Mouse House Movie Club #10: The Enchanted Christmas

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“Then somebody bends… unexpectedly.” Yes folks, this is the quality of humour you can expect here. Sorry

Ho Ho Ho! Merry Christmas! Mouse House Movie Club’s gone AWOL for a few weeks, but that’s just because I’ve been super busy and stuff like that. It’ll be back properly in the New Year and is here now with a bit of a Christmas Special. Because all great things have Christmas Specials, and you’re not seriously going to tell me that Mouse House Movie Club isn’t a great thing. Are you? Are you!?

Disney have done a few different festive-themed films over the years and having caught Mickey’s Twice Upon A Christmas on TV over the weekend, I was considering writing this entry on that. It’s actually pretty good, and features a great Mickey and Pluto story. Dogs and Christmas? Is there anything better? No, chums. No there is not.

However, while wrapping presents, I put in the Beauty and the Beast Christmas Special, The Enchanted Christmas, and was hugely impressed by it. It’s a surprisingly dark, genuinely worthwhile, and very charming film that takes place in the middle of the original movie, and significantly alters the way you perceive it. What I’m saying is that it’s the Rogue One of the Beauty and the Beast universe. And I’m entirely, 100% per cent sincere about that.

You'll catch cold like that, Belle
You’ll catch cold like that, Belle

Yeah, but aren’t Disney sequels terrible?
Well, no not really. During the Renaissance (and for a little while after it), Disney put their classics and modern releases into the sequel churner, pushing out spin-offs and TV series to the likes of Bambi, Cinderella, Peter Pan, The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, and The Lion King. Made by Disney’s television animation wing, and often telling stories that frankly didn’t need to be told, these films are not great pieces of art and, even as an avid defender of them, I’ll admit that some are downright awful and/or baffling (the time-travel based Cinderella 3: A Twist in Time).

Sadly, fandom being fandom, all the films have been tarred by the same brush, so even the good one (Cinderella II, Aladdin and the King of Thieves, Peter Pan: Return to Neverland) are seen as poor. The Enchanted Christmas has largely escaped the sharper end of fan anger, mostly because it’s a Christmas film, and, well, it’s bloody Christmas, innit, come on! But it still gets lumped into that homogeneous mass of Disney direct-to-video mediocrity, and its position is made worse because it’s a midquel, a sequel subset so ludicrous nobody could come up with a proper word to describe it so they just cobbled some letters together and hoped for the best.

PARENTHESES! If you don’t know what a midquel is, it’s a story that takes place during a gap in a previously established story. It’s a nonsense word, but amazingly, it’s not even the most nonsensical word out there. There are also sidequels (stories which take place alongside existing stories), pseudosequels (sequels which have little in common with their predecessors but are still judged to be sequels) and most laughably at all macroquels (sequels which cover events before, during, and after the previously existing story). I am not making this up! This is an actual type of spin-off, and according to Wikipedia, 300: The Rise of an Empire is one of them.  2016, man: is there no insanity too insane for it?

Still with me? Good. Ok, so The Enchanted Christmas is a midquel, and it takes place directly after the moment in the original when Beast saves Belle from the wolves. It’s Christmas (because, y’know, it’s a Christmas film and it’s hardly likely to be set in May, is it?!) and Belle really wants to throw a Christmas party. The Beast, on the other hand, does not. (It’s called dramatic tension, folks. Come on, keep up.)

Tim Curry dressed as a villainous organ
Tim Curry dressed as a villainous organ

You’re a mean one, Mr Beast
Of course, that in itself isn’t a particularly sensational revelation. At this point in the original film, Beast isn’t in the best of moods, and the idea of celebrating Christmas probably wouldn’t appeal much – especially as he was struck with the Enchantress’s curse during the festive season. By all rights, The Enchanted Christmas should be a pretty standard story then, and it could well have turned out to be just that had the script run with the original concept of making Gaston’s vengeful brother the villain. This isn’t necessarily a bad idea, it’s just a bit of a mediocre one (though admittedly it worked pretty well for Die Hard With A Vengeance two years earlier. Y’know, I’d say Vengeance is as good to the original, even though most deem the original to be an unimpeachable classic. I mean, it’s good and all, but Vengeance has Frozone and Scar in it, and I’m still not exactly sure how they solved that puzzle with the water. I hate maths. It sucks.)

