As a continuation to yesterday’s post about Christmas Specials, today’s post continues on with another brand of Winners and Losers – adaptations of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Dickens really hit a home run on this one – it was a Christmas special back when books were the hip thing in popular culture. It’s a classic tale about the true meaning of Christmas: good will towards men. Scrooge’s redemption as a man touches us all in a deep place because, let’s face it, we all know a Scrooge or two in our lives. Perhaps one day they will see the light.
Dickens, of course, used A Christmas Carol as a political tool, like most of his work. He wanted to highlight the negative tone that the wintry season had taken in post-Industrial Revolution England. Scrooge isn’t just a man, he’s a metaphor for tycoons across the nation who kept the poor and young in squalor for their profits. By renewing the old English Christmas spirit, he sought to raise awareness of the terrible plight of England’s underclass.
A Christmas Carol is the most adapted Christmas themed story (save for, well, the original). Everybody’s had a crack at it. Not everybody’s succeeded, though, and we’re here to examine a few winners and losers.
The Muppet Christmas Carol: The best one of them all. Kermit the Frog and Michael Caine come together for a brilliant performance. Casting Caine as Scrooge seems obvious at first, but he had never played the role up to this point in film! It chooses to go the musical route, as many adaptations do, and the songs are pretty much the best across the board. The film also stays fairly close to Dickens’ original writing, with Gonzo acting as narrator. Being the first Muppet feature produced after Jim Henson’s death, I wasn’t quite sure how it would turn out, but they’ve kept Jim’s spirit alive and I’m sure he would have been proud.
Mickey’s Christmas Carol: The best animated adaptation of A Christmas Carol, mainly because it sticks to the original and because it introduced us to Alan Young as Scrooge McDuck. Though Scrooge had been featured in old Carl Barks comic books, Young had brought the character to life as an old Scottish coot, and has held the role of Scrooge ever since. Like The Mupppet Christmas Carol, the roles were cast by Disney characters in humorous and appropriate ways – Black Pete is the best Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come by far.
Patrick Stewart’s A Christmas Carol: A one man stage play of the book by none other than Captain Picard himself. Stewart, an accomplished Shakespearian actor, is all of the characters in this show. It shows his extraordinary range and talent as an actor. Though you may not be able to see the one man show, it is available on CD to listen to. Make it so, Mr. Cratchit.
Mister Magoo’s Christmas Carol: This one is a little looser of an interpretation than the previous, but the star of the show is the music. While all of the tracks aren’t as good as Muppets, the highs (The Lord’s Bright Blessing, Alone in the World) are of excellent quality. This also has the distinction of being the first Christmas special produced for television. It’s memorable and lovable – what more could you ask?
The Stingiest Man in Town: A lowlight for Rankin Bass. Though it had Walter Matthau as Scrooge, it seemed to plod along and has simply been outclassed by other musical adaptations. It was one of the last Rankin-Bass holiday productions, and they were clearly on the downslope with this snoozer.
Jetsons/Flintstones adaptations: These aren’t necessarily bad, they’re just not memorable like other adaptations are. It’s your standard retelling, they do nothing to add to the story. The shows aren’t committing crimes against television, they’re just not that interesting. There are also better Christmas episodes of these same series, so skip these.
Robert Zemeckis’ A Christmas Carol: It looks like a terrible video game. Here’s a hint, Zemeckis – motion capture is not a substitute for animation, no matter how many hours you throw at it! Plus, did Jim Carrey really have to do all those roles? You can hire other actors, you know.
Scrooged: This Bill Murray flick isn’t a straight up adaptation like the other films, but it’s still worth a mention because it’s one of the very few attempts to truly modernize the tale and put a different spin on it. It’s witty and acerbic and if you don’t like Bill Murray’s style you probably won’t like the movie. Directed by Richard Donner of Superman fame, the movie’s story is augmented by fantastic special effects.