Final Thoughts: A Christmas Carol

It’s Christmas Eve and we’ve finally reached the end of A Christmas Carol‘s Movie Match-Up. There have been ten very unique and different takes on a story that has been done countless times, and it’s finally time to see which versions had the best and worst interpretations of the story.

Let’s start with something small—supporting characters. With a lot of these smaller categories, there won’t really be a worst, as is there isn’t really room to do something dreadfully bad.

Best Belle

This is tough as she usually doesn’t have too many scenes in the movie. Sometimes we get an additional scene of her with her family, but often we do not. Lucy Gutteridge is very good in the 1984 version, calling Scrooge out on his uncertainties, and Meredith Braun is memorable in The Muppet Christmas Carol, mainly for singing “When Love is Gone.” The best, though would have be Rona Anderson as Alice in Scrooge 1951, mostly for the scene in the Present where she is shown helping the poor.

alice

Best Fred

While there has never really been a bad portrayal, very few are memorable. Fred is often relegated to a plot device over a three-dimensional character. Colin Firth is alright in the 2009 version, and Roger Rees is brilliant in his scenes with George C. Scott in the 1984 film. My favorite though has to be Barry McKay in the 1938 film. He gets a lot of screen time in this film, and a lot of Scrooge’s transformation is centered around helping Fred.

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We’ll talk about the rest of the Cratchits in the Best Bob Cratchit category. Let’s move on with some music.

Best Score

Honestly, besides the musical versions, there aren’t too many that stand out. The score of the 1984 film is pretty good, but it’s played way too loudly throughout the movie, while the 1999 film has perhaps the most generic TV movie score ever composed. Not surprisingly, Alan Silvestri’s sweeping, magnificent score from A Christmas Carol 2009 is by far the best.

Best and Worst Original Song

Many versions don’t have new songs, so the field is a bit narrower here. The only bad songs come from Scrooge 1970, and the worst by far is “I Like Life,” sung by the Ghost of Christmas Present and later Scrooge himself. It feels like they just needed one more song in the film, so the composer just grabbed a rhyming dictionary and went crazy.

There are a lot of songs in contention for the best. I love “Scrooge,” the opening number from The Muppet Christmas Carol, and I love the gorgeous “When Love is Gone” even more. “Oh What a Merry Christmas Day” from Mickey’s Christmas Carol and “God Bless Us Everyone” from A Christmas Carol 1984 both set the moods of their film wonderfully, but the winner is without a doubt “Thank You Very Much” from Scrooge 1970. It feels like a song that Eric Idle would lead in the Monty Python version of A Christmas Carol that unfortunately doesn’t exist… I mean come on, Michael Palin as Bob Cratchit, John Cleese as Scrooge, Terry Gilliam as Tiny Tim. I’m getting off track. It is very rare for a song to be this hilarious and catchy. You can say it clashes with the tone of the film, but I say the rest of the film clashes with the tone of “Thank You Very Much.”

Alright, let’s get haunted and talk about some ghosts.

Best and Worst Marley.

There have been so many bad Marleys, and only a handful of ones that are even decent. On the bad side, there’s Alec Guinness in Scrooge 1970, John Forsythe as Lew Hayward in Scrooged, Goofy in Mickey’s Christmas Carol, and the ridiculously over-the-top Michael Horden in Scrooge 1951. The worst though is the completely invisible Marley in 1935’s Scrooge. I still just can’t get past his cringe-worthy line “Look well, Ebenzer Scrooge for only you can see me.”

What, behind the air?

On the good side, there’s Statler and Waldorf in A Muppet Christmas Carol and Bernard Lloyd in A Christmas Carol 1999. I give the point to Lloyd because he’s the only one who talks to Scrooge like a friend. Sure, Marley is there to warn Scrooge, but he still cares about him. He knows the ghosts will scare him of of his wits well enough.

Best and Worst Christmas Past

The two most recent versions have the most accurate visual depictions of the ghost, but performances that aren’t so great. I’d really like to pick the 2009 version as the worst, but since it’s so close to the book, I’ll give it a pass and go to the 1938 version and Glinda the Good Witch instead.

columbia

For the best, I’m actually taking a choice out of left field and going with the cigar-chomping cab driver from Scrooged played by David Johansen. He’s easily the funniest character in the movie, and he has a lot of heart too. The scene where Frank is pretending plots of TV shows happened in real life is perhaps the funniest scene in any adaptation.

johanson

Best and Worst Christmas Present

There are really only two that aren’t great. I don’t care for the rather stoic version in Scrooge 1970, but the worst is the bored ghost in A Christmas Carol 1999 played by Desmond Barrit.

Christmas Present is a character I’ve singled out in nearly every review, because the actors playing the ghost always seem to have so much fun. There’s Lionel Braham as the constantly laughing ghost in A Christmas Carol 1938, Willie the Giant in Mickey’s Christmas Carol, and even Carol Kane in Scrooged. Edward Woodward is a close runner-up for his performance in A Christmas Carol 1984, but the best is Francis de Wolff in Scrooge 1951. He plays both the joyful and the somber scenes to perfection.

present

Best and Worst Christmas Future

Oh boy have there been some lazy ones.  I still take issue with only seeing the ghost’s shadow in Scrooge 1935, but the ghost simply being a shadow in A Christmas Carol 2009 isn’t too bad. Scrooge 1970’s ghost reveals himself to be a skeleton, and the ghost in A Christmas Carol 1938 is making no attempts to be anything but a man in a cape. The worst though is this abomination from A Christmas Carol 2009.

eyes

I’m sorry, this still makes me laugh. Plus, his finger is clearly the finger of a healthy human being. Did this movie just give up at this point?

As for the best, there are a few that are genuinely creepy. I love all the fog surrounding the ghost in A Christmas Carol 1984, and that cemetery gate noise is interesting. The Muppet version has a very unique design, as does the antenna-headed ghost in Scrooged. The ghost in Scrooge 1951 is the scariest, though, because of how little we see of him. We know Scrooge is looking right at him, and he’s terrified, and we can only imagine what his true form is. That’s grade-A horror movie stuff.

too old

Alright, let’s get to the big categories.

Best and Worst Bob Cratchit

As with the Ghost of Christmas Present, this character is almost always portrayed well, but there are a few exceptions. Donald Calthrop’s performance in Scrooge 1935 is distracting with his constant attempts at comedy. I’m not sure if everyone considers Eliot Loudermilk from Scrooged a Cratchit, but I do, and he easily takes this one. Bobcat Godlwhait is just unbearable.

I’ve actually already mentioned my favorite Cratchit times in previous reviews, but there are some wonderful runners-up. Mervyn Johns in Scrooge 1951 and David Collings in Scrooge 1970 both play men who know they’re down on their luck, but are still immensely proud of their families. Alfre Woodard as Grace Cooley presents a great modern-day twist on the character in Scrooged, making us genuinely care for her family in just a few small scenes.  The best, though, is easily David Warner who just embodies the character every second he’s on screen.

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I also consider this version to have the best Mrs. Cratchit and Cratchit family as a whole (perhaps not Tiny Tim, but it’s such a young character that it’s never really the actor’s fault.). They seem completely believable and their scenes together are astoundingly good.

Best and Worst Story-Telling

No version does a horrible job with the story, as it’s a pretty easy formula to follow. I would pick Scrooge 1935 for its weird pacing, especially how long it takes to get going.

Once again, no surprise, but the best story-telling comes from Scrooge 1951. Expanding on Scrooge’s backstory was risky, but these scenes just had so much depth to his character, as well as Marley’s.

Best and Worst Scene

There are so many dumb scenes that I won’t come close to naming them all. There’s Scrooge falling onto his own corpse in A Christmas Carol 1999, Scrooge getting shrunk to the size of a mouse in A Christmas Carol 2009, and that weird mood-killer in A Christmas Carol 1938 where Scrooge asks the town crier to come up and see Marley’s ghost. The worst scene is one that stops a movie dead in its tracks, a scene… you know I did a whole rant in the original review, so I won’t do it again. It’s the one where Scrooge goes to hell in Scrooge 1970.

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Thankfully, for the best, there are also a lot to choose from. There’s the haunting additional scene of Marley’s death in Scrooge 1951, Bob Cratchit’s speech to his family after Tiny Tim’s death in A Christmas Carol 1984, the opening eight minutes to The Muppet Christmas Carol that set the mood perfectly, and the scene in Scrooged where Frank yells at a homeless man (and himself) that he should have stayed with Claire. These are all close, but the best from any version would have to be Scrooge visiting Fred in A Christmas Carol 1984. When he apologizes to him for neglecting him and also finally admits how much he reminds Scrooge of Fan, it’s just brilliant. I also love Fred’s pure joy in seeing his uncle finally show up, saying he knew it would happen one day.

Best and Worst Scrooge

Every actor who has played Scrooge is a great actor in their own right, but this is a tough part to play. Michael Caine’s performance comes off as lazy, Seymour Hicks’ is muddled, and Reginald Owen’s goes from way too angry to way too happy at the drop of a hat. Still, I just can’t take Albert Finney’s performance. It’s way too hammy and doesn’t give Scrooge any sympathy at all.

Scrooge McDuck is easily the best comedic Scrooge, beating out Bill Murray’s performance in Scrooged and Jim Carrey’s in A Christmas Carol 2009. As for the dramatic performances, it really comes down to Alastair Sim, George C. Scott, and Patrick Stewart. All three bring something special, but I think George C. Scott is by far the best. His icy demeanor as well as his wit make Scrooge a believable miser, and his change of heart feels real. This leads to…

Best Overall Film

For me, it’s the 1984 film. A Christmas Carol is about the characters first, and they have so much room to breathe here. The 1951 version is for all technical and cinematic reasons the most professional and best-looking film, but the performances of David Warner and George C. Scott in the 1984 film elevate it just a little bit higher.

WINNERcarol

Thanks for joining me for A Christmas Carol‘s Movie Match-Up, and join me back in January when I’ll be starting a new one. For now, thanks for reading and Merry Christmas.

 

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A Christmas Carol (2009)

2009

  • Year: 2009
  • Director: Robert Zemeckis
  • Starring: Jim Carrey, Gary Oldman, Colin Firth

This is a weird pairing. I’m not going to give some big introduction or set-up, except that this is a weird pairing—Robert Zemeckis directing Jim Carrey in an adaptation of A Christmas Carol.alrighty

Robert Zemeckis is one of the most innovative and talented directors in Hollywood. When he blended traditional animation with the real world in Who Framed Roger Rabbit, it was breathtaking. When he digitally edited Tom Hanks into historical footage in Forrest Gump, it was completely believable. His innovation of the 2000s was motion capture, which mixed the actors’ appearances and expressions with the animators’ drawings.

Jim Carrey is well, Jim Carrey. He has a very specific brand of over-the-top comedy that some people love and others are not so big on. However, he has also proven himself to be a very talented dramatic actor in movies like The Truman Show and especially Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. I have to say that while I’m not really a fan of his comedies, he’s very underrated as a dramatic actor. This version of A Christmas Carol tries to play with both his dramatic and comedic talents.

I’m going to try, for the most part, not to base my review on my feelings towards motion capture animation, because that’s not really the big picture here. I would personally prefer traditional animation or just a live-action film, because unfortunately the combination leads to some awkward designs, like this one of Bob Cratchit (Gary Oldman).

