Every Christmas Carol adaptation has its own personality trait, and this early Code-era rendition is just so damn cheery.
Richard Williams’ 1971 Oscar-winning short is an astonishing adaptation, animated with beautiful, pencil-drawn grace and showcasing the creepier side of the story.
Some of the moments here have never been depicted like this before. Marley’s jaw dangles, unhinged, with all the fright described in the text. The ghost-hearse races up the stairs. The Ghost of Christmas Past flickers and shapeshifts.
The sets are shadowy and starkly angled; the graves at the cemetery in Christmas Future spout like a horrid fungus from the ground. Expressionism-inspired buildings tower over everything, almost tilted, casting an oppressive blanket of darkness on the story.
Beyond the sketch-like texture, there’s some great innovative animation. One memorable shot shows a cityscape in disorienting, vertically-rotating, 360-degree perspective.
The downside: With only 25 minutes, this short is crippled by its narrative rush. While there’s some appeal to the pace and its editing — scenes morph into each other rapidly and almost impressionistically — the short length still mandates that narrative beats be hurried.
Richard Williams’ adaptation ranks as one of my favorite versions of the Dickens classic, but would likely catapult to the top if only it had another 20 minutes to let its story comfortably develop: its animation and haunting atmosphere are simply that compelling.
What I knew going into this one is that it’s generally regarded as the most faithful to the Dickens text (which I am currently reading for the first time, so cannot comment upon yet) and that it’s not as visually rich as some other adaptations. I also knew George C. Scott’s turn as Scrooge had a pretty good reputation.
For the opening half or so of the film, my reaction to this one was pretty muted. The opening is slow, and the Christmas Past section is surprisingly low energy. It doesn’t help that the Ghost of Christmas Past played by Angela Pleasance is pretty lifeless, and the movie uses cheap transition effects to the past. (Gotta make budget cuts as a TV movie somewhere, I guess.)
The one early bright spot is Marley’s ghost, who is probably the creepiest version of the ghost I’ve yet seen, with otherworldly makeup and acting intensity by Frank Finlay.
I was also down on Scott as Scrooge during the opening half of the film. He’s a great curmudgeon, just a really shitty old man, but he was thoroughly passive and buttoned down during the Christmas Past segment. I always enjoy when Scrooge has a heightened reaction to seeing his past mistakes.
BUT this one takes a major turn for the better as it wraps up the Christmas Present segment. Scrooge’s vision of the poor that he condemned as “surplus population” is dark and freaky, and even that is hardly prep what comes next.
I can say without reservation that this is my favