The festive short and the short of it: Duck the Halls – a Mickey Mouse Christmas Special

(courtesy Disney+)

Instead of going South with his family and other duck friends, Donald stays behind with Mickey and the rest of his non-bird/duck friends to spend his first ever Christmas. During his stay, however, Donald soon starts to get sick from the cold weather while trying to enjoy the snow and the fun times with his friends. When Mickey and the others soon discovered out about his sickness, they must get him quickly South to the rest of ducks immediately to restore him back to his health before he dies of hypothermia. (courtesy Disney Wiki)

When you first switch on Duck the Halls: A Mickey Mouse Christmas Special, it’s looks cosily for all the world like a quintessential Disney Christmas cartoon short.

We dive in overhead into Mickey’s neighbourhood, down the street to his home which looks like a cuter, sweeter version of the Griswold’s abode in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, where a mailbox announces that here lives Mickey Mouse aka Mr. Christmas.

It’s all so wholesome and lovely and festively nice, and really it is for the greater part with Mickey (Chris Diamantopoulos), Goofy (Bill Farmer), Pluto (also Bill Farmer) and Minnie (Russi Taylor) in full getting ready for Christmas swing, in a home where presents and garlands and a hypercolour festive air rules.

Watching it all in undisguised wonder, and not just a little longing is Donald Duck (Tony Anselmo) who is in the thick of it but not actively participating, a strangely standoffish state of being for someone so clearly into the season which is only explained when Daisy (Tres MacNeille), sunglasses on her head and an impatient-to-get-going air milling around her, and urges him to get ready to go south for the winter with the rest of the flock who, rather amusingly, decamp to holiday apartments in Mexico which they drive to, rather than fly, in a mass of minivans.

With everyone convinced you can’t get have Christmas in a warmer clime – watching that state of mind play out through most of the short (it is addressed at the end by a patiently warm and caring if slightly incredulous Santa) is hilariously baffling for anyone in the southern hemisphere including this reviewer who’s only ever known Christmas in heat and flip-flops and with salads and cold meats – Donald is mourning the fact that he won’t get to enjoy the full celebratory force of Mickey’s high octane, tinsel-fuelled, eggnog-soaked, present-wrapped marking of the Big Day itself.

So, Donald decides to stick around, to Daisy’s dismay – she heads south anyway where she finds Scrooge McDuck (John Kassir), Huey, Dewey and Louie (Russi Taylor) and Ludwig Von Drake (Corey Burton) who are in full summer mode – and he gets fully into the festive moment until the cold gets the better of him.

He works desperately hard, and with copious use of duct tape (personal note: for years I thought it was “duck tape” so its use in the special feels beautifully apt) to celebrate with everyone else but it gets to the point where he’s close to death – yep, Duck the Halls: A Mickey Mouse Christmas Special foes weirdly, zanily DARK with reindeer near burned to a crisp, a crashed sleight and oblivion imminent – and the only hope is to get him to warmer climes where he might, MIGHT, live.

If this all sounds hilariously over the top twisted and manic it really is much of the time but it also works brilliantly as one of the most imaginatively original animated Christmas specials to be released in a while (the special actually dates from 2016 (9 December to be exact) but has just been discovered by this reviewer on Disney+) with the gang in full old-fashioned, manic silly mode but also awash in the warmth, love, and inclusive friendship of the season.

Peppered with technicolour, eye-popping visuals which bring Christmas mightily and vivaciously alive in such a way that any Scrooge with a concrete heart would have to bow to its heart-inspiring appeal, and always racing to a finish line which delivers a briskly intense but amusingly silly payoff, Duck the Halls: A Mickey Mouse Christmas Special is inspired, a special that gets the season, celebrates the tinsel off it and manages to be both loopy af and heart-tuggingly sentimental into the bargain.

Contrary to Disney’s reputation for safe, conservative cartooning, the Mickey Mouse series, and the Duck the Halls: A Mickey Mouse Christmas Special in particular is off-the-walls Looney Tunes-esque in look and feel, serving up iconic characters as you both know and don’t know them in a furiously brisk festive setting which makes you feel all gooey and Christmassy, which is surely the aim of any Christmas special, but also glad to have borne witness to creativity so extreme that it brings precious life back to the season and reminds you how outrageously out-there it can be but how it also comes down to what’s in your heart, a lovely reminder when you all feel is full speed ahead pressure and stress.

With hilarious references to BABes in Toyland, the “Once Upon a Wintertime” segment of Melody Time, Mickey Mouse’s own rendition of The Nutcracker, and even, yes, truly, The Shining (Mickey’s has unnervingly Victorian era relatives), the Duck the Halls: A Mickey Mouse Christmas Special is a breath of fresh festive air that dazzles and delights and hits the heart right in its tree-shaped centre where all the things you love about the season, and some things you didn’t realise you needed to love about it, all live and make things manically weird but amusingly heartfelt all at once.

Duck the Halls: A Mickey Mouse Christmas Special is currently available to stream on Disney+

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