Roll call! Cubby! Darlene! Bobby! Annette!…Wait, hang on…
Yeah, no personalized sweaters here. No musical skits. No cherubic smiles. Not even Justin Timberlake, Britney Spears, or Christina Aguilera. Just a straight-to-DVD release starring Disney’s most enduring icons doing their own spin on Alexandre Dumas’ classic tale. I remember being pretty excited about this movie when it first came out. Fresh, clean, new, quality animation done of the classic Disney characters? You bet! Shut up and take my money and other such memes!
Dab with debonair, dashing, daring dangers!
The Plot: Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, and Goofy are childhood friends who dream one day of becoming the royal musketeers to the Queen. Now adults, they toil away as janitors for the musketeers, so…close enough, right? Captain of the guards Pegleg Pete, finds the notion laughable, pointing to Mickey’s size, Donald’s cowardice, and Goofy’s idiocy as to why they can’t be musketeers.
But Pete is plotting a coup with three shady Beagle Boy minions, hoping to usurp Queen Minnie’s throne. And when she demands musketeer bodyguards, Pete assigns her the worst recruits he can think of: our three heroes. But now as the Queen’s royal musketeers, the guys have to rise to all the dangerous challenges ahead.
How’s the writing?: I hate to say this, but guys…it’s amateur hour. I don’t expect Goofy to go spouting a sonnet or Donald to ponder greater existentialism vis-a-vis Hamlet, but it’s obvious from with the first few seconds what kind of production this is going to be. It’s for kids. Little kids.
In the opening, we see Troubadour Turtle (Played by Rob Paulson) accidentally indispose the story’s stentorian narrator, and he winds up regaling us the tale. The difference is instead of a leather-bound tome, it’s a comic book. Sadly, the movie is not creative enough to take advantage of this, and it just exemplifies going from mature literature to an easy-to-read picture book.
For one thing, it’s not Dumas’ story. No intrigue, no mystery, no cardinal, it’s just a basic story that uses the setting purely as a template. At most, we get a nod to Porthos, Athos, Aramis, and D’Artagnan as the musketeers that inspire Mickey, but that’s it.
Also, because it’s Mickey and the gang, there are zero surprises anywhere. You know who Queen Minnie’s going to fall in love with, you know Daisy’s going to fall for Donald, and you know Pete’s the bad guy. At least it doesn’t insult our intelligence (much) in that respect, but it does take some of the bite out of necessary drama to tell a compelling story.
Does it give the feels?: It tries very hard in a few ways, and it almost sorta kinda maybe succeeds. Kinda.
One is the romantic aspect. There no fewer than three public domain songs here that are turned into romantic ballads. They took “Dance of the Reed Flutes”, “Blue Danube”, and “Habanera”, added lyrics, and made them love songs. On one hand, I despise this because it cheapens the quality of these songs by adding cutesy words, but on the other hand, I’m all for kids learning great music however they hear it. They do this with a variety of the songs, but the romance in the movie between Mickey and Minnie is utterly predictable and handled in the most over-the-top, cartoony way possible. It’s a third-grader’s picture of love. It ought to be fine for the most iconic pair in Hollywood history, but did we need Minnie to have a specific list of qualities to know true love? It’s just a wee bit too schmaltzy for me.
Another is drama. Most of the movie is pretty straight-laced with all sorts of kooky slapstick, but then Pete tries to drown Mickey Mouse! Oh no, it’s friggin’ brutal! Mickey is chained to a dungeon cell floor, and you watch as Mickey slowly runs out of air…holy crap, it’s intense! You literally see the last bubbles float out of his mouth before he’s rescued (Yeah, I’m not exactly spoiling anything there, am I?)! I mean…dang!
Last is kind of a nice moment. When Donald explains the conspiracy to Mickey, the duck tries to bail, and Mickey tries to coax him back. It’s a few second’s worth, it you do see some legitimate pain and fear in Donald’s eyes as he agonizes over the offer. It’s a bit of animation worth watching.
Who makes it worth it?: I love seeing Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, and Goofy in their rawest form. The old cartoons where the trio would get into all sorts of scraps are among the best the studio ever made, like Lonesome Ghosts, Boat Builders, and Moving Day. Their camaraderie is pitch perfect, and their strengths and weaknesses balance excellently. I find when I try to focus on any of them individually, it becomes unsatisfying, like listening to someone on the phone. You get only part of the picture. And the film gels when they’re allowed to be themselves.
Best quality provided: the animation is awesome. Kind of to the point where it makes me think of when fans of The Simpsons or Family Guy talk about recent seasons. Sure, the quality isn’t as great as it used to be, but…at least it looks nicer. And truly, the animation is smooth, lively, and on model. It’s the biggest draw a Disney but like me was most drawn to.
One weird bit I liked? The tuft of hair/fur they put at Minnie’s widow’s peak. It looks cute. Tiny bit of credit, but credit where credit’s due.
What could have been improved: What makes Disney cartoons so great is their ability to equal parts for kids yet pleasing for adults. This film seemed way too focused on jokes and gags for kids that it forgot maybe there’s some adults who might want to join in.
For example, there are anachronisms. Like the “pull” sign on the tower door and Minnie and Daisy eating fast food. There’s an occasional butt or fart joke, however mild. Pete ponders eating a snail (‘Cuz, y’know, French). There are a bunch of jokes throughout the cartoon that are neither funny nor clever, but nor are they offensive. I get when Donald rips off his musketeer outfit to wear his trademark sailor suit, but when Mickey is shown to wear his classic red shorts, why does he chuckle and strike a pose? Having “La pit” to punish Pete’s Beagle Boys being two feet deep is kinda funny, it’s not that funny.
This isn’t me being picky. When you get a chance, watch 1990’s The Prince and the Pauper. The drama and characterization are exquisite. And all in a half hour! This is 67 minutes and it doesn’t get nearly as dramatic. Just compare and contrast and you’ll see which is the superior version.
Also, those songs. Again, I remain split on hating or appreciating it, but what do you say when Pete’s big villain song is a bunch of corny lyrics set to “In the Hall of the Mountain King”? Or when you’re so distracted hearing “Can can”, but it’s made into a song for the musketeers? It either needed new, original songs or use these classic tracks to their fullest potential, instead of laying sophomore lyrics onto some of the greatest music ever written.
Verdict: I want to like this movie so bad. Much like Christopher Robin, it has the elements of what I want and like, but it fumbles hard, and it hinges almost exclusively on the writers and director focusing exclusively on children. It’s not so patronizing as to insult their intelligence, but it could have done much, much better, especially in getting their elders to watch it with them. Total score? Three fleur-de-lis out of ten.
If only they had Rod Stewart, Sting, and Bryan Adams on the soundtrack.