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Mickey Mouse Clubhouse: Great Clubhouse Hunt

Walt Disney Television Animation/DQ Entertainment. Walt Disney Home Entertainment (March 20 2007), single disc, 49 mins plus supplements, 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen, Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround, Not Rated (TV-Y), Retail: $26.99

Storyboard:

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It’s Easter at the Clubhouse and Pete (sans the Peg Leg) is feeling left out of Mickey’s planned egg hunt. Using his wily ways to trick Mickey out of the picture, Pete tries to invite himself into the Clubhouse. But when Pete utters the wrong magic words, they have the unintentional effect of breaking up the Clubhouse and it floats off into the sky! Mickey soon finds out – thanks to our fun “interactive” yelling at the screen – about Pete’s plan and sets out, with our help of course, in search of each piece of the Clubhouse. Bit by bit, the Clubhouse is restored and Mickey’s pals are found, but harder to find is the final Glove Balloon, in which Mickey has stored all the eggs! Being the only one who saw where the glove went, Pete teams up with Mickey to float into the sky to rescue the glove – and the eggs – from Willie The Giant…

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The Sweatbox Review:

I seem to have something of a “French connection” when it comes to Mickey Mouse Clubhouse. My first exposure to the show was when I was in Cannes at the annual kids television market when Disney announced and started selling the concept, and first saw snippets of the program on my return to France to visit the sources of inspiration art on Disney animation exhibition at the Grand Palais in Paris. While it was slightly odd hearing Mickey and co speaking in a foreign tongue, I was more ready to feel apprehensive about seeing these classic characters rendered in newfangled CGI.

Actually, I really warmed to the look of the show. While the abomination that was Mickey’s Twice Upon A Christmas truly showed why Mickey Mouse shouldn’t be let anywhere near a computer mouse, this version of the characters perfectly suits the set up of the show, which is to entertain and interact with a pre-school audience. I wasn’t too keen to raise my hand to cover the previous Clubhouse Christmas DVD release of what amounted to just three regular episodes of the show, but on hearing this new Great Clubhouse Hunt was a stand-alone, feature-length outing, my inquisitive nature was stirred and the chance to see more of what I had been charmed by a few months ago proved too strong to resist.

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First off, I must point out a not so little cheat by the Mouse House: although this has been promoted as an “all-new feature”, the boasted running length of 71 minutes on the back of the sleeve actually also encompasses the “never before seen” bonus episode Donald’s Hiccups and a music video clip, rendering the actual “movie” not much more than a double-length episode, running just under 50 minutes. While that’s still a “special” against the regular length, bonus features are not usually counted within the feature running time, and the extras are clearly labelled as such…

With that sneaky manoeuvre gripe out of the way, I must say that for someone who is probably at least three decades older than the target audience, that I really warmed to, and enjoyed the fun little exploits that Mickey’s Great Clubhouse Hunt served up.

Taking the same kind of pre-school approach to the classic stable of Walt’s original characters as the Studio has slowly morphed its Winnie-The-Pooh franchise toward, it turns out to make perfect sense to treat Mickey and company in this way. Brightly coloured, living in a classically designed cartoon world, and full of music and song, Mickey Mouse Clubhouse follows the tone set by other recent hit children’s television shows such as Tellytubbies, with much repetition within and across the show and series (the opening title and closing dance use the same footage each time). And it works, with much of the show feeling like a real throwback to Walt’s time.

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The credits reveal all the original current voice cast members present and correct, including Wayne Allwine as Mickey, with Donald’s Tony Anselmo also doubling up as a designer of the characters and props, which must have gone some way to preserving the truly cartoon feel. Added to this is the director of Mickey’s last traditional outing Mickey’s Three Musketeers, Donovan Cook, who is credited as handling the song and dance sequences, and again having a feature director who knows his classic stuff is a real bonus to the overall quality.

For any (slight) limitations in the animation, understandable given the budget and audience aims, there are a great number of fine background gags. The animation is outsourced to DQ Entertainment, Disney’s first such outsourcing to a company based in India, who pull off a more than acceptable job. There’s a fair amount of what looks to be squash and stretch, which certainly fits the rubber hose look of the characters, and Mickey bobs along when he walks as a nod to the late 1920s cartoons when music was the measure for synchronization. They even seem to have sorted the matter of Mickey’s always visible ears out, with none of the odd effects of them becoming flat as seen in the Twice Upon A Christmas video.

