It’s the most wonderful time of the year … time for Christmas cartoons! Each Saturday this month, we’ll be taking a fond look back at some classic holiday shenanigans from some very familiar animated folks.
First up, let’s revisit the 1952 short Pluto’s Christmas Tree, which remains a perennial holiday favorite for yours truly.
Though Pluto’s Christmas Tree is ostensibly an entry in the Mickey Mouse series, Mickey plays second fiddle here to the hilarious rivalry that develops between Pluto and the mischievous chipmunks Chip and Dale.
This is the second short to feature both Mickey and the chipmunks, the first being the Oscar-nominated 1946 short Squatter’s Rights.
Both Mickey and Chip are voiced in this cartoon by Jimmy MacDonald. MacDonald, a long-time sound effects wizard and musician for the studio, took over for Walt Disney as the voice of Mickey Mouse in 1947, dubbing in additional lines for the “Mickey and the Beanstalk” segment of the package film Fun and Fancy Free. MacDonald voiced Mickey for three decades; upon his retirement in 1977, Wayne Allwine took over the role (like his predecessor, Allwine would voice the mouse for more than thirty years, until his death in 2009).
The backgrounds of this cartoon–particularly those lovely candy-colored shots of the tree from the chipmunks’ interior perspective–are the brainchild of Thelma Witmer. Witmer was a skilled animator whose background designs can be seen in any number of classic Disney shorts, including many Chip ‘n’ Dale cartoons and 1959’s Donald in Mathmagic Land. She also worked on backgrounds for every Disney theatrical feature in the 1950s, from Cinderella to Sleeping Beauty.
This cartoon would be the last Christmas-themed Mickey Mouse short until the release of Mickey’s Christmas Carol in 1983.
In 1954, Golden Books produced a Little Golden Books version (with the familiar gold-foil spine) of this cartoon, replacing Mickey with Donald Duck. This release was part of a licensing deal with Disney in which the studio’s many properties–both features like Bambi and Dumbo and cartoon shorts such as this one–were adapted into children’s book form.
Pluto’s Christmas Tree can be found on DVD as part of the (now out-of-print) Walt Disney Treasures set Mickey Mouse in Living Color, Volume Two. It is also included as a special feature on last year’s 30th anniversary Blu-ray release of Mickey’s Christmas Carol.