Comparing and Contrasting A Christmas Carol(s)


The Charles Dickens short novella, A Christmas Carol, is only 31,096 words, which took the author ninety minutes to read during performances.  Dickens took about 6 weeks to write it and it is probably his most well-known work due to the number of times it has been reinterpreted into movies, plays, and shows.

A Christmas Carol crossed into the threshold of the Public Domain in 1940 and depending on how you count there are forty-seven different versions of A Christmas Carol as a movie.  Dicken’s classic on film is my favorite Christmas story and I am thankful for the plethora of choices I have in its presentation. It is such an important part of Christmas I think deserves its own category in my classification types ( The 5 Types of Christmas Movies You Will Watch)  This article goes through all the ones I either own (signified by O) or have at least watched.  I took the notes, so you don’t have to, giving my personal opinions on each, highlighting where the movie stays true to the book and where it diverges (often greatly) from the written word.

While the basic story of a miserly, mean, selfish person who learns about the meaning of Christmas through visits by four supernatural visitors before Christmas morning (except Scrooged with Bill Murray) is constant there are some scenes/characters that are left out entirely sometimes in favor of characters and situations that appear nowhere in the books.

One scene that was added in a lot of versions the characters sliding on an icy street, sometimes Fred, Scrooge’s nephews does it, sometimes Bob Cratchit, Scrooges clerk, in one version a repentant Scrooge even does it, but sliding is down an icy street is not included anywhere in the Dicken’s text.

The other major deviation from the book is Scrooge revealing his changed nature to Bob Cratchit.  In the book Scrooge sends the prize turkey anonymously to the Cratchit family and then raises his salary on 26 December.  But a majority of the movies have Scrooge delivering presents and food to the family, usually accompanied by his nephew. (In the book Scrooge simply goes to Fred’s house for the Christmas dinner as a surprise guest.)

The most inconsistent representation is the Ghost of Christmas Past, in the book the Ghost is described as both old and young like a flickering candle.  The only movie that even attempts this effect of changing  age is the 2001 animated version.  But Robert Zemeckis’s version captures the candlelike lighting described in the book, but since it was all computer generated it might have been the only one with the technical ability to pull it off.  (Although he could have left out the rocket ride after Scrooge puts out the light of the Past.)  But the Past was represented in so many ways, a child dressed as a Pearly King, an old woman with serious big hair, a classic Hollywood blonde, an old man, and a cab driver with a magic meter.

One of my favorite scenes is Christmas Present showing Man’s Children.  These Children of Man are typically portrayed as young starving children, a boy, Ignorance, and a girl, Want.  The line that Present warns them about is that on the boy is written the word ‘Doom’, if Ignorance is not dealt with.  Pretty prophetic words in my opinion, the less the human race values knowledge, wisdom and intellect, the less chance we have of defeating our baser nature.  Not every movie reveals these children and the most disturbing is the George C. Scott version, but the Jim Carey version makes them very threatening.

 

 

The Ghosts of Christmas Future is probably the most consistently portrayed.  A figure in a black robe (although in the Muppets version the robe is more of gray, but it works very well with the backgrounds), face shrouded, with typically no words just pointing as its only form of communication.

 

 

Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol, 1938 (O, Live Action, B&W, 69 minutes), Reginald Owen as Scrooge. Cratchit loses his job due to accidently hitting his bosses hat with a snowball and they present a nice shopping spree buying food for Christmas, but these things are not in the book.  No fiancé Belle, no Dance at Fezziwig’s, and they included the London Night Watch for some reason investigating after Marley’s Ghost appears. Closeness to written version C-, Overall B for tone and look.

The Christmas Carol, 1949 (Live Action, B&W, 26 minutes) A poorly made TV special, but narrated by Vincent Price who was 38 at the time and wearing a really fantastic sweater.  Scrooge was played by Taylor Holmes, who was the voice of King Stefan in Disney’s Sleeping Beauty ten years later.  So many things are cut out of this but Vincent Price narrates precisely from the book when he starts.  When the Ghost of Present arrives, he is standing in the classic Superman pose, fists on hips, jutting chest.  Closeness to written version C, Overall D for tone and look. (Found on Amazon for free. The only reason I watched this was due to Vincent Price.)

A Christmas Carol, 1951 (Live Action, B&W, 86 minutes) Scrooge portrayed by Alastair Sim. Finance’s name changed to Alice, why, I have no idea and they add the meeting of Scrooge and Marley as young men.  When Scrooge’s anonymous turkey is delivered Tiny Tim guesses it is from Scrooge, this is the only time that it is guessed in any version. Closeness to written word B, Overall A for tone and look.

 

 

Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol, 1962 (O, Animated Musical with no dancing, In Color, 52 minutes) Scrooge voiced by Mr. Magoo, an actor on Broadway, voiced by Jim Backus (the same man who played Thurston Howell the 3rd on Gilligan’s Island).  Although the color scheme is off there is one very sweet song by both the Young and Old Scrooge, Alone in the World.  The strangest thing about this retelling is that the Ghost of Present visits Scrooge before the Past Ghost. Surprised by some of the orginal wording they left in the script from the orginal material. Closeness to written word C, Overall B for being the first animated Christmas Carol.