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That said, the design of Scrooge is pretty good. They don’t just try to make him look like Jim Carrey (except for the younger version of himself), and it’s a pretty committed performance. Unfortunately, the performance it reminds me of most is Albert Finney’s. In the early scenes, it feels almost like a parody of Ebenezer Scrooge. How about the first scene where he pockets the coins covering up Marley’s dead eyes? I get that they’re trying to establish he’s stingy, but come on.

Jim Carrey also portrays the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future.

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Your comedic training is complete.
sellers
Hahahahaha nice try

So, simply put, a lot of this movie is Jim Carrey talking to Jim Carrey, and in the past scenes showing him Jim Carrey. It appears that the film is trying to depict the ghosts fairly…

AlecGuinness
So we’re just not going to talk about that film where I played eight characters?

Some people just won’t go away. As I was saying, It appears that the film is trying to depict the ghosts fairly close to their book descriptions. Since this is an animated film, Christmas Past can change his appearance like the book says he does, and his design is actually pretty interesting.

cANDLES

The ghost always talks about giving off light, so showing him with a candle-like design is very cool… and his voice is terrible. Carrey voices him with a very slow whisper and something of an Irish accent, and it is just unbearably grating to listen to.

All three of the ghosts here have an incredibly stupid way of leaving the scene. As in Dickens’ text, Scrooge snuffs out Christmas Past with the ghost’s cap, but in a completely useless addition, the cap catapults him into space and over the moon as he holds on for dear life.

space
I can’t believe other versions left out his audition for the cow in Hey Diddle Diddle.

This should by all means be the worst ghost exit, but somehow it isn’t. In Christmas Present’s final scene, he takes Scrooge to the inside of a clock tower (Okay Zemeckis, we get it, you made Back to the Future.) and shows him the children Ignorance and Want. The clock rings twelve and the ghost begins to die.

death

He doesn’t just disappear, but rather seemingly has a heart attack… or what a medically unsound movie would depict a heart attack as. Ignorance and Want suddenly grow up and taunt Scrooge (I’m a little confused why the boy named Ignorance is paying Scrooge any attention, but hey whatever).

skeleton
Clearly a shout-out to Disney’s first Silly Symphony “The Skeleton Dance.”

This movie has some weird obsession with dead bodies. I mean, we see Marley’s dead body at the beginning, the Ghost of Christmas Future’s skeleton here, Tiny Tim’s dead body later, and finally Scrooge falling into his coffin. What, was there some kind of corpse quota Disney forced this movie to follow?

The-Walt-Disney-Company-An-Overview
We’ll let you cut it to three if you show any dead parents.

As I said, the Christmas Future scenes end with Scrooge falling into his own fiery grave. You know, five of the ten versions have had some variation on this, so maybe a lot of people like it. For me, it just feels unnecessary to show. If seeing his own grave isn’t going to change him, why is throwing him into it going to do any good? It takes away any poignancy and subtlety this scene could and should have. It really only exists to scare the audience.

There are plenty of scenes that exist mainly to show off the visual effects and animation, and some of them work. Christmas Past flies Scrooge everywhere, leading to scenes that both look good and advance the plot. Christmas Present shows Scrooge a birds-eye view of everyone celebrating Christmas in their own way, which plays out over a gorgeous rendition of “Hark the Herald Angels Sing.” This is a wonderful scene that keeps in the spirit of the book, resembling how Scrooge is shown countless people celebrating on Christmas Day.

Alright, let’s get it over with and talk about the dumbest part in the movie. Yeah, there’s something worse than space travel and ghost skeletons. During a completely pointless slapstick chase through the streets of future London, Scrooge is shrunk down to the size of a mouse, and this is how he views the scene where Mrs. Dilber sells Old Joe his things.

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Was Disney regretful about their casting choices in Mickey’s Christmas Carol, deciding it was finally time for Scrooge to be a mouse? Did they think that kids would lose interest in a scene where Scrooge’s items are being sold? If that’s the case, I can’t imagine Disney thinking kids would enjoy the scene where Christmas Present discourses about why bakeries and other businesses should be closed on Christmas and Sundays.

There are lot of silly and pointless things that happen in this movie, but A Christmas Carol 2009 is still a very unique film experience. Atmosphere is built wonderfully, and Zemeckis is never afraid to just let you take in all the Christmas cheer. We feel all the joy of Fezziwig’s (Bob Hoskins) party, and the romance between Belle and Scrooge feels completely real.

One thing that is guaranteed to be great in any Robert Zemeckis film is the music. Alan Silvestri has composed the score of every Zemeckis film since 1984, and he always leaves an impression. Come on, you know your humming the Back to the Future theme right now. His score here is marvelous, mixing in bits and pieces of existing Christmas Carols with his own original compositions. Without the score being so great, the grand scenes would not really feel all that grand.

The supporting cast sounds impressive—Gary Oldman, Colin Firth, Bob Hoskins, Cary Elwes, Robin Wright, (and I’ve withheld all Princess Bride jokes, somehow.) With the exception of Hoskins, whose good as Old Joe and great as Fezziwig, none of them really add much. Here I think it is fair to blame motion capture technology somewhat, as the actors are both trying to emote with their faces, but not getting too carried away so the animators can do their job. I don’t know, maybe it’s not related to the technology at all, but when Gary Oldman’s performance isn’t memorable, something else is probably the issue.

The best scenes in the movie are actually the scenes after Scrooge wakes up. Okay, I’m not talking about the scene immediately after Scrooge wakes up, because it’s as over-the-top as usual. After that though, Jim Carrey really comes through on the performance. While the Scrooge of the rest of the movie felt like a parody, it finally feels like we’re seeing a real character. The scene where Scrooge joins in with a group of carolers he had shunned the day before could be goofy, but it’s surprisingly heartwarming.

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Scrooge is simply taking in Christmas, just like we the audience got to in previous scenes . He gets to Fred’s house eventually, but I love these scenes of him walking the streets, wishing people a Merry Christmas.

Jim Carrey reminds us how great of a dramatic actor he is with the very small scene at Fred’s party. Just the way he says “I’ve come to dinner” says so much about his character. If only he had gotten more moments like this throughout the movie, this could have been a really great performance.

A Christmas Carol 2009 would have been an immensely better movie without the slapstick. It really drags the movie down. When Marley on the doorknocker scares Scrooge off his feet, it kills a good moment. The movie felt like it was trying to both me the most comedic version ever made and also the most dark, and blending those two elements created a very uneven product. Let’s see what the final score is on our final Christmas Carol.

Story (19/30 Points)

It’s given room to breathe at certain points, but a lot of scenes, like Fred’s party or the break-up with Belle come and go very quickly. The slapstick sequences, and especially the long chase through future London take up way too much run time.

Scrooge (14/30 Points)

The voice is really annoying, and it reminds me a lot of Albert Finney’s portrayal of Scrooge. The post-transformation scenes are wonderful, though, and make up for a lot of flaws from the rest of the film.

Ghosts (2/10 Points)

Gary Oldman plays Jacob Marley, and unfortunately he’s not memorable. Like most, he’s just way too hammy. Christmas Past has such an annoying voice that I can’t focus on the scenes playing out. Christmas Present is very much like the book’s description, but his face looks too much like Jim Carrey, and it’s distracting. Christmas Future is mostly just a shadow, with a finger that sometimes points out, and that works well enough.

Bob Cratchit (5/10 Points)

I’ve mentioned before that sometimes Cratchit comes off as unintelligent, and unfortunately this is one of those times. I don’t know, wouldn’t it make more sense to have cast Bob Hoskins as Cratchit? Eh, he was probably too old. It’s probably not all Oldman’s fault though.

Supporting Characters (5/10 Points)

Everyone does just fine, but with a cast like this, wouldn’t you be expecting more?

Experience (8/10 Points)

Yeah, it’s completely style over substance. The style, bad comedy aside, is really done well. I wish the attention that was poured into the aerial scenes had been poured into the other aspects of the film.

Final Score: 53%

This movie definitely involves you in the visuals, but not much in the characters and story. That’s a shame, because A Christmas Carol is really all about the change of one character. This one at points feels more like A Christmas Carol: The Ride. 

Check back here tomorrow where I’m going to give some final thoughts on A Christmas Carol and declare the winners of Movie Match-Up.

A Christmas Carol (1999)

scrooge_stewartDVD

  • Year: 1999
  • Director:  David Jones
  • Starring: Patrick Stewart, Richard E. Grant, Joel Grey

Well, here we are at the last week of A Christmas Carol‘s Movie Match-Up. We’ve seen the good, the bad, and the Finney, but we still have two to go—one starring an acclaimed Shakespearean actor as Scrooge, and the other made by the director of Forrest Gump and Back to the Future. Don’t think that everything fresh and interesting has already been brought to the table.

For years, Patrick Stewart had done one-man productions of A Christmas Carol on stage, so it only seemed appropriate to cast him as Ebenezer Scrooge in a film version. With a line of endless Scrooge performances before him, how does Patrick Stewart distinguish himself from the others?

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Well he’s bald.

His performance is somewhere in between the coldness of George C. Scott and the outward anger of Reginald Owen. His only over-the-top angry moment is scaring a child caroling at his door, but I think Scrooge is intentionally playing it up here. Patrick Stewart’s Scrooge probably doesn’t mind children being scared of him, because at least they’ll leave him alone.

It feels like this version was trying to be the most faithful to the original text, including moments and even whole scenes that were left out of other adaptations. In the novel, Christmas Present shows Scrooge both miners and sailors singing Christmas carols and celebrating the holiday in their own way. While this only takes up a couple paragraphs in the book, there is definitely opportunity for a cool cinematic moment. Sure, the 1935 version had a short moment with the sailors, and similarly the 1951 version showed the miners briefly, but it never felt grandiose. Here, the scene is expanded upon, as we see miners, sailors, and even chimney sweeps singing “Silent Night” in various locations and languages.

chim
Never need a reason/Never need a rhyme/Round yon virgin/Step in time

Honestly, the best scenes in this movie are the ones with little-to-no dialogue. The opening scene depicts Marley’s funeral, and before even a word is said, we know everything we need to about the scene—Marley’s dead, very few people attended the funeral, and Scrooge is a cold man. This is immensely better than a narrator simply saying, “Marley was dead to begin with.”

However, there are places where trying to be the most faithful adaptation actually hurts the film. I’m afraid that the screenwriter took the text way too literally in some parts. Dickens was a master of setting up a scene with wonderful descriptions, and there’s a passage where he describes the biblical-themed murals in Scrooge’s home. Scrooge has just seen Marley on the doorknocker, and he then imagines Marley’s head on the murals. Dickens clearly states that Scrooge was not thinking of Marley when he saw him on the doorknocker, but says that imagining his head on the murals comes from “the disjointed fragments of his thoughts.” He saw him once and was trying in vain to remove the thought from his mind, but instead sees him everywhere. Since it is hard to differentiate on film between what Scrooge really sees and his thoughts, most versions make the wise choice of not showing this mural scene at all, and it feels tacky here.

In another moment straight from the text, Jacob Marley’s ghost (Bernard Lloyd) proves he is real by untying the wrap holding his head together and dropping his jaw father than any human could.

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This is a very hard image to make scary. On paper, it works in a way, as at least it comes across as unnerving and unnatural. As you can see though, in the film, it just looks silly. To make it worse, Marley can’t get it tied back together and Scrooge has to help him, in what is neither amusing or creepy.

