40 Years Ago, One Holiday Special Saved A Forgotten Disney Character
Mickey's Christmas Carol launched one Disney character into stardom and brought another out of retirement
If you tried to watch one Christmas special a day for the rest of your life, you would probably never stop. With so many movies, TV shows, and cartoons out there ranging from insipid schlock to big-budget blockbusters, it can be overwhelming to find something decent that your entire family can sit through. This is probably why so many families turn to Disney, a studio with no shortage of holiday programming from their decades-old catalog. But, forty years ago, one of the most visible Disney holiday specials actually saved the most famous Disney character of all time from relative obscurity.
Mickey’s Christmas Carol arrived on the silver screen on December 16, 1983. Billed as a double feature with the theatrical reissue of 1977’s The Rescuers, this retelling of Charles Dickens’ 19th-century classic recounts the tale of Ebenezer Scrooge’s reformation from a penny-pinching moneylender into a philanthropic do-gooder thanks to the help of some seasonal specters. The only difference here was the Disney version swapped out one Scrooge for another, arguably more fowl than the first.
Standing in for Dickens’ human tightwad, Scrooge McDuck and other pals from Disney’s archives took on the various familiar roles. And, besides being a fun wintry watch for any age, Mickey’s Christmas Carol was also an important cartoon for the studio, reviving a long-neglected popular character who spent several decades away from the big screen while ushering in a new era for many other Disney classics. But let’s talk about Scrooge a little first.
What the Dickens?
Mickey’s Christmas Carol didn’t start as an animated short, beginning its life as an album nearly ten years earlier. Disneyland Records released An Adaptation of Dickens' Christmas Carol in 1974, featuring familiar Disney characters playing all of the parts. This makeshift radio drama told the same story as the animated version that would come later, but with a series of songs that didn’t survive into the cartoon.
This musical was the first time Alan Young played Scrooge McDuck, a voice synonymous with the character for kids who grew up watching DuckTales weekdays after school on Disney Afternoon in the 80s and 90s. Young, who also wrote the album, made a career out of playing the Scottish duck, providing the signature voice for over 40 years with his legitimate Edinburgh accent.
While this holiday record kicked off Young’s career with Disney, the animated version was the end for someone else. Clarence Nash was the originator of the Donald Duck voice, who began playing the character in 1934. After Mickey’s Christmas Carol, Nash did one last major role as Donald a year later (a 50th celebration for the character) before passing away in 1985.
The Return of Mickey Mouse
This 26-minute short features a large cast of Disney characters acting out parts from the book, staying true to the period and loyal to the original text. Jiminy Cricket shows up as the Ghost of Christmas Past, Goofy as Jacob Marley’s clumsy spirit, and even Chip and Dale pop up to get their groove on during Fezzywig’s shindig.
But, the all-important role of Bob Cratchit went to Mickey Mouse, and despite having the special named after him, Mickey isn’t in it too much. Even with limited screen time, this was still an extremely important cartoon for The Mouse.
Mickey’s Christmas Carol was the first time this character appeared in a theatrical cartoon since 1953, with his last appearance in the short “The Simple Things.” Really! One could jokingly say the mouse was preoccupied with his theme parks and TV show, and that wouldn’t be inaccurate. When Disney began to shift their attention away from animation in the 50s and turned it towards growing their Disneyland attraction and live-action shows, Mickey found himself with a new job as the face of the company.
As Mickey drew closer to his 60th anniversary, Disney was starting to bring many of their classic characters out of retirement to give them a second life with a new generation. With VHS becoming more accessible as well, Disney’s animated catalog was suddenly becoming more relevant, and Mickey once more took center stage to propel this initiative forward.
Is Mickey’s Christmas Carol worth watching with my family?
There’s no end to live-action or animated versions of A Christmas Carol, and they all vary greatly in quality. When it comes to animation, few capture the essence of the novel and condense it into a tight runtime with style and flair as well as Disney’s version.
It’s masterful how well the tone transitions seamlessly from one part of the story to the next, never losing any emotional impact. There are plenty of laughs, but the cartoon also knows when to be solemn and drive the Dickensian lesson home. It’s the right balance of serious and sweet, and the perfect length for even the littlest viewers to sit through and walk away entertained while absorbing the moral of the story.
I can’t think of too many better ways to introduce a child to A Christmas Carol than this animated short (besides the Muppets version). But for little ones, it’s a definitive gateway for spreading holiday cheer and the true meaning of the season. And although he’s the famous mascot of Disney, it’s not like most kids have a favorite Mickey Mouse cartoon. That is until your kids see this.