But anyways, I digress.

Ultimately, the brother plot was abandoned and instead a villainous organ was introduced. Yes… a villainous organ. Mwa-ha-ha-ha-ha. But a villainous organ voiced by Tim Curry, making this villainous organ at least 35% more delicious than any other villainous organs you may be acquainted with. His name is Forte and before being turned into a villainous organ, he was the disconcertingly grey-faced palace musician who enjoyed scowling, sucking up to the Prince, and playing… an organ! Dun-dun-duuuuuuuun!

Forte was ignored by Prince Adam when he was a human, but has now won a measure of respect and influence in his new giant organ form. He’s the Prince’s confidante, hearing all his concerns and frustrations from the confines of a dark room high in a secluded part of the castle. He’s chained to the wall so can’t do much beyond sitting around and waiting for Adam to come vent to him, but that doesn’t seem to bother him much (for some reason). He’s just desperate for Beast not to turn back into a human so he can continue to hang around with him. Hey, even deliciously evil giant organs need a buddy.

Wrong Prince Adam
Wrong Prince Adam

So what you have in The Enchanted Christmas is a villain who, despite being static throughout the entire film and despite being part of a tale whose outcome is beyond doubt, is surprisingly threatening. Part of that’s down to Curry being thoroughly delicious, part of it’s down to Beast being as angry as he is at this stage in the original, and part of it’s down to Forte being rendered with the same dodgy CG that the Hydra from Hercules is (weird). But more than anything, it’s because Beast seems genuinely vulnerable here, Forte representing his inner monologue and everything he hates about himself. If you’ve ever been alone with your dark inner thoughts, you’ll know exactly how scary that can be.

I think it’s perhaps going a little too far to liken The Enchanted Christmas to the complex emotional landscape Elsa inhabits in Frozen, but there are similarities. Like Elsa, Beast hides himself away from the world, convincing himself he’s happy in the state of loneliness he’s built for himself because that’s what he needs to tell himself to get by. Fighting against it is so much more difficult and so much more unpredictable than simply giving in. Accepting your fate is easier and safer. Better the devil you know, and all that.

In light of all this, Beast’s anger and frustration (here and in the original) becomes much more understandable. Being a dick because you’ve been turned into a beast is fine and all. You could be less of a dick, but hey, we get it. Being a Beast is bad. But being a dick because you’ve been turned into a beast and have Tim Curry dressed as a poorly CG’d giant organ whispering nasty stuff in your ear every time you feel down? Well, if that happened to me, I think I’d be pretty down too. I getcha Beasty boy.

Top-level punning
Top-level punning

Jingle Belle
The Enchanted Christmas also brings fresh insight into Belle, who seems even more heroic in light of the film’s events. In the original, Beast’s anger is a plot point: a feature of the narrative that needed to be established and overcome. It’s like the Ark of the Covenent or the Death Star plans: a MacGuffin that’s there to reflect, primarily, Belle’s character and the tenacity with which she goes about getting what she wants from life. Here, however, it’s a real character point; indeed a real character – Forte. So while Beauty and the Beast‘s main threat was a moron (a very very very very very manly moron, but still a moron), The Enchanted Christmas‘s is anger, depression, and frustration.  There’s absolutely nothing funny or charming about Forte like there is about Gaston.

Listen to his song. While Gaston got to brag about his manliness and expectorating prowess, Forte tells Beast not to fall in love in a fantastic villain song that even manages to nod to the original’s classic ‘Beauty and the Beast’. Here’s a cut of the lyrics.

