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The Disney Trio Back Again in 'The Three Musketeers'

Libby Reed investigates the return of Mickey, Donald and Goofy as a team in the new direct-to-video feature, The Three Musketeers.

Mickey, Donald and Goofy team up for the first time since The Prince & The Pauper. All images © Disney. All rights reserved.

Despite all the criticism of Disney lately, it is still doing some things right. Its latest feature, The Three Musketeers is an example of a movie that both kids and their parents will thoroughly enjoy. A straight-to-video DVD, starring those irrepressible favorites Mickey, Donald and Goofy, it can't help but be a big seller for Disney.

This is the first full-length feature starring all three of Disney's top stars. The idea of doing Dumas Three Musketeers was first proposed at the same time as Mickey & the Beanstalk in 1947. But the storyline couldn't be worked out at that time, and the idea was dropped. It has been talked about from time to time in the years since, but never got very far. The three toons have been starred in featurettes before, though. In the `70s Mickey's Christmas Carol featured Mickey with Goofy and Donald and they appeared together in The Prince & The Pauper again in the `80s. For the civilians reading this, the difference between a feature and a featurette is simply length, because a feature movie has more plot points and needs the time to develop them.

People concerned that the movie won't be true to the book need not worry. This version isn't the original Alexander Dumas story, but takes place after that epic. Mickey even has a hat autographed by all four of Dumas' characters! The credits include a, "with appreciation to Alexander Dumas."

A clever opening introduces a re-design of the old Toby Tortoise character, renamed the Troubadour for this movie. He introduces the plot by reading from a comic book, and then becomes a sort of narrator, introducing the many songs. The movie, produced by DisneyToon, the direct-to-video Disney division, was planned as a direct-to-video and runs a short 67 minutes, Seven of those are the credits, in a move that was probably intended to fit TV schedules some time in the future. Sixty-seven minutes plus commercials would fill an hour-and-a-half slot nicely.

Spirit of the Theatrical Shorts

The movie keeps the spirit of the theatrical shorts. Respect for the characters is in evidence throughout. Producer Margo Pipkin said, "Bob McKnight [character designer], is very knowledgeable about Mickey, he can tell you the entire history of Mickey Mouse. We gave Minnie a little bit of bangs because she has no bow on her head. Otherwise she's Mickey."

The biggest challenge was finding a way to let the classic character romance the audience for more than a few minutes.

Design, gags and character design are all classic Disney, except perhaps for Daisy Duck, who seems slimmer and too contemporary sounding. Pipkin explained that they felt Daisy needed a feminizing touch for this role. Donald is a coward until he looses his famous temper. And after a long speech, Mickey tells Donald he didn't understand a word. Mickey is 75 years old this year and Donald is 70. They still look pretty good for old timers! How many actors' careers span that much time?

According to Brian Snedeker, svp, creative, "The biggest challenge was to make these characters work in a feature-length story. They're great in Walt's classic shorts, but we needed to find a way for these three characters to carry a cinematic story. Our biggest concern was to tell a full-length, involving, cinematic story. We also didn't mind if the characters played "roles' that didn't fit into their traditional personas. Donald being afraid, we felt, made for a better story and was entertaining in its own right, especially the fun way the filmmakers visualized it. In future movies, we'll have fun with his usual easy-to-anger, frustrated Donald."

"Classic" Watercolor Backgrounds

While the production values aren't up to Lion King 1.5, this is traditional hand-drawn animation. It looks like a cartoon, acts like a cartoon and is fun like a cartoon. The backgrounds are lovely subdued watercolors. Pipkin said, "These characters live in this environment, they blend beautifully with the watercolor backgrounds." As a comment on how attention was paid to keeping the "classical" look, background artist Barbara Schade said, "We started with typical Snow White and Pinocchio the old movies look. The layouts were wonderful, and we just had a wonderful time (working on the Three Musketeers)."

The movie is located, of course, in France, and the backgrounds faithfully reproduce the ambiance, if not the actual architecture, of places like the Palace at Versailles and Mount St. Michaels, where Mickey gets imprisoned as the tide comes in. Director Donovan Cook's first job at Disney was co-coordinating production on The Prince & the Pauper so he is well versed in the look of 18th century Europe. He was co-director on Return to Neverland as well. Art direction is by Toby Bluth and Bob Kline. BG lead is Bob McNamara.

The music and voice cast play a big role in the success of the film.

