Drag Out the Dickens

I can’t quite recall what my introduction to A Christmas Carol actually was. I have a memory of my dad reading it to me as a kid, quite possibly an abridged version, even though it’s pretty short as is. I might have read it in junior high, and I saw it as a local theater production at least twice. I read it the other day, largely while I was waiting for a tow truck that I turned out not to really need. Revisiting the story nowadays, it’s disturbing how much of it is still relevant today. We might not have workhouses per se, but the “I have money; screw the poor” is still very prominent. What’s changed is that the rich people who call for decreasing the surplus population also tend to be the ones who insist secularism is forbidding them from saying “Merry Christmas,” because I guess to them Christmas is about conformity instead of generosity. Other minor points I noticed were that Jacob Marley is said to have died on Christmas Eve, and bad-future Ebenezer Scrooge presumably died around then as well. (It’s not entirely clear, as the fact that the exchange was open likely means it wasn’t Christmas Day when the businessmen were talking about Scrooge’s death. Since the Ghost of Christmas Present didn’t fade away until Twelfth Night, though, Christmas Yet to Come might also be able to show stuff from the rest of Christmastide.) As far as terminology goes, four ghosts visit Scrooge, but only one is the ghost of a PERSON; the others represent concepts. I have to wonder why adaptations of the story tend not to include the kids under Present’s robe. It’s a dark section in the story, but it seems like it could have been played for comedy. And Tiny Tim seems a bit cringeworthy. Anyway, part of why I’m discussing this is that I recently rewatched two partially comedic takes on the tale.

Mickey’s Christmas Carol – I have a vague memory of seeing this at the theater during its original run, along with the 1983 reissue of The Rescuers. What I remember better is listening to the read-along book, which we had first on vinyl and then on cassette. I can distinctly recall the record skipping. It was the first Disney short in years to feature the classic characters, the last appearance of Clarence Nash as Donald Duck, and the first theatrical appearance of Alan Young as Scrooge McDuck, and Wayne Allwine as Mickey Mouse. It’s convenient that Disney had a character who was named after and based on Ebenezer Scrooge, and introduced in a Christmas story as well, although Scrooge McDuck would eventually become way richer and much more active than his namesake. The weirdest character choice is probably Goofy as Marley. Can you imagine him as a ruthless businessman?

I guess the fowl-tempered Donald as the relentlessly cheerful Fred is also a bit strange, but hardly to the same extent. It also had Scrooge’s nephew’s girlfriend playing his old girlfriend, and to make things even more confusing Huey, Dewey, and Louie show up in Scrooge’s past. I suppose they’re just disappearing into their roles. When I brought up the Goofy/Marley thing on Facebook, someone mentioned that Fezziwig might have been a better role for him, but instead Mr. Toad played him in a non-speaking part. There were quite a few callbacks to The Wind in the Willows, as Rat and Mole were the charitable collectors, Cyril Proudbottom Donald/Fred’s horse, and the weasels gravediggers. Other characters from classic films made cameos as well, but I wonder why this one in particular was referenced so heavily. Because it also involves animals and is set in England? Willie, the giant from Mickey and the Beanstalk, shows up as the Ghost of Christmas Present, and it’s amusing to hear Dickensian lines delivered in his voice.

I don’t think too many lines were taken directly from Dickens, but I think they were going for that general feel. Scrooge does say the line about people who like Christmas being boiled in their own pudding, but leaves out the part about the stake of holly. Overall, I think they avoided the darker social commentary, but added in some jokes about just how cheap Scrooge is: he mentions having Marley buried at sea so he could pocket the funeral expenses, only gives Bob Cratchit half a day off with no pay for Christmas, and forecloses on his fiancee’s cottage. He also seems more eager to mess with people instead of just being generally mean. It is a pretty good gag to have the Ghost of Christmas Future, a traditional silent character, to break this act, reveal himself to be Pete, and say a single line.

Of course, it relies on the viewer knowing that the character is supposed to be silent.

The Muppet Christmas Carol – I’d seen this several times before, but not recently. It was the first major project with the Muppets after Jim Henson’s death, and it actually uses a lot of Dickens’ writing, particularly with Gonzo serving as the narrator, accompanied by Rizzo the Rat.

I’ve seen it noted on the IMDB that a lobster in a basement window is a reference to one strange line from Dickens. I have to wonder if there’s also some sort of similar joke in the shop where Scrooge’s linens are resold being run by a spider and one of his patrons being an insect.

In the book, the place is described as a “beetling shop,” and the owner tells the others to step into his parlor. I’ve also read that Miss Piggy, Scooter, and Gonzo were originally going to play the three ghosts, but they were replaced by original creations. I had considered that Sweetums might have been a good choice for the Ghost of Christmas Present if they hadn’t decided to go that way. Scooter doesn’t appear in the finished film at all. There were a few similarities I noted to the Mickey Mouse version, and not just that they both added some slapstick. They both have the main star of the usual cast playing Bob Cratchit and his nephew as Tiny Tim, and both use Fezziwig’s (sorry, Fozziwig’s) party as a way to work in cameos from familiar characters who don’t figure into the plot.

Beth mentioned that, when the movie came out, at least one critic noted how dark everything was, and it didn’t look like that was done on purpose. That’s a minor complaint, though.

This entry was posted in Cartoons, Christmas, Comics, Holidays, Humor, Muppets, Plays, Revisiting Disney, VoVat Goes to the Movies and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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