Walt Disney Studios/Television Animation (1937-2002), Walt Disney Home Video (September 3 2002), single disc, 70 mins plus supplements, 1.33:1 original full frame ratio, Dolby Digital, Not Rated, Retail: $19.99
Mickey Mouse’s House Of Mouse – the cartoon nightclub where the stars of Disney’s many animated worlds come together to watch classic and new shorts – is under attack from the disgruntled villain brigade, who want to spoil all the fun and show only their Halloween-themed scary shorts to the trapped audience.
The Sweatbox Review:
Perhaps the title of this collection of Halloween tales should have been “House Of Spooks”. Or better yet, “House Of Musical Spooks”, as most of the cartoons on show here are less to do with Disney’s huge cast of villains, and more about things that go bump in the night, with a fair few told with music, mock-Fantasia style. Mickey’s House Of Villains is a mixed bag. After the relatively disappointing Snowed In At The House Of Mouse, which basically featured many of Disney’s best snow-themed shorts and a slightly truncated centerpiece version of Mickey’s Christmas Carol, fans were understandably expecting something a little more lavish, albeit direct-to-video, with House Of Villains. Though many anticipated – and the disc was trailed as – a feature focusing on the Disney Villains’ attempts to nab the House Of Mouse right from under Mickey’s nose, what we got is the TV series’ regular dose of classic and new cartoon shorts, interspersed with new linking animation, with the actual Villains’ takeover story not beginning until more than halfway through.
Known as the nightspot where the casts of all the Disney films hang out, the House Of Mouse show is a direct continuation of the Mickey MouseWorks series, which presented new animated shorts featuring the Mickey/Donald/Goofy gang of classic characters, the likes of which had not really been seen since the 1950s and 60s. Created with TV budgets, the cartoons featured some interesting stories; some funny, some great, some not hitting their mark, but allowing the animators to pay homage to the shorts of yesteryear, while providing new entertainment for kids and keeping the Disney characters in the public eye. House Of Mouse presents a mixture of these MouseWorks creations, as well as some classic Walt-era cartoons, plus occasional newer additions, on a huge video screen in the House Of Mouse club auditorium. All the feature film characters come here to see these classics, and to be honest it’s a fun way for Disney to recycle their back catalog on television. House Of Villains takes the concept further, with the House filled on Halloween night with an extraordinary amount of villainous stars. Mickey pays it no attention, thinking that they’re just out to celebrate their night, not realizing that Jafar has a plan to lead the Villains against Mickey at midnight…
Until that segment of the show kicks in, we are treated to several cartoons built around ghosts and ghouls. The show starts off with the customary introduction by Mr Mouse, after which we are invited to see the classic Donald Duck short Trick Or Treat. Donald’s three nephews, Huey, Dewey and Louie, team up with a haggard old Witch to outsmart Donald when he tries to trick them on Halloween night. This has always been one of my favorite Disney shorts due to Jack Hannah’s spot on direction and the detailed backgrounds. The short also gets its own song – Trick Or Treat – that is very catchy!
Mickey’s Mechanical House, narrated by John Cleese of all people, is a very nice tale, told as a poem. Fed up with his ramshackle abode, Mickey decides it is time for something new. Talked into buying a super-modern house complete with gadgets and a robot for any eventuality, the house soon takes over Mickey’s life and, wouldn’t-cha know it, he soon goes back to his creaky old home. It’s a new short, well animated in the UPA style of the 1950s. Cleese does a wonderful job as the narrator, and brings the story to life with zest and his impeccable sense of wry irony in his voice.
Next up is the best of the new material. Created and produced at Disney Feature Animation’s Florida unit (the now-shuttered group responsible for the Roger Rabbit shorts and Mulan, Lilo And Stitch and Brother Bear features), How To Haunt A House has Goofy assuming the role of the recently deceased in order to show us the correct way of, well, haunting a house. Donald is his prime target, but the Goof, being Goofy, has a little trouble convincing Mr Duck that he means trouble, until Donald has an accident and joins him in the afterlife. Wonderfully produced in the style of the How To… films that Goofy starred in the 40s and 50s, right down to the dry narration style and laugh-out loud timing, How To Haunt A House is one of the best recent Disney shorts I’ve seen created for any medium, and is definitely the highlight of the new material in this collection.