This odd moment aside, Bernard Lloyd is perhaps the most believable Jacob Marley ever put to screen. Most Marleys focus on scaring and even intimidating Scrooge, which is odd because they were friends and business partners. Here, Scrooge and Marley have a rapport, a real camaraderie. Once Scrooge accepts the fact that he is talking to the ghost of his old partner, he talks as one would to someone they have not seen in a long time, dead or otherwise. Just like all Marleys, this one does not have time for small talk, but he still has a conversational tone.

The film also has a weird take on the book’s description of the Ghost of Christmas Future.

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And by weird I mean wrong. Yes, Dickens’ text does say, “It thrilled [Scrooge] with a vague uncertain horror, to know that behind the dusky shroud there were ghostly eyes intently fixed upon him,” and if you stopped reading there, I could understand the design. However, if you continue reading the same sentence, it clearly says that all Scrooge could see was “a spectral hand and one great big heap of black.” Later, it specifically mentions the “Unseen Eyes.” The horror comes not from seeing the eyes, but knowing that there is something looking at you that you can’t see. The Alastair Sim version gets this down perfectly. Oh by the way, let’s see what the spectral hand looks like here.

hand

The eyes are a misread of the text, but this is just lazy. For a movie that really tries in a lot of places, I don’t know what happened here.

Staying very true to the text, Christmas Future shows a usually skipped scene where a couple who owes Scrooge money celebrate his death. Do not adjust your sets, because I am about to compliment Scrooge 1970.

So why is this scene usually cut? Most versions have no problem showing the hobo and charwoman looting Scrooge’s items. I wouldn’t say it’s too mean-spirited, as the couple does feel bad for their happiness at his death. The reason this is probably cut is a mixture of time constraints and that it just doesn’t really need to be there. We need Tiny Tim’s death, we need Scrooge to see his future fate, but we already have one scene where people are happy that Scrooge died.

This scene has been done well once, but it’s done by capturing the spirit of the scene instead of showing the book’s scene itself. The “Thank You Very Much” number from Scrooge 1970 is mean-spirited, bombastic, and shows pure unadulterated joy at Scrooge being dead. In most versions, it would be out of place, and it still kind of is there, but at least it’s a musical where we’ve been introduced to the character leading the song and sympathize with him a bit. In the 1999 film, we just get Caroline and her husband, who we haven’t seen before and won’t see again.

Alright, so we have a very faithful and very literal adaptation of the book. How badly do they mess up the Ghost of Christmas Past? There’s no way they’re going to get someone who looks like both like an old man and a little child.

joel

Oh my gosh, they’ve done it! You mean to tell me all these previous versions (well okay, the more recent ones) could have cast Joel Grey this whole time? Casting director Joyce Gallie deserved an Emmy for this choice alone. I’m not even saying it’s a magnificent performance, but there are only a handful of actors who look simultaneously old and young, and seeing as how Paul Reubens would have been distracting, I can’t think of anyone better. Yes, I know the book also describes the ghost’s appearance as constantly changing, but there’s no way a live-action film is going to do that, and it shouldn’t.

This is a film that I really want to like more, because all the components sound really good. I’ve tried to pin down what exactly it is that doesn’t work, and after some thought, I think I have. While the performances are mostly all competent, you rarely feel like the story is really happening. A movie should completely engross you and at best make you forget you’re watching a movie at all. A Christmas Carol 1999 feels more like a stage play, and while there have been many good stage versions of A Christmas Carol, that’s not really what you want from a movie. Most of the performances feel very rehearsed and a bit unnatural, with the exception of Patrick Stewart who is quite good as Scrooge, but he could use better actors to work with. If I saw a stage production that was this good, I would be thrilled, but as a movie, it leaves something to be desired.

When I see David Warner in the 1984 film, I believe I’m seeing the real Bob Cratchit, even though many others have played him well. When I see Richard E. Grant in this version, he looks gaunt and underfed, and he gives a solid performance, but it just seems like a good actor playing Bob Cratchit. When Grant’s Cratchit, after Tiny Tim’s death, forces himself to say “I’m very happy,” it doesn’t come across as sincere. When David Warner’s says it, though, he makes you believe that he is making himself joyful for the sake of his family.

Like Cratchit, Desmond Barrit sure looks the part as the Ghost of Christmas Present.

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Unfortunately, for someone who is supposed to embody Christmas Spirit, he doesn’t seem to have much himself. He barely smiles and he never laughs heartily. Sure, there’s a somber side to Christmas Present too, but this guy just seems bored. Once again, maybe if this was on stage I could accept it more, but in a film, it just feels wrong.

As mentioned above, the Christmas Present scenes are expanded here, including this scene where the ghost takes Scrooge to… um…

garage
No spirit, we left the car on Floor E for Ebenezer.

I’m not sure, but it looks like a parking garage. They were in a prison in the scene before this, and nothing actually happens in this location, so I have absolutely no idea what this is supposed to be. I know it’s only five seconds of the film, but this always bothered me.

Patrick Stewart carries the film on his shoulders most of the way, and the graveyard scene should be the scene that clinches it and makes it a truly great performance, but it isn’t. I don’t think it’s his fault, but the tone of this scene is all wrong. He just kind of looks down and sees his grave instead of nervously wiping snow off of it. When does see it, he looks confused.

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Up until this point, I was convinced that this Scrooge knew he was the dead man, but he asks in surprise “Am I the man who lay upon that bed?” with major emphasis on the “I.” George C. Scott asked a very similar question as to the man’s identity before it is revealed, but he’s trying to convince himself that it’s not him.

It’s not too bad, I guess, because Scrooge accepts his fate and promises to live in the past, present, and future… and then the grave opens…

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Oh come on.

And Scrooge trips and falls down onto his own corpse…

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And they get sucked into hell together.

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Hell is an eternity of 90s CGI effects.

In Stewart’s defense, there is no way to act well in this scene. At least there is a pithy excuse as to why the hell scene exists in Scrooge 1970, but I can’t defend this one at all. Thankfully, there isn’t actually a scene in hell, but the waking up scene kind of feels like it.

Scrooge starts choking from laughing so hard, and it is so fake and bizarre, it’s incredibly uncomfortable to watch.

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Of all the silly, overblown, cheesy waking up scenes, this is by far the weirdest and worst. I can’t imagine anyone thinking this was a good take.

To be fair, Stewart does really well throughout the rest of the scenes. I love how it’s acknowledged subtly that Scrooge will have to get used to being a functioning member of society. He stumbles over his words when he offers to give his errand boy a schilling. Later at church, an usher signals for him to take off his hat, but he instead assumes he’s tipping his hat. None of these are big things, but they exist to show that Scrooge will have a few things to adjust. Patrick Stewart does gives Scrooge a believable transformation, and when he tells Bob Cratchit that he wants to help his family, we believe him.

How do Patrick Stewart and company stack up against the rest? Let’s check the final score.

Story (25/30 Points)

On one hand, it’s trying to stay really true to the Dickens’ text. On the other, it sometimes focuses on simply having the scenes over developing them.

Scrooge (23/30 Points)

With a better film around him, who knows? Maybe Patrick Stewart could have been as good as Alastair Sim or even approached George C. Scott. As it is, he gives still easily the best performance in the film, and alone justifies watching it.

Ghosts (5/10 Points)

Bernard Lloyd brings a human side to Marley that often is missed, and Joel Grey is perfect casting for Christmas Past in terms of appearance. Christmas Present sleepwalks through the thing though, and Christmas Future just makes me mad.

Bob Cratchit (6/10 Points)

Richard E. Grant does a fine job portraying Bob Cratchit, but it doesn’t help that his kids are not very good actors. I want to like him more than I do, honestly.

Supporting Characters (2/10 Points)

I didn’t talk about Fezziwig in the review, but he’s pretty enjoyable… and yeah that’s about it. It’s just a shame that no one stands out.

Experience (6/10 Points)

The “Silent Night” scene is breathtaking, and the opening funeral scene really sets the mood. I really wish we could have gotten more of that instead of the bland set pieces that populate the rest of the film.

Final Score: 67%

I remember that the first time I saw this years ago, I was really impressed at how faithful it was. Comparing it against others though, it’s enjoyable but pedestrian. It does feel like a really good stage production of A Christmas Carol. Since I’ve started reviewing these, I’ve learned that this actually has a pretty big fan base, and I get it. I can easily see it being someone’s favorite version due to the story and strength of Patrick Stewart’s performance. For me, it’s one I’ll watch if it’s on, but I don’t feel required to watch it every year.

One to go. On Wednesday, we’ll be looking at a version that I actually have not seen yet… 2009’s A Christmas Carol with Jim Carrey.

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The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)

 Mxcposter

  • Year: 1992
  • Director:  Brian Henson
  • Starring: Michael Caine, Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy

Who doesn’t love the Muppets? They’ve been a pop culture institution for years, and every time you think they’re down, they come back twice as powerful as before. 1992’s The Muppet Christmas Carol was the first Muppet film released after Jim Henson’s death in 1990 and also the first Muppet film under the Disney name. I guess that means technically there are three Disney versions of A Christmas Carol I’ll be watching.

So who do the Muppets cast as Ebenezer Scrooge? Sam Eagle? Statler and Waldorf? Oscar the Grouch? That yellow guy who throws fish?

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Well I got the Oscar part right.

Sir Michael Caine. The Muppets always had great cameos in their films, but this is the first one where the lead is played by a human actor. Michael Caine is obviously a wonderful actor, so I have to wonder what his agent thought about him doing a Dickens adaptation where he acts alongside puppets for 90 minutes. That said, this is a very faithful Dickens adaptation.

Gonzo narrates the film as Charles Dickens, which allows for many of the great lines usually left out of films to be included. Rizzo the Rat is also along for the ride, playing well… himself, and offering sarcastic commentary on the story.

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He may have stolen all my jokes for this review

We start with an overture, mixing songs from the movie with traditional Christmas carols. After meeting Gonzo… err… Charles Dickens and Rizzo, we get our opening song “Scrooge,” sung by everyone and everything on the street. Birds, cats, and even vegetables chime in about their hatred of Scrooge. The camera shows Scrooge walking during the song, but his face is always obscured, and this is a great way of building tension. These first eight minutes of the film are perfect.

Surprisingly, the Scrooge from The Muppet Christmas Carol is not a caricature. Those around him act like he is, but they’re puppets, we expect it. Michael Caine’s Scrooge is cold and cruel, but he doesn’t seem to enjoy being a jerk—it’s just business.

In a scene original to this film, Scrooge kicks out a man named Mr. Applegate, which may or may not be a very subtle reference to what will happen later. Mr. Applegate was also the alias the devil took on in Damn Yankees, so perhaps this scene is meant to symbolize Scrooge literally kicking out the devil later in the story.

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Your “Reading Way Too Much Into It” meter has gone to 11

Kermit the Frog plays Bob Cratchit, and like Mickey Mouse in Mickey’s Christmas Carol, he is great for the role of a stressed-out employee who tries to stay upbeat. A lot of the Muppet casting is spot-on, with Bunsen and Beaker as the charity workers, Fozzie as Fozziwig, and Statler and Waldorf as the Marleys. That’s right, the Marleys, Jacob and Robert, because what would a 90s comedy be without a Bob Marley joke?

