Mickey’s Christmas Carol is neck and neck with The Muppet Christmas Carol as the ideal adaptation to introduce the iconic story to a child. It captures the spirit of the Charles Dickens novella in earnest strokes with just a splash of humor. It gets scary at moments, as a ghost story like A Christmas Carol should, but makes good use of the familiar cast of Disney faces and voices to keep it accessible and breezy for kids.
This 1983 adaptation of the beloved and oft-adapted story stars Alan Young as the voice of Scrooge McDuck. The uncle of Donald Duck is a “covetous old sinner”, and, of course, a namesake of the Dickens novel, so he makes a perfect fit as Ebenezer Scrooge. Young is absolutely terrific as the voice actor for Scrooge, anchoring the story by effectively capturing all of the different emotions and timbres that Scrooge hits as he traverses time with the three spirits. Something about a gruff Scottish accent suits Scrooge perfectly.
Disney has gone the route of creating a faithful, unflinching adaptation of the novel. It refuses to shy away from the grimmer elements of the Dickens story. In fact, it adds in an implied descent to Hell with a glimpse of a fiery pit underneath a grave. This frightening touch, though often in adaptations, is nowhere in the Dickens text.
The production and design of the animation is terrific. From the parchment-set opening credits to the snowy alleyways, the festive Fezziwig party to the rustic Cratchit dinner, this is a rich picture of Victorian London. The painted backgrounds are inviting, and there’s some adventurous use of color and lighting — especially in the creepy Christmas Yet-to-Come segment.
The single best piece of animation comes early in the special when we see the ghost of Marley (Goofy) stalk Scrooge up the stairs. Goofy takes the shape of a shadow, and only a shadow, draped against the wall by shadow light. It’s a legitimately clever and spooky image that shows the crew wasn’t phoning it in. (It’s hard to imagine, for example, that moment in a 2022 Disney Plus original version of this film.)
The real rub against Mickey’s Christmas Carol is its runtime. Twenty-some minutes is simply not enough time to do a full and proper adaptation of the Christmas Carol story. It requires some combination of cutting out crucial incidents from the story and rushing through them without giving them proper time to breathe and resonate. Mickey’s Christmas Carol does a little bit of both, trimming a few incidents from each of the ghostly visits and aggressively jumping through them. Double the length of Mickey’s Christmas Carol without sacrificing any richness, and you’d be looking at perhaps the best adaptations of the Dickens novella.
Nonetheless, it’s still a great little animated film, one I’ve shown my kids and plan on keeping in the holiday rotation.