Lonesome Ghosts is the late 1930s classic “ghostbusters” short featuring Mickey, Donald and Goofy, as the trio of spook-catchers. Answering a telephone call from a gaggle of bored specters, the gang head of for a show down with the supernatural. Some terrific gags play out in the battle between our heroes and the fun-loving ghouls, my favorite being Goofy and the mirror, until the three accidentally run into some barrels of syrup and flower that creates an apparition so scary that it frightens the ghosts themselves!
A comic riff on Fantasia, The Dance Of The Goofys tries a little too hard to be funny. There are some moments that will raise a chuckle or two, but overall the short seemed to stretch out a little longer than it needed to be. Featuring a pastiche of popular classical music, it follows a Fairy Goof trying to do good by rescuing the Fairy King from a child brat whose plan seems to be to find out what makes Fairies tick… Donald Duck And The Gorilla is a play on the Old Dark House thrillers of the 30s and 40s. While staying with their uncle, Huey, Dewey and Louie are frightened by radio stories of a gorilla escape. Donald plays on this, using a pair of hairy gloves to scare the kids. They get their revenge by dressing up in a full-sized gorilla costume, but things start to get confusing when the real escaped gorilla shows up! This leads to a classic chase around the house, with Donald taking some punishment from the gone-ape intruder, until the nephews step in and help their uncle out.
Then, back in the House Of Mouse, the Villains finally begin to make their play for Mickey’s job. The Villains all band together for their big song moment, It’s Our House Now, a toe-tapper in the Aladdin-jazz style, featuring Jonathan Freeman as Jafar on lead vocals, accompanied by the various wrongdoers in the House. In a funny way, this segment has the most “rushed” look about it in its animation, and indeed it’s interesting to note that this sequence is at the heart of the brand new footage. Some shots look better than others, but I noticed at least a couple that were repeated and several others that managed to make “two shots from one” by the slightly overuse of zooming in and out on various sections of the picture. Sure, this creates the illusion that a lot more is happening than actually is, but it can also give away the cuts made to make a big-looking sequence on a budget. The sheer verve of the song helps it overcome these problems however, and at the end of the sequence, the audience may well feel more exhilarated than they should be, due to the fast paced nature and the simple fun in spotting all the characters on show! Plot-wise, the Villains are successful and end up kicking Mickey and the gang from the House. Now, once they have made their point, one might expect a change in the type of programming, but things pretty much continue as before, with another batch of scary tales.
The next cartoon, Donald’s Halloween Scare, is another featuring Huey, Dewey and Louie’s attempts to scare their Unca Donald, but before they can make it to his house on a haunted hill, they must endure the frights brought about by Mickey, Minnie and Goofy. It’s another from the newer selections, and while it does have its moments, such as Goofy’s mix-up with the holidays, Donald’s horror getup and the pinball graveyard, this short fills more like filler rather anything substantial. The final cartoon is a Mickey and Minnie starring version of Hansel And Gretel. The classic story of two kids lost in the forest that find a house made of candy, only to find it’s a trap set by an old witch, this is another musically-themed short. The animation looks okay; it is not outstanding, but tells the tale quickly and efficiently. The style of the short owes something to Tim Burton, with its strangely bright but gothic look, topped off with candy canes and swirl designs straight out of The Nightmare Before Christmas. The cartoon is a nice idea, and plays out fairly entertainingly, but would probably benefit from a larger budget and the values of the feature animation artists touch.
Back in the House, Mickey and company have had enough. He dons his outfit from The Sorcerer’s Apprentice segment from Fantasia to draw upon all the powers that his magic hat offers to try and combat Jafar’s wizardry. Even though Mickey puts up a good fight, Jafar manages to catch him off guard and seems to be victorious. All is not lost, however, when Aladdin flies by (literally, in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-him “cameo”) and throws Mickey the magic lamp. Then, almost as if everyone involved ran out of ideas, budget and time, Mickey uses the lamp to all-too-easily trap Jafar – causing the other Villains to instantly flee. It all happens a little too fast, and does not feel like a satisfactory ending, but the intent is there, and at the end of the day, the result is that Mickey regains control of the House Of Mouse, and a sense of good is restored. The program ends at around the 64 minute mark, leaving a six minute credit sequence to roll, but what is quite good about this is that there’s a chance to hear an instrumental score version of the Villains’ song again, ending the production on a jazzed up note!
