Yesterday, I ran through several of the many faithful adaptations of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. There are also many animated versions of the tale. I think the best of the lot is Disney’s Mickey’s Christmas Carol (1983) with Scrooge McDuck finally getting to play his namesake.
Alistair Sim, so famous for the 1951 film version, lends his voice to an animated version (1971). You can also find animated Scrooges played by Bugs Bunny (1979) and Mr. Magoo (1962). Robert Zemeckis put together a great cast for his recent animated version (2009), with Jim Carrey, Gary Oldham, Colin Firth, Cary Elwes and Bob Hoskins, but like all motion capture animated films, I feel like I’m watching a video game, not a movie.
However, I find the non-traditional versions (musicals, parodies, derivatives) of A Christmas Carol sometimes more enjoyable than the faithful adaptations. The 1970 musical Scrooge with Albert Finney in the title role was very popular in its day and nominated for several Oscars, but the music hasn’t held up very well. The “Thank you very much” number is still great fun to watch, but that’s about it for this movie:
I’ve always found Finney’s voice and mannerisms as Scrooge to be a bit bizarre, in the “I’m not sure what the hell he’s doing” kind of way, especially when he sings. Although I do very much like Alec Guinness as Marley’s Ghost, slyly funny and scary at the same time.
Another musical is The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992), a very funny take (I have yet to see a Muppet movie that wasn’t funny) with Michael Caine playing Scrooge alongside the usual crew. It’s easy to overlook Caine’s performance because he’s playing against puppets, but he’s quite good, maybe one the best film Scrooges.
My favorite parodies of A Christmas Carol are Blackadder’s Christmas Carol (1988) and Scrooged (1988). Rowan Atkinson as Blackadder is as funny as ever. The twist in this adaptation is that Ebenezer Blackadder is the most benevolent man in England, however when the Ghost of Christmas (Robbie Coltrane) reveals visions of his nefarious ancestors, Blackadder has a change of heart and becomes the ruthlessly nasty Blackadder we have come to love in this series. And the cast can’t be beat: Stephen Fry, Hugh Laurie, Miriam Margolyes, Miranda Richardson, Jim Broadbent and the always funny Tony Robinson as Baldrick.
Bill Murray was at the top of his comedic game in the 1980s and the Richard Donner directed Scrooged is a great example. Bill Murray is a crass, ruthless TV executive out to milk every dollar he can out of the holidays until the Ghosts of Christmas show him the errors of his way. My favorite part: this parody promo of The Night the Reindeer Died:
There have been so many Christmas Carol adaptations that it is easy to overlook a film that takes the idea of Dickens’ story (a character who changes his ways after supernatural beings show him visions of his past, present and future life) and make an original, yet still derivative work. Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life is the American Christmas Carol. George Bailey is a man haunted by a life that may have benefited his community, but has robbed him of his own dreams and aspirations. After contemplating suicide, an angel helps him by showing how his town would look if he had never lived. Capra turns the tables in the story and highlights not the mean old Scrooge character, here Mr. Potter, but instead the Cratchit character, and reimagines him as regretting his life of servitude. In America, we’re less inspired by a Scrooge turning over a new leaf, as we are by a Cratchit becoming a success. This film has become almost as popular as Dickens’ story in the many adaptations it has spawned. There have been so many TV sitcom versions that there’s even a parody show about 70s sitcom versions of Capra’s film, It’s a Wonderful Life Christmas Special, Starring the Fonz.
I’ll admit that I’m one those sappy fools who cries every time the bell rings at the end of the movie.
Honorable mention goes to “Doctor Who: A Christmas Carol” (2010) with Michael Gambon as the Scrooge character and The Doctor (Matt Smith) as a time travelling Ghost of Christmas Past who must save not only Scrooge, but the planet, as well. The show begs the question, can you call Dickens’ A Christmas Carol the first modern time-travel story?
Thanks for another great feature, Ed! If you missed it this past October, check out Ed’s breakdown of the many film adaptations of works by Edgar Allan Poe: Part One, Part Two. And for a different take on the aforementioned Albert Finney Scrooge, check out the praise it recently received from a couple of local film types in Cinedelphia’s recent compilation post of Christmas movie recommendations.