Actually, that is one of the only pop culture jokes in the movie, which for the Muppets is unheard of. Most of the jokes come from Gonzo and Rizzo riffing on the story and getting into hijinks trying to follow the characters. There’s a great running joke where Gonzo and Rizzo keep getting hit by opening windows, which of course culminates in the Christmas morning scene where Scrooge famously throws open his window. Dickens fans will also get a kick out of the scene where the Marleys heckle Scrooge for his “terrible pun” of “There’s more of gravy than of grave about you.” This line is, of course, right out of the original novel.

A lot of laughs also come from the Muppets who are forced to not be themselves. When Sam Eagle as Scrooge’s headmaster tries to talk about hard work and business being the “American way,” Gonzo whispers in his ear, and Sam corrects it to the “British way.” Similarly, when Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem play at Fozziwig’s party, Animal is hilariously bored during a slow dance that’s light on drums.

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Arguably, this film appeals even more to Dickens fans than Muppet fans. The jokes are actually downplayed as the film goes on and the story gets darker. Gonzo and Rizzo even leave when the Ghost of Christmas Future enters, not returning until Christmas morning.

Unfortunately, once the jokes wane, so does the level of commitment in Michael Caine’s performance. Don’t get me wrong, Michael Caine is one of my favorite actors, and I’ll watch anything he’s in.

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Okay, okay, Michael Caine is one of my favorite actors and I’ll watch 99% of what he’s in.

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Hey, he won’t even watch that one! Seriously, though, I’m not sure what happened with Michael Caine’s Scrooge. Maybe it was really hard to act alongside just puppets. At least in the early scenes he had his nephew Fred (Steven Mackintosh) and later his younger self (Ray Coulthard) and Belle (Meredith Braun). In the scenes with the Cratchits in the present and all of the future scenes, he has nobody to play off of.

Like too many Scrooges, his change isn’t believable, but he falls on the Reginald Owen side of the issue as opposed to the Bill Murray one—his change comes too soon. He’s bitter enough in the opening scenes, but it almost immediately drops off when the ghosts start. By the time Christmas Present comes around, he dances with him! I mocked Albert Finney’s Scrooge for donning a Santa suit and parading through the streets of London, but at least that was post-transformation.

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Ebenezer Scrooge, the sins of this scene are huge.

The scenes at the Cratchit home in both the present and the future are almost always a highlight, even in films I don’t care for on the whole like Scrooged or Scrooge 1970. While Kermit and Miss Piggy as Bob and Emily Cratchit sounds great on paper, the scenes of their family are just awkward.

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Sure, Miss Piggy and Kermit are an item all throughout the Muppets canon, but it’s always played for laughs. Here, not one joke is made about it, which is odd, since Kermit and Piggy having children could open up an entirely new set of jokes.

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Tiny Tim, you have your mother’s eyes.

Maybe it’s a blended family and they have this hanging on the wall.

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Just please, make a joke somewhere! I mean, at least we don’t get some weird frog-pig abominations for the children, but what we get is distracting.

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Seriously, what is going on with her eyelids?

Michael Caine’s Scrooge watches this scene with as much investment as he gave to the charity workers earlier… wow I reached for that one.

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I swear, these are different shots.

The future scene with the Cratchits is mostly done alright, except for one really bad line delivery. It sounds like I’m nitpicking here, but it completely ruins the mood of the whole scene. Kermit says “I’m sure we will never forget Tiny Tim” like a question, as if he has forgotten his own son’s name.

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Oh irony.

This is either the funniest joke in the whole movie, or a really poor line read. Seeing as how the Cratchit family has not made one joke this whole film, I am afraid that it’s the latter.

Now for something that is done really well—the ghosts. Surprisingly, they are not played by existing Muppets, but are instead designed to resemble the book’s description of them.

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Well, Christmas Past still doesn’t really resemble the book’s description of both an old man and a child, but at this point I’m convinced we’re never going to get an accurate depiction. The ghost still has a really cool beam of light design and it’s still one of the better portrayals. Christmas Present is an enormous jolly puppet who actually ages as the day goes on, which is also right out of the book. Christmas Future is always scarier when it doesn’t look like there’s an actor in the cloak, and since that is probably the case here, it does the job wonderfully.

Like most Muppet movies (and I’m learning a surprising number of Christmas Carols), this is a musical, so I guess I need to talk about the songs. Well, sort of like Michael Caine’s performance, they start out great and are half-asleep by the end.

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Sleepdancing should not be a thing… neither should this image.

As I said above, the opening number “Scrooge” is a terrific song in a terrific scene. “One More Sleep Til Christmas,” sung by Kermit and the rat bookkeepers is pretty good too. The Marley Brothers sing the aptly titled “Marley and Marley,” which is both catchy and somewhat haunting, although it should have been a reggae song.

What about “When Love is Gone?” Don’t know what I’m talking about? Perhaps you have the edition where “When Love is Gone” is gone. Let’s just say it’s a long story, but there was a whole thing over whether not to leave it in the movie, and it ended up cut from the theatrical version. Some home releases have it and others don’t. I understand the complaints that it slows down the pacing, but who cares? It’s a great song, and without it, there would be only a few seconds of Belle on screen. It at least explains her motivations. Plus, we get Michael Caine singing with the shadow of his former love, which is one of the most memorable parts of the whole film.

Excuse me a second while I go look at the track listing, because I can’t remember one more song in the film. Alright, well Christmas Present sings “It Feels Like Christmas,” which falls into the annoying “Here’s some stuff that happens at Christmas” genre. There are some songs and reprises at the end, but they’re just entirely forgettable. I guess overall the songs are better than the ones from Scrooge 1970—it never sinks as low as “I Like Life,” but then again no song here is as great as “Thank You Very Much.”

I know I’ve picked apart a lot of aspects that don’t work, but overall this is a good movie. The story is told faithfully, and the ghosts are all great. If you want a lesson in how to do a good Christmas Carol adaptation, watch the first eight minutes of this film. Gonzo and Rizzo are hilarious throughout, and the humor they do bring to the story never fails to make me laugh. Let’s check out the final score.

Story (26/30 Points)

There are problems with this movie, but most of them are not with the way the story is told. Christmas Future is a bit rushed, but I feel the studio was trying to keep the movie fairly short, which is especially tough for a musical. The creators of the film obviously loved the source material, and boy does it show.

Scrooge (17/30 Points)

It’s hard for me to be so critical of Michael Caine. I’ll give him some credit for being very good in the opening scenes and the Christmas Past scenes, but it goes downhill fast. By the time it gets to Christmas morning, he’s just reading lines to be done with it. It’s a big disappointment.

Ghosts (10/10 Points)

While none of them are my number one favorite incarnation, these designs are so creative that I give it the perfect score. It was really gutsy to not use existing Muppets for Past, Present, and Future, but it paid off.

Bob Cratchit (7/10 Points)

Like Mickey Mouse, Kermit the Frog is the obvious choice. Unlike Mickey, Kermit doesn’t really bring anything surprising to the role.

Supporting Characters (8/10 Points)

Gonzo and Rizzo steal the show with their narration and humor. Plenty of other Muppets make enjoyable cameo appearances as well.

Experience (8/10 Points)

The atmosphere is wonderful from the get-go, and a lot of the special effects still hold up. The flying scene in particular looks great. There are songs that don’t work, but the ones that do stick with you.

Final Score: 76%

Yeah, it’s a bit inconsistent, and there are some scenes that feel rushed and underwhelming, but the good stuff is just so good. If Michael Caine had kept the performance he had going at the beginning, it could honestly be one of the greats. As it is, it’s still a very entertaining film.

On Monday, we’ll be looking at 1999’s A Christmas Carol starring Patrick Stewart.

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Scrooged (1988)

scrooged

  • Year: 1988
  • Director:  Richard Donner
  • Starring: Bill Murray, Karen Allen, Alfre Woodard

I have to admit I’m excited, because today we’re going to be talking about one of the greatest films of all time. We’ll be looking at a film where Bill Murray plays a sarcastic jerk who works at a TV station, who on the eve of a holiday is convinced to change his ways thanks to a supernatural means.

But enough about Groundhog Day. Of all the modern day retellings of A Christmas Carol, Scrooged is easily the most famous. Updated versions of the tale make perfect sense, as we’ve all wondered what Ebenezer Scrooge would look like today.

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No, no, I’ve already made this joke.

Actually, our Scrooge here is Frank Cross, the president of IBC (apparently none of the real networks had a sense of humor), and to his credit the youngest network president in history. Setting the story at a TV station instead of a counting house does allow for some clever satire, especially in the network’s Christmas Eve lineup. We get Lee Majors fighting off intruders at the North Pole, Robert Goulet singing “Silver Bells” while rowing on a river and being chased by an alligator, and a sitcom called Father Loves Beaver. Well, the first two are clever.

IBC’s big Christmas Eve program is a live production of A Christmas Carol, narrated by John Houseman and starring Buddy Hackett as Scrooge, Jamie Farr as Marley, and Mary Lou Retton as Tiny Tim. Beyond the obvious Mary Lou Retton miscasting, Buddy Hackett playing Scrooge is a shout-out to all the perfectly fine actors who were just not right to play Scrooge. (For those who aren’t familiar with him, Buddy Hackett was a goofy comedian, essentially a poor man’s Lou Costello.) It may be unintentional, but even Jamie Farr would be a much better choice to play Scrooge, and he’s in the same cast!

Of course, Frank finds his team’s Christmas ad far too charming and safe, so he presents his own where he essentially tries to scare people into staying home and watching TV. Of course, maybe we’d take it more seriously if it wasn’t written in Monty Python font.

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I find it interesting that Scrooge, a man who hated being bothered by people, is re-imagined as the president of a TV station, someone whose entire job revolves around working with people and knowing what people want to see. It’s a comedy, so it’s understandable that Frank will be more of a jerk than your normal Scrooge, but this guy is so verbally abusive that you don’t believe he’s a real person. Don’t get me wrong, no one plays a condescending prick better than Bill Murray, but he takes it way too far here. At times it feels like Scrooged is going for absurdist humor in just how over-the-top Frank is, but the rest of the story is much too grounded to make that work.

Alright, so maybe this is just an exaggerated persona that Frank adopts to be respected by his underlings—he is the youngest network president after all. Well, that’s thrown out the window when he steals a cab from an old lady to get to his Humanitarian of the Year dinner on time. Scrooge was a sad man who turned the world away, but Frank Cross seems to thoroughly enjoy being a horrible person.

Scrooged also feels the need to add a lot of supporting characters who don’t really add much to the story. In a somewhat superfluous subplot, Frank’s boss Preston Rhinelander (Robert Mitchum) has hired Brice Cummings (John Glover) to assist him, and of course Brice is after Frank’s job. There’s also this weird running joke where Rhinelander insists of more cat-friendly programming, which all leads up to him watching TV with his cats. Seriously, that’s the punch line you were building to?  It feels very strange that immensely talented actors like John Glover and especially Robert Mitchum were cast in these throwaway parts. Bob Cratchit is divided into two characters, the first being Grace Cooley, played wonderfully by Alfre Woodard. This could have easily come off as a cliched overworked secretary, but Woodard brings so much humanity to it that you forget it ever was a stock character. Unfortunately, there’s another Cratchit in this film, a meek yes-man named Eliot Loudermilk portrayed by…

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Look, there are a lot of things that date this movie, whether it be the pop culture references, Berlin Wall remarks, or Mary Lou Retton (albeit that one’s intentional), but casting Bobcat Goldwhait may be the most obvious. Maybe I’m the only one who can’t stand this guy, but is he ever annoying. He just seems to feel the need to yuk it up in every shot, and I mean every single shot. We get the feeling that Eliot Loudermilk is the kind of guy who has been just going with the flow for a long time, letting Frank Cross push him around, but today he’s going to take a stand. This is a tough kind of character to play, but to see it done well, just look at Crispin Glover in Back to the Future. George McFly is a similarly nebbish character who has been letting people push him around for his whole life, but there’s still more buried deep down. George could have been just another nerdy loser, but Glover played him in a way that he was three-dimensional. Bobcat Goldwhait just plays up the stereotype without an ounce of humanity.