Despite the new production number It’s Our House Now, Mickey’s House Of Villains ultimately feels a little cheap on the production values side. The classic cartoons have been made available before, with Trick Or Treat available on The Black Cauldron, and Lonesome Ghosts an extra on The Adventures Of Ichabod And Mr Toad. It’s nice to see Donald Duck And The Gorilla again, but there are a great deal of other classic cartoons featuring weird goings on that would have perhaps made better selections, such as Runaway Brain, the 1995 Mickey Mouse short that might have been a much better fit for the other new material. Overall, Mickey’s House Of Villains is a better concept than what has finally been put on disc, but it’s an odd one to outwardly put down, as it does contain genuine entertainment value and is definitely a step up from the usual video compilations. There are some nice in-jokes for fans, such as sitting The Jungle Book’s Baloo next to Little John from Robin Hood (both were voiced by Phil Harris, of course), and even if this compilation feels a little creaky, it is always nice to see Mickey and the gang go through their paces.
Is This Thing Loaded?
Of all the Disney releases, perhaps none was as equipped to include the Runaway Brain short either as part of the show, or as an extra. What a shame some quick and clever thinker at Disney did not include it here – it would have made a wonderful addition, kept in keeping with the style of the title, and been a real bonus for animation fans that missed on the Disney Treasures tin, Mickey Mouse In Living Color, Volume 2. Oh well…what does the disc have on offer?
Located in the Bonus Features section, you’ll find an all-too-easy but nicely designed game, the Wheel Of Misfortune, where one must answer multiple questions to help Aladdin through the Cave Of Wonders, and the Fright Delight, a supposed collection of Disney’s spookiest sound effects. The House Mix version is actually more of a run through of exciting moments from Disney animated features, with the sound effects pushed to the fore. The second Villains’ Mix is pretty redundant, featuring the same three-minute clip played without music. Pretty strange…or intentionally spooky!?
The only other “extras” are hidden clips of three villains: Hades, Ursula and the Evil Queen from Snow White. You’ll find these comical, but pointless, 20 second clips by selecting the villain’s respective “poster” from the main menu. There’s a bundled InterActual DVD-ROM player, as well as links to Disney Online and to register your disc, but nothing House Of Villains specific.
Finally, the disc includes the usual selection of Sneak Peeks, featuring trailers for the theatrical release Treasure Planet, as well as video previews for Monsters Inc, Beauty And The Beast, A Very Merry Pooh Year, Lilo And Stitch (the Little Mermaid teaser), 101 Dalmatians II, Beauty And The Beast’s Enchanted Christmas, The Country Bears, Inspector Gadget 2, and a Teamo Supremo television promo.
Mickey’s House Of Villains’ dark aspirations stretch to the DVD keep case, it seems, since it’s a standard black one instead of Disney’s pure white covers. The cover art looks great, promising a lot more – especially with the back sleeve art – than the main feature ultimately can deliver.
Ink And Paint:
Created directly on videotape, the picture is as clear as the digital-to-digital titles that we’ve come to expect from Disney. The classic cartoons presented as part of the program look fantastic, and have been cleaned up in both sound and vision to a very high degree to almost match their more recent cousins. Presented in 1.33:1 full screen, much of the material would have been shot for the 4×3 frame, but I did get the nagging suspicion that a couple of the newer cartoons were perhaps intended for 1.78:1 widescreen. Check out the ratio of the House Of Mouse club screen, and you’ll see what I’m getting at. Otherwise, if that was the case, it’s barely noticeable, and all the material looks fresh and clear.
Although the cover points out that the program is presented in 5.1, it does also contain (to its credit) the information that not all programming is in the surround format. Obviously the newer material has surround tracks, but the classic cartoons are presented in either mono, or two-track stereo. This actually makes no difference to the viewer, as the surrounds remain non-too active anyway, and it’s the quality of the material that counts. All the sound is crisp, especially on the classic cartoons. Apart from the restorations we’re treated to in the Treasure releases, I don’t think I’ve ever seen or heard them looking as good as this ever before!
If you’re after an amusing Halloween disc featuring an array of classic and new Disney material, then this is the one for you. Bear in mind that the cartoons feature no front main and end credit titles, so it’s not one for completists and the lack of Runaway Brain in any form is a shame. But it is an enjoyable collection, the animation is of a sufficient standard throughout, and the It’s Our House Now song is fun, although you’ve pretty much heard it already if you’ve seen House Of Villains trailed on any of the Disney DVDs that ran up to its release. Combining Disney old and new, this is not a perfect collection by any means, but it’s a quick and breezy show that serves up a good-natured fright fest for kids of all ages.
Animated Classic or Back To The Drawing Board?