The Mickey Mouse Club: Week One

Like some of you out there reading this review, I grew up watching the Mickey Mouse Club on television. Of course, the version I watched was the early nineties teen-pop extravaganza “MMC”, complete with over-baked drama serials and fancy song /dance routines. While “MMC” was all original material, every single moment had its roots in the classic “Mickey Mouse Club” television show, an invention of Walt himself which started a phenomenon in the late 1950s. Now, almost fifty years later, that classic icon of children’s entertainment is making its way back to the screen with a DVD revival. In creating the “Mickey Mouse Club”, Walt Disney’s original concept was to make a series that would inform and entertain kids while inspiring their imaginations. What better way could there be to achieve those lofty goals than by having an almost entirely kid cast that sang, danced and had good old-fashioned fun. Even the adult cast members, singer/songwriter Jimmie Dodd and cartoonist Roy Williams, were like big kids themselves. Throw in a Mickey Mouse cartoon (which was pure gold at the time as the animated shorts had only been shown in movie theaters before this) and an infectiously exciting theme march (EVERYBODY NOW: M-I-C-K-E-Y M-O-U-S-EEEE!), and you had the makings for one of the most popular and successful television shows of its generation.

To keep things interesting, each day of the week had a special theme. Mondays were “Fun with Music Day”, a favorite of the cast since it was an opportunity to show off their artistic talents. Tuesdays, “Guest Star Days”, featured an exciting special entertainer or two. Wednesdays were “Anything Can Happen Day” while Thursdays had something of a carnival theme as “Circus Day”. Friday’s served as a sort of new member initiation as “Talent Round Up Day”. Kids from around the country had the chance to show off their exceptional musical or artistic talents, after which they were inducted as honorary Mouseketeers, complete with their own set of Mickey ears.

This first DVD release of the “Mickey Mouse Club” features the show’s premiere week which originally aired on ABC networks from October 3 - 7, 1955. The guest stars for Tuesday’s episode were a rather talented British puppeteer, Harry Corbett, and a “balloonologist” who had taken time from his balloon animal routine at Disneyland to stop by the show. Corbett’s clever routine featured a co-star puppet named Sooty whose antics had the kind of humorous elements that would probably still entertain today’s over-stimulated child audiences. Balloon artist Wally Boag’s skills were fun to watch, but his self-deprecating humor, obviously meant to entertain a more grown up crowd, went straight over the patronized heads of his onstage mouseketeer audience.

Each day of the week also featured one part of a semi-educational serial entitled “What I Want to Be”. It followed the adventures of a sprightly young girl Pat and an adventuresome boy Duncan as they explored the real world of airline operations to see what a career in that field would be like. Not to break with code of conduct of the day (namely, the fifties), Pat explores the “women only” world of stewardesses while Duncan learns all about the manly art of being a pilot. Despite being the kind of material that would have N.O.W. picketing the Disney studios these days, it’s an interesting time capsule into a much more innocent world of aviation.

The highlight of the week for me (even as an adult) was “Circus Day”. It featured a troop of acrobatic performers whose physical feats were astonishing to say the least. It’s not everyday you see someone who can do a perfect backflip from a standing position, much less one who can do it jumping from one person’s shoulders to another’s. On today’s television, where nobody does their own stunts and the Ashlee Simpsons of the world won’t even pony up to a hot microphone, it’s oddly exciting to watch truly talented people actually performing their acts without the aid of digital effects or pre-recorded audio track.

The Mickey Mouse Club engraved a permanent place for itself in the world of Americana and set a benchmark for children’s entertainment of the day. Despite being fun to watch, it’s unlikely that today’s children will find it appealing when compared to the over-commercialized Hilary Duff or Disney’s current animated slop like “Kim Possible”. No, this DVD release of the classic show is surely more for the people who grew up with the original and long for the days of pre-V-chip television. To them I say, M-I-C…see it real soon…K-E-Y…why? Because you’ll like it! With attendance at Disney theme parks faltering and their animation department thrashing about to keep its head above water, it’s no surprise that the execs at Disney are cracking open the sacred vaults to bolster their bottom line. The entertainment giant has begun expanding its “Walt Disney Treasures” collection with several types of DVD releases, not the least of which are these classic episodes of “The Mickey Mouse Club”. I’m excited about it, if for no other reason, that the rules governing what I could see on TV as a kid make more sense now knowing this is the kind of stuff my parents grew up watching.

This 2-disc release of the premiere week comes handsomely packaged in a cleverly simple silver tin box. Inside is the standard plastic case complete with a certificate of authenticity, an important piece of paper as only 130,000 copies of the package were produced. All of the above make this the perfect Christmas gift for the Mouseketeer aficionado in your family. This Christmas shopping tip has been brought to you by the good people at Cinemablend who also encourage you to give this season’s most tasteful gifts: Cinemablend merchandise. See our website for information on ordering!

Leonard Maltin, renowned Disney historian, is your guide through the DVD set. He pops up in a brief introduction for each of the two discs and also conducts an interview with some of the original cast members, one of the few bonus features to be found. Other special items include footage of the original Mouseketeers during their special performance at Disneyland’s grand opening, and a special tribute to the show’s host Jimmie Dodd, who played as large a role in the show’s success as Walt did.

Also present is the never before seen, full-color version of the show’s popular animated opening march. The show was only ever broadcast on television in good ol’ black-and-white, but Disney, the visionary he was, had its opening animated in color so that someday, a special DVD release could include it for more technologically advanced audiences to enjoy.

With so few special features, the show itself and not the bonus materials, are clearly meant to be the centerpiece of this disc set. I think it might have been fun to hear the original cast talking about each episode and their memories of those shows in a voice-over commentary. On the other hand, I am grateful that the disc didn’t end up with Maltin himself giving hour-long lectures about the show’s history and cast.

It’s clear that Disney is probably planning some kind of additional releases of the classic shows as it continues to expand its “Treasures” compilation. With 71 more weeks worth of materials to be released, a complete collection is probably more than most folks would be interested in. But since this package features the first ever episodes of the show, it might make for a fun and special gift for someone who grew up watching the original.