Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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MICKEY AND THE BEANSTALK (1988)

***

With Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, Goofy, and Professor Ludwig von Drake.
Directed by Hamilton Luske.
(A.M.E., color, 30 min.)

MICKEY'S MAGICAL WORLD (1988)

***

With Mickey Mouse, Jiminy Cricket, others.
(Walt Disney Home Video, color, 27 min.)

THE RELUCTANT DRAGON (1988)

***

Directed by Hamilton Luske. Also

MORRIS THE MIDGET MOOSE

**

Directed by Charles Nichols.
(A.M.E., color, 30 min.)

By Robert Christgau and Carola Dibbell

Disney's annoying penchant for conceptualizing its compilations goes all the way back to the Disneyland TV shows of the '50s, and we wish the company would lay off the mythos already. Its products can obviously stand perfectly well by themselves--the less crapola the better. The worst offender here is Mickey's Magical World, narrated by Jiminy Cricket, whose homilies on how everybody is magic inside earn eight out of a possible 10 spitballs on our scale. Nor are we thrilled that he stitches excerpts together rather than complete cartoons. Nevertheless, the excerpts, ranging from an early-vintage dream-through-the-mirror sequence to Fantasia's "Sorcerer's Apprentice," partake of the usual Disney virtues: high fantasy, sweet humor, and fanatical production values. Kids will enjoy them fine, and parents will keep their dinner down.

Despite the cross-promotional fairy-tale theorizing of Professor Ludwig von Drake, however, Mickey and the Beanstalk is a treat. The evocations of our heroes' hardships--first they're starving, then they're midgets in a giant world--have the dramatic power that can be so surprising in Disney. The images are witty and almost bizarrely detailed: Donald saved from bomber mosquito by anti-missile trout, Goofy chasing his hat in a quivering hillock of jello, Mickey doling out transparent sandwiches. And the giant himself is a classic Disney creation, obviously less threatening than the original story intended, yet irresistible in his colossal stupidity.

In its candidly two-dimensional visual simplicity, The Reluctant Dragon is atypical Disney, though way back when it served as the basis of one of Walt's earliest inside-animation features. The story is pretty funny, though, pitting a superannuated dragon-slayer against a sonnet-writing reptile so swish he'd never make prime time today. One anachronism is worth the price of admission--accused of being (really) "a punk poet," he breathes fire, then crows, "I'm bad, I'm bad." Obviously tacked on to bring the package up to half an hour, Morris the Midget Moose is a real comedown after such spritzy stuff. But your kid will probably enjoy that one too. And there's no narrator.

Video Review, July 1988