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Posts Tagged ‘Charles Dickens’

I’m a huge fan of Charles Dickens novella, “A Christmas Carol”. Since its first publishing in 1843, it has never been out of print, and the story has been adapted many times for film, the stage, and even opera.  Its timeless theme of redemption has made it an indispensable part of our family’s Christmas tradition.  But with so many versions of the story available, it’s hard to know which way to turn.  After watching many of the popular adaptions, I have yet to find one that I would consider to be the definitive version.  Even so, several of them are very worthwhile.  As someone who values the original story, I offer the following insights.

 

“Mickey’s Christmas Carol” / “The Muppet Christmas Carol”

Though Dickens ode to Christmas ultimately ends on a hopeful note, much of the journey to get there can be dark, and may not be suitable for younger children. A couple of great ways to introduce this classic tale to the younger generation are Disney’s “Mickey’s Christmas Carol” (featuring Mickey Mouse as Bob Cratchit), or the Muppet’s version (featuring Kermit the Frog as Bob Cratchit).  Though the newer Disney version (2009 – featuring Jim Carrey) is animated, the darker elements of the story are retained, and in some cases even highlighted.

 

“Scrooge” (1935 – Featuring Seymour Hicks as Scrooge)

One of the biggest challenges that any production of this material faces is realistically portraying the supernatural elements of the story. The 1935 film version worked around this problem by simply allowing the audience to hear the spirits voices, without actually attempting to show their forms.  While this avoided the ultra-cheesy effects that hamper many adaptions, it also managed to detract from the overall story, and almost made it seem as though Scrooge might be slipping into dementia.

 

“A Christmas Carol” (1938 – Featuring Reginald Owen as Scrooge)

Not to be outdone by the 1935 British film, MGM commissioned an American production of the story just a few years later. This version is only noteworthy in that it was the first to include the spirits arriving at 1:00, 2:00 and 3:00 on the same night, while Dickens original story had them visiting on three successive nights.  This change was incorporated into most of the subsequent productions.

 

“A Christmas Carol” (1951 – Featuring Alastair Sim as Scrooge)

I’ve heard many critics refer to this as the definitive version, though I would certainly beg to differ. Something that does stand out about this film is that it includes numerous story elements that didn’t come from the original novel.  Some of these details are actually helpful (e.g. Ebenezer’s mother died giving birth to him, which is why his father doesn’t want him around, and his sister Fan died giving birth to Fred, which is why Ebenezer doesn’t want him around.), while others are simply a distraction (e.g. Ebenezer being wooed away from Fezziwig’s for more lucrative business ventures, which eventually include a company takeover, orchestrated by he and Marley.).  Fragments of this subplot involving Scrooge’s shrewd business dealings were later incorporated into other productions, most notably George C. Scott’s portrayal in the 1984, made for television version.

 

“Scrooge” (1970 Musical – Featuring Albert Finney as Scrooge)

In many ways this adaption represents the pinnacle of the available versions, though its flaws are also painfully obvious. Albert Finney’s award winning portrayal as both the young and old Scrooge is brilliant, and the overall production values of the film are light years beyond anything that preceded it.  The songs, and score, flow seamlessly with the story, and help to break up some of the drearier aspects of the tale.  On the other side of the coin, some of the special effects are embarrassingly bad.  The scenes featuring Sir Alec Guinness as Jacob Marley, and of Scrooge flying over the streets of London, are absolutely cringe-worthy; and Ebenezer’s side trip to hell is both bizarre and unnecessary.  Despite these shortcomings, Finney’s performance, and some impressive musical numbers, makes for a memorable retelling of the story.

 

“A Christmas Carol” (1984 – Featuring George C. Scott as Scrooge)

This version of the story seems to suffer from director Clive Donner’s involvement with the 1951 version of the film. Like that adaption, it incorporates elements that would indicate that Scrooge was a ruthless and shrewd business man, which fundamentally changes the character that Dickens portrayed in the original story.  In the novel, Ebenezer clings to his money like a security blanket, and uses it as a hedge against a world that largely terrifies him.  He lives like a pauper, unwilling to part with anything because of his fears of returning to a life of poverty.  Ultimately, he lords people’s indebtedness over them because it is the only sense of power he has.  Watching George C. Scott’s Scrooge swagger through the Royal Stock Exchange seems totally out of step with that characterization.  For me, Scott’s powerful stage presence actually works against him with this character, and manages to diffuse the sense of transformation at the end of the story.

 

“A Christmas Carol” (2009 – Featuring Jim Carrey as Scrooge)

There is a lot to like about this Robert Zemeckis film. The computer animation is beautiful, and it solves the problems that most productions have with realistically portraying the supernatural elements of the story.  Carrey does an admirable job voicing Scrooge, and demonstrates his range by voicing several other characters as well.  Overall, the story sticks pretty close to Dickens original material.  But at times the producers seem to get enamored of the technology, with extended sequences of dizzying effects.  These moments give the film a more cartoonish feel, and become tedious with repeated viewings.  Additionally, the gimmick of using Carrey’s likeness, and voice, in all its various incarnations, wears thin as the movie progresses.  Ultimately, the movie could have retained a more classic feel had filmmakers confined Carrey to the role of Scrooge, and let other talented voices inhabit the remaining roles.  One highlight of this film is a particularly poignant moment when an unseen Scrooge comes face to face (i.e. within inches) with a grieving Bob Cratchit.  As he stares deeply into his tear filled eyes, you can almost feel Scrooge’s heart break.  It is a surprisingly real moment, and better than I expected from an animated feature.

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