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Mickey Mouse Clubhouse is delightfully old fashioned in its way, with a lovely 1930s feel to the look and in the music, with Cook’s old Return To Never-Land buddies They Might Be Giants writing and performing the main theme – complete with an M-I-C-K-E-Y roll call – and Mickey’s new signature tune Hot Dog!, based on the mouse’s catchphrase of the early 1930s.

Other throwbacks I caught on my first watch were fun little things like “Mouska-whatevers” for various props and audience prods, Mickey’s Plane Crazy plane, unexpected and amusing shows from Chip ‘n’ Dale and Willie The Giant, a lovely little bit of business between Pete’s good and bad shoulder advisors, and, perhaps nicest of all, the “See ya real soon!” phrase from The Mickey Mouse Club. Pete’s skin is revealed to be seal like instead of the furry covering we might have always imagined, but the surprise appearance of Ludwig Von Drake is great fun, and he’s used in a true sense to his character.

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There’s also the heavy emphasis on friendship, honesty, and doing right by each other – all good values that make Mickey Mouse Clubhouse a wonderful show that feels like a real throwback to 1950s era Walt, especially in the jolly, catchy songs. Indeed, I wonder if this is how watching The Mickey Mouse Club for the first time in the 1950s was to that audience. I certainly felt like a child again – in a genuine way – joining in with Mickey’s on-screen calls for help, and even the adult in me laughed out loud at some of the one-line puns and Goofy’s antics. When they all started doing the bunny hop, I was unintentionally reminded of The Adventures Of Sherlock Holmes’ Smarter Brother, and by mentioning that I really am showing my age!

While not on the must-have list for even the most die-hard collectors, I really enjoyed this visit to Mickey’s newly rendered world, and I unquestionably think its one of the finest quality instances of young children’s programming around at the moment – I found it very well intentioned, immensely entertaining and perfectly charming!

Is This Thing Loaded?

If we’re counting the bonus features for what they are and not, as Disney’s running time conundrum suggests, part of the feature length itself, then we’re treated to a couple of small but perfectly formed extras.

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It’s a FastPlay disc, so practically everything plays through without menu selection, including Sneak Peeks for the Disney Princess’ Enchanted Tales which close up looks as bad as it did in those online previews, with heavy, cheap-looking key-framing and an Aurora who sounds more like the next Disney Channel blonde than how she should, the same teaser as we’ve seen before for Ratatouille, the Disney Movie Rewards program, and the next Little Einsteins DVD. Also available from their own menu option are trails for a new “Friendship Edition” of The Many Adventures Of Winnie-The-Pooh, which looks only to exist in helping promote Pooh and co’s transformation into CGI for the My Friends Tigger & Pooh show coming to Disney Channel, and another show coming to disc, Handy Manny, for which I hope the creators of Bob The Builder have their lawyers ready!

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Onto the extras, and first up is the aforementioned bonus episode Donald’s Hiccups, a regular show running 24 minutes. During a rendition of The Mickey Mouse Club theme, Donald gets a bad case of the hiccups, which soon spreads to the rest of the gang – just as they’re about to sing on Clarabelle’s TV show! This is more of a regular episode – no less fun, but certainly more focused on interacting with viewers at home and without the slightly more generous injection of narrative storytelling found in the Easter Egg hunt story. It’s still an enjoyable outing and easy to see why the show has fast become a Playhouse Disney favorite.

Both the Great Clubhouse Hunt and Donald’s Hiccups episodes are selectable from their own menu option, but not their individual chapters, even though they have been encoded with several index marks apiece. Most apparent in watching the repeated footage from both shows is the obvious cropping of the widescreen format to the fullscreen TV shape. I can only imagine that Disney Home Video only has access to these side-sliced versions, or otherwise what is the point of creating a show in 1.78:1 and lopping off the left and right of the image?

