Wednesday, December 14, 2016

DISNEY SING ALONG SONGS: VERY MERRY CHRISTMAS SONGS

It's now that time of year where I review nothing but Christmas and Holiday material for 12 Days, whether its a short film, a full length film, or a TV Special. What am I going to start with this year? Well considering that last year I started the series off with my review of the rare live action "Disney Sing Along Song" video "The Twelve Days Of Christmas", I'm going to start this year with my review of the first Christmas themed Sing Along Video in the series...

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Now I did say that I would only review the live action videos from the series because truth be told there isn't much to critique with the regular ones. They're simply just regular "Sing Along Videos" that show either a clip of a song from a classic Disney movie, or would have a newly recorded song play over a montage of clips from various Disney films and cartoons. And what ties all the songs together are dubbed stock footage of old Disney cartoons starring Jiminy Cricket, Professor Ludwig Von Drake, and Professor Owl. So it would be overall pointless for me to review the regular ones since there's really not much material for me to review, and the video that I'm about to review does in fact fall under the same category as the regular ones. So I'm sure you're wondering why I am even reviewing this video anyway since there's hardly anything to work with. Well for starters, I did talk about this video a lot during some of my Christmas reviews which help lead to the idea of reviewing it. But the main reason why I decided to make an exception was because there was actually a DVD re-release of the video in 2002 that includes different songs and a completely different transition to the songs. So I thought that I might as well compare the two, kind of like how I compared the original version of "Disneyland Fun" and the version that took place in "Disneyland Pairs". Plus there is a live action sing along portion that's featured in both videos, so I do have a bit of live action sing along material to review. So just like when I reviewed both versions of the "Christmas Toyshop" short, this will be another one of those reviews where I review two Christmas videos in one review article. Which one is better; ON WITH THE REVIEW!

THE ORIGINAL

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So what pretty much ties the songs in the video together is a Christmas Sing Along book which is hardly different to the Sing Along book used in the two "Disneyland Sing Along Videos” that I reviewed in the past. But the major differences with this video compared to the others is it was the first video in the series to try it (yes, "Disneyland Fun" actually came out after this video). Furthermore, unlike how the other videos would just show us a still image and then see it come to life, where the image at the end of each song would freeze; this version would actually show illustrated title cards of Disney characters for the next song, that would include a few gags on the picture (like Dumbo having a red sock over his trunk as he pulls Santa's sleigh, which leads us into the song "Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer", for example) and would have some wholesome instrumental music that beautifully leads us into the next song. For a cheap video series using the song book for the first time, they actually did a better job than what the others did with it. Not to say that they are bad, they're just not as visually interesting compared to this. Another major change that the video provided for the series was being the first video to not have stock footage of a Disney character hosting the entire video, because the video has the song book to take us in and out of each song. However, there is a somewhat host of the video and that's Jiminy Cricket. I say somewhat because he just sings the opening song "From All Of Us To All Of You" with Mickey on piano to get us into the Christmas spirit, and wishes viewers a Merry Christmas off-screen during an animated firework show that's played after the credits, which is of course dubbed stock footage taken from a Christmas Special that's named after the song that Jiminy sings at the beginning. He's not really the host of the video, he just serves as the bookends for it (even though it’s ironic that the video opens and closes with the song book opening and closing). It’s really the book itself that's the star of the video. Out of all the major changes that the video did for the series, the first one you'll notice right off the bat is that the video doesn't open up with the theme song sung by Professor Owl and his students. The video doesn't even end with the usual end credits or song, it actually ends with a still image of an animated Christmas tree from "Lady And The Tramp" as we get a heartwarming rendition of "We Wish You A Merry Christmas" that's beautifully sung by kids.

