logan j. fowler looks back on the Christmas Carol adaptations that were good as gold … and maybe better …
A Christmas Carol, to me, is the finest Christmas story ever told. You may sit there thinking to yourself, well that’s not really debatable. Many people would agree the same. However, maybe some people like Miracle on 34th Street more. Maybe some people like It’s a Wonderful Life more. These are Christmas stories that are very well known and very well loved. But for me, the best holiday tale is A Christmas Carol.
Written by Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol has been retold many times through film, but the plot line is simple; A man by the name of Ebenezer Scrooge is a greedy moneylender who treats his employee, Bob Cratchit, horribly. He is mean to everyone and everything. One night, he is visited by the ghost of his old partner, Jacob Marley, who is covered in chains. Marley warns Scrooge that he must change his ways, or he’ll be doomed to a life of chain bearing like he is. Marley tells his old partner that he will be visited by three spirits (Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and yet to come) to demonstrate how Scrooge was, and how he must change in order to avoid a gloomy future.
The Christmas Carol film adaptations stem back all the way to the early 50’s, featuring Alastair Sim as the miserable old Scrooge. While very dated, this film is the one most recognized as the best conversion of the book into film, as Sim plays the main character with a cold heart as Dickens wrote him to be, transitioning that cold heart into a fearful one when he is visited by the ghosts, and finally, a man who realizes that life is too joyful to be so picky.
Many Christmas Carol films came since that time, but 1988 brought us a new take on the classic formula; Bill Murray plays Frank Allen, a TV exec who only cares about himself, until his late boss comes to visit and gives him the same warning with foreshadowing that Marley would give Scrooge. As a Christmas Carol devotee, I loved seeing the new spin on the tale, as Murray’s deadpan shtick grew funnier with time. The film, while comedic at points, definitely had an air of darkness to it, as Frank’s former boss holds him out the window, the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come is downright creepy, and Frank’s final future vision has the illusion of him being cremated before he heads back to reality. The story may have had new twists, but it it’s in the same vein as the literary classic.
In 1992, I finally got to see my first Christmas Carol movie on the big screen, and this one is probably my favorite. As silly and goofy as it is, when you take one of my favorite stories add Muppets, you get an instant win in my book. The Muppet Christmas Carol has the great Michael Caine as Ebenezer Scrooge, Kermit the Frog as Bob Cratchit, Statler and Waldorf as Jacob and Robert Marley (two Marley’s, yes, but more of the emphasis is placed on Statler’s Jacob as he was the original only Marley), with a cast of hundreds of muppets (and some humans ) to back them up, and of course, The Great Gonzo playing the narrator…and Charles Dickens.
The story retains the basic elements while adding Muppet lore, and being the first film with the Muppets after Jim Henson’s death, I believe it was the last Muppet film to really hold true to Mr. Henson’s vision. A classic in its own right. Also had a great soundtrack to boot.
In 2009, Robert Zemeckis gave his motion capture a whirl when it came to Dickens’ redemption read, with funnyman Jim Carrey playing Scrooge. While many people scoffed at the motion capture, Carrey as Scrooge, or both, I found myself quite enjoying the film. The motion capture technique has no doubt come under fire, but I wasn’t really bothered by it. Also, Carrey plays a surprisingly straight Scrooge, proving that the comic actor has some serious chops. Gary Oldman shows up to as Bob Cratchit, along with Colin Firth as nephew Fred, Bob Hoskins as Fezziwig, and Robin Wright as Fan (Scrooge’s sister) and Belle (Scrooge’s former love interest). Most of the actors played multiple parts, with Carrey doing his part to fill not only the shoes of Scrooge but also playing the ghosts, each with a distinct characteristic that made them stick out.
The movie held true to the story we all know very well, and surprisingly keeps the film dark and gloomy where it needs to be, especially for a PG rated Disney film. I mean, the film opens with Marley’s corpse staring at the audience with coins in his eyes. It really pulls no punches.
Being the most recent Christmas Carol, Zemeckis used amazing visuals (the scene where the ghost of Christmas Present hovers over the town of London in Scrooge’s flat is still very cool), and 3-D was also utilized to pretty good effect. A well done presentation.
So there you have it; four films based on my favorite Christmas story, all deserving of their praise for making the Dickens classic come alive. Whether it was over 50 years ago, a new take, one filled with Muppets, or one using up to date technology, they all were solid entries, all enjoyable, and all retained the moral that Dickens penned in 1843.
With that said, I leave you with the final line from Dickens’ tale. May you keep Christmas in your heart, and all throughout the year.
“As so, as Tiny Tim observed…
‘God bless us! Everyone!’”