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Review: ‘Walt Disney’s Christmas Classics’

Walt Disney Christmas Classics

Walt Disney’s Christmas Classics
Writers: Frank Reilly, Carl Fallberg and Floyd Norman
Artists: Floyd Gottfredson, Richard Moore, Tony Strobl and others
IDW Publishing; $39.99

One of the myriad ways in which American pop culture used to count down to Christmas was in the form of special Christmas-themed newspaper comic strips. From 1936 to 2010, the Newspaper Enterprise Association produced about four weeks worth of an original daily strip, which would conclude on Christmas Eve or Christmas, each year for their subscribers. The King Features Syndicate produced their own from 1935 to 1940. In 1960, the biggest name in children’s entertainment got into the business: That’s the year the very first Disney Christmas strip was offered to newspapers.

That strip, in which Captain Hook sent Smee to the North Pole with a bomb disguised as a gift to finish off Santa Claus, only to be thwarted by Peter Pan and Tinker Bell, must have been a sizable hit, as it was followed by 32 more strips appearing each holiday season, skipping only 1986 and taking a few years off between the 1987 strip, “Snow White’s Sinister Christmas Gift,” and the 1992 strip, “Beauty and The Beast.” The final one, featuring the characters from The Little Mermaid, was published in 1997.

IDW Productions has collected all of them into Walt Disney’s Christmas Classics, an entry in their Library of American Comics publishing program that doubles as a great gift for Disney fans of all ages.

Because Disney’s biggest stars, Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck (and their various friends and foes), were already appearing in their own comic strips, the special Christmas strips avoided using the characters most associated with Walt Disney. That hardly mattered, of course, as the Disney character catalog was incredibly deep even back then, and the stars of the studio’s feature films became the focus of each year’s strip.

That original Peter Pan strip, written by Frank Reilly and drawn by Manuel Gonzales, established a rather easily repeatable formula: A Disney villain would attempt to ruin Christmas through some form of attack on Santa Claus, and a Disney hero would stop them. Characters from different films would interact in often unusual ways—in that strip, the Seven Dwarfs were, rather inexplicably, Santa’s neighbors—and it would end with a panel of Santa flying in his sleigh and wishing a Merry Christmas to, in the most common formulation, “Everyone…everywhere!”

Many of the strips would be set in the world of a particular film, the Peter Pan one being followed by ones starring Pinocchio, Sleeping Beauty, The Three Little Pigs, Cinderella, Bambi and so on, but the borders between the various milieus proved porous. Santa Claus was quite visitable, as if his polar workshop were just another corner of Disney World, and characters mixed and matched with regularity.

The Seven Dwarfs were soon regular holiday help for Santa as he sought to finish his toy orders. So too were Gepetto, Pinocchio, Dumbo, Mister Stork, and The Sword In The Stone‘s Merlin. Sleeping Beauty‘s Maleficent, Snow White‘s Wicked Witch, and The Sword In The Stone‘s Madame Mim were among the most frequent villains to try and spoil the season, sometimes entering into unusual alliances of their own, as when Hook teamed with The Big Bad Wolf and Pinocchio‘s Honest John.

Perhaps the strangest of the crossovers was in 1962’s “Sleeping Beauty’s Christmas Story,” however. Essentially re-telling the story of the film in a holiday setting, the strip saw Maleficent once again putting Beauty to sleep, but this time the prince’s kiss won’t repeat its magic. It’s up to a time-travelling Ludwig Von Drake to restore her to wakefulness, through the magic of science.

By the 80s, the strips began to settle down a bit with the crossovers, and when a brand-new creative team—writer Floyd Norman and artist Richard Moore—took over the strips after the late 1980s-early 1990s hiatus, they were pretty strictly set within the narratives of the most recent films. They eschewed appearances by Santa Claus and tried to relate to the holidays in as thematically a way as appropriate for the characters involved.

So, for example, the Aladdin strip didn’t mention Christmas but had the heroes trying to come up with a plan to get the Sultan to share his toys with the children of Agrabah. And The Lion King and Pocahontas featured characters celebrating the longest day of the year and a bountiful harvest, respectively, rather than stopping Scar or the Governor Ratcliffe from kidnapping Santa Claus or stealing his sleigh.

Spanning Disney film history from 1933’s The Three Little Pigs and 1937’s Snow White all the way to 1996’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame, the Christmas strip was a who’s who of characters, and this complete collection is therefore a veritable treasure trove for young readers who might want to celebrate the holidays with the heroes and villains of Disney films past.

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J. Caleb Mozzocco About J. Caleb Mozzocco

J. Caleb Mozzocco is a way-too-busy freelance writer who has written about comics for online and print venues for a rather long time now. He currently contributes to Comic Book Resources' Robot 6 blog and ComicsAlliance, and maintains his own daily-ish blog at EveryDayIsLikeWednesday.blogspot.com. He lives in northeast Ohio, where he works as a circulation clerk at a public library by day.

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