It was good to see the characters in 2D as they were originally designed. So is the future of toons one where 2D is confined to straight-to-video and all the theatrical features done in CG? That seems shortsighted. This is one movie where the powers that be let the art flow from the characters, and they got it right.

Introduce Kids to Classical Music!

The musical score just might introduce children to classical music, as the melodies are taken from Beethoven, Offenbach, Strauss, Bizet and Greig with a little Gilbert & Sullivan thrown in. Although they might grow up with a warped idea of lyrics. Composer Bruce Broughton, who has done not only movie and TV scores, but has composed music for several of the Disney theme park attractions, has worked on scores using classical music coupled with silly lyrics before, notably on The Prince & the Pauper. He also scored The Rescuers Down Under.

Storyboard artist Chris Otsuki is credited for several of the lyrics, which won't surprise anyone at DreamWorks, Warner Bros. or Disney, since he has been doing this sort of thing for a while. Those who don't have Dolby or DTS should find that the soundtrack sounds spectacular on those systems, as it should, since it was recorded to be played on them. It sounds great on a plain old TV set.

The voices are just how you expect the three famous voices to sound, too. Wayne Allwine has taken over from Jim McDonald as Mickey (Walt himself was the original Mickey). Tony Anselmo, who also animated on the movie, is Donald, a role he has done since Clarence Nash died in 1984. Bill Farmer is Goofy, voiced originally by the great Pinto Colvig. Pete is Jim Cummings, Daisy is played by Tress MacNeille, Clarabelle is done by April Winchell (daughter of Paul Winchell) and Rob Paulson voices the Troubadour.

Bonus Features

Parents who want to just sit the kid down in front of the set and walk away will appreciate the DVD's "fastplay" feature. It starts and plays the feature automatically, after the requisite three commercials for other DVDs of course. The DVD's bonus features, which follow automatically after the movie if you have it on fastplay, seem lightweight. (And for those of you who have wondered, what is put on a Disney DVD as an additional feature is decided by Buena Vista Home Entertainment, according to Pipkin.)

In the "Games & Activities" an interactive called "Opera-tunity" isn't very interactive, and won't hold the attention of anyone over 6. "The Many Hats of Mickey" is more interesting, showing clips of old classic Mickey Mouse shorts and is a good education for kids in Mickey's career. The deleted scenes can be watched with an audio commentary by DisneyToon Studio's Snedeker explaining why each scene was cut. "Music & More" features the young rock group, Dreamstreet, doing one of the songs from the score. It was better in the movie.

As for technical details, the ink-and-paint was done in ToonBoom and there was some CG, mainly Maya, used most obviously for the dance sequences involving the entire Musketeer troop en-mass, as well as for the coach. A scene where Minnie and Daisy twirl around and around ala Beauty and the Beast was not CG, according to Pipkin. That was one lo-o-ong pan. Backgrounds were tweaked in Photoshop. Animation was done at DisneyToon in Australia. Additional animation was done by Toon City, in the Philippines.

Cowardly Donald has trouble mustering the courage to be a musketeer, but Mickey won't let him quit.

This is a fast-paced movie that even the younger kids will sit still through. "Mickey Donald and Goofy epitomize," said Snedeker, "much like the Peanuts characters or the Winnie-the-Pooh characters, different aspects of kids' personalities. Mickey's hopeful even in the face of troubles, Donald can't control his anger (or in our movie, he's afraid) and Goofy is sometimes flummoxed by things he can't figure out. These are very identifiable traits for kids, adults, and studio executives. Then again, maybe kids respond to them because they're funny." The Three Musketeers is exciting enough for the pre-teens, with Mickey being put in real danger.

Adult fans of the Mouse will like it, too. Its humor is a bit tongue-in-cheek, and there are several visual references to older Disney movies. The stairway into the villain's lair looks a great deal like the stairway to the witch's dungeon in Snow White, and a reference to the Mousketeers theme song crops up. The viewers will probably find many more. Animation people love to do this sort of thing!

Libby Reed, started out at Walt Disney Studios in the `50s on Sleeping Beauty as a cel painter. She has worked at numerous commercial studios, spent 16 years as a fashion illustrator and wound up at Film Roman as a color designer under Phyllis Craig. Libby has two children, (one is Alex Reed, animation producer at Electronic Arts) and four grandchildren. She has her own studio where she does animal portraits,