All of these characters and plots take a long while to develop, and the first act of the movie feels really tedious. After accepting his award, Frank is visited by his old boss and mentor Lew Hayward (John Forsythe) who warns him to change his ways. After Frank refuses to believe he’s real, Lew drops him out of a window. Frank ends up in his office, having unknowingly dialed his ex-girlfriend Claire (Karen Allen).

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This scene just does not land (no pun intended). Frank is way too relaxed in response to seeing Lew’s ghost. Sure, he tries to shoot him and still says he doesn’t believe, but his expression seems to be one of “Sure, whatever.” Hayward’s dialogue does not sound natural, mixing lines straight out of Dickens with his laid-back conversational tone.  I’m pretty sure Murray and Forsythe did record their parts in the same studio, but it sure feels like they didn’t. Plus, I never got why Frank was thrown out of a window, except perhaps to say, “Look, we’re edgy, bet you wouldn’t see this in another film.”

Since our Scrooge knows the story of A Christmas Carol, there are some fun things they can do with the way it’s presented. Frank is told the first ghost will arrive at 12 noon on Christmas Eve, so during lunch with his boss, he keeps wondering which of the people in the room is the ghost. That’s actually pretty clever. Eventually, after extinguishing a man he thinks is on fire, Frank runs outside and hails a taxi.

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Of course, the taxi driver (David Johansen) is the Ghost of Christmas Past, and here it finally feels like the movie is picking up. Johansen is hilarious in the part, driving like a maniac just to scare Frank out of his wits. To be fair, there are plenty of versions of Christmas Past who seem to relish in freaking Scrooge out a little, and since Scrooged is a comedy, Johansen’s ghost turns it up all the way.

Frank is whisked away in the cab to 1955, when he was just four years old. I suppose 1955 was just the year to go in ’80s time-travel comedies. Frank as a young child watched a lot of TV, mainly because his butcher father (Brian Doyle-Murray) was as much of a rude, uncaring, completely-unbelievable-as-a-person jerk as he would go on to be. What was Frank’s Christmas gift as a four year old? A five pound cut of veal. His father tells him that if he wants a toy, he should get a job. Once again, this is so far-fetched in a movie that seems to be set in the real world, that it is neither believable or funny.

Even though Johansen’s Christmas Past is the most obnoxious and sarcastic version ever put to screen, he’s also perhaps the most kind. Seriously. When Frank tears up after seeing his mother, Christmas Past offers him his handkerchief, with only a smidgen of “I told you so.”

There’s a great bit where Frank tries to tell Christmas Past about his accomplishments as a child, but he is immediately called out for simply recounting plots of television shows he watched. The timing between Johansen and Murray is pitch perfect in these scenes, which may stem from the fact that they were friends in real life. Perhaps the film’s funniest exchange also comes from this scene.

  • Christmas Past: Let’s face it Frank—garden slugs got more out of life than you did.
  • Frank: (laughs) Name one.

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I won’t say that all of the film’s best jokes come from the Christmas Past sequence, but the film is definitely lacking in humor before and after David Johansen is on screen. There are even some clever background jokes in this sequence, like the ghost’s cab being from the Belle Cab Company.

After Frank is done seeing the past, he goes to visit Claire at the shelter where she works, meeting some homeless people who are convinced he’s Richard Burton, which is another joke that really doesn’t go anywhere. He also angers Claire by telling her she should fire all her incompetent volunteers and blow off the homeless to spend time with him.

Christmas Present is also a lot of fun, played here by the always delightful Carol Kane. She’s portrayed as sort of a psychopathic fairy, who is both bubbly and someone who gets enjoyment out of hitting Frank, even clocking him with a toaster at one point.

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With a lot of actors, this might not have been too funny, but when the physical comedy is coming from someone with the voice of Carol Kane, it works great. In a great scene with Grace, it’s revealed her husband died a few years ago, a fact Frank was totally oblivious to, and that her son Calvin hasn’t spoken since. This is a really smart update on the Tiny Tim character. Sure, they could have just made him a kid with cancer, but like Tiny Tim in the book, he has a condition that with the right time and money could be fixedbut, due to the circumstances at the moment, cannot be. Plus, the silent character’s name is Calvin Cooley, which is perhaps the only Calvin Coolidge joke ever made in a movie.

In the film’s most heartbreaking scene (yes, even more than the future scenes), Frank finds Herman, one of the homeless men he had talked to earlier, frozen to death. He shouts at Herman’s dead body,” Why didn’t you stay at Claire’s? Why didn’t you stay with Claire? She would have taken care of you!” Murray’s acting in this scene shows truly how much he is capable of. He’s shouting at Herman on the verge of tears, but he is really shouting at himself, revealing how much he hates himself for the choices he’s made in life.

To be fair, the tone in the past, present, and future sequences is pretty consistent. The ghosts and Frank bring most of the humor to the scenes while the visions are pretty straightforward. Funny things happen, especially in the past scenes, but, the scene with Frank’s father aside, they still feel like real life. It’s the stuff going on in between that really detracts from the film.

Another hilarious scene takes place when Frank sees the Ghost of Christmas Future in an elevator and freaks out, only to realize it’s the actor playing the ghost in the telecast.

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Apparently, they’re doing the Albert Finney version.

How bad can Frank’s future be though really? I mean, in the present, Bobcat Goldwhat has come back into the movie.

And he’s got a gun.

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Six Police Academy sequels or I’ll kill Steve Guttenberg’s career… I may do that anyway.

Except in the darkest of comedies today, I don’t think a disgruntled employee coming back and shooting up the place could be played for laughs. To be fair, no one actually dies, but not only is it unfunny, it’s completely unnecessary except to get Frank into an elevator to meet the real Ghost of Christmas Future.

Under Christmas Future’s hood is a television set which shows the scenes of the future. This is just a small innovation, but it’s incredibly creative. Frank is shown scenes of both near and distant future, and these emphasize how much of a negative effect he’s had on people. Calvin doesn’t die, but he doesn’t recover from his muteness and is locked up in a padded room where his mother can only visit him briefly. In an even darker twist than we usually see, Claire has taken Frank’s advice and has devolved into a socialite who cannot stand the poor. Then there’s this scene of Wendy, Frank’s sister-in-law mourning someone who has passed.

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Of course, we’re expecting it to be Frank, but Frank assumes it’s James, his brother and this film’s equivalent of Scrooge’s nephew Fred. For a short moment, I actually thought Scrooged might go an incredibly mature route and have it be James in the casket. It would keep with the theme of showing all the people’s lives Frank has screwed up, and it would have been an interesting twist on the normal story, but nope, it’s Frank. He then tries to stop the casket from going into the cremation chamber, but he’s sucked into the flames with it.

Why do so many adaptations from this period have Scrooge get sucked into his own fiery grave? Okay, it was actually a little haunting in the Disney version of all things, but in the dark comedy that is Scrooged, it’s neither scary or funny.

Speaking of not funny, Frank goes back to his office where he convinces Eliot to hold the control room at gunpoint so he can interrupt his own version of A Christmas Carol and give a speech about Christmas spirit. As far as 1988 Christmas movies involving hostage situations go, I suppose it’s the second best. Anyway, everyone embraces the spirit, Calvin comes up with Frank, speaks Tiny Tim’s famous line, and everyone joins in a sing-along of “Put a Little Love in Your Heart.” The song is cheesy, but in a good way, and seeing John Houseman narrating a few lyrics makes it all worth it.

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It’s just a jump to the left… oh wrong song.

This final scene raises so many questions. If the production was almost over anyway, why didn’t Frank just wait until it was and then come out and wish everyone a Merry Christmas? Couldn’t he give a speech then anyway and not upset the network executives? Shouldn’t he still do something about the gunman who came in and tried to kill him? Why does he see Herman as a ghost? He still died? That’s pretty dark. Or was he a ghost the whole time? Let’s go with that… not because I believe it, but because it’s way too dark otherwise.

Scrooged is a really mixed bag. Not surprisingly, director Richard Donner clashed with Bill Murray throughout. Bill Murray has gone on record saying that the script was much better than the finished film would suggest, and that makes sense. There are moments of sheer brilliance scattered throughout, but there are also so many scenes that could have been cut and nothing would have been lost. Let’s check out the final score.

Story (18/30 Points)

It takes forever to pick up, but once it does, there are some really great moments. Frank yelling at the homeless man about staying with Claire is an astonishing scene, and having Claire become an apathetic person in the future adds a tragic bent. Unfortunately, way too much of the story is centered around the workers at IBC, and their story just isn’t all that fascinating.

Scrooge (15/30 Points)

Bill Murray as a modernized Ebenezer Scrooge sounds great, and while he has some great moments, he’s such a horrible person at the beginning that you don’t believe he’s real. He doesn’t come across as someone who would even take a chance at redemption if it was offered. If you want to see Bill Murray going through a believable change, watch Groundhog Day.

Ghosts (8/10 Points)

David Johansen is spectacular as the “New Yawk” Ghost of Christmas Present. His scenes are the ones I could go back and watch over and over. Carol Kane definitely makes the most of her screen time, and Christmas Future is pretty creepy and has a cool design. Lew Hayward is the only reason this category doesn’t get a perfect score.

Bob Cratchit (5/10 Points)

Alfre Woodard’s Grace Cooley is one of the best characters in the film—hardworking, caring, and still somewhat upbeat. Eliot Loudermilk, on the other hand, is unequivocally the worst part of this film. Imagine the film without him. Would all that much really have to change?

Supporting Characters (3/10 Points)

So many great actors are wasted in this movie. Why is Robert Mitchum here? His character is pointless and doesn’t have one funny line. Karen Allen’s Claire is fine, but it’s nothing we haven’t seen before. I do have to admit I enjoy the cameos of Buddy Hackett, Jamie Farr, and Mary Lou Retton in the badly miscast Scrooge. Hackett’s bad accent alone is worth the price of admission.

Experience (5/10 Points)

Some jokes will having you laughing out loud, while others will make you shake your head. The mood is inconsistent, but it does hit some really good high notes.

Final Score: 54%

A lot of critics didn’t like Scrooged for being too dark, but that’s not my problem at all. A Christmas Carol is definitely a dark story, and I would love to see a really great dark comedy version made. While this is not that version, it is definitely worth watching once for the stuff that’s good. I just don’t think it’s one I’ll be watching every year.

Next up, we’ll be looking at another comedic take, The Muppet Christmas Carol.

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A Christmas Carol (1984)

carol

  • Year: 1984
  • Director: Clive Donner
  • Starring: George C. Scott, David Warner, Roger Rees

Seeing as how Ebenezer Scrooge is one of the pinnacles of British literature, the list of acclaimed British thespians who have played him should come as no surprise—Michael Caine, Alastair Sim, Patrick Stewart, etc. So who was Clive Donner’s choice for Ebenezer Scrooge? An American whose two most famous roles to date, Buck Turgidson in Dr. Strangelove and George Patton in Patton, were gung-ho, over-the-top generals.

