Before you put that Christmas card in the mail to Grandma, I want you to pause for a moment and think about the artist who drew the image on the front of that holiday card. To be specific, WHEN they drew that image.
“My Dad was actually an illustrator for Hallmark Cards. And I remember that he always got discombobulated because they were always doing holiday-themed stuff at the wrong time of year,” recalled Paul Rudish during a recent phone interview. “By that I mean: In order to meet Hallmark’s production schedule, Dad would have to be painting Santa Claus in June and then drawing the Easter Bunny in November.”
Well, Paul recently got a taste of what his Dad, Rich Rudish (EDITOR’S NOTE: Rich actually created Rainbow Brite for Hallmark in 1983. Not only that, but Paul’s Dad then went on to become art director for this character’s full-length animated feature, 1985’s Rainbow Brite and the Star Stealer) went through with when Rudish rode herd on production of Disney Television Animation’s holiday treat for 2016, “Duck the Halls: A Mickey Mouse Christmas Special” (which premieres tonight at 8:30 p.m. ET / PT on Disney Channel, the Disney Channel app as well as Disney Channel VOD).
“I have to admit that it was pretty weird to have Christmas songs stuck in your head in August,” Paul laughed. “To have it be 96 degrees outside while you’re in your office, singing ‘It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year.’ “
So how this super-sized seasonal version of those Emmy Award-winning “Mickey Mouse” shorts actually come about? Rudish (i.e., the executive producer & supervising director of this acclaimed series) was quick to credit the talented team at Disney Television Animation.
“It was Darrick Bachman who actually came up with the original conceit of Donald opting out of flying south for the winter one year so that he could then see what Christmas was all about. Along with our directors Alonso Ramos-Ramirez and Dave Wasson, Darrick & I got in there and hammered out this story,” Paul explained. “But most of the credit really belongs to Darrick. He’s the guy who transformed this story idea from something you could build a short around to a concept that could then support a full-sized holiday special.”
And – yes – you read that right. “Duck the Halls: A Mickey Mouse Christmas Special” actually started out life as an idea for a 3-and-a-half minute-long short. But all that changed when Rudish got a call from Disney’s Franchise division.
“Franchise told me – back during the Summer of 2015 -- that there was a desire for an Christmas special which featured the versions of the Mickey Mouse characters that we do here at Disney Television Animation,” Paul continued. “When I then told Darrick that we had been tasked by Corporate to come up with an instant holiday classic, he took his original idea for that 3 minute-long ‘Duck the Halls’ short and then wrote a very thorough treatment which turned this story into something that could be told over 22 minutes.”
Of course, you can’t have a holiday special without Christmas music. But Rudish wanted some very specific tunes for this toon.
“When I was growing up, my Mom made me watch those Andy Williams Christmas specials which always had these very elaborate production numbers. And I thought that – if the music for ‘Duck the Halls’ could somehow recreate that 1950s / 1960s feel – it would really fit well with the style & tone that we were trying to capture with this Disney Television Animation holiday special,” Paul stated. “Thankfully, our composer Christopher Willis more than obliged that request. He not only wrote music that had that specific 1960s flavor, but Chris also pre-wrote all of the main song sequences of this show so that we could then specifically board to this music.”
Rudish also made a point of talking up Jenny Gase-Baker (who – along with Joseph Holt – served as art director on this holiday special)’s contribution to “Duck the Halls.”
“If you watch this show closely, you’ll notice that there are a lot of quick cuts. Which means that the shot count on ‘Duck the Halls’ is really very high. Which meant that the background work on this holiday special got really intense,” Paul said. “But Jenny Baker, she just rolled up her sleeves and dove in. With the help of our painting team, she put a lot of love into this show. Which – given how excited Jenny gets about Christmas in general – really wasn’t a surprise.”
Speaking of watching “Duck the Halls: A Mickey Mouse Christmas Special” very closely: If you’re a Disney fan, you’re definitely going to want to DVR this holiday show. Not just because of those cameo appearances that Ludwig Von Drake & Gus Goose make. But because of those blink-and-you’ll-miss-them references to earlier Walt Disney Productions like 1948’s Melody Time and 1961’s Babes in Toyland.
And for the serious film fans out there in the audience … Well, when’s the last time you saw a holiday special that actually included a nod to Stanley Kubrick’s version of The Shining ?
“To be honest, I’m kind of surprised that Disney Corporate let us keep in some of the things that we slipped into ‘Duck the Halls,’ ” Rudish admitted. “I guess that they just thought that it was funny.”
By the way, this isn’t the only holiday special that Disney Television Animation has in the works which feature the characters from the “Mickey Mouse” shorts. As this phone interview was drawing to a close, Paul revealed that they’re already hard at work on a Halloween special for Disney Channel which should debut sometime in October of 2017.
“The whole team enjoyed working on that one. Largely because it’s about Halloween and you can then be sillier & scarier. More to the point, I think that we learned a lot from working on ‘Duck the Halls,” Rudish concluded. “Anyway, that one’s in animation right now. Mercury – that’s our animation studio up in Canada – is working on it. And we should see the animation for this Halloween special start coming back in January.”
Halloween? In January? The discombobulation continues at Disney Television Animation.
FYI: If you miss “Duck the Halls: A Mickey Mouse Christmas Special” ‘s debut tonight on Disney Channel, the Disney Channel app as well as Disney Channel VOD, you can always catch this new holiday special when it airs on DisneyXD on Monday, December 12 starting at 8 p.m. ET / PT.