5 Classic Disney Shorts to Watch During the Holiday Season
Holiday movies might be my favorite film genre. I’d watch them year-round if it wouldn’t drive everyone else in the family crazy. As it is, they give me funny looks for humming ‘White Christmas’ in July. However, as soon as Thanksgiving hits I’ve got the perfect excuse to binge festive flicks for a solid month.
I’ve written about some of my favorites before (check out 5 Festive Films to Watch this Holiday Season and 4 More Merry Films to Watch For the Holidays for reference). Luckily there are plenty more out there to explore. This week, I thought I’d dive into some of Disney’s holiday short films. After all, the short film is the foundation of Disney animation. So, without further ado, let’s jump in the Way Back Machine and take a look at five classic Disney shorts to watch during the holidays.
1. Empty Socks
While Walt Disney famously said that, “it all began with a Mouse,” the truth is that Walt Disney Animation all began with a rabbit. Oswald the Lucky Rabbit to be specific.
Empty Socks is a Christmas-themed cartoon from 1927, starring Oswald and his girlfriend – a cat named Ortensia. It follows Oswald as he dresses up as Santa Claus to visit an orphanage where Ortensia works. After delivering gifts, the orphans go a little bit crazy and…well…sorta burn the orphanage down.
The film is notable in that it was Disney’s first Christmas-themed cartoon, and was considered a lost film for decades until its rediscovery in 2014. The plot would serve as the inspiration for a Mickey Mouse cartoon four years later called Mickey’s Orphans. Unfortunately, the rediscovery of Empty Socks is missing about 30 seconds of footage, but it is still amazing to see this early piece of Disney history.
2. Sleigh Bells
Sleigh Bells is another winter-themed short featuring Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, and like Empty Socks, it was long considered a lost film. Fortunately, a surviving copy was discovered in 2015.
The film was preserved in the BFI archives and eventually found by a researcher going through their online catalog. It was then restored by Walt Disney Animation and shown at BFI Southbank on December 12, 2015, as part of a program featuring Disney shorts.
A silent cartoon, it features Oswald playing on a frozen pond in winter and includes a number of crazy visual gags, some of which border on the surreal. I’m particularly fond of a scene depicting an elephant laying on the ice bouncing kittens off of its stomach and into a snowdrift on the side of the pond.
Watching Winter, a Silly Symphony released in 1930, is a delightfully bizarre experience. I’ll try my best to explain: Winter blows into the forest, waking the animals from their hibernation. They then proceed to frolic and dance about in the snow. Somewhere along the way, a bear cub–who looks suspiciously like they took Mickey Mouse’s head and placed it on a bear’s body–begins harassing a hibernating adult bear. The grown-up wakes up and engages in a frigid sort of dance-off on the ice before all of the animals venture to McGroundhog the Weather Prophet’s home. The groundhog emerges and doesn’t see his shadow, so they all celebrate. Then, while the weather prophet frolics about, his shadow shows up. He rushes in terror back to his burrow, a violent winter storm explodes, and the animals all take shelter. Then, the film ends.
It’s just as strange and entertaining as it sounds, a wonderful example of the often crazy delights that were the Silly Symphonies.
4. Mickey’s Orphans
Released in 1931, this was the first Christmas short to feature Mickey Mouse. The voice of Mickey Mouse was provided by Walt Disney himself, and Minnie Mouse was performed by Marcellite Garner.
In the tale, Mickey, Minnie, and Pluto are preparing for Christmas at home when a woman leaves a basket full of kittens on their front doorstep. The little orphans are brought inside and Mickey decides to surprise them by dressing up as Santa Claus and delivering a sackful of gifts. What follows are several minutes of chaos and mischief from the kittens in a series of escalating gags that are sure to raise a chuckle.
Mickey’s Orphans was nominated for an Academy Award, but lost to Disney’s Silly Symphony Flower and Trees, their first color film.
5. Mickey’s Good Deed
The second Christmas short featuring Mickey Mouse, Mickey’s Good Deed, was released in 1932 and is the first Mickey Mouse cartoon to use RCA’s Photophone, a system that synchronized audio with the moving images on the screen.
Mickey–still voiced by Walt–begins the story as a down on his luck musician busking in the streets with his pal Pluto. They are trying to earn enough money to buy a meal, but have no luck. After wandering through the town a bit, the pair find themselves outside a very wealthy home. A spoiled child inside the mansion declares that he wants to buy Pluto, but Mickey and his puppy pal run away.
Their flight takes them to the home of a poor cat and her children. A picture hanging on the wall seems to suggest that the cat’s husband is Big Bad Pete and that he has been thrown in jail. Taking pity on the family, Mickey decides to take the rich family up on their offer to buy Pluto, so that he can give the kittens a good Christmas.
While I’d be loath to spoil the ending, I’ll simply say that stalwart fans have nothing to fear. Mickey and Pluto end up together, and the kittens have a very merry holiday.