Many of us today associate George C. Scott so closely with the role of Scrooge that we don’t realize how strange of a choice this must have seemed in 1984. Among those hesitant was Scott himself, saying that Alastair Sim’s Scrooge was so definitive that he didn’t feel he could live up to it. Instead, he settled on a new way of portraying Scrooge, saying in an interview, “I decided that he was the loneliest man in the world, and that’s how I played him.”

Scott’s Scrooge is easily the most subtle Scrooge ever put to screen. Like Alastair Sim, Scrooge turns his anger inwards and rarely ever raises his voice, speaking usually in a weary voice that would suggest he is simply tired of people. When Bob Cratchit (David Warner) puts coal on the fire, Scrooge gives him a cold lecture as to why he should stop, as opposed to an angry rant.

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Scrooge here also has an incredibly dry and sardonic sense of humor, making snide remarks at nearly everyone he comes across. This humor is befitting the story, as the original novel itself has some very funny asides. Charles Dickens knew that Scrooge’s remark about burying someone who loves Christmas with “a stake of holly through his heart” was comical, but so many Scrooges play it straight, with both Albert Finney and Seymour Hicks both delivering it with the utmost sincerity. To its credit, Scrooge 1951 leaves it out altogether, but this version is the only one that does it perfectly. Scrooge is laughing at both himself and Fred (Roger Rees) as he delivers the line, bemused at his own wit and wordplay.

A similar thing happens in the scene with the charity workers, which takes place at the exchange in this film.

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And yes, that is Batman’s butler.

The two collectors identify Scrooge, with the one on the right saying, “You don’t know us.” Scrooge responds with a dry “Nor do I wish to.” After Scrooge says his famous line about decreasing the surplus population, the charity workers, obviously taken aback, ask him if he is serious. Scrooge wryly says “With all my heart.” He is not truly wishing death on people, but rather just trying to get these two out of his hair. Yes, that still makes him a jerk, but a believable one.

Not only are Scrooge’s quips very funny, they also make his transformation more believable. It is always odd in other films to see a formerly humorless Scrooge cracking jokes about his old self and playing a prank on Bob Cratchit at the end.

Each of the four spirits also turns in a memorable performance. Frank Finlay plays Jacob Marley as sorrowful, with his screams being from a place of regret and not merely intended to scare Scrooge.

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As with many others, this Marley could have done with a bit more subtlety, but at least he and Scrooge have a believable rapport. The “wandering spirits” scene is also included, in the form of shrieks coming from outside an open window. This is actually pretty horrifying, and it works much better than showing the scene with cheap effects.

With the exception of Marley, the ghosts all seem to adapt Scrooge’s dry sense of humor to combat him. When Scrooge is shown his break-up with Belle, he tries to brag to Christmas Past about all his personal accomplishments. She scoffs and gives a sarcastic “Congratulations.”

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Christmas Past is played by Angela Pleasence (daughter of Donald Pleasence) as a fairy-like creature. You know, I don’t think this character has been portrayed the same way twice. I guess this is somewhat similar to the 1938 one, but Pleasence just brings so much more to the table with her performance. She has a rich, commanding voice that echoes the same way the past does in your mind.

When shown the shadows of his childhood, Scrooge tries to talk to his friends, and Christmas Past explains that they cannot hear him. From this point on, most Scrooges opt to stand back and watch the events unfold from a distance, with the exception of Albert Finney who constantly tries to talk to them anyway. George C. Scott’s Scrooge will instead often walk right up to the people in the vision. Look at the scene where Scrooge watches a younger version of himself talking with his father and sister.

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There are mere looks that George C. Scott gives in this film that say so much more than words could. Like the 1951 film, we learn that Scrooge’s mother died giving birth to him, so Scrooge’s father holds a grudge against him. Old Scrooge is both angry at his father and disappointed in himself for holding on to the anger for so long.

Mark Strickson portrays Young Scrooge, and he does a terrific job of showing Scrooge’s downward spiral. He makes the audience completely believe that this guy turns into George C. Scott in his later years. Young Scrooge is portrayed as someone who was always on the more cynical side of things, but he had people like Fezziwig, Belle, and Fan to balance him out.

As these influences faded, he just continued down that road. By the time Belle (Lucy Gutteridge) does leave him, he is jaded and apathetic. He cannot give a complete answer when she asks if he would go after her now, and Belle calls him out on it. The older Scrooge tells Christmas Past, “I almost went after her.”

Even Christmas Present (Edward Woodward) is more subtle than usual. Sure, he’s dressed in the traditional garb, but he is Scrooge’s equal in the sarcasm department.

oh really

There’s a humorous exchange between them at the Cratchit’s home after Bob has blessed the food. Scrooge is so touched he adds a quiet “Amen.” Christmas Present asks Scrooge if he said something, which Scrooge of course denies. This is a scene that would have been tired or perhaps corny in other adaptations, but with the subtlety of both Scott and Woodward, it is actually quite funny.

The scenes with the Cratchit family in both the present and the future are really given room to breathe here, and David Warner and Susannah York are wonderful as the couple. I’m afraid that some films portray the Cratchits as a bit unintelligent, but we don’t get that here at all. Like so many families of the time, they are good, hard-working people who just haven’t caught a break. We always see them as loving parents, but here we also see them having an extremely loving marriage, something that is usually implied but not shown too often. We very much get the impression that they would not be getting by without Bob and his wife’s deep love for each other.

Roger Rees is also great as Fred, having a blast hosting a similes game at his party. The comparison between Fred and his mother Fan is made many times, but I have to say, they do genuinely look alike.

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Christmas Present also shows Scrooge a homeless family living in a tunnel, trying to enjoy their Christmas. These are the kind of people Scrooge said earlier should go to the prisons and workhouses. This scene also exists to show Scrooge that the Cratchits have it bad, but there are still those who have it worse. The lesson that Scrooge should help the Cratchits is a fairly easy one, but he should not stop there. This desolate place where the poor family lives is also the perfect eerie location for the Ghost of Christmas Present to leave Scrooge.

Out of all the depictions of the Ghost of Christmas Future and the scenes he shows, I think this is the creepiest. The ghost doesn’t stand next to Scrooge, but rather far off in the distance, pointing his long finger at the locations where the scenes play out. All of the future scenes happen at night, and the ghost kind of lets Scrooge wander about and investigate what is going on for himself.

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Christmas Future as usual doesn’t talk, but he does respond in a kind of metallic screech, which sounds like a cemetery gate closing (or opening… hmm). Of course, this gives Scrooge the opportunity to make one of his best quips of the whole film, “You’re devilish hard to have a conversation with.”

George C. Scott’s Scrooge pretty much knows the whole time that he is the man who has died, and that makes these scenes work so much better. Instead of watching the scenes of the hobo buying his things and wondering why they are similar to his, Scrooge has to genuinely come to grips with the fact that they are his and in this future, he is dead. Sure he tries to deny it, saying they merely look like his things, but deep down he knows.

I mentioned earlier that all three ghosts combat Scrooge’s wit, and even the voiceless Christmas Future has his way of doing this. He essentially takes everything Scrooge says in the most literal way possible. When Scrooge asks to see emotion in relation to his death, he is taken to the slums where his belongings are bought and sold joyously. When he asks to see “tenderness, some depth of feeling,” he is taken to the Cratchit home, where Tiny Tim is mourned. Just look how much older and weaker Bob looks in this scene.

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This scene is always hard to watch, but David Warner’s heart-wrenching performance makes it all the more difficult. Watching Bob Cratchit try to hold back tears as he lovingly comforts his remaining children is a masterclass in acting.

Christmas Future gets his final joke in when Scrooge asks to be taken home, and he is taken to a graveyard. As I said back in my first review, there are two scenes that make or break a Scrooge performance—the graveyard scene and the waking-up scene.

When Scott’s Scrooge does wipe the snow off the gravestone and reveal the truth he’s known all along, he does not grab the stone and try to shake it, he does not scream and wail, and thankfully he does not fall into Hell. Instead, through tears, he asks the spirit why he would be shown all this if there was no hope of changing, and he offers a sincere prayer, promising that he will change.

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George C. Scott hits the final nail on the head with the Christmas morning scene. Finally, we get to see an actor (who’s not a duck) portray the pure joy in this scene without any of the complete silliness usually shown. Scrooge saying he is “light as a feather” or “merry as a schoolboy” often comes off as cliche, but here it just feels like Scrooge is playing the simile game he saw at Fred’s party. Scott’s Scrooge laughs at himself again in this scene, and for a second he has to just fall on his bed and get it all out.

Scrooge’s “wishing to remain anonymous” is brought back around in the final scenes, as he purchases the prize turkey for Bob Cratchit and family, only saying it is from a friend. This is right out of the book, but Scrooge 1970 and A Christmas Carol 1938, among others, opt to have Scrooge visit them on Christmas. While both create a happy ending, I like how Scrooge here lets the Cratchits have their merry Christmas and visits with his nephew instead.

When Scrooge shows up to his home on Christmas Morning, Fred is of course surprised, but he also says he believed Scrooge would show up one day. Rees just plays this reaction perfectly. There’s also a great little moment where Scrooge tells Fred how much he reminds him of Fan. He tells Fred, “I loved your mother, Fred. For a time there, I forgot just how much I loved her. Perhaps I chose to forget.” In this line, Scrooge finally acknowledges that he is the one to blame for his life being awful, and we know that his change will stick.

Well, I guess it’s time to wrap up…

LFF

Oh, do I have to? Alright, well there really isn’t much. I suppose Tiny Tim isn’t great, but he really does appear sick. Then again, you could argue his stilted line delivery just gives him an otherworldly quality, but that might be pushing it. The only other thing I suppose is that the score is a bit over-dramatic in comparison to other versions, but if you can accept the fact that there’s a lot of it, it is a beautiful score. It just seems a bit odd when coupled with Scott’s subdued performance.

For years, this is the Christmas Carol I have called my favorite, and it is the version I make a conscious effort to watch every year. This is probably the most character-driven adaptation, caring more that we get the essence of these characters than just hitting every scene. Even scenes that have been done dozens of times before feel fresh thanks to the performances. Let’s get to the final score.

Story (29/30 Points)

The film is never in a rush, fleshing out its scenes and letting its characters breathe. Some films tend to breeze through Christmas Present and especially Future, but here we get to spend a good bit of time in each. Scrooge understanding he’s dead from the get-go is one of the best changes any version has made. I dock the single point, not because anything is wrong, but because I find the 1951 film just a tad more innovative with its past scenes.

Scrooge (30/30 Points)

I’ll take George C. Scott’s cold bitterness over a shouting Scrooge any day. I believe Scott entirely as the miserly Scrooge at the beginning and the reformed Scrooge at the end. Plus, giving Scrooge a sense of humor throughout really elevates the character. It’s not just my favorite Scrooge performance—it’s one of my favorite performances in a film, period.

Ghosts (8/10 Points)

They are all memorable, and the way that they are snide like Scrooge is a nice touch. Marley is better than usual, but still a little too overdone, and while I like Christmas Present here, I like the one from Scrooge 1951 just a little more.

