, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,


When I made my list of favorite Mickey Mouse shorts, I had a hell of a time combing through his filmography for what I considered “real” Mickey cartoons. This is because a good many films in the mouse’s oeuvre have the supporting characters like Donald Duck and Goofy quickly steal the spotlight from him. And that’s not the only thing they took: as more characters were ingrained into the Disney canon and Mickey was reduced to being a bit player in his own features, the scrappy traits that once endeared him to the public were siphoned away to his costars. And what was left for him once the childlike curiosity, playfulness, brash temper, big heart and fierce determination were gone? What kind of personality could Mickey cultivate for himself into when there was no personality left?

Thanks a lot, Lisa.

By the late 40s and early 50s, everything that made Mickey enjoyable was scrubbed away into a bland, neighborly squeaky-clean corporate-friendly icon. He was good for selling merch, but his cartoons suffered severely for it. Mickey was paired up with his faithful dog Pluto to keep things more interesting, though that resulted in him getting far more to do than his master. I always thought Pluto worked better as a supporting role rather than the main star, so I’ve never been crazy about the Pluto shorts or these in particular because…well, let’s look at a comedic dog and master duo done right:

Wallace, for all his mechanical ingenuity and good nature, is more than a bit of an idiot. Gromit is vastly smarter and is capable of expressing a variety of relatable emotions despite never uttering a word (though that has less to do with him being a dog and more due to the fact that he has no mouth). Whenever there’s trouble (usually of Wallace’s own making), Gromit steps up to the plate and the two always manage to work past their shortcomings together to save the day. They may not always be on the same level as each other, but their camaraderie and the situations they get into certainly make for an entertaining time.

As for Mickey, he may have been a lot of things in his prime, but he certainly wasn’t stupid. So seeing the resilient rodent who sailed steamships, conducted his way through storms, battled giants, saved kingdoms, slayed dragons and controlled the very cosmos have his IQ substantially lowered just so he could play second fiddle to his pet…well, it feels downright insulting. Pluto’s Christmas Tree was the second-to-last short made before Mickey’s thirty year-long retirement, and it’s a prime showcase for all the problems that come with his extreme flanderization, right down to the fact that his name isn’t even the one that’s in the title.

It’s Christmas Eve and Mickey heads out with Pluto to cut themselves a Christmas tree. Rascal chipmunks Chip and Dale see Pluto sniffing around and mock him for no reason. It’s easy to forget that before they became Rescue Rangers, the only personality traits that Chip and Dale had were that they were massive trolls. The problem here is that their mischievousness is woefully misplaced. More often than not, the chipmunks were paired against Donald Duck in their shorts; that dynamic worked because Donald was usually the instigator thanks to his spite and massive temper. That made everything Chip and Dale dished at him cartoony karma. Pluto, on the other hand, is blameless in starting the conflict. The chipmunks constantly antagonize him and he’s in the right for fighting back, no matter how much the cartoon tries to tell you otherwise.

Pluto chases the chipmunks up a tree in retaliation of their ridicule. By a staggering coincidence, Mickey deems that spruce perfect. He brings it home and decorates it. Chip and Dale are in awe of the colorful wintry wonderland their hideout has become.

When Pluto notices one of the lights is behaving erratically, he sniffs around until he finds the chipmunks messing around with the bulbs. Dale throws ornaments at him which he desperately tries to save from shattering. Mickey walks in thinking Pluto’s just fooling around and remains oblivious to his dog’s warnings. I’ve never been keen on the “character sees something wrong that everyone else just misses and they don’t believe him” joke that’s a staple of so many second-rate cartoons and Abbot and Costello movies, so this isn’t doing much to win me over, I’m afraid.

Dale, always one to throw caution to the wind, steals from a bowl of nuts and hides out among the Santa-themed candles along the mantle. Pluto once again attempts to alert Mickey but he doesn’t seem to notice or care that there’s a brown Santa in their midst.

Either Mickey’s that dense or he’s way more woke than I give him credit for.

Chip rescues Dale and they trap Pluto atop a rickety ladder before toppling him over. Enraged, Pluto jumps into the tree to root out the vermin himself. Mickey tries to stop him but get dragged in as well. The tree falls apart in a piney mess that’ll take forever to vacuum. Mickey throttles Pluto for ruining their Christmas –

He may be man’s best friend, but certainly not mouse’s.

– until he finally spies Chip and Dale and cries out “Pluto, we’ve got chipmunks in our tree!”

I feel ya, Pluto.

The sound of Donald, Minnie and Goofy caroling outside distracts them from their quarrel and lifts their spirits. Chip and Dale join in the singing, but when Pluto howls along too, he gets slapped with a “Do Not Open Until Xmas” sticker across the mouth. And then the short just kind of stops right there.

Pluto’s Christmas Tree is a short that exasperates me. I’ve already pointed out how Mickey’s flanderization poisons everything it touches, but we don’t even get an apology from him or the chipmunks, neither does he make any acknowledgement that Pluto was on to something. And, if I may be frank, watching a story where the main character’s home is devastated by mean little monsters while others blind themselves to his warnings, and then having that character be told to play nice with the creatures that tormented him and play the victim even as they continue bullying him is especially frustrating after these past four years.

Yet despite all that, I still feel obligated to put this short on in the background at least once this time of year. Why? Because every second of it is so Christmassy. From the recurring use of carols in the score to the snow falling in the woods and the warmth of Mickey’s cottage, this is the Disney short that gets how a traditional Christmas looks and feels. I especially love the interior of the tree. One of my favorite little things to do at Christmastime is to lie underneath the tree after it’s set up and gaze up at the decorations and lights glowing through the boughs. The birds-eye – er, chipmunks-eye – view we get perfectly captures that, and makes it appear even more magical. I swear you can smell the pine and peppermint right through the screen.

With visuals like these, it’s no wonder clips from this short are re-used in Disney ads and sing-alongs around Christmastime. In fact, just put the short on mute and fill in your own dialogue and soundtrack. It’s bound to be more entertaining.

“Pluto, you found some rare Balinese chipmunks that carry the cure for cancer in their DNA! You just saved a million lives and made us rich! Sorry for strangling you, pal, Merry Christmas!”

This short may not be high on my watchlist, but I can’t call it the worst Christmas-themed work out there either. At the very least, I think we can all be grateful Mickey didn’t go through what Clark Griswold did when he had rodents hiding in his tree.

Thank you for reading! Be sure to stick around throughout December because we have more Christmas content on the way! If you want to get a sneak peek of what’s to come and other great perks, then please consider joining my Patreon. Special thanks to my Patrons Amelia Jones, Gordhan Rajani and Sam Minden for their support during these trying financial times. And if you think I’ve been nothing but a Scrooge, just wait ’til you meet the real thing next week…