Ultimate Disney Tournament: Toy Story vs. Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmas

Hiya folks. Welcome to the first match-up of Dyl’s Ultimate Disney Tournament. Today we have the #1 seeded Toy Story facing off against the #256 seed, Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmas. Both have a special place in my millennial Disney loving heart. Who will win out? Woody or Mickey? Buzz or Goofy? Let’s find out, shall we?

#1 – Toy Story (1995)

Director: John Lasseter

Writers: Joss Whedon, Andrew Stanton, Joel Cohen, Alec Sokolow, John Lasseter, Pete Docter, and Joe Ranft

Starring: Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Don Rickles, Jim Varney, Wallace Shawn, John Ratzenberger, Annie Potts, John Morris, and Erik von Detten

Plot: In a world where toys are living creatures, an old favorite becomes jealous when replaced by a newer, better action figure.

Mini-Review: I don’t think I’m breaking any ground when I state that Toy Story is one of the best movies Disney ever made. Not only was it groundbreaking visually for its time, it featured one of the best screenplays the company ever produced. 

So, as everyone knows, Toy Story was the first ever full length, completely computer generated animated movies. It was made in 1995 with computers that are borderline useless by today’s standards. Yet, the visuals somehow hold up remarkably well. Sure, Andy and his sister are a bit scary and poor Scud looks absolutely nothing like a dog should, but Pixar knew their limits. They didn’t focus on them. They focused on plastic playthings and those characters still look great. I honestly think you could show this to a kid raised on Frozen and Tangled and they wouldn’t even question it. Again, except for Scud… Poor, poor Scud.

But, even without the groundbreaking effects, I’m positive Toy Story would’ve become an instant Disney classic. Because the writing is freaking amazing. First of all, the concept itself is genius. Toys with consciousness whose main goal in life is to be played with and want what’s best for their kid. That’s gold already. Throw in there the idea that one of them doesn’t think he’s a toy at all? Now you’re cooking with fire. Then, give that concept to some of the most creative and funny people in the world, like Joss Whedon, the freaking Cohen brothers, and the rest of the brilliant Pixar staff who all later became big names on their own. Have them balance the emotions with a healthy dose of jokes for both the kids and the adults in the audience. Yeah. It’s impossible for this movie not to be an instant classic. 

And I haven’t even touched on the voice acting talents yet. Almost each and every character in this movie has become iconic in their own right. And, on top of the writing, that’s due to the amazing cast Pixar put together. There are legends all over this thing. Tom Hanks is easily one of my favorite actors of all time and absolutely brings the heart to Woody. Tim Allen does his best work as Buzz Lightyear. And, the cast of “minor” characters is stacked with comedic legends like Wallace Shawn and Don Rickles. 

If you can’t tell, I absolutely love Toy Story. It’s one of my favorite movies of all time. It’s not irregular to see me sporting a tee shirt or shoes featuring these characters. Woody is my profile picture on Disney Plus. It’s going to be very difficult for anything to beat it. 

#256 – Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmas (1999)

Directors: Alex Mann, Bradley Raymond, Jun Falkenstein, Bill Speers, and Toby Shelton

Writers: Charlie Cohen, Thomas Hart, Scott Gorden, Tom Nance, Carter Crocker, Richard Cray, Temple Matthews, and Eddie Guzelian

Starring: Wayne Allwine, Russi Taylor, Tony Anselmo, Diane Michelle, Tress MacNeille, Alan Young, Bill Farmer, Corey Burton, Shaun Fleming, Jim Cummings, Jeff Bennett, Gregg Berger, Kylie Dempsey, Taylor Dempsey, Andrew McDonaugh, Pat Musick, Frank Welker, Mae Whitman, April Winchell, and Kelsey Grammer

Plot: A series of shorts revolving around Mickey, Donald, Goofy and their families set during Christmas.

Mini-Review: As I stated, Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmas is split into three (and a half) sequences. So, I think it’s only fair to review each of them on their own merits and then kind of talk about the general thoughts afterwards. 