Bob Cratchit (10/10 Points)

Mickey Mouse aside, we have been getting progressively better Bob Cratchits with each adaptation. Many actors have done a great job at playing Bob Cratchit, but as far as I’m concerned, David Warner is Bob Cratchit.

Supporting Characters (9/10 Points)

Belle is more of a three-dimensional character here, calling Scrooge out for not answering her question directly. Susannah York is wonderful as Mrs. Cratchit, and Roger Rees brings depth to Fred’s character that most do not.

Experience (9/10 Points)

I know I have given many versions a 9 out 10 in this category, but it seems like most adaptations really want you to feel Christmas, and this is no exception. Only the most British carols are used, in addition to the song “God Bless Us Everyone” which feels like something out of this era. The scenes of fear, sadness, and joy are all done wonderfully, and the tonal switches never feel awkward.

Final Score: 95%

I cannot emphasize enough how great George C. Scott is in this film. I had to cut back during the writing of this, or there would have been a lot more rambling about how much I love his performance. If you haven’t seen A Christmas Carol 1984, do yourself a favor and check it out.

On Monday, we’ll be taking a look at another adaptation directed by someone named Donner, 1988’s Scrooged starring Bill Murray.

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Mickey’s Christmas Carol (1983)

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  • Year: 1983
  • Director: Bunny Mattinson
  • Starring: Alan Young, Wayne Allwine, Hal Smith

An adaptation of A Christmas Carol is something of a right of passage for a cartoon, like you’ve made it as a series if you’ve done a version of A Christmas Carol. It seems like every popular cartoon series has had their own version.

every
EVERY.    SINGLE.    ONE

By the 1980s, Mickey Mouse’s popularity had waned considerably, not being in a theatrical short since 1953’s The Simple Things. Disney itself was in an animation slump, only releasing a new animated feature every few years. Mickey Mouse’s comeback came in the form of Mickey’s Christmas Carol, a 25-minute theatrical short shown before a re-release of The Rescuers.

The title may be a bit misleading as Mickey Mouse (Wayne Allwine) is not playing Ebenezer Scrooge, but rather Bob Cratchit. This is one of many wonderful “casting” decisions, as Mickey and Cratchit are both put-upon nice guys who rarely catch a break.

Scrooge is played by (who else?) Scrooge McDuck, voiced wonderfully by Alan Young. I love how the “bah” in his “bah humbug” sort of sounds like a quack. I have criticized previous Scrooges for being cartoonishly evil, but since Scrooge is a cartoon here, I’ll be a little more generous. That said, this Scrooge goes out of his way to be a horrible person… err duck. Right at the beginning of the film, he breaks the fourth wall by telling the audience that while Marley left him the money for a tombstone, he buried him at sea.

goofy
Dogs like water, right?

Scrooge also has Cratchit do his laundry for the smallest of raises. Worst of all, we learn in the past segment that Scrooge and his fiancee Isabelle (Daisy Duck) broke up because she paid the mortgage late on their future honeymoon cottage. There are bits of dark humor like this scattered throughout, but they always add to the story instead of slowing it down. This one in particular always makes me laugh.

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With such an expansive character base to work with, you would think that there would be a perfect Disney character for every character in A Christmas Carol, and for the most part, there is. We get Ratty and Moley from The Wind in the Willows as the charity workers, Pete (Mickey’s nemesis) as Christmas Future, and Donald Duck in a surprising kind-hearted turn as Scrooge’s nephew Fred. The only weird thing about this is that apparently Scrooge was engaged to Daisy, who is usually portrayed as Donald’s love interest. Just don’t think about that one too much.

If I had to single out one supporting character…

AlecGuinness
Let me guess, the Ghost of Christmas Present.

Alec Guinness, didn’t you do enough disapproving in the last review? At this point, your thoughts mean no more than a handful of dust.

As I was saying, the Ghost of Christmas Present is played by Willie the Giant from Mickey and the Beanstalk, who is both jolly and dim-witted. This film does a great job of letting the characters keep their traits from their original films while also fitting right into the Dickens mold. Plus, how many times has an actual giant played the role?

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Look at all the food… turkey, pig, chicken, duck.

Christmas Present also has a great bit where he opens up Scrooge’s roof, steps outside, closes it, and picks up a streetlight as a flashlight. I know I’ve gone out of my way in almost every review to talk about how great Christmas Present is, but I feel like the actors (and in this case animators) are always trying to make the most out of his screen time, and it shows.

There are, however, a few casting choices that seem strange. Jiminy Cricket plays Christmas Past, which always felt a bit off to me. Sure, he was Pinocchio’s conscience, but he is really rude to Scrooge without really pitying him. The other choice that bothers me is Goofy as Jacob Marley. Of all the classic Disney villains and scumbags, they chose Goofy. Why not the Magic Mirror from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs or Honest John from Pinocchio?  It is nearly impossible to imagine Scrooge McDuck and Goofy being equally evil co-workers.

Surprisingly for Disney, the story is told very straight. In fact, this is probably one of the most accurate Disney adaptations ever made.

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Next, of course, to this history lesson.

Disney does not shy away from the darker themes of the story at all. Heck, I don’t think the Cratchits have ever looked poorer.

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Couldn’t have taken one thing from that feast in Scrooge’s living room?

Hey kids, you know Mickey Mouse? Yeah, his kid’s gonna die soon. Good luck getting over that one. Okay, okay, so they don’t technically say the word die. The light in the house goes out and the ghost disappears before Scrooge can actually say it, but we do see this in the Christmas Future portion.

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Of course, the darkest scenes come during Christmas Future. I have to say, this film has a very innovative way of displaying the Christmas Future scenes. Scrooge and the Ghost of Christmas Future are in the graveyard the whole time, and Christmas Future points to various short scenes that take place there, whether it be the Cratchits mourning their son or two gravediggers talking about Scrooge’s death. Every version has its own interpretation of the future scenes, but this one is both a great artistic and time-saving choice.

For the second consecutive adaptation, Christmas Future unmasks himself and throws Scrooge into hell. To be fair, as in the death scene above, they don’t call it hell, but what does this look like?

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Is this a a metaphor for Disney in the 1980s?

Yes, this scene is kind of silly, but it was so much worse in Scrooge 1970. It’s actually kind of creepy here. Believe it or not, the Disney animated cartoon is creepier than the live action movie. Perhaps it works because we know all along that Christmas Future is clearly someone in a robe. The cigar kind of gives that one away.

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Why is Groucho Marx showing me this?

When he does take off the hood and reveal himself to be Pete, it’s still harrowing, with Pete calling Scrooge “the richest man in the cemetery” and laughing maniacally as he throws him down. Thankfully, there is no scene in hell this time.

Though this version is short, the Christmas morning scene is not rushed. Actually, this is one of the better versions of this scene put to film. The scene is actually underplayed as opposed to most over-the-top, goofy versions of this scene. Sure, Scrooge is running around and laughing, but you believe he is full of pure joy. He is also laughing at himself, like Alastair Sim and later George C. Scott would do. This may sound silly, but Scrooge McDuck is one of the only Scrooges who I believe as a character before and after the transformation.

It pretty much goes without saying in a Disney film, but the animation is beautiful. Even though there are characters from a wide selection of movies, they all blend together wonderfully. The music is also great, particularly “Oh What a Merry Christmas Day,” which plays over the opening credits and peppers the score throughout. Speaking of the credits, just look one at the drawings shown over them.

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These look like hand-drawings on crumpled-up wrapping paper. It’s a great little touch. Like so many other versions, the whole thing is just drenched in Christmas spirit.

Mickey’s Christmas Carol was the first version I ever saw, as I’m sure it was for many others, and it really is a great introduction to the story. Of all the cartoons that tell the story with existing characters, it is definitely the best. Sure, I kind of wish we had gotten a full-length feature film instead, or at least an hour-long TV special, but for what it is, it does a really good job. Let’s see how it holds up against the others.

Story (20/30 Points)

This is really tough to call, because it does alright for 25 minutes, but it still feels rushed. Christmas Future is done well, but Christmas Past and especially Present go by way too fast.

Scrooge (25/30 Points)

So you’re telling me a Scottish duck is one of the best Ebenezer Scrooges? Yes, that is exactly what I’m telling you. I actually completely believe both sides of this Scrooge, and that is really rare. Alan Young, who is not Scottish, somehow manages to pull off a Scottish cartoon character without resorting to stereotype, and he really nails the emotional scenes

Ghosts (6/10 Points)

Goofy as Jacob Marley is really out of place and honestly not that funny. Jiminy Cricket is really judgmental, but Willie the Giant and Pete are both great choices for their respective ghosts.

Bob Cratchit (8/10 Points)

It’s a short film, so we don’t see much of him, but Mickey Mouse as Bob Cratchit is perfect casting. This was the first time Wayne Allwine (a longtime voice of Mickey Mouse) voiced him, and he does spectacularly.

Supporting Characters (7/10 Points)

Ratty and Mole are enjoyable as the charity workers, and Donald is good in his brief performance as Fred. There are also many cameos from other Disney characters that are fun to pick out.

Experience (9/10 Points)

“Oh What a Merry Christmas Day” is a beautiful song that is sure to elicit nostalgia for those who saw this years ago. Mickey’s Christmas Carol manages to be a faithful Dickens adaptation, while still being completely 100% Disney, which is very impressive.

Final Score: 75%

It’s not perfect, and watching it now, it all goes by too fast, but Mickey’s Christmas Carol is a very well done short. Even if you didn’t see it as a child, it will still entertain you with its humor and charm. Everything good here has been done better in another version, sure, but this is definitely a good place to start.

On Wednesday, we’re going to take a look at A Christmas Carol starring George C. Scott.

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Scrooge (1970)

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  • Year: 1970
  • Director: Ronald Neame
  • Starring: Albert Finney, Alec Guinness, Edith Evans

With as many versions of A Christmas Carol as there are, it was only a matter of time until someone turned it into a musical. Piggybacking on the success of Oliver! in 1968, Ronald Neame made that musical with Scrooge, or its little-known full title Scrooge Goes to Hell: The Final Carol.

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Yeah, we’ll get back to you, worst scene in the movie.

Albert Finney was just 34 in 1970, making him the youngest man to play Scrooge in any adaptation to date. Take a good look at Scrooge. The make-up work is astounding here, making Finney look entirely convincing as an old man.

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He also looks eerily like Donald Trump in some scenes, and those jokes write themselves. Unfortunately, Finney is only convincing as an old man when he’s not talking or singing. I guess since he was playing a character at least twice his age, he felt the need to change his voice, but it just sounds goofy. It’s hard to describe exactly what he’s going for, but it kind of sounds like half-Scottish, half-Cockney, which I promise I will refer to as Scotney and not the other option. The serious scenes really fall flat when you can’t get past the voice.

Oh, but it’s not just his voice that’s goofy. Finney goes all-out in his over-the-top performance as Scrooge. Finney’s is probably the most cliched Scrooge ever brought to the screen—he even sings a song called “I Hate People.” I get that it’s a musical and we often learn the characters’ motivations and thoughts through song, but how are we ever supposed to sympathize with a character who breaks out into song about his hatred of everyone? Even the Grinch would be telling Scrooge his hatred might be a bit too strong.

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But my hatred of this abomination will never weaken.

Once the story gets going, it is told very conventionally, but it takes forever to get there. Scrooge doesn’t see Marley on the doorknocker until the 24 minute-mark. There have been three full songs at this point (not including the one played over the credits), which even musical fanatics would probably admit is a bit excessive.

