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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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The Sounds of Disneyland as a Writing Aid

Mickey Mouse on a Piano; music and animation compromise

As I wrote over the summer and through October, I would find Disney Park music on YouTube to listen to. Some of the videos contained ambient sounds hidden in the background to subvert the copyright bot. Others were straight from the park. Still others were clear and beautiful. Then YouTube decided to monetize smaller creators’ videos without sharing revenue. This is the same content they said wasn’t worth monetizing in 2018 because it was too small.

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Lifelong Learning Important for Personal and Business Development: A Lesson from the Disney Company

Mickey Mouse on a Piano; music and animation compromise

Walt Disney was continuously improving his art.  In fact, many people say he elevated the animated cartoon to an art. As shorts became less profitable, Walt knew he had to diversify. He began to train his staff to ready them for “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.” To do so, he brought experts into the studio to teach the animators how to draw better. Some of these lessons are now available in “Before Ever After” (affiliate link).

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The Art of Collecting Disney Pins

Collecting Disney Pins is fun

When I started collecting Disney pins, there were so many of them and so much variety that it was difficult to choose which ones to buy. I had a seriously limited budget (still do), and very little space to devote to them. So, I needed to limit myself, and I knew I needed to choose one subject to focus on.

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‘Before Ever After’: First Look Book Review

Partners Statue at Disneyland

When Walt Disney decided that he wanted to keep improving animation and make an animated feature, he knew he would have to help his animators get better at more than just animating. They needed to learn about a variety of subjects so that they could harness their full potential. He decided to create a series of lecture classes that included bringing in some of the greatest people in their professions at the time, including Frank Lloyd Wright. Every time I read about these lectures in a Walt Disney biography, I wanted to find out what was in them. “Before Ever After” (affiliate link) gives me that opportunity.

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Disney’s Silly Symphonies and the Art of Compromise

Mickey Mouse on a Piano; music and animation compromise

Just as “Steamboat Willie” was gaining steam at the box office and launching Mickey Mouse to superstardom, Carl Stalling was scoring the first two Mickey Mouse cartoons: “Plane Crazy” and “Gallopin’ Gaucho.” After some correspondence with Walt Disney, Stalling ended up as the studios first musical director. Because it was complicated to synchronize sound with animations, Walt and Stalling had to work closely with one another to get the two disciplines to work together before they could begin production on the drawings. Walt and Stalling would often argue over what should take precedence in the animated film. Stalling wanted the music to be the first thing to considered; Disney wanted the action and gags to take precedence.

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The Art of Collecting Disneyana: a Short Guide

Disney Lego Minifigs Series 1 Disneyana

The Fall 2003 issue of “The ‘E’ Ticket” featured a profile of Disney collector Richard Kraft, who had a collection of Disneyana (Disney memorabilia) that any Disneyland fan would envy. It included a Frontierland canoe, a Bog Thunder Ranch sign, and an assortment of Ferdinand the Bull items. Overall, he had 10,000 items in his collection, and many of them were big ticket.

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‘Once Upon a Time’: A Treatment of Jekyll and Hyde

Partners Statue at Disneyland

Spoiler alert: The following article contains spoilers for Season 6 Episode 4 for “Once Upon a Time.” If you plan on watching the series, book mark this page and come back to it when you get through that episode. Or read on and discover the spoilers after the trailer.

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Mickey Mouse Ice Cream Sandwich Deal, Disneyland Comes to Grocery Outlet

Attention Disneyland fans! Mickey Mouse ice cream sandwich bars available at Grocery Outlet for an insanely low price! This is not a drill.

In the Salem/Dallas area, Grocery Outlet is consistently less expensive than the other grocery stores. You still want to be on the look out for deals at Safeway, but if in doubt going to the outlet is your best bet for a reduced food bill. While there are a lot of bargains on the floor, there is one thing that Disney fans should look for because Disneyland has come to the Grocery Outlet stores: the iconic (and tasty) Mickey Mouse ice cream sandwich bars.

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Disney Paper Parks Online Magic for You to Color

Partners Statue at Disneyland

The Disney Parks Blog has been releasing Paper Parks during the quarantine. These templates are drawn by Disney artists. You can download them, print them, color them and then assemble them into your very own Disneyland. (Part 3 is Sleeping Beauty Castle in Disneyland.) For Disney fans, this is an amazing opportunity to build their own parks in real life. (Disney Magic Kingdoms allows them to build one in virtual life.)

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