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Mickey’s The Gift of the Magi Lampoons Consumerism and Capitalist Christmas

Mickey Mouse on a Piano; music and animation compromise

The original “The Gift of the Magi” by O. Henry is about a poor couple that sacrifice to give each other gifts for Christmas. Jim sells his heirloom watch to by Delia combs for her long, beautiful hair. For better or worse, Delia sells her hair to by a chain for Jim’s watch. In the end, O. Henry implies that they are richer because of their sacrifices for one another. The story is often read as a feel-good Christmas story. However, as “Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmas” shows, there are other interpretations of this short story and the meaning behind it.

‘Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmas’ Summary

In the Disney version, Mickey gives Minnie a chain for her heirloom watch, and Minnie gives Mickey a case for his harmonica. The watch and the harmonica have been sold to pay for the gifts. They laugh and say the best gift is they have each other. How sad it is that they had to give up the only two items of value to learn this lesson.

Corporate Greed

Minnie works at Mortimer’s wrapping gifts with her friend Daisy. Minnie is working quickly because she needs her Christmas bonus to get Mickey a gift. Daisy is impressed, and Minnie gets a call to Mortimer’s office. The head mouse offers his praise for Minnie’s work ethic but never gets her name right. He then gives her the bonus for her work – a fruitcake. This echo of real-world, corporate bonus policy changes of the 1980s and ‘90s cuts to the quick of anyone who lived through counting on their bonus only to have the company pull the rug out from under them in search of greater profits and lower expenditures. Not only was it clearly not the bonus Minnie was expecting, but it was just as clear that her work wasn’t valued by her employer. The bonus achieved the exact opposite effect it should’ve had. Minnie walks out dejected rather than enthused about her work, which is keeping her in poverty.

While Minnie is employed by the local department store, Mickey has job with the typecast villain Pete. Pete runs a Christmas tree lot where people can get their 10-footers on a payment plan. His trees aren’t as fresh as he makes them out to be. He uses hot glue and paint on old, dead trees to make them new and green again. When a poor family comes looking for a tree on Christmas Eve, Pete tries to sell them a 10-footer – a tree bigger than their house – even though it’s clear they can’t afford it. The dad wouldn’t want to disappoint the kids at this time of year, right? As the father is about to sign for the payment plan, Mickey brings over a smaller tree. The family leaves happy, but Mickey loses his job and Pete confiscates his wages to make up for the lost sale. While Mickey’s being fired on Christmas Eve isn’t a surprise, after all, he works at a Christmas tree lot, it still has its real-world echoes in the layoffs started by Neutron Jack Welch of GE. The celebrated CEO fired thousands of employees from GE, the most profitable company in the world at the time, in a surprise move during the holidays. Other companies followed suit throughout the 1990s.

Love Is a Gift

“Do it for the kids” features in Mickey’s next adventure. While the Firehouse Five band is putting out a fire at Pete’s Christmas tree lot, the charity they were supposed to play for is floundering. No one is donating toys for the kids who won’t have a Christmas this year because they’re parents are too poor to afford gifts. Mickey is asked to remember the kids, and he puts aside his needs as a small child pushes his teddy bear on stage to listen to Mickey play the harmonica. Mickey starts the concert, is joined by the band fresh from the fire, and the toys stack up to overflowing. Mickey’s given a thank you and has to rush to the store to get his own gift for Minnie.

The entire story is based on giving the person something precious is an indication of how much you love them and how much joy they will get out of the present and the holiday. If you don’t spend the money, your loved ones will be disappointed. Minnie is disappointed in her holiday bonus. Pete tells the poor family the kids will be disappointed if they don’t have a tree. Mickey is told that the kids will be disappointed without gifts from their parents. Both Mickey and Minnie want to express their love through the “perfect” Christmas gift.

Feeling of Christmas

Mickey arrives at the shop just as the shopkeeper flips the sign to close. When the owner exits the shop, Mickey asks him if the shopkeeper could open, so Mickey could trade his harmonica for the gold necklace in the window. The shopkeeper dismisses the harmonica as not worth very much and walks away with a “Merry Christmas” on his lips. A dejected Mickey sits on the curb and plays a sad “O Little Town of Bethlehem.” The melody softens the shopkeeper’s heart to allow Mickey to trade the harmonica for the necklace. In this transaction, Mickey trades away his means of making wealth, the harmonica, for a gift for Minnie. With the shopkeeper’s admission that the harmonica isn’t worth very much, it’s possible the gold chain is worth more. However, its only real value lies in appreciation, whereas Mickey could’ve used the harmonica to busk and possibly cut a record deal as was shown earlier during the wildly successful gift-collecting effort. One could also fault the shopkeeper’s Christmas generosity in opening the shop to take the only real wealth-producing instrument Mickey has and trading it for something that may or may not accumulate wealth over time but will certainly not provide for Mickey or Pluto in the near future.

Minnie’s trade is even dearer. She gives up her heirloom watch, something that likely has value as an antique that still works, for a box. Even if it’s an ornate case designed to keep Mickey’s harmonica safer, it will not accrue value on its own the way the necklace and watch could have. Still, it’s a sign of love, and Christmas is about what you spend not how you feel.

What Is Christmas about?

When a corporation like Disney can so easily lampoon the crass commercialism of a holiday that’s supposed to be about family and love without people recognizing that’s what the corporation is doing, it becomes clear the country has lost its way. Instead of money spent, Christmas should be about how people spend their time and with whom. Even in the age of COVID, people can get together virtually to sing carols and enjoy each other’s company. The true expression of love isn’t what we spend, but what we give. “The Gift of the Magi” in “Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmas” would have us believe otherwise – except for the one closing statement when Minnie and Mickey realize what has happened and confess their love for one another.

If you want to read more about Disney and creativity, check out “Disneyland Is Creativity” and “The Haunted Mansion Is Creativity.” Read more about the Disney Company in “Penguinate! The Disney Company.” Check out other Disney stories at www.penguinate.weebly.com. This is part of our Disneycember coverage. Doug Walker, the Nostalgia Critic, and Channel Awesome appear to have coined the term “Disneycember.” Come back every day during December and read an article.

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