Alec Guinness plays Jacob Marley, and I guess after this he got typecast as a ghost who sits down…

AlecGuinness
Stop, please!

Alec Guinness?

AlecGuinness
Please do not reference that fairy tale rubbish. It’s the only movie of mine people remember.

Well, you did other movies too… like, you know, the one…

AlecGuinness
All I ask is for one person to talk about me without naming that film.

Alright, alright. I will try and reference as many Alec Guinness films as I can in this review without mentioning that one.

Anyway, Marley warns Scrooge to change his feelings towards Christmas or this might be his last holiday. Guinness’ Marley is not memorable, which is rarely said of a Guinness performance. Marley flies with Scrooge, to briefly growl through a song about seeing ghosts… with no real reason other than scaring the audience.

Usually, musical adaptations take on a lighter tone than the source material, and through most of the movie, Scrooge does, except for some random “scare” scenes. Don’t get me wrong, A Christmas Carol has its creepy moments, and most film versions have excellent, atmospheric buildup to them. Scrooge 1970 has no real buildup to its horror scenes and when they’re done, we are immediately back to the jovial tone.

Before Marley enters, we get a random shot of a “ghost coach” driving by and wishing Scrooge a Merry Christmas. Is this supposed to be funny? It’s not. Is it supposed to be scary? I guess, but it really isn’t.

carriage
It’s just the carriage, runs through every night.

But… but, it’s a musical. The tone is allowed to be all over the place. Right?

Sure, let’s judge it as a musical. Scrooge 1970 is really talky, and not just for a musical. Every conversation is talked to death. Take for example the “poor enough/rich enough” exchange between Scrooge and Fred (who looks around 50 for some reason). Normally, there is a moment of silence after the retort of “You’re rich enough,” but Finney’s Scrooge immediately fires back with, “There is no such thing as rich enough, only poor enough.” Why? We already know the way Scrooge feels about Fred and poverty. This Scrooge doesn’t even think about the implications of what Fred has just told him, and that weakens his character.

The worst dialogue comes in the scene where Christmas Past (portrayed here as a Victorian woman) shows Scrooge his break-up with his no-longer-lovesick fiancee Isobel. She drops her ring on a scale and weights it against some of Scrooge’s gold, and of course it comes up short. Instead of walking away and letting Scrooge and the audience dwell on the harrowing image, she explains it. Was the target audience of this movie seven years old? Well it couldn’t have been, because later we get this scene.

hell
No, no, we’ll get there in time.

Perhaps you’re tired of me constantly complimenting the actors who play the Ghost of Christmas Present. Well, it’s your lucky day.

present7

Nothing says 70’s adaptation like a bare-chested, medallion-wearing Christmas Present, who lets Scrooge drink from the milk of human kindness… I’m sorry there’s no good way to say that. All the milk actually does is make Scrooge talk like Monty Python’s Terry Jones.

Deep breaths… judge it like a musical, judge it like a musical. You can do this.

Well, I guess I have to talk about the songs. If any character should break out into a jolly, boisterous song it should be Christmas Present, right? Nope, instead we get a song that starts out with his brilliant rhyme:

Ebenezer Scrooge/The sins of man are huge

trump
It’s pronounced yuge!

Okay, there are way too many people interrupting this review.

Ebenezer Scrooge/The sins of man are huge/A never-ending symphony
of villainy and infamy/Duplicity, deceit, and subterfuge

This sounds less like a song and more like a Nipsey Russell poem (and congrats to the 1.7% of you who get that). The song is cleverly titled “I Like Life” and features these wonderful lyrics:

I like life/Life likes me/Life and I fairly fully agree/Life is fine/Life is good

To be fair, this Sesame Street reject is really only one of two songs (the other being “I Hate People”) that is bad per say. Most are really just fine, often having pleasant tunes and forgettable lyrics. I just would expect more out of the Ghost of Christmas Present.

The scene in the Cratchit home is always a touching one, and this is one of the best. David Collings’ Bob Cratchit is one of the best parts of the movie, with my only complaint being that he’s underused. In a movie where Scrooge is a cartoon and the ghosts are dull, a believable Cratchit family is a welcome addition. I’m sure I’m not the first one to realize how much Tiny Tim looks like Danny from The Shining.

redrum
Father, we must have some of the red rum punch.

The Ghost of Christmas Present is just not fun in this version. He sings that he likes life, but he just sort of shouts in monotone the whole time. His scenes of dialogue also follow the theme of talking everything to death. Take a look at this exchange about Tiny Tim:

  • Scrooge: Is the child very sick, not that it’s of any great importance to me whether he is or not, but is he?
  • Present: Well of course he’s sick!
  • Scrooge: You mean he’s seriously ill?

That’s the same thing! Even worse is the final scene with Christmas Present.

  • Scrooge: You’re not going?
  • Present: My time upon this little planet is very brief. I must leave you now.
  • Scrooge: But we still have so much to talk about, haven’t we?
  • Present: There is never enough time to do or say all the things that we would wish. The thing is to try to do as much as you can in the time that you have.
  • Scrooge: Yes, but…
  • Present: Remember, Scrooge, time is short, and suddenly you’re not there anymore.
future
You know that’s kind of my message.
present
Ghost of Christmas Future, spoilers in this are suture.

Interestingly enough, the undoubtedly best and worst scenes of the movie both come from the Christmas Future segment.

In James Beradinelli’s review of Scrooge 1970, he writes, “Unlike the great musicals, where you might find yourself humming a tune a few days later, with Scrooge, you’ll be lucky if you remember the name of one of the songs a few hours later.” For the most part, I am inclined to agree that these songs are really forgettable… with one huge exception.

Instead of a scene where bankers talk about no one going to Scrooge’s funeral, Scrooge 1970 displays a raucous party in the streets of London where people literally dance on Scrooge’s coffin while singing “Thank You Very Much,” a triumphant tune of glory thanking Scrooge for dying. Of course, they don’t mention specifically what they’re thanking him for, so of course the sarcastically impaired Scrooge assumes they are being genuine. He also tries to give a speech, because for some reason, he still doesn’t get that they cannot hear him.

Oh my gosh I love this song. I don’t care that it feels like something out of an entirely different movie (which I want to see, by the way). I don’t care that it’s way too mean for us to sympathize with those singing. “Thank You Very Much” is hilarious and ridiculously catchy. And yes, James Beradinelli, I am still humming it a few days later.

Now let’s talk about the point where this movie goes to hell… literally. Scrooge thinks the future looks bright thanks to the jaunty musical number, but then he sees his own grave and says he will repent. Huh? Just two seconds ago, you thought the future would be good for you. Whatever. Anyway, the Ghost of Christmas Future unmasks himself and throws Scrooge into his grave.

future3

Oh come on! Why? The implication is always that this ghost is the embodiment of death. How does a Halloween mask make that scarier?

Scrooge wakes up, not in his own bedroom, but in Hell… and what a cliched Hell it is. You’ve got demons, fire, brimstone, sulfur smell, caves, random screeches, all the stuff you’d expect a church play’s interpretation of Hell to have. Here Scrooge meets Marley again, who tells him his fate straight from the horse’s mouth.

hell
As dumb as the name sounds, Big Fish will be good.

There are so many things wrong with this scene, but let’s take care of the big ones. First of all, Marley can’t be in Hell. Why? Because he says he’s destined to walk the earth. If he’s forced to do a good work, that’s not Hell, that’s Purgatory. If he was in Hell, what would be working towards?

Don’t believe me? In Dickens’s original text, he likens Marley to Hamlet’s Father, who also appeared as a ghost. Hamlet Sr. makes it clear to his son that he is in Purgatory and is destined to work off his sins. That’s what Marley is doing too.

Second, if Scrooge wasn’t convinced to change his ways by the fact that he will be dead soon, is showing Hell really going to change him? You either believe the entirety of the supernatural experience or none of it.

Third, Scrooge’s Hell is a karmic one, making him the clerk for Satan himself and giving him the only cold office in hell. Now, I’ll admit, I see what they’re going for here, as Scrooge always skimped out on coal in life. BUT NOT IN THIS VERSION. Go back and watch the intro if you want. There is no scene where a shivering Cratchit tries to put more coal on the fire and Scrooge tries to stop him. Did the screenwriter not read his own script?

I’ve tried to reason out why this scene exists, and I don’t think it’s just to scare the audience, because it fails miserably there. I think Alec Guinness was such a big star that they felt giving him just one scene wasn’t really enough. That still does not justify this scene being downright terrible, but maybe it explains it.

Thanks for bearing with me on that religious rant there, but I promise I’ll keep the rest of the review short. In fact, I can sum up the Christmas morning scenes with one picture.

santa
The float of Snoopy didn’t come until the next year.

Scrooge puts on a Santa suit and parades singing and dancing through the streets of London. Once again, it’s a musical, I get that we need these crowd numbers, but even at his nicest, do you really see any other Scrooge putting on a Santa suit? Of course Scrooge reprises songs from earlier like “I Like Life” and… oh no they didn’t… they made “Thank You Very Much” sincere. It’s just so much less of a song when it’s non-ironic. Just imagine Barry Manilow covering “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life”… well maybe not that bad.

Scrooge hangs the Santa beard on his door to always remind him of Marley, who we can only assume is still a prisoner in Hell. No, no more ranting about that scene. I’ve said my piece. Let’s take a look at the final score.

Story (15/30 Points)

Most of the important scenes from the book take place, but the more the characters talk, the worse it gets. I was a bit surprised that we didn’t get the children Ignorance and Want, as this film definitely wasn’t afraid of showing dark scenes. The scene in hell costs this film some major points, obviously.

Scrooge (4/30 Points)

Albert Finney’s performance is a huge swing-and-a-miss. He’s pouring himself into a caricature, and it’s all wrong. From the talking out of one side of his mouth to the ridiculous old-man singing, it’s unpleasant to watch.

Ghosts (2/10 Points)

Alec Guinness as Marley should have been great, but it isn’t. I barely mentioned Christmas Past, because she’s just kind of there. Christmas Present is the only weak incarnation so far, and I suppose Future is okay until he unmasks himself.

Bob Cratchit (9/10 Points)

David Collings is wonderful as Cratchit. In fact, his performance is very similar in tone to David Warner’s, who plays Cratchit in the 1984 version. Collings’ is easily the best performance in the film.

Supporting Characters (7/10 Points)

All of the Cratchits are good, and we get the additional character of soup vendor Tom Jenkins, who owes Scrooge money and later leads “Thank You Very Much.”

Experience (5/10 Points)

The sets are very clearly sets, so you really don’t feel like you’re in Victorian London. “Thank You Very Much” almost makes up for the lack of good songs, but it’s just not enough.

Final Score: 42%

For me, this is overall not an enjoyable film to watch. That said, I know it has its fans. I’m not even sure if cult classic is the right term to use, because Scrooge got fairly positive reviews when it first came out. You’ll probably be able to tell about five minutes into this movie if you’re going to love it or hate it. It just doesn’t do it for me. Thank you for bearing through a pretty harsh review…

Thank you very much, thank you very much/That’s the nicest thing that anyone’s ever done for me…

Okay, I’m finished. That song is going to be stuck in my head for a long time, which is quite alright. Join me next Monday as I review the first version of this story I ever saw, Mickey’s Christmas Carol.

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