“Mickey, Donald, Goofy:  The Three Musketeers” is that rare Disney animated feature that’s tough to recommend, even for youngsters in the family.

Made in 2004 as a direct-to-video offering, the Mickey, Donald and Goofy version of Alexandre Dumas’ timeless novel seems mechanical and uninspired, almost to the point of being tedious to watch.

There’s much more detail and heart in another Disney adaptation of classic literature, “Mickey’s Christmas Carol.” That 1983 animated film felt like a performance of Dickens’ story in which Mickey and the gang were cast as characters, and their acting was good enough to pull us into the story. Although it was only 26 minutes long, it was so well done that every family and Disneyphile wanted to add it to their collections.

“The Three Musketeers” is 68 minutes long, and it feels longer. My family wasn’t drawn into the story at all, because it seemed mechanical, like those Warner Bros. and Disney cartoon shorts in which the characters are still the characters, but transposed to different settings for the sake of variety. The scenes felt bloated to take up space, the animation seemed pedestrian, and the character locomotion was unimaginative. There’s nothing that brought a smile of delight, as usually happens when watching a Disney animated feature.

Director Donovan Cook (“Return to Never Land”) presides over a group of artists and animators who were saddled with a mediocre script that includes few clever lines, and fewer clever situations. The music is more loud and blustery than it is beautiful to listen to or catchy enough to sing, and the characters aren’t endearing.

Then again, the film gets off to a shaky start with a skit involving a mean and pompous narrator who’s supposed to be on camera, but falls through the stage, leaving a turtle with a faux French accent to handle the chore—and the turtle isn’t exactly classic Disney.

The story itself is simple. Mickey, Donald and Goofy are the equivalent of 17th-century palace janitors who aspire to be musketeers. Minnie is the princess, and Daisy her attendant. Peg-Leg Pete is the Captain of the Guard who has enlisted henchmen (with accents that shuttle back and forth between England and France) to kidnap the princess. When a first attempt is bungled, he decides to assign guards to protect her who would be so incompetent as to not get in the way of a kidnapping. So naturally, Pete promotes the three “janitors” and tasks them with protecting the princess.

There’s more, but if your children are like mine, they’ll wander off one by one in search of something more interesting to do. These days, even children want more than chases and fights and songs. Humor would have been helpful, and some measure of cleverness, whether in the sight gags or dialogue, would have pulled this short feature out of the mire. Some of the characters just seem “miscast” in this period costumer—like poor Clarabelle, who’s relegated to being Pete’s henchwoman. All you have to do to see the shortcomings of this title is to watch one of the short features from “The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad” and compare them. Either of the latter has plenty of moments where you just get a little tickle from the cleverness of the animation. That doesn’t happen here.

Movie Met’s John J. Puccio usually hates animation, but in reviewing the DVD of this title he was a little kinder and he responded more favorably to the filmmakers’ using classical music set to different lyrics. For me, it felt like just another corner cut.

“Admittedly,” John wrote, “there is not much going on in Disney’s animated ‘The Three Musketeers,’ but it’s probably enough to entertain most younger kids [John doesn’t have any]. The story is colorful, filled with great classical music set to new lyrics, beautiful artwork, and slapstick action that seldom lets up. While adults may find it a tedious journey [teens and pre-teens too, John], the movie can be sentimental fun.”

Ahhh, that explains it. Earlier John had written, “There aren’t too many funny gags, and for an adult, at least, the ceaselessly juvenile action punctuated by song may get old fast [it does]. . . . The whole thing feels more like an old Disney short subject than the full-length movie it’s advertised to be. Still, it’s a kick to reminisce and indulge in the nostalgia of seeing these famous old-time cartoon characters cavorting about again.”

One thing the film has going for it, I’ll admit, is the old-school 2-D animation, rendered at a time when most animated features were going CGI. There’s some CGI work here, but not much, and that’s kind of reassuring. Still, when “The Three Musketeers” was first released it was billed as the first full-length feature for Mickey Mouse, and THAT’S kind of depressing. I think Mickey deserved better. This one is average at best.

Like any Disney title, this one looks good in HD. Though the backdrops are predominantly sunshiny, the colors of the guard uniforms and other objects are richly rendered. “The Three Musketeers” is presented in 1.78:1 aspect ratio, and I saw no issues with the AVC/MPEG-4 transfer.

The featured audio is an English DTS-HD MA 5.1, with subtitles in English SDH, Spanish, and French. The timbre could be fuller, but the reproduction of sound is top-notch, with clear treble, bass, and mid-tones.

This combo pack comes with a DVD and Digital HD Copy. Other than that, there’s a “Get Up and Dance” feature intended for very small children, a sing-along option, and, for the adults, several deleted scenes with an explanation of why they were cut.

Bottom line:
Produced by DisneyToon Studios and released as a direct-to-video offering, “Mickey, Donald, Goofy: The Three Musketeers” just doesn’t have the Disney magic. The animation has a Saturday morning look to it, with an overall brighter, yellower cast, and the film feels like a cartoon short that’s been put on the rack and stretched until it qualified as a “full-length feature.” As I said, Mickey, the studio’s franchise player, deserved better.