As soon as your heart rules your head
Your life is not your own
It’s hell when someone’s always there
It’s bliss to be alone
And love of any kind is bad
A dog, a child, a cat
They take up so much precious time
Now where’s the sense in that?

Love takes the wildest heart and makes it tame
If you’re turned on, then just turn off
Emotions are a thing all great men overcame
Please, don’t make this grande catastrophe
Don’t get attached to anyone or anything
There’s nothing worse than things that cling

Pretty brutal, pretty scary (and more than a little reminiscent of Elsa’s ‘conceal, don’t feel’ mantra). Yet Belle’s kindness perseveres: she never takes her eye off her goal, and never lets Beast’s Forte-driven depression set her off her path. She represents kindness, love, and compassion in the face of Forte’s sheer hatred and misery, and she mounts a fierce opposition, despite the fact she never really faces off against him. Indeed, her lack of interaction with Forte may make her faith in the Beast and love as a whole even more heroic: she doesn’t have the luxury of knowing where his misery is coming from like we do.

Until then, we’ll have to muddle through somehow…
I know what you’re thinking: Paul, for a post that opened with a GIF of a dog doing Yoga, this has been awfully depressing. And yes, you’re right. But then, The Enchanted Christmas isn’t an entirely happy-go-lucky film, and indeed many of the best Christmas things aren’t. Look at It’s A Wonderful Life or listen to ‘Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas’ (from Meet Me In St Louis) if you want proof. Both are, of course, about the magic of the season and how festive goodwill can turn around even the darkest of days, but for that to work, the day has to be dark: George Bailey has to be standing on that bridge ready to jump in the water. Festive? Not really. Dramatically important? Yes!

The Enchanted Christmas sits alongside films like It’s A Wonderful Life (in theme more than quality) because it’s all about finding the goodwill amongst the bad, the light in the dark, the hope in the despair. It’s a little naive and certainly not as emotionally complex as more recent Disney films that have taken on the theme (Frozen and Inside Out in particular), but it’s a hell of a good effort for a 1997 direct-to-video feature and deserves respect for that alone. Add in to it the fact that it genuinely enhances the original and has Tim Curry as a deliciously evil organ and you’re on to a winner.  A big old festive, slightly depressing, weirdly CG’d winner.

Until next year folks, Happy Holidays! Have a lovely time whatever you’re celebrating and however you’re celebrating it.

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Mouse House Movie Club Goes Festive #2: Donald’s Snow Fight

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Not from this cartoon, but this is indeed an actual GIF from an actual Donald short!

Regular readers of this blog will know that I love Donald Duck. He’s a dickhead. A terrible, terrible dickhead. And I think that’s worth celebrating, because unlike other famous Donalds, Donald Duck is a dickhead in a charming, ridiculous kinda way. (Rather than, y’know, the terrible, oppressive, gonna-blow-up-the-world kinda way.) He’s the kinda dickhed who, instead of helping his young nephews build a snowman like any normal anthropomorphic duck would, jumps on a sled and rides straight through the thing cackling like a maniac.

Somewhere, there’s an excellent Donald Duck/Frozen crossover waiting to happen.

Released in 1942, Donald’s Snow Fight is one of the very finest Donald Duck cartoons, and probably the finest Donald Duck Christmas cartoon. Like all Donald’s best efforts, the set-up is brilliantly simple. It’s Christmas, Donald goes out for a stroll in the snow, finds his nephews building a snowman, and decides to wage war on them. Y’know. Like you do.

Right from the off, Donald’s Snow Fight crams in gags at Gatling gun pace. In the first couple of minutes alone we get Donald’s absurdly huge snow jacket, the sight of his beak growing a little frost mustache, and the sound of him quacking half the words to Jingle Bells before finishing off by ringing himself like a bell. This may be the only recorded instance of a testicle joke in Disney history.

(Do ducks have testicles? What the hell else is ringing!?!)