The majority of songs in the video are mostly just original renditions of classic Christmas songs that are either sung by Larry Groce, children, a Christmas choir, or Disney characters. There's only two songs total in the video that play Christmas songs that you'd most likely hear on the radio during this time of year, such as "Let It Snow" sung by Bing Crosby, and "Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer" performed by Gene Autry. The majority of the video just plays one cartoon or movie scene mostly made by Disney as the songs are being played. There are really only three songs in the video that are just a compilation of clips from Disney that match the theme of the song. And honestly, I couldn't find a single song or montage that I didn't find myself not liking. The first song we get to Sing Along too (not counting the opening song "From All Of Us To All Of You") is "Deck The Halls" that's sung by a wonderful choir as he we watch clips from the cartoon "Pluto's Christmas Tree" where you can have fun watching Pluto chase after Chip & Dale while singing along to this iconic and timeless tune. The next song is "Jingle Bells" that starts out with a clip of Donald Duck singing the song in the cartoon "Donald's Snow-Fight ", to then cutting to the short cartoon "Once Upon A Winter" from "Melody Time" where the sing along officially begins as we see the love couple from the cartoon ride in their Sleigh. The kids singing the song while not perfect still get you in the cheerful mood to sing along to the song, and the use of clips from the short in "Melody Time" suits the song fine. The only flaws I can think of during this segment are how poorly they try to make it look like that Donald Duck is standing outside the window by the two picture frames of the couple, which is a failed attempt that even I didn't buy when I was a kid, since both clips didn't seem to fit together. And another flaw I noticed that doesn’t fit the visuals is how obvious that Disney just simply copied and pasted stock footage of the dancing snowman and a tiny couple sleigh riding from the "Screen Song" cartoon "Snow Foolin'". They look blurry, they don't match the animation for the background, and the words on the screen look completely different from the other ones that we saw earlier. Following "Jingle Bells" is "Joy To The World" that's sung by Larry Groce and a choir of kids as we watch clips of the fairies from "Waltz Of The Flowers" that was part of "The Nutcracker Suite" portion in "Fantasia". And the song and vocals surprisingly match the subtly of the imagery for that sequence just as well as Tchaikovsky's score fit the animation for that scene.

We then proceed with "Up On The Housetop" that's sung by kids as we watch clips that are mostly from the Disney cartoon "The Night Before Christmas". Again the singing from the kids is average but is still filled with Holiday Spirit, and the cartoon featured during the song (like in "Deck The Halls") gives you the highlights of the original cartoon, where you can still follow the story fine. By the way, if you read the title card for this song, the song is mispronounced as "Up On A Housetop". The first of the two classic recordings of songs that Disney uses in the video is Bing Crosby's version of "Let It Snow" that's also the first song in the video to use various clips of Disney cartoons to fit the song. As always Bing Crosby's singing is phenomenal and the various uses of clips shown throughout the segment compliment the song just as beautifully as Bing Crosby's singing. Clips from the classic Christmas cartoon by Disney "Mickey's Christmas Carol" are featured in the video, but are for some strange reason thrown into the song "Sleigh Ride" sung by Larry Groce, Disney characters, and a choir of kids. There's really little to no imagery of the characters’ "Sleigh Riding", it’s just a bunch of clips of the lighter moments from the short that fit some parts of the song, but not all of it. The next two songs are mostly just using a compilation of Disney cartoons. First there's "Wooden Soldiers On Parade" that features clips of toys coming to life from the “Silly Symphonies” cartoons, including footage from the banned short "Broken Toys". Why was it banned you may ask, well if you look carefully, you can see a blackface Mammy doll walking with the toys for a brief second (and I find it odd that the alternate version of the video released in 2002, didn't edit her cameo out). The song is personally my least favorite song in the video. It does have good visuals that support the song, but the song itself is nothing that special, and the kids singing it while cute are clearly at their worst here for how flat they sound. The last one of the songs that uses a collection of clips is "Winter Wonderland" where we see clips of Disney characters ice skating. The use of clips centering on the theme of characters ice skating are near flawless, and Larry Groce does a beautiful job singing the song as he sings with a choir of kids who sound perfectly in tune. What I find very interesting about this version of the song is it opens up with different lyrics before getting to the verse of the song that many of us would sing first, and I am not sure if those were the original lyrics to the song, or if Disney just added some extra lyrics in. Whatever the case is, it’s a nice opening that I personally find myself singing before the lyrics "Sleigh bells ring".

In the third to last song of the video is the live action portion of the program "Here Comes Santa Claus" that takes place at (where else) Disneyland! I'm not 100% percent sure if this segment was actually filmed for the video, or if it was just stock footage from a Disneyland travel video (like how "Disneyland Fun" used some stock footage from a travel video that you can only get at the park). But judging how they filmed the characters to make it look like they're singing, and interacting as they talk, I'm going to take a wild guess and say that this was made specifically for the video. Either way, its works great, and if my guess is true then that would technically make it the first sing along video to have an original scene filmed in live action. The numerous amounts of Disney characters that we see are crazy, most of the time they'll be shown in the foreground, and other times they'll be shown in the background. It takes a few more viewings to really spot them all. The Christmas costumes and original characters made for the parade look nice (especially the designs for Santa's dancing reindeer), and the designs for the floats are just as creative as you would expect them to be. The song itself that's sung by Larry Groce, the kids and the Disney characters is both fun and enchanting to the point where you find self embracing the song as you're in awe from the imagery supporting it where it brings that right mix of blending both Disney and Christmas together. This part has always been the highlight of the video for me, and every time I see it I just keep finding myself enjoying it more and more. Granted it’s drenched in the 80s which makes it dated, but like how "Disneyland Fun" is drenched in the 80s, it still makes for a great time capsule of "Disneyland" at the time.

