Top Ten: “A Christmas Carol” Renditions
A final entry in the “Lessons From The Dentist’s Chair” series will arrive later this week. In the meantime, here’s a more holiday-themed post to wrap up the Christmas season.
In 1910, the very first film adaptation of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol was introduced to theater-goers. A full century later, and hardly a year passes that a new interpretation of this beloved story fails to arrive on the big or small screen. Although I have mixed feelings about the impact of Dickens’ novel (on the one hand, it revived the Christmas celebration, largely being ignored and forgotten during his day; on the other hand, it sparked the secularization of Christmas that lingers to this day), the transformation of Scrooge during the course of the novel is both total and radical and, while not being overtly spiritual, it fits as an apt allegory of how an encounter with Christ should transform our lives as well. After recently watching last year’s 3-D animated update starring Jim Carrey, I thought an examination of the many portrayals of the plight of Ebenezer Scrooge felt appropriate, via a top ten listing of my favorite renditions.
10. Ebenezer (1997)
Although not the most prestigious of films, this made-for-TV version gets points for creativity. Retelling the classic story with a Wild West setting, the inimitable Jack Palance portrays Scrooge as a vile land-hungry gunfighter and card cheat. In the end, it is just a fun yet insignificant adaptation that dared to be different.
As I mentioned, this film kicked off my Christmas Carol contemplations. The acting from Jim Carrey as Scrooge was fantastic and added some lively and humorous characterization to such a well known literary figure. But he also did a tremendous job in all of the roles he voiced, to such an extent that I didn’t even realize he was voicing so many characters while watching. He is the strongest draw for this adaptation. Unfortunately, almost all of the surrounding characters were voiced with such a thick and heavy cockney accent that (although quite accurate and authentic) were almost indecipherable to understand. The special effects were fantastic, particularly the CGI intro, displaying one of the most amazingly detailed glimpses of 19th century London. But far too often the film was tailored with scenes clearly intended for in-theater 3-D effect alone, with little purpose, and I was annoyed by some of the unrealistic uses of the CGI (the rotund Fezziwig did a back-flip at one point!). Ultimately I was underwhelmed by the way characterization and story were skimmed over in favor of animated spectacle, as well as an oddly shoe-horned indictment against the church and Christianity.
I couldn’t pick between these two excellent “Telefilms” so I decided to include them both. Both have memorable performances by excellent actors (Patrick Stewart & Kelsey Grammar, respectively) that bring incredible depth to Ebenezer Scrooge. The latter film in particular has an all-star cast that adds a great sense of fun to the proceedings. Although not indispensable in comparison with other movies on this list, I would gladly enjoy either of these productions if I happened to come across them playing on TV.
It is tragic that the majority of the youth today probably have no recollection of Mister Magoo. I remember with great fondness the cartoon exploits of the extremely near-sighted old man and the mischief he (obliviously) got into. It was a stroke of genius to craft an animated holiday adventure with him in it, making him one of the least gruff and most lovable Scrooge’s, although we do still see a reasonable transformation occur in him. The musical numbers were excellent, and young Scrooge in the school house particularly pulls at the heart-strings. This version is not to be forgotten.
Performed as a musical (with quite catchy musical numbers, if I might add), this is another classic portrayal of the Christmas Carol story. Although still a middle-aged man at the time, Albert Finney steps into the role with great fervor, crafting the title role into such a crotchety, miserly old man that he almost defies any one else to attempt to compete with him. But for me, the defining characteristic that catapults this particular film to such memorable status is Sir Alec Guinness as the ghost of Jacob Marley. To see the famed actor (beloved as Obi-Wan Kenobi in the Star Wars Trilogy) haunt Scrooge with such simultaneous humor and menace was a great pleasure.
Made during the early days of Bill Murray‘s career, this film deviates the most from the source material in its modern adaption of a bitter TV executive in charge of a live telecast of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Though not Scrooge in name, Frank Cross exhibits all of the Scrooge attributes as viewed through the lens of the ’80’s “Greed Decade” mind-set. It is also, in my opinion, one of the more frightening portrayals of The Ghost of Christmas Future, though that may just be a holdover from my childhood impression of the film. Plus, any film directed by Richard Donner is just about guaranteed to be great.
This was probably my number one version throughout my childhood, a must see every year. How can you go wrong with Scrooge McDuck in the role of his namesake? All of the Disney character cameos are memorable and fun (I particularly liked Jiminy Cricket as The Ghost of Christmas Past). For any fan of Disney animation, this one can’t be missed, and is perfectly appropriate for kids of all ages.
Notable for its release during the year of my birth (at least, to me it is notable) and another TV movie, this version transcends typical “Telefilm” fare. The phenomenal George C. Scott steps into the role of Scrooge and has often been lifted up right next to Alastair Sim in his portrayal. The production value was top-notch and exquisitely detailed, the supporting cast is strong, and the adherence to the source material is performed with great passion. This version should be viewed quite often and revered for future generations to look back on.
For many, this is the definitive Christmas Carol, and the first truly defining film adaptation that has long made it a classic for replay. I am hard-pressed to disagree. Alistair Sim‘s Ebenezer Scrooge is one of the most unforgettable performances as the character, every aspect of the production is pitch-perfect, and the direction draws out all of the right emotional responses at each turn of the story. If you have not seen this version, then you are missing out on why Dickens’ story has endured for 100 years in film.
For me, there can be no other. Anything with the word “Muppet” in it is guaranteed my love and adoration, and this film is no exception. In a long line of well known actors and incredible performances, Michael Caine would have to be my all-time favorite Scrooge, and all of the Muppets fit so well into their respective roles (Kermit the Frog as Bob Cratchit, Fozzie the Bear as “Fozziwig”, etc.) The humor brought to the story by the Muppet characters only enhances the experience. The music is endearing (“Here Comes Mr. Humbug”, for example). I can’t speak highly enough about the choice to include the audience in the proceedings through the narrative guidance of The Great Gonzo as Charles Dickens himself, accompanied by Rizzo the Rat. And Statler & Waldorf as the ghosts of the brothers Marley bring their classic heckling in hilarious form. This will probably be my forever reigning champion, and I will debate anyone who disagrees.
Honorable Mention: Doctor Who – “A Christmas Carol” (2010)
Honorable mention because I have yet to see it, the pedigree of the science-fiction adventures of Doctor Who mark this new version as a shoe-in for future updates of this list. I cannot fully describe how eager I am to see this special holiday-themed episode of the fantastic British TV series.