The first sequence, titled Donald Duck Stuck on Christmas, is, unfortunately, the worst. I mean… it’s still good. It’s entertaining. It’s just too short and has too little substance to really pack much of a punch. In what is essentially Groundhog Day but with ducks, we see Huey, Dewey and Louie wish that it was Christmas everyday. Of course, they eventually learn that the magic kind of wears off after a bit. Unfortunately, we don’t see them suffer really all that much and the recurring gags aren’t really worth more than a chuckle. The ending, where we learn that the triplets really do care for their uncle Donald, is actually quite sweet though. Overall, storywise, it’s non-offensive and entertaining enough. However, it’s also the weakest one on the production front too. There’s really not a lot to be found online about the making of this movie (it’s a direct to video movie from the 90s, so, like, duh), but I have to assume that this one was made last when their budget was kind of tight. All of the character movements seem a bit off and there are a couple of reaction shots where the background just disappears. It doesn’t really ruin the story. I’m sure most people (especially kids) wouldn’t even notice. Just as someone with a lot of respect for the art of animation, it caught me off guard to see Disney taking shortcuts. (Again, it’s a direct to video release from the 90s. What did I expect?)

The second short is A Very Goofy Christmas. While I never noticed it as a kid, I couldn’t help but think about how well this rounded out the Goofy Movie trilogy on my rewatch. Those movies are about Goofy trying to prevent his son, Max, growing up too quick. This short is very much in the same vein, but, of course, with a Christmas twist. Taking place before the events of the other two, this deals with Max starting to doubt his belief in Santa Claus. Goofy wants none of that and tries his hardest to have his son keep the faith. It starts off with some Goofy slapsticky hijinks. Then, they take you through the good, old fashioned family drama. And, finally, they hit you right in the feels by having Max eventually be the one trying to cheer Goofy up. It’s a tried and true formula. They made two feature length movies and a whole tv show about it. So, you’ve definitely seen it before. Of course, it’s a formula that works really, really well and I couldn’t help but get a bit emotional watching it. So, yeah, I quite enjoyed this one. Also, I didn’t have the same animation quality qualms as I did during the first sketch but also wouldn’t put it on the same level as the third. So, I’m pretty sure my theory is correct. 

Finally, we get to the last and the best segment of the movie, Mickey and Minnie’s Gift of the Magi (also known as that Mickey short with the cutest freaking ending). And, man, while the other two shorts are good by their own right, this segment is what makes the movie work. It’s sooooooo freaking cute.  I mean… that ending. Come on. There’s no beating that. For those of you who don’t know, this short is relatively simple. (Spoilers. I guess.) Mickey and Minnie want to buy each other Christmas presents. They work super hard at their respective jobs to earn enough money. However, at the end of Christmas Eve, they still can’t afford the gifts they feel the other deserves. So, Mickey sells his beloved harmonica to buy Minnie a gold necklace for her pocket watch, while she sells her watch to buy Mickey a case for his harmonica. They open each other’s gifts and get sad for a moment, only to realize that it was the thought and the sacrifice that counts. They wish each other a Merry Christmas and snuggle by the fire. It’s. Freaking. Adorable. And, I was afraid that in rewatching it that would be the only moment that stood out. Not the case. I was tearing up throughout this entire short. Mickey does a couple other sacrifices that are just the coolest. It really displays how he’s endured 90 years of popularity. And, the animation quality is high. The characters all line up with who you expect them to be. It’s a very good short. Part of me thinks it had to have been made to be shown before another movie (probably Tarzan), but they realized what they had and worked up the other two shorts so they could sell it separately (again, just a theory). 

Then, we wrap everything up with a nice melody of all of our main characters coming together to sing Christmas carols. It’s really sweet. 

Overall, that’s kind of how I feel about the whole movie. There’s nothing really all that groundbreaking here, but it’s cute. The Mickey and Minnie short in particular is worth a once a year visit. And the others are good. Not great. It’s kind of just fun to be around these characters, especially at Christmas. To a lot of people like me, these guys are almost family. I think that’s what I love about Christmas specials. You get to spend a little bit of Christmas with your fictional character families too. And from what I’ve seen: this is one of the best. 