The second to last song of the video is Gene Autry's version of "Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer", and since Disney never made a "Rudolph" cartoon before, they had to use one that was made from another studio. Instead of showing the Rankin/Bass Stop Motion classic, Disney decided to use the short cartoon created by Max Fleischer, since it was Public Domain. And quite frankly I think that was the best version to choose from. As iconic as the Rankin/Bass version is, it didn't really follow the story that the song was telling from beginning to end, and to try to follow the same exact story that the song is telling TWICE with the clips from the stop-motion Special wouldn't seem to work since there's dozens of scenes involving the supporting characters, and Rudolph running away from Bumbles. So the choice to use Fleischer’s cartoon as a substituent over the other one is a more fitting choice since the cartoon does follow the story from start to finish. And the way the clips from the cartoon are edited together to follow the song is just as clever as how the clips used in "Let It Snow" followed every thing that Bing Crosby is singing. The final song of the program is "Silent Night" as we watch a shorten version of the "Ave Maria" sequence from "Fantasia". The choir they hired to sing the song as we watch this beautiful animation from a very moving and holy scene in "Fantasia" makes for a conclusion that's just as powerful and touching as the original scene itself. It’s seriously a gorgeous tearjerker that ends the video on the perfect note before cutting to the end credits.

The video not only broke new grounds for the franchise, but its also drenching with Christmas cheer. The choice of songs is great; the stock footage played during the songs is a near perfect match; and the live action "Here Comes Santa Claus" sequence is incredible! It may be a simply made Sing Along video, but sometimes the simplistic things made in life can be greater than you'd give it credit for, and that's certainly the case with this one. Ok it’s not a masterpiece, but in terms of videos made from the series, its one of the best, especially if you love Disney and Christmas as much as I do.

RATING 5/5

So the old one up still holds fine, now lets see if the alternate version of the video does anything better.

THE NEW VERSION

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So the first change you'll quickly notice if you grew up watching the original is how we have a model Christmas town by a giant Christmas tree taking us in and out of each song, instead of a song book. And unlike how the original didn't have a host, this one has narration from Roscoe Lee Browne. The change for the transitions isn't bad because it does have a nice and warm Christmas feel like the original had. The model town and the tree looks pretty, the music is laid back, and Browne's narration is very wholesome. I even like how most of the pieces in the model reflect the song and imagery to the next segment in the video. But as nice as the transitions are, I still think the use of the songbook in the original video was better. Mainly because it felt like a Sing Along video and had Disney characters in front of each picture to keep you in that Disney Christmas spirit, that's supported by calm Christmas music that leads into each song. This on the other hand, while not bad, it hardly captured that Disney feel. Plus after looking at that model for awhile it gets pretty boring. Oh and if you are expecting to see the opening song "From All Of Us To All Of You" from the original video, its not at all featured in this one.

Before I discuss how the old songs fit into this version, I'll start with talking about the new ones. The first of the new songs in the video is "It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas" where we are treated to clips from the cartoon "Donald Duck Stuck On Christmas" that was featured in "Mickey's Once Upon a Christmas". When I saw this segment for the video, I actually felt like a kid again. The clips they show from the cartoon match the song, the woman's singing voice sounds humble, and I like how the segment opens and closes with two separate scenes from the cartoon that aren't dubbed over by the song or the narrator. The second song involves Winnie the Pooh and friends singing "Jingle Bells". I won't review it since the whole segment is an original clip of the characters singing the song from the video "A Very Merry Pooh Year", but I will say that how the first clip of the video takes us into the scene by showing Piglet entering Pooh's house from the Special "Winnie the Pooh & Christmas Too" to then cutting to the sequence itself didn't at all blend well together. You can clearly tell that both clips were from different Winnie the Pooh cartoons because of the difference in animation quality. But I won't hold that against the video since the original did the same thing during (coincidentally) the "Jingle Bells" segment (which was also the second Sing Along segment in the video). Just a reminder, the original "Jingle Bells" segment is in the video as well, so we get to hear the song TWO TIMES! Is Disney having trouble finding new songs for the video or something? Anyway, after Pooh and friends sing "Jingle Bells" we then cut to the song "Toyland" as clips from the "Mickey Mouse Works" version of "The Nutcracker" play. The kids singing the song sound nice and the clips from the cartoon compliment the song just as well as the first new song on the program. Next we have Goofy and his son Max sing "All I Want for Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth" that features the sequence where Max and Goofy try to give the mailman (or maildog) Max's letter to Santa. It’s a cute number, and the sequence they show isn't a bad fit.

