I subscribe to Disney Movie Rewards, as a means to ever-so-painfully-slowly work my way towards free movies from buying DVDs and movie tickets, and as part of this they also send me regular emails regarding other Disney related ephemera. Most of this is of little interest to me (I have no desire to throw a Disney Princess birthday party), but every so often something interesting turns up. In this case, that something was a “sneak peek” of a new Mickey Mouse cartoon, Croissant de Triomphe. I put “sneak peek” in quotes because it’s already everywhere on the web and hardly exclusive to people on Disney’s mailing list (you can view it here), but that’s not really important. What is important is that here is something I didn’t expect to see and which was at least potentially interesting. And after watching the short and reading up on it a bit, I have to say that potential interest is more on the lines of actual interest.
First, a quick review of the cartoon itself — and yes, I’m fully aware of the pretentiousness of reviewing a 3½ minute cartoon. The short is directed by Paul Rudish, whose previous credits include work on Dexter’s Laboratory. The visual style is immediately striking, especially for anybody who has grown accustomed to seeing the “modern Mickey” from the 1980s and onward, or anybody accustomed to modern cartooning (such as Rudish’s own Dexter’s Lab). There’s an interesting blend of the old and the new at work; like the Oscar-winning short Paperman, Croissant de Triomphe is drawn in computer-aided 2D. But the visual design, just like Paperman, is rather different from most cartoons — to be specific, it puts the “cartoon” back in “animated cartoon”, with backgrounds that look hand-drawn to the point of sometimes having colors disrespect the lines. And Mickey Mouse and Minnie are drawn in a style that is highly reminiscent of their very earliest appearances. It’s not exactly classic Disney style — there are definite modern touches to some of the drawings, particularly in the way characters move, and the backgrounds are totally different — but the character design is close enough to put the audience in the mindset for a classic Disney short.
For the first time, I’m not so much concerned about Mickey’s lack of a shirt as his lack of suspenders.
And the short does indeed play out like a classic Disney short — with one little twist. Mickey’s quest in the short is to deliver a parcel of desperately-needed croissants to Minnie’s deli, and this provides numerous laughs along the way. It’s a very funny cartoon with a lot of great visual gags. And pretty much all the gags are visual — the twist to the short is that as it’s set in Paris, all the dialogue is in French. Mickey and Minnie are voiced by their usual modern voice actors, Bret Iwan and Russi Taylor, with Daisy voiced by prolific voice actress Tress MacNeille. The voices all sound reasonably close to the classic characters, although as I don’t speak French, it’s a little difficult for me to be sure. But the language of the cartoon doesn’t factor significantly; the dialogue is both brief and simple enough for a small child to follow the plot. It’s a fun little cartoon, kids will definitely enjoy it, and I think most adults will as well.
This guy must be Goofy’s Parisian beatnik cousin.
Now, what interests me beyond just the cartoon itself are the ramifications of the cartoon. It is apparently the first of a series of 19 short cartoons that Disney is planning to put out via the Disney channel and their web channels. Each cartoon is planned to be set in a different city around the world (presumably with that country’s language being used). This, frankly, sounds like it ought to be fun. But it’s of note beyond the fun factor — I mentioned a few weeks back that it seemed like there has been a resurgence in the short film format, and now here comes Disney, making a major push toward reviving the format that made them famous. There have been a few theatrical shorts that Disney has put before their feature films in the past few years, but the general concept has lain fallow for decades, with only a few exceptions here and there. Now they’re putting out 19 — to TV and the internet, granted, not theatres… but this is Disney. I wouldn’t bet against one or two of these showing up on the big screen before Monsters University or Planes. And what of the competition? Where Disney leads, others tend to follow. Will we see Warner Brothers react with their own series of shorts?
The “cartoon snob” in me, if you’ll pardon the expression, is also pleased by the way this short is carried out, and how the others are reportedly planned to be. Simple stories and a situation that quickly escalates into comedic havoc. Classic cartoon storytelling — and a technique that often seems to be lacking in today’s cartoons. Trying to tell a story in only a few minutes, as opposed to 22 (the average length of a TV cartoon minus commercials), means they have to execute strongly and get to the point quickly. It has to be tight; they can’t waste frames ambling into the story slowly or having characters stand around and laugh at the same gag on loop. With any luck, working on a series of short cartoons like Croissant de Triomphe will restore a sense of timing to the humor in longer cartoons as well.