The Disney Smackdown

This is where we quickly compare the movies against metrics that almost all Disney movies meet. It won’t necessarily determine the winner, but it will help break some stuff down into a nice digestible format.

Our Heroes: It’s hard to decide who to consider the main character or “hero” of Toy Story. It’s a buddy picture. To simplify and not play favorites, I’m going to give this role to both Woody and Buzz. Woody is one of my personal favorite characters of all time. I relate to him a lot. He’s a leader. He has the whole bedroom organized and optimized to give Andy the best playtime possible. He just wants what’s best for him. Sure, in the beginning, he gets a bit jealous of Buzz. But, when they start to get into trouble, he’s always protective of him and eventually admits that he was being selfish, even offering to sacrifice himself if it means Andy would be happier. He’s a noble character. He loves his kid and learns to love those who make his kid happy, even if it means he’s not the favorite anymore. Seriously, Woody is the best. But, that’s not saying that Buzz Lightyear isn’t great in his own right. He was “born” with a mission in mind. He thought he was a space ranger sent to save the galaxy. But, he was quickly hit with a cold dose of reality. He hit a bit of a rough patch when he learned that he was just a piece of plastic. However, with a bit of encouragement by Woody, Buzz learned that being a toy has its own fantastic benefits and is just as important of a mission. By the end of the movie, we see him fully embracing that and being just as dedicated as Woody. There’s a reason these are two of the most iconic characters in the Disney canon. While they are both flawed, they also have enormous hearts, really funny dialogue, and an admirable commitment to their life’s purpose and that’s all just in the first movie.

There’s a lot here of potential heroes in Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmas. But, let’s narrow it down to Donald’s nephews, Max, and Mickey Mouse, who are arguably the stars of their respective shorts. This is not the first time we’ve seen any of these characters, but I’ll try to break it down into just the versions featured in this movie. First, we have Hewey, Dewey, and Louie, who are the real stars despite the short being named after Donald. They start off as a bit selfish, but we get to watch them grow. While they originally think that Christmas is just a fun time for toys and turkey dinners (don’t think too hard about the fact that they are ducks who eat turkeys), they eventually learn that it’s more about the ones you love and spending time with them. It’s unquestionably sweet to see them being nice to their Uncle Donald in the end. Then, again despite the name, I’d argue that Max Goof is the main character of the second short. He’s the one with the character growth. We see him start to doubt his faith in Santa, then kind of get angry about the whole ordeal. That is until he sees how much it matters to his dad. It’s another instance where we see a younger character really show that they care for and try to take care of their parental figure. It’s kind of a theme in this movie and for Max’s overall journey as a character. He’s easily one of my favorites and supremely underrated. Then, lastly, we have Mickey Mouse himself. In my opinion, this is one of the best interpretations of his character. He’s constantly making sacrifices to give everyone else the best Christmas possible. He risks his job by selling a family a smaller, cheaper tree. He almost misses the opportunity to buy a gift at all because he’s performing in a charity concert. And, he sells his harmonica so he can afford to buy Minnie the perfect present. If you’re one of those people that says Mickey has no personality, I’d like to kindly direct you to this movie. I feel its next to impossible not to love the dude after watching it. 

Despite both featuring super iconic characters, I have to give this win to Toy Story. They had more time to develop each character within their movie and didn’t have to rely on decades worth of nostalgia to get you invested.