11 copied and pasted segments from the original video later, the 5th new song featured in the video is "Seasons of Giving" that shows a montage of clips of Pooh and friends celebrating Christmas and partaking in Winter activities. The clips used are nicely sliced together, but the song itself is bland and forgettable. Next we get another song from a Disney movie edited into the video which is "As Long As There's Christmas" from "Beauty & the Beast: the Enchanted Christmas". I won't review it since that was part of a movie, but I will say that adding this song in is a bit of a step-backwards to the collection of new ones featured in this video. Things become more of a downgrade when we have the classic Christmas song "Jingle Bell Rock" sung by Bobby Helms being played for a compilation of clips that don't have a theme or blend with the song. I guess it’s trying to show winter activity, but didn't we see that like a billion times already? And I guess I wouldn't be too hard on the song if they didn't just shoehorn in clips from "The Nutcracker" cartoon with Mickey Mouse since it has nothing to do with the song or theme that it’s trying to create at all. It’s really a mess, and feels tiresome after seeing all of these other clips of Disney characters playing in the snow. Things get more repetitive and tedious when we see a third sing along segment with nothing but clips of Winnie the Pooh, as they decorate while we sing along to "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree" performed by Brenda Lee. The song fits the theme, but it doesn't fit the overall subtle and yet humorous nature of Winnie the Pooh. The second to last new song in the video is "White Christmas" performed by Bing Crosby, and when I heard that this song was going to be set to Disney clips during Christmas time, I thought that this was going to be a match made in heaven. And at first it started out as great as I expected it to be, until we got scenes of slapstick involving the characters that flat out assassinates the mood to this beautiful Christmas tune. I mean this is Disney, a company who are great at bringing heartwarming joy and you're telling me that they couldn't find enough Christmas clips to match the song's Christmas warmth?  The last song of the program is "The Best Christmas of All" that's a song taken from ""Mickey's Magical Christmas: Snowed in at the House of Mouse", which is a fitting conclusion for the video, even though I do think "Silent Night" played to the clips of the "Ave Maria" sequence from "Fantasia" is a far more powerful in comparison. Either way, it still leaves you with that beautiful Christmas feel.

The major issue that I have with the video is how pointless it is to edit the songs from the original video, into the middle of this one. I don't see why this couldn't be like a sequel to the original  because it does have plenty of different material to make it run for a half hour like the previous one, as opposed to having it run for a full hour which is way too long for a sing along video from Disney. When you see the clips from the original video added right dab in the middle of this one, you get the sense that they were just forcing them in so that they didn't have to release it on a separate DVD. And the quality for the original added songs to the video look different compared to the quality for the new ones. The picture quality looks scratchy, and the words that appear on the screen don't match the ones presented in the new ones made for the DVD. The only major change they did with one of the song's from the original is hiring a different choir of children to sing "Wooden Soldiers on Parade" that make the song sound bland, that’s it. Speaking of changes to the original, you know how "Disneyland Paris" had the original songs from "Disneyland Fun", but shot them at a different location with new characters from recent Disney films at the time? I can actually see this video doing the same with the "Here Comes Santa Claus" segment. Can you imagine seeing current Disney characters in that number after so many years since the release of the original video, it would be fantastic. I'd even be open to the idea of the characters singing something like "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town" instead of hearing the same song again. But nope, we have to settle with the original one made from the 80s since Disney is too lazy to give the original video a separate release.

At first I was on board with the changes that this video made, and enjoyed the new songs that were created for it. But once I found myself watching the same exact songs from the first video being poorly edited in to this one, that's when I started losing interest in it and noticing how it pales in comparison to the original. The transition scenes to each song lose their charm after awhile. The Disney clips added to most of the new songs feels like that they're running out of Christmas clips from their films since they already used most of their good ones for the original, which as a result they either don't fit the song that's playing, or are repeating the same themes from the segments that we saw earlier (like the amount of segments involving the Disney characters playing in the snow). And adding in the original songs is pointless, and makes the video feel longer then it needs to be. This video is pretty much the equivalent of George Lucas releasing "The Star Wars Special Edition". It's interesting to watch and has a few cool upgrades, but it overall carries more bad than it does good. And the fact that there's not a DVD release of the originals, where fans and newcomers are stuck with a new cut instead of having both versions is stupid and offensive. I'm not at all implying that these videos are anywhere near up-to-par or as iconic as the "Star Wars" films, that was really just an example of how I feel about both versions of these two videos. And for the generation of people who grew up with the original video and want to expose it to their kids around Christmas time, only to have them be stuck with the new version is disappointing.

RATING 2/5

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