 

Scrooge, 1970 (O, Live Action, Musical, In Color, 114 minutes) Scrooge is performed by Albert Finney.  Alec Guinness plays Marley’s ghost.  The best musical number in any version is ‘Thank You Very Much {Mr. Scrooge} where people are singing and dancing on Scrooge’s coffin. Two unusual things occur in this movie that are not repeated in any other movie; Scrooge has a trip to Hell after his death with the Future Ghost, and after Scrooge’s change of heart he dresses up as Father Christmas.  These two things are never repeated any other film that I am aware of.  Closeness to written word B, Overall, the best musical version, A.

An American Christmas Carol, 1979 (O, Live Action, 69 minutes) A conversion from London to a small town in New England, updated from Victorian England to The American Great Depression.  Scrooge is renamed Benedict Slade performed by Henry Winkler. (This was during the run of the very popular show Happy Days, where Winkler played The Fonz.)  Slade spends a lot of time with the Ghost of Past and surprisingly the Ghost of Future actually talks to Slade and is not a scary as other versions, just forbidding.  Closeness to written word F, Overall, a great adaption of the story, and for tone and updated version as well, A.

Charles Dickens A Christmas Carol, 1984 (O, Live Action, 100 minutes) George C. Scott in a very strong performance as Scrooge, possibly my favorite portrayal.  The scariest Future ghost in my opinion, screeching metal accompanies him as he points. This version gives the clearest view of Young Scrooge’s love of books and characters like it does in the orginal text.  Closeness to written word A. Overall a great presentation, A.

 

 

Scrooged, 1988 (O, Live Action, 101 minutes) Another American adaptation of the story, with Bill Murray playing, Frank Cross, a modern-day TV Executive who is doing a live version of A Christmas Carol on Christmas Eve.  Reconnects with his love interest early in the show and she tries to help him.  No nephew instead a brother.  Played mostly for laughs, but a decent version.  The phantom of Christmas Future is not as scary as they do a scare earlier in the show with the version from the TV show.  Closeness to written word, F. Overall a very good, reworked variation A.

   The Muppet Christmas Carol, 1992 (O, Live Action but with Muppets, 85 minutes) Michael Caine plays Ebenezer.  He plays it totally straight, no wink and nod, acts as if the puppets are one hundred percent regular actors that he is interacting with.  Gonzo the Great takes on the role of Charles Dickens, the omnipresent narrator of the story with Rizzo the Rat as his sidekick.  This was Brian Henson’s (Jim Henson the creator of the Muppets son.) directorial debut on a feature film.  Future was in a gray robe, which blended in nicely with scenery and worked better than black would have. Closeness to written word, C. Overall a good version but with more comedy, A.

A Christmas Carol, 1997 (O, Animated Musical, 72 minutes) Tim Curry gives voice to Scrooge.  For some reason in this version, Scrooge has a dog named Debit which of course softens him up a bit.  Whoopi Goldberg voices the Christmas Present Ghost and the Past Ghost is kid dressed up like a Pearly King.  Songs are okay, but Scrooge sings a song ‘Santa’s Sooty Suit’ which is kind of strange as Santa is called Father Christmas in Victorian England.  Closeness to written word, B. Overall rating, C, for the dog and songs.

A Christmas Carol, 1999. (Live Action, 95 minutes) Patrick Stewart plays the role of Scrooge incredibly well.  After his change of attitude, he almost chokes when he begins laughing.  (Remember folks stretch before expressing joy if it is not a normal exercise for you.)   Transitions between Ghosts is very smooth and relaxed.  Present Ghost takes Scrooge on tour around the world to see Christmas which is very in-line with the book. Closeness to written word, A, Overall rating A.

Christmas Carol The Movie, 2001 (O, Animated, 81 minutes) Simon Callow gives voice to Scrooge. Widely divergent, Belle is a nurse at a children’s home which Scrooge is about to foreclose on.  Two mice, one is Belle’s the other is Scrooge’s and a whole subplot about them getting Scrooge to read Belle’s letter asking for mercy.  Also added is a character named ‘Joe’ who is Scrooge’s collection agent, repossessing furniture and taking people to debtor’s prison.  The only way this is connected to the orginal story is the person who buys dead Scrooge’s items is named Joe as well. Closeness to written word, C. Overall rating, C.

Barbie in A Christmas Carol, 2008 (O, Computer Animated, 76 minutes) Morwenna Banks voices the Scrooge like character Eden Starling a singer with an Entertainment Troupe who she makes work on Christmas Day.  This version is a crime against Dickens and the heaviest consequence that Starling/Scrooge faces is being poor and no longer famous.  Every single ghost carries what appears to be a magic wand.  Like the children’s toy all people are plastic with no substance. The only things that come close to Dickens tale is its set in Victorian England (although with no dirty urchins or dirt at all) and Eden says “Bah hum bug” once.  Closeness to written word, F. Overall Rating F (and if a lower grade existed it would earn it).

Disney’s A Christmas Carol, A Robert Zemeckis Film, 2009 (O, Computer Animated, 96 minutes) Jim Carrey adds both his voice and face to bring Scrooge to life, through the weird almost life like motion capture. It strives to be close to the book but it gets distracted with two action scenes that were totally unnecessary and makes a joke with the Ghost of Marley that is unwarranted.  Perhaps Zemeckis was required to lighten it up for Disney, but it takes away from the lessons Scrooge learns.  Closeness to written word, A. Overall Rating A-.

 

 



Categories: My Views On The Real World, Travel and Diversions

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