes and re-titled A Disney Channel Christmas. One of my Christmas wishes is that someday Disney will re-release the complete original 1958 version of From All of Us to All of You. Even though it was shown in black and white, it was filmed (including the new animation) in color and it would be wonderful to see a cricket-sized Walt Disney wishing a Merry Christmas among other treats.
As the closing credits to the episode stated "This special holiday program has been made possible by the combined talents of the entire Walt Disney Studios. It is our way of saying 'Merry Christmas from all of us to all of you'."
People usually do not realize how bold it was for Walt to make theatrical cartoons themed to Christmas. The tight theatrical window and limited global market for such releases, coupled with the company's enormous reliance on revenue from animation to stay afloat in those years, made every Christmas cartoon a gamble.
The cartoons could not really be re-released during the rest of the year and often countries did not celebrate Christmas or celebrated it much differently than in the United States. The real fear was that distributors would limit the availability of a cartoon with a Christmas theme.
Here is a listing of just some of the popular Disney theatrical Christmas cartoons:
Mickey's Orphans (1931): A basket of orphan kittens are left on Mickey's doorstep at Christmas. Mickey dresses up as Santa, with Pluto attired as a reindeer. The kittens proceed to use their toys to destroy the house and decimate the candy cane-filled Christmas tree. This short was nominated for an Oscar but lost to another Disney nominee, Flowers and Trees, the first cartoon short in Technicolor. Mickey's Orphans was inspired by Walt's Oswald the Rabbit cartoon Empty Socks (1927), in which Oswald dresses as Santa and fills the empty Christmas stockings hung by the chimney at an orphanage.
Mickey's Good Deed (1932): On Christmas Eve, Mickey and Pluto are street performers in dire straits. Mickey has to sell Pluto to a rich family to get money to help out a poor single mother's large family (another group of poor cat children). The bratty kid who wanted Pluto tortures the poor pup but Mickey and Pluto are reunited happily at the end. The short's release during the Great Depression made its story matter particularly poignant. Pinto (Goofy) Colvig supplied the voice for the little brat's rich father. The concept of down-on-their-luck street musicians who get their instruments crushed in the snow may have been inspired by a similar scene from the Laurel and Hardy comedy short Below Zero (1930).
Santa's Workshop (1932): Some of Walt's top animators—Art Babbitt, Fred Moore, Jack Kinney and Clyde Geronimi—are among those who worked on this short, which finds Santa preparing for his big night. Their work on the short's "Merry, Merry Men of the Midnight Sun" later influenced work on the dwarfs for the groundbreaking 1937 feature Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. The voice of Santa's grumpy-elf secretary was supplied by Pinto Colvig (the original voice of Goofy) and sounded a lot like Grumpy in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (also voiced by Colvig). Listen carefully as Santa jokingly instructs an elf to include a cake of soap with Billy Brown's present so the kid could wash behind his ears. The responding elf was voiced by Walt Disney. Santa's voice, meanwhile, is that of actor Allan Watson, who voiced Old King Cole, King Neptune, and Papa Noah in other Silly Symphony shorts. Also keep an eye out for an authentic 1930s Mickey Mouse doll in Santa's sack atop his sleigh.
The Night Before Christmas (1933): The Santa's Workshop story continues in this short which is pretty much a sequel to the previous cartoon and which finds eight small children sharing a bed on Christmas Eve and features the work of such top talent as Roy (Big Mooseketeer) Williams, Ham Luske, Dick Huemer, and even Hardie Gramatky (who would later write the now-classic children's book Little Toot). Notice that Santa, again voiced by Allan Watson, never says, "Ho, Ho, Ho" but instead says, "Ha, Ha, Ha!" Also look for another authentic 1930s Mickey Mouse toy, this time rolling out of Santa's sack. That pull toy became a highly prized memorabilia collectible beginning in the 1960s.
Toy Tinkers (1949): Enticed by a house full of nuts, candies, and other Christmas goodies, Chip'n'Dale infiltrate Donald Duck's home and engage in a war (with an arsenal of toys) with the feisty fowl. Disney sound-effects legend Jimmy Macdonald voiced both Mickey Mouse and Chip in this short, which was nominated for an Oscar.
