If you’re a franchise the pumps out thematic specials, eventually you will get to A Christmas Carol. Resist, hide, delay, whatever — Charles Dickens will eventually find you. This may sound like a gripe, but it actually makes me quite happy. A Christmas Carol is such a richly cinematic story that I always love revisiting it. It’s filled with ghosts, lost loves, time travel, eternal regret, holiday cheer, and powerful redemption. It’s also quite malleable — its themes are so universal that you can shape them in a wide variety of tones and textures without losing the spirit of the novella.
Despite that, Flintstones is a somewhat bizarre franchise in which to adapt the novella. The Flintstones, I’m sure you know, takes place in the distant past — long before Charles Dickens was even born; long before the first Christmas, for that matter. Even tossing aside the matter of the prehistoric setting, The Flintstones is a midcentury sitcom with a stable family unit including husband, wife, and child (Fred, Betty, and Pebbles, respectively). Not exactly a close match to a Victorian London lonely miser.
The Flintstones chooses to ignore the inexplicable incongruity of its own premise vis a vis a 19th century novella (although it does mention “Charles Brickens,” suggesting perhaps a preincarnation of Dickens chiseled the novella in slate centuries before the author himself penned it in 1843). As for trying to fit Fred Flintstone into a Scrooge situation, The Flintstones goes the route of Mr. Magoo before it by putting its lead as the star of a play, and then using that as the vessel for a fairly faithful version of the story.
But this special goes one step further than just using its characters as actors in the classic holiday tale. It gives us a dual-layered version of the story. There’s an entire framing narrative wherein Fred Flintstone proper has become a pompous grump who needs to find Christmas spirit as he simultaneously plays Scrooge in a play. When Wilma is cast as an understudy, she and Fred get in an argument, and he confronts his own selfishness at the same time Scrooge does.
It’s a clever construction for an adaptation of A Christmas Carol. It allows The Flintstones to both have its cake and eat it, too — if, in this case, “cake” is “God bless us, every one.” For in A Flintstones Christmas Carol we get BOTH a depiction of Dickens’ story with cartoon characters in the original roles, AND a Flintstones-themed reinterpretation. Once we reach the climax, Wilma takes center stage, and the two storylines merge and resolve at the same time.
There’s a goofy, malleable diegesis in A Flintstones Christmas Carol: Sometimes the adaptation of Dickens’ story is an in-universe play, other times it’s a full, straight-ahead, physics-defying adaptation, with floating ghosts and character duplication and the like.
I like the idea a lot. Unfortunately, the payoff doesn’t live up to the premise. The movie is neither convincing in Fred’s misanthropy, nor his transformation to cheeriness. None of the framing story plot points are compelling enough to drive a believable redemption arc, so the conclusion lands flat.
There’s also the fact that the special uses stone age-themed puns are as the engine of its comedy, which really grates across an hour-long special. (That the Flintstone was EVER more than a novelty hit remains a bit baffling to me.)
So, A Flintstone’s Christmas Carol gets much of the way towards a recommendation on conceptual bravado, but not all the way there. In the scheme of Carol adaptations, it has some interesting ideas, but its execution is a disappointment.