Disney's 2004 direct-to-video release of "The Three Musketeers" is promoted as Mickey's first full-length feature film. That Mickey has never been in a full-length film before now should come as no surprise. Except at the very beginning, with "Steamboat Willie" in 1928, Mickey never caught the fancy of adults the way some other animated characters have, and without the appreciation and attendance of adults, most studios, even Disney, are leery of making something full-length with only a child in mind.
Perhaps that is why Mickey has seldom been in anything longer than twenty-five minutes ("Mickey's Christmas Carol"), and why he is usually in the company of a good many other Disney animated characters, as he is here with Donald, Goofy, Minnie, and the gang.
Anyway, given cinema's trend toward computer-animated 3D graphics, the Disney people probably felt that with the traditional 2D animation in "The Three Musketeers" and with Mickey at the helm, the film wasn't quite going to cut it in prime time, so a video debut seemed appropriate. The film's short time span, only sixty-eight minutes, probably wouldn't have helped its popularity in movie houses, either, but on disc the studio has filled out a child's needs with a variety of other things--games, music, commentaries, and the like. For kids, the film and its extras make a pretty good deal. For adults, though, it may be long haul, even for so brief a film.
Disney's animated "Three Musketeers" is based loosely on the stories by Alexandre Dumas, and I use the term "loosely" very loosely. In fact, only the word "Musketeers" and the sixteenth-century French setting are carried over from Dumas to this new concoction.
Mickey (voiced by Wayne Allwine), Donald (Tony Anselmo), and Goofy (Bill Farmer) play janitors in the royal French palace, hoping someday to become members of the elite corps known as the Musketeers. They get their chance when the Captain of the Musketeers, Peg Leg Pete (Jim Cummings, sounding suspiciously like the late James Coburn), engages them to guard Princess Minnie (Russi Taylor). Why hire such complete oafs for the job? Because Pete intends to kidnap the Princess and become King of France himself, and he wants the most inept, incapable persons in the realm to be in charge of the Princess's safety.
Pete's trusted lieutenant and right-hand woman is Clarabelle the Cow (April Winchell). Minnie's lady-in-waiting is Daisy Duck (Tress MacNeille). Do you see any possibilities here? The three male heroes are a mouse, a duck, and a dog; the three women are a mouse, and duck, and a cow. At least, I figure Goofy is a dog. All of Disney's old cartoon characters who are supposed to be human look like dogs. Why Pluto is a real dog and Goofy is a human dog I never quite understood. It's always a bizarre, surrealistic world Disney painted. Anyway, sure, there's a love story here among the six major players. It's only the villain, poor old Petey, who has no one but his flunkies, the Beagle Boys, to love him, and even they hate him. Serves him right.
For reasons unknown, the story is told by a troubadour tortoise (Rob Paulsen), who shows up now and then to continue the narration and either to start a song or to sing a song himself. Which brings us to the primary reason why an adult might enjoy the show--the music. Rather than try and write original music for the movie, Disney decided for "The Three Musketeers" to go back to their origins in the "Silly Symphonies" and "Fantasia" and use classical music, fitted out with new lyrics. For instance, the first song, "All for One and One for All," is done to an excerpt of the cancan in Jacques Offenbach's "Orpheus Enters the Underworld"; Minnie's looking for love in "Love So Lovely" is music from Pytor Tchaikovsky's "Nutcracker" and "Romeo and Juliet" Fantasy Overture; Pete's bad-guy song, "Petey's King of France," is sung to the tune of Edvard Grieg's "In the Hall of the Mountain King" from "Peer Gynt." I particularly liked "Sweet Wings of Love," based on music from Johann Strauss Jr.'s "Blue Danube" waltz. Bizet is also represented (the "Habanera" from "Carmen"), as is Beethoven's Fifth Symphony, and even Gilbert and Sullivan; all of this music written many years, sometimes hundreds of years, after the date of the movie's setting, but what the heck; it's a kids' cartoon.