Pluto's Christmas Tree (1952): Mickey chops down a tree for Christmas, not realizing it houses Chip'n'Dale. The unwittingly relocated chipmunks get into mischief in the tree and the living room, thwarting Pluto's every attempt to stop them. Goofy, Donald and Minnie appear on the front lawn as carolers and join Mickey and Pluto to sing "Deck the Halls," making this one of just three Golden Age theatrical shorts in which the "Fab Five" appear together. The other two cartoons are On Ice (1935) and Hawaiian Holiday (1937).
The Small One (1978): Directed by Don Bluth and based on a popular children's book, the featurette is about a boy who is forced to sell his beloved donkey named "Small One" and he ends up selling it for one piece of silver to Joseph and Mary on their way to Bethlehem. Bluth wrote two of the film's songs himself: "Small One" and "The Merchants' Song". One of the very few Disney films that directly references religion although in the DVD release a line in "The Merchant's Song" was altered to make it less offensive to Jewish people and the final shot of the star's light was digitally altered to make it look less like a cross, even though the lines that form the cross are still the most prominent.
Olaf's Frozen Adventure (2017): The first Christmas season after the gates of Arendelle are open finds the inhabitants celebrating their own special family traditions at their homes. Anna and Elsa realize that since Elsa was locked away all those years after their parents were lost at sea, they have no family holiday traditions of their own. The snowman Olaf and the reindeer Sven go on a disastrous search of gathering traditions to share with the young ladies. However, the women find some things in the attic that remind them they do have special family holiday traditions. The film was originally meant to be an ABC television special, but Disney chose to release instead it with its animated feature Coco (2017). Just a few days after its release in Mexico, audiences complained about the length of the short before the main feature. All the cinemas in Mexico offered apologies for it and removed the short film from exhibition. The short includes the original voice cast and song writers from the original 2013 feature film. It aired this month as a standalone on ABC.
Of course when, Disney tries to put together a program of shorts devoted to Christmas, they include almost any short with a winter theme and usually featuring snow. Here are some of the most commonly included cartoons:
- The Clock Watcher (1945) has Donald Duck as an overworked and poorly trained gift wrapper at Royal Brothers department store with an especially funny sequence where he struggles to wrap a stubborn jack-in-the-box.
- Corn Chips (1951) has Chip'n'Dale tricked into shoveling the snow from Donald Duck's sidewalk but they get their revenge and Donald ends up shoveling a ton of popcorn.
- Once Upon a Wintertime (1948) originally appeared in the compilation feature Melody Time. With outstanding design work by Mary Blair, two (speechless) young lovers enjoy a December outing in the snow until showing off on the ice triggers a near-tragedy.
- In Donald's Snow Fight (1942) Donald battles his three nephews in the snow including attacking their snow fortress with his ice battleship.
- On Ice (1935) has Mickey teaching Minnie to ice skate, Goofy ice fishing and Donald teasing Pluto.
To add to your holiday viewing pleasure, Disney has released several straight-to-video Christmas themed animated cartoons and television Christmas specials including:
- Beauty and the Beast: The Enchanted Christmas (1997)
- Winnie the Pooh: Seasons of Giving (1999)
- Mickey's Magical Christmas: Snowed in at the House of Mouse (2001)
- Recess Christmas: Miracle on Third Street (2001)
- A Very Merry Pooh (2002)
- Mickey's Twice Upon A Christmas (2004)
- Christmas at Pooh Corner (1983)
- Winnie the Pooh and Christmas, Too (1991)
- A Goof Troop Christmas: Have Yourself a Goofy Little Christmas (1992)
- Phineas and Ferb Christmas Vacation! (2009)
- Prep and Landing (2009)
- Operation: Secret Santa (2010)
- Prep and Landing: Naughty vs. Nice (2011)
- Duck the Halls: A Mickey Mouse Christmas Special (2016)
And, of course, individual episodes of Disney's animated series like DuckTales, House of Mouse, Mouse Works, Darkwing Duck, Kim Possible, Lilo & Stitch, Phineas & Ferb, and many others feature Christmas tales to enjoy.
It was fairly exhaustive uncovering these Christmas cartoons. Were there any that I missed? I am certainly a fan of the Prep and Landing series and wouldn't mind seeing a new installment in that series. Maybe I'll write about those cartoons next year.
Of course, most people forget that the Disney animated feature Lady and the Tramp (1955) both begins and ends at Christmas and the scene of Lady in the hatbox was based on a real Christmas story of Walt giving a little chow puppy to his wife Lillian.
However for now, it is time to take down the tree, the tinsel, recycle the wrapping paper, finish up the last pieces of my SEE's chocolates and prepare for another happy new year of MousePlanet columns.