Our Beloved Side Characters: Just about every character in Toy Story is iconic. First of all, there’s Andy Davis. We don’t really get to know Andy all that well, but still grow to love him through the toys’ affection for him. I almost left him off the list, but something about that just felt wrong. Then, there’s all of Andy’s other toys that make his playtime fun. There’s Mr. Potato Head and Hamm who are maybe the most sarcastic characters in Disney’s lineup. Every line they say is hilarious and you root for them even though they’re the first two to turn on Woody. Then there’s Slinky Dog, who is probably the most loyal and, therefore, lovable character in the franchise. He’s the kind of sidekick you just want to snuggle with… which is strange because he’s a Slinky. There’s Rex. He’s just a ball of contradiction, as a T-Rex with severe anxiety. Every time he’s on screen, he makes me laugh. He’s easily one of my favorites in the whole series. Bo Peep becomes more developed in the fourth entry, but is a fun, love interest/sexual innuendo dropping kind of character that’s mostly in there for the adults. She works fine for what she’s given, enough that I missed her in Toy Story 3. (Not until like my fourth rewatch but, still, I eventually missed her.) The Little Green Men from the claw machine were ahead of their time and should’ve blown up like the Minions did. That’s just a fact. And, I could even make the case for smaller characters like Sarge, RC, Mr. Spell, and Lenny the Binoculars being worth mentioning, but we only have so much time and someone has to cut me off before I ramble on and on and on about how much I love this world and the characters in it. But, yeah, Rex is my favorite.

While the heroes of Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmas have clear character arcs, everyone else kind of just fits into their one defining (but still good) character trait. Donald Duck is grumpy, because he’s trying to have the perfect Christmas and the boys keep ruining it. Daisy Duck is her typical loving self, trying to remain positive and calm. Pluto is, well, Pluto. And Minnie Mouse shares that really sweet moment with Mickey at the end of their short, but we just don’t get to spend enough time with her throughout for her to really stand out. It’s mostly Mickey’s show. I mean, it almost always is, but still. That’s more or less how all of the side characters in this movie are. You know them and love them from other things. However, if this was you’re first time watching these characters, you probably wouldn’t have too much affinity for them. Well, except for with Goofy. He’s a great dad. Probably the best in Disney canon. He’s trying very hard to stop Max from growing up too fast. He puts himself in harm’s way to save Max’s letter to Santa. He donates to the poorer family next door. He gives them gifts. He stays up all night to prove to his son that Santa exists. Yeah. Goofy is the best. It’s impossible not to like Goofy.

Again, I have to give this win to Toy Story. While neither movie really gives their side characters too much development, Toy Story gives you just enough to fall in love with these characters. Don’t get me wrong. I love the classic Disney group too. My affection doesn’t come from just this movie though. The toys became instant super stars within a 90 minute runtime.

Villainous Villains: The villain of Toy Story is a boy named Sid Phillips. We all knew a kid like Sid. He was a bit of a brat. Sure. His obsession with disfiguring toys is concerning and he likes to make his sister cry. But, did he really deserve what happened to him? I mean… that’s years of therapy. If he knew that toys came to life, I’m sure he would’ve acted differently. Am I alone here? I always feel like I am. Destroying toys is not cool, but did he really have to go through his own personal horror film to learn that lesson. Of course, this is also my adult brain feeling empathy for the dude. Kid me absolutely hated and was terrified of him. So, that’s something. 

As has been the case since 1928, Pete is the bad guy in Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmas. We don’t really get to spend a whole lot of time with him, yet, he still manages to be the jerk in two of the three shorts. In the Goofy one, he’s the guy who tries to convince Max there is no Santa Claus, which is just so not cool. Like, that’s kind of the biggest douchebag move possible. Especially for an adult. Then, in the Mickey short, he tries to upsell a poor family into getting a more expensive tree than they need or can afford. And, when Mickey puts a stop to him, he takes his money as compensation. What’s really sad is that I know people like Pete are out there. They exist in the real world. There are always people who want to ruin Christmas or make an insane profit off of it at the expense of others. In a sad way, he’s probably the most realistic of the Mickey universe characters. Luckily, we get to see him get punished in humiliating ways both times. 

In a surprise move, I have to give this win to Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmas. I ended up in a weird spot where I kind of felt bad for Sid. Pete is just a real scumbag.

Quotable Quotes: From Toy Story: “To Infinity and Beyond” “This isn’t flying, this is falling with style.” “You see the hat? I am Mrs. Nes-bitt!” “YOU. ARE. A. TOY.” “The word I’m searching for – I can’t say, because there’s preschool toys present.”

From Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmas: “You’re all the music I’ll ever need.” “Of course there’s a Santy. Otherwise, we’d have a lot of jobless elves running around.” “Pardon me, ma’am! Didn’t mean to get fresh!”

The easy win goes to Toy Story in which I had to narrow down a massive list, while I had to do a bit of digging for the other.

Songs to Add to Your Playlist: I mean… “You’ve Got a Friend in Me” from Toy Story is one of the absolute best Disney songs of all time. Even if it weren’t attached to one of the biggest franchises ever, I still think it’d be a classic. The other two Randy Newman songs are really good at portraying emotions in the film, but I wouldn’t listen to them out of context.

Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmas features no original songs, unfortunately. But, listening to classic Disney characters sing Christmas carols would probably brighten your holiday season.

Toy Story wins hands down. There literally isn’t much competition here.

Most Magical Disney Moment: For Toy Story, it’s gotta be that moment in the climax when Buzz detaches himself from the rocket and starts gliding towards Andy’s van. Then, they have that exchange where they callback to each other’s lines from earlier in the movie which is just extremely heartwarming. It’s probably the most iconic shot of the movie and for good reason. 25 years and countless rewatches later, I still get chills from it. 

To the surprise of literally no one, it’s the end of the Mickey short for Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmas. When they exchange presents and realize the sacrifices they made to get each other the perfect presents. It’s absolutely perfect. Like I said earlier, that one moment makes the whole movie. It’s what people remember and for good reason.

While this one is extremely tough, I have to give the slight advantage to Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmas. That scene makes me emotional every time someone even mentions it.

Legacies: Toy Story’s legacy is, frankly, huge. I’m almost afraid that I’m going to undersell it here even though the list I came up with is super impressive. Toy Story has a rare 100% on Rotten Tomatoes and an impressive 8.3 on IMBD, making it the 81st best ranked movie on the site. It was the highest grossing movie of 1995. It was later nominated for three Academy Awards and was given a special achievement Oscar. In 2005, it was added to the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress for being culturally significant in the first year of eligibility which is extremely rare. There are three theatrical sequels, a direct to video spinoff, a television series and a collection of shorts. Rides based on Toy Story are present in 10 of the 12 Disney theme parks with four of them sporting whole Toy Story Lands. It launched Pixar, one of the most financially and commercially successful movie studios in history. It jump started the career of John Lasseter, a major force in bringing Disney animation back from the hard times of the 2000s. And, most importantly, it forever changed the animation industry by introducing a new style. I mean… Yeah. This movie mattered, like a lot.

Meanwhile, Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmas’ legacy is not too much. Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmas has a 40% on Rotten Tomatoes, which is way too low, and a more responsible 7.2 on IMDB. It was a direct to video release, so it didn’t have any box office results. It didn’t win any major awards outside of one film festival. It did, however, have a sequel that was also released straight to video. It’s also extremely hard to judge the impact this had on the characters’ legacies since they were all already huge decades before this was made. 

This one is too easy. Toy Story has the better legacy.

AND THE WINNER IS…

TOY STORY

I mean. It wasn’t really all that close. As I explained, I really love the Mickey Mouse section of Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmas. However, the rest of it is just good. It doesn’t hold a candle to Toy Story. In fact, even the best parts of Mickey’s pales in comparison. This wasn’t really fair. But, it’s a #1 seed vs. a #256 seed so it is what it is. The writing in Toy Story is better. It’s funnier. The story is more original. The characters don’t have to lean on previous material for you to care about them. The impact on the company and the industry as a whole is massive. I just wish Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmas was higher ranked so it would’ve had a better shot. Unfortunately, that’s just the way the cards landed. 

Congratulations, Woody, Buzz, and the rest of Andy’s toys! You move on to fight another day.

Be sure to check in next time for two well-known, yet underrated Disney flicks. I’ll be comparing Escape to Witch Mountain and Make Mine Music. I’m excited as both of these movies have somehow escaped me.

See you then!

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