Mickey Saves Christmas is neat, but is that the bar we want to aim for? “Neat”? In some ways, you can pitch this as a borderline experimental project, at least in the realm of Disney+ originals. It’s a holiday special, yes, but a groundbreaking one, in that it is completely stop-motion animated. Almost no other Mickey Mouse film or short has ever been. I’m glad that the creators got a chance to do something formally different. Stop motion as a niche should never disappear, tedious and inefficient though its creation might be.
On the other hand, this is the most mind-numbingly bland piece of children’s entertainment imaginable. It has no heart or soul. It’s just more content — a Christmas magic story so by-the-numbers that I can’t even muster up the willpower to type a summary here. Santa recruits Mickey and co to save Christmas, that’s all you need to know.
I think what frustrates me the most is that everything is such an extension of the corporate image of the characters. These are not characters with any interiority or humanity or even distinct traits, but walking vessels of boardroom virtue and branding. There is something so intellectually and even morally bankrupt about the incurious positivity of every character. Everyone is “gee whiz, let’s be Santa’s helpers!” without the briefest moment of reflection on the situation, the overzealousness of Christmas spirit ironically rendering it inert since it seems so meaningless and thoughtless.
I know I sound like a Grinch, but just a few days ago I watched Mickey’s Christmas Carol, which bears a lot in common with Mickey Saves Christmas on the surface. It’s iconic Disney characters in twenty-some minutes of mischief, learning the spirit of Christmas. Yet Mickey’s Christmas Carol is bold. In addition to shilling out iconic characters in a branding exercise, it is thoughtful and scary and poignant. It suggests, for example, a descent to Hell should its protagonist not repent, and I just laughed out loud imagining how incongruous that plot point would be in Mickey Saves Christmas.
The craft of the stop motion animation by Stoopid Buddy Stoodios (of Robot Chicken fame) is adequate, though not much more than that. It has the exact level of rigidity that I love in stop-motion — not so smooth that it loses its uncanniness, but still expressive and fluid and cozy. There are enough pleasing scenes of mild comic mayhem that it’s not hard to imagine a feistier short in this style being a lot of fun. The creators knew that focusing on toymaking (in the spirit of 1932 Santa’s Workshop) allowed for lots of different textures and material effects. Only a few moments dare to do anything interesting with the camera, but they are nice, like a single shot that shifts our focus to three different points without cutting — once to Pluto, once to Mickey, and once out the window at the starry sky, drawing our eye with well-timed motion. That’s an exception, though. Mostly, though, it’s basic, uninteresting compositions.
I really wanted to like this; I wanted it to be good, to know that artistry could sneak through the cracks even at the Disney+ machine. Instead we’re stuck with something whose personality was bleached out by the content industrial complex. Something that looks fine and has a functional narrative, but goes not a single iota further than that. Something nefariously “neat.”
- Review Project: 2022: Year in Film