Anyways, Donald’s out in the snow and suddenly spots his nephews having fun and building a snowman. This simply won’t do, of course, so Donald attacks, destroying the snowman and escalating the whole situation into all out war. He even wears a cute little Admiral’s hat to underline his battle-readiness. Because Donald Duck is both totally adorable and utterly psychotic. Also: massive dickhead.

Somehow though, he retains our sympathy. Both here and in other shorts. Fights between Donald and Huey, Dewey and Louie are a reoccurring trope in Donald cartoons, and while they get comically out of hand, there’s never any sense of viciousness. It’s a little like watching early episodes of The Simpsons where they’d fight and call each other names. There’s frustration there, sure, but there’s always love. Donald just shows that love the only way he can: with pointless anger.

It’s why Donald’s such an icon. In all his arrogance, obnoxiousness, and ultimate love for those around him, he’s the closest thing Disney has to a great everyman (don’t let anyone tell you it’s Mickey! Donald all the way). Like my favourite actor ever, Jack Lemmon, Donald is just an ordinary schmuck with no great sense of nobility simply going through life trying to make ends meet. And sometimes, everybody, that means you have to freak out and destroy some snowmens.

So celebrate the festive season with some classic Donald and go out and destroy some snowmen yourself. (Don’t do this. Please. It’s just mean.)

Mouse House Movie Club Goes Festive #1: Once Upon A Wintertime

Just as I did at Halloween, I figured I’d roll out a couple of Mouse House Movie Clubs for Christmas that focus – obviously – on Christmas-themed Disney. One will be a Donald Duck cartoon, because he’s Donald Duck and if you don’t think that’s a good enough reason to write a blog post then you obviously haven’t seen this GIF.

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The first is the rather wonderful Once Upon A Wintertime, which was originally released in 1948 as part of the package film Melody Time but is so damn good Disney put it out again as a standalone short in 1954. So why’s it so good, I hear you ask. Good question, I respond quite pleased you asked as it allows me to segue neatly into my next paragraph. Well done you.

Once Upon A Wintertime is an early example of Disney having a little fun with itself. It focuses on two lovers, Joe and Jenny, as they enjoy a romantic day out on the ice. They’re dressed up snuggly, ride around in a horse and carriage, make googly eyes at one another, and do it all to the lovely sounds of Frances Langford titular song. Rabbits and birds join them on their lovers’ jaunt and they prance around on the ice in such perfect harmony that the bird make a heart for them out of snow.

I would implore you to LOOK AT THE SICKENING ROMANCE OF IT ALL, but I really rather love this nonsense and have spent much of the last few days listening to the La La Land score, so, y’know, this short saw me coming. Even in 1948. Several decades before I was born.

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Screw you, reality

So far, so Disney, right? Well, halfway through Once Upon A Wintertime, Joe takes things a little too far in his bid to romance Jenny, shows off to her, and pisses her right off. She storms off in a huff and rebuffs Joe’s attempts at reconciliation. This, in turns, grinds his gears and the two fall out. As do the pair of comedy bunnies who are mimicking their human counterparts beat for beat.

The short then changes gear entirely and becomes something more akin to an action film. The ice cracks and Jenny is cut adrift on a small pane of ice that’s heading straight for a waterfall. Joe tries to come to her rescue, but it isn’t until he strikes upon the idea of using the horses and a rope to pull Jenny to safety that the day is saved. The pair return to their horse drawn carriage and enjoy the romance of the season once more. Awwww.

The satire of Once Upon A Wintertime may not be especially cutting, but it is remarkable considering it was made after the difficult war years. It shows that even when simply making money was the imperative, Disney still had a playful side and still sought to go against the grain and find something new to say. That it does all that while remaining a genuinely lovely and romantic piece of film-making simply speaks to the quality the studio had in-house at the time. It’s pretty much impossible not to be charmed by the sweetness of it all.

Check out Once Upon A Wintertime below. Sadly, YouTube doesn’t have an English language version, but here’s the French translation, and as French is the language of lurve, it seems pretty appropriate. Stop complaining. Jeez, it’s Christmas.