There’s only so much I can shame my daughter for liking Mickey Mouse, of course. She’s not the one who writes about something Disney, week in and week out, after all. It is still, however, no little disappointing to me that, given her first choice of Mickey in something, she’ll demand Mickey Mouse Clubhouse and get upset if I put on the original shorts or something instead. The personalities of the various characters have changed a great deal over the last near-century since their creation, but at least part of the problem with this version is that they feel merely stripped of personality entirely.
So yeah, Mickey Mouse (mostly Wayne Allwine) and his friends have a clubhouse. And they go around and do things. And they go in knowing that they’re going to need assistance, so they have a thing called Toodles (Rob Paulsen, when Toodles talks) that provides them with Mousketools, which will enable them to fix whatever’s going wrong. This includes the Mystery Mousketool, which they’ll find out the identity of when they use it. Which they do by calling “Oh, Toodles!” and working out what they currently need to solve their problem. If they can’t figure out how to use anything they’ve got, the Mystery Mouseketool it is.
The problem seems to be that the characters might as well be Mousketools themselves. They remind me of the most stripped-down versions of their pop cultures positions, not any of the actual developed characters they’ve been over the years. Mickey is just sort of . . . there. It’s a kids’ show intended to encourage the little kids to solve problems in their own time, so he can’t be as clever as most incarnations. He doesn’t have the ready wit of some versions. He’s certainly not as mischievous, but he’s also not Bing Mickey of the ’50s. He has neither the best nor the worst of his various incarnations.
Similarly, sometimes Pete (Jim Cummings) is a villain, and sometimes he’s a friendly rival, and sometimes he’s just misunderstood and wants to be friends, and there is no way to be sure which Pete we’re getting this time. He’s the Pete that fits the story we’re telling this week, and since all the stories are incredibly low-stakes, that’s what we have. And there’s an episode where he’s blamed for all the litter on the beach at the lake they’re visiting—where they teach the kids a few words in, sigh, “Hawaiian luau talk” because of course they do—including a shampoo bottle, and I refuse to believe that any version of Pete shampoos his hair on the beach.
Since we have Minnie (Russi Taylor) and Daisy (Tress MacNeille) and Clarabell (April Winchell), you might think there’s a bit more balance in gender relations here. Alas, this is not the case. For one thing, Clarabell has been made Goofy’s love interest because Heaven forbid we have a female character who hasn’t been paired off with one of the male leads. She’s supposed to be a mechanic but also she’s been made really clumsy. Minnie and Daisy would eventually get a bit of a spinoff where they’re selling bows and solve all problems with them, and that’s not problematic at all. They’re also still shown to be nagging more often than is really pleasant.
And my goodness but the animation is lazy. It’s blocky and lacks detail, and the characters are blobby. I’m not expecting the exquisite backgrounds of, say, Sleeping Beauty, but this feels even lazier than “Steamboat Willie.” Mostly because the animation ought to be easier than it was for “Steamboat Willie.” I’m aware that children’s TV shows has been pioneering cheap animation for decades; I did, after all, grow up on “you know that’s the door they’re going to go through because it’s the one that obviously isn’t just painted on the background.” But most of those failings are easy to fix on a computer, and they haven’t bothered.
Really, that’s the biggest problem with this show. It’s lazy. The writing is lazy. The animation is lazy. The characterization is lazy. The problem-solving is lazy. The theme and the “Hot Dog Dance” are written by They Might Be Giants, and it’s definitely not their best work, either. The stories don’t fit the framework in any way that makes sense, because the framework is completely arbitrary. That I’d rather watch Bing Mickey should tell you something.