Besides the music, the story is mainly about chases and fights. There aren't too many funny gags, and for an adult, at least, the ceaselessly juvenile action punctuated by song may get old fast. The trouble is that the film, as I've said, is only sixty-eight minutes long, and the last seven or eight of those minutes are closing credits! So you've got barely an hour of movie; hardly enough to do much more than cram in the songs and let Mickey and his friends run around a little. 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. And it's always good to see Disney's 2-D animated craftsmanship, here harking back to the best of the late thirties and forties, with realistically detailed background paintings and vividly individualized characters. I note in the credits that there is some CGI work in the film as well, inevitable in this day and age, but most of the production looks 2D, which is all that matters.
Disney's new "Three Musketeers" may not set any new standards in animated filmmaking, but it does make a welcome change of pace from a lot of the banal stuff produced for kids these days. The movie is colorful and lively and should hold the attention of most youngsters. Meanwhile, adults might enjoy getting reacquainted with some of their old friends from childhood. I just wish there were more to it than that.
I can find no count on which this video transfer can be faulted. While it's true that it's probably easier to make a cartoon look good than to capture the more complex nuances of live, human forms, for what this disc is, it's as perfect as it can be. The 1.75:1 ratio anamorphic widescreen is filled with color and beauty and brightness galore, with no attendant grain or halos or shimmering lines. The story itself might not be much, but the picture is certainly glorious to look at.
The soundtrack comes to us via Dolby Digital 5.1 or DTS 5.1, and it, too, is quite good. The frequency response is not as extended as it might be in, say, a superspectacular action movie, but it provides enough of the sonic spectrum to get the job done. The audio is clean and clear, and, more important, it uses the surround channels in various clever ways, starting with some voices that are distinctly and discretely positioned in the left rear. Since music is the order of the day in this film, expect a good deal of musical ambiance reinforcement in the surrounds as well.
Because the film itself is rather short, as I keep saying, and because the disc is primarily aimed at children, the Disney folks have provided a good number of extra things for youngsters to do after the show is over. The first thing is an audio commentary with Donald, Mickey, Goofy, and Pete explaining how they approached their performances; it's cute. The next is something called "Opera-Toon-Ity," wherein you build your own opera by selecting a stage backdrop and a singer, then sing along to one of several opera songs with silly, on-screen lyrics. It, too, can be fun. After that is a segment titled "The Many Hats Of Mickey." Here you'll find out more about Mickey's different movie roles through brief clips from some of his films: "Giantland," "The Castaway," "Thru the Mirror," "Gulliver Mickey," "Mickey's Christmas Carol," "The Brave Little Tailor," "The Sorcerer's Apprentice," and others. Finally, there are Sneak Peeks at other Disney attractions; "Get the Scoop: The Making of The Three Musketeers," a tongue-in-cheek documentary that explores the reasons why this is Mickey's first feature-length animated movie; plus a music video, "Three's a Magic Number"; four deleted scenes, with or without commentary; "Disney's Song Selection," which allows you to skip to your favorite song and display the lyrics with the click of a button; and twelve scene selections. English, French, and Spanish are the spoken languages offered, with English captions for the hearing impaired.
In addition, with this DVD the Disney studios have introduced something they dub "FastPlay," with "EasyFind" menus. Perhaps getting tired of being needled by critics for the number of times people have to click on the remote to reach the feature film through a myriad of logos, ads, trailers, menus, and FBI warnings, the idea of "FastPlay" sounds irresistible. As they put it in their promotional materials, viewers are now "in control of how they watch their DVD. Once the disc is inserted into the player, Disney's FastPlay starts to play automatically, allowing viewers to sit back and relax. Disney's FastPlay will automatically play back selected previews, the feature presentation and select bonus items." OK, so does it work? Using FastPlay, I had to click through two warning screens, a logo screen, a menu screen for FastPlay, and then three previews of coming attractions to finally get to the movie. You tell me the advantage. I found it faster simply to click on "Menu" at start-up.
Admittedly, there is not much going on in Disney's animated "The Three Musketeers," but it's probably enough to entertain most younger kids. 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, the movie can still be sentimental fun. Now, if only there were more of it.