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Rounding out the extras is The Best Easter Party Ever sing-along to one of the very catchy tunes from the double-episode length episode. Oddly, it’s not accompanied by any animation from the special itself, instead featuring a variety of shots from other shows, though it all works. For once, I would have thought a set-top game might have been welcome here, given the simplicity of those and the target audience’s age. And how about some Easter Eggs on a kids’ DVD that’s all about hunting eggs!? Though children will probably enjoy jumping around to the same bonus song over and over, I wouldn’t be surprised if they’ll ask for the full episode to play again instead!

Case Study:

The few CGI Mickey Mouse outings so far have managed to present the characters on their covers as highly airbrushed but still hand-drawn looking images. Breaking away from this tradition for the first time, Mickey’s Great Clubhouse Hunt promotes the characters as they appear in the production on the front of the sleeve, and the initial pressing embossed slipcover, in full CGI colors. They’re still lit very carefully, especially Pluto’s yellow fur. The shininess of the slipcover only helps disguise this, and most moms and dads probably won’t pick up on the difference, but it’s good to see the company not shy away from what’s inside the box. Literally inside the box is a worthless insert that lists the two bonus features on one side and promotes the Little Einsteins discs on the other. A five-page mini-booklet adds promotions for Princess Enchanted Tales, The Many Adventures Of Winnie-The-Pooh, a Name That Song Clubhouse Mickey toy, the My Friends Tigger & Pooh and Handy Manny shows and the all-important Disney Movie Rewards code, which also gets a spot on the actual sleeve art. The case is white, but with those annoying side snaps. I understand the security element to these, but not on a younger kids’ title, making it harder for them to get the disc out themselves.

Ink And Paint:

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That the double-length Clubhouse Hunt episode is presented in 1.78:1 proves that the show is indeed created with high-definition and 16×9 broadcasts in mind. And it’s true widescreen too, most evidently seen in the differences between the opening sequence of Clubhouse Hunt and the same footage on the bonus Donald’s Hiccups show, on which it is all too clear that the edges have been sliced off. The 1.78:1 framing on the main special really does bump up the overall aspirations of the show and, kid audience or not, lends the Clubhouse an extra layer of quality. On the bonus episode, I did feel the cropped aspect detracted from the enjoyment somewhat, and the tighter framing made even subtle actions stand out as being overly frantic. Since this is how the show is mostly broadcast, one can’t complain too much, but there’s no denying that the wider look offers up a more satisfying feel. The vibrant color, like the visual equivalent of food coloring, practically leaps off the screen with truly animated energy, held in check by a rock steady image that’s as sharp as they come.

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Scratch Tracks:

With a filled Dolby soundtrack, Mickey’s Great Clubhouse Hunt sounds like a theme park ride. The center-locked dialogue pushes the all-important vocals to the fore, but nothing feels forced. Children’s television programming has a distinct sound, and the mix here contains all the right elements without going overboard. Like the show itself, it’s not pushy or aggressive, but good and strong. Mickey’s Great Clubhouse Hunt gets the full 5.1 works, with Donald’s Hiccups in solid 2.0 surround.

Final Cut:

Having only seen limited clips of Mickey Mouse Clubhouse on French screens, I wasn’t totally sure what to expect from the show. I knew that it was geared to younger children, so I wasn’t looking for something better than the awful Twice Upon A Christmas from a couple of years ago. What surprised me was the level and amount of interaction with the audience, not overused but expertly achieved. Walt’s classic stable of characters have found a brilliant new lease of life, and dare I say that in this specific format it plays so perfectly in computer animation that I couldn’t imagine it working as well using traditional techniques. While I find it a slight shame that Winnie-The-Pooh has exclusively become the property of pre-schoolers, I hope that Mickey and company can exist at both ends of the spectrum. I can’t wait to see Walt’s old gang back to doing what they do best in classical animation, but I do feel there’s a place for them to inform, educate and entertain in this way. Walt himself used Jiminy Cricket in this sense, and harnessing the better attributes of the technology to keep these characters valid and with a purpose is a wonderful way of introducing them to the youngest children of today.

Animated Classic or Back To The Drawing Board?

MAIN FEATURE
SUPPLEMENTS
VIDEO IMAGE
SOUND TRACK
OVERALL DVD

 

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