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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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Mickey Mouse Micro-Brick Build

Mickey Mouse micro-brick figure

I’ve had a couple of people ask for the directions to building the Mickey Mouse micro-brick figure. I have photographed them and put them in a gallery. I’m in the process of moving, and I’m not able to add them to the video. Hopefully these photos will work just as well. Let me know if you make use of them. Thanks!

Continue reading Mickey Mouse Micro-Brick Build
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Hall-of-Fame Rocker Neil Young and Mickey Mouse: the Surprising Connection

selective focus photo of boy standing near miniature train toys

Neil Young’s star was taking off just as Walt Disney’s was setting. Young was touring Canada as a solo artist in 1965. In 1966, he formed the “Mynah Birds” with Rick James, which was signed to Motown. The group had problems when James was arrested for being AWOL from the U.S. Military. Still, Young went to Los Angeles where he formed the highly successful Buffalo Springfield in the same year. It was also the year Walt Disney, the creator of Mickey Mouse, died.

Neil Young’s Invention

Ben Young, Neil’s son, has cerebral palsy. Growing up, Neil wanted to be able to connect with his son, so he built a 700-foot model train track. He then designed a controller that Ben could use to control the trains. In 1995, Lionel Trains was threatened with bankruptcy. Neil put together an investment group and bought the company, so he could continue his experiments with model trains. The company emerged from bankruptcy in 2008.

Mickey Mouse Hand Car

Flashback to May of 1934, and the great depression has taken the life out of the Lionel. It’s facing bankruptcy but goes into receivership. Two months later, Disney’s marketing genius Kay Kamen comes to Lionel with a plan because he believes in the company. Lionel could make and sell a windup Mickey Mouse Hand Car. They do, and by Christmas, Lionel had paid off its debts, and by January, it was out of receivership.

The Connection

While Walt Disney had a love trains in common with Neil Young, the connection Neil shares with Mickey Mouse is they both saved the same model train company from bankruptcy.

Lessons of Creativity

Neil Young is in the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame. His creativity comes out in his music, but that didn’t stop him from dabbling in something new. He wanted to share his love of trains with his son. He saw a need and figured out how to fill it. Neil Young was no dabbler in trains though; he had been playing with them since he was five. It was Kay Kamen’s belief in Lionel that led him to offer the company the opportunity to turn their fortunes around. The company said yes to the offer. “Yes” is often the most powerful word.

For more on creativity, follow this blog and join our Patreon. You can also get my books: “Disneyland Is Creativity,” “The Haunted Mansion Is Creativity,” and “Penguinate! The Disney Company.”

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Fantasmic! at the River Belle Terrace

Everyone loves Fantsmic! Water, video projected on water, fire, fireworks, special effects, magic, and a catchy tune make this one of the most popular attractions at Disneyland. Even after more than 25 years, people stake out their seats early and cause traffic problems on the Rivers of America to see Mickey’s imagination run wild as he faces off against some of Disney’s scariest villains.

More colorful than years before, Fantasmic! 2018 features new segments and a tighter script (especially the Jack Sparrow segment). While Mickey and the Sword of Truth no longer face Maleficent in dragon form (instead, he vanquishes her as the sorcerer’s apprentice), the whole show is well-produced and choreographed.

The best seats in the house (of the mouse) aren’t necessarily in the front at the edge of the Rivers of America where spectators are likely to get wet. Instead, the River Belle Terrace offers an elevated view above the crowds and away from the water. This dining package includes a lanyard and a menu full of great food to choose from. Better, you don’t have to stake out your seats because you’ve reserved them far in advance.

The corn chowder is spicy, warm, and tasty. It hits the right spot during a cool winter evening in Frontierland, and it fills the belly and soul with goodness. The tater tots are spiced to be addictive. (As someone who isn’t a huge tater tot fan, I couldn’t get enough of them and found myself popping them in my mouth even after I was full.) The beef brisket was good, too. The showstopper, however, was the Maleficent dessert: chocolate and spice in a raspberry sauce makes it amazing.

The tables may be a little wobbly, and the seating area doesn’t have any heating elements, but the views are positively Fantasmic! And Early show viewers can stay to see the fireworks form the comfort of their table on the River Belle Terrace. Check out my Disneyland page.

From the 2017 show
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Speakers’ Club celebrates Mickey Mouse

We talked about Mickey Mouse, his place in cinematic history and what he has meant to the success of companies and stars. But the most exciting part of the evening was that we drew Mickey Mouse. The following two photos are included because one shows the Mickey Mice… Mouses… drawings better and the other two show the faces of the students better. Be sure to check out the lesson plan for more info on Mickey Mouse!

Happy Birthday, Mickey Mouse!

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Speakers’ Club Nov. 17, 2018

Speakers’ Club Nov. 17, 2018

The Rules?

Win, Lose or Draw: https://youtu.be/Q5O7rCQaVDw

Three of these things: https://youtu.be/pzVbRmrc9-Q

Your questions?

Baby It’s Cold Outside: https://youtu.be/hnH_RGyzbSU

Do You Hear What I Hear? https://youtu.be/Cm8goTp16js

Who has a birthday on November 18?

Steamboat Willie: https://youtu.be/BBgghnQF6E4

The first fully synchronized sound cartoon, 1928

The Lionel Caboose and the Mickey Mouse Watch Ingersoll, 1930s

The Band Concert, Mickey’s first color cartoon, 1935: https://youtu.be/qLbmWE-0Rmk

Fantasia, 1940: https://youtu.be/3hKgEylk8ks

Mickey Mouse Club, 1955: https://youtu.be/qq6Kgf6Tnus

Stars from the Mickey Mouse Club, 1990s: https://youtu.be/J0vjHWrYL7g

How to Draw Mickey Mouse: https://youtu.be/R-JFC6cyTmc

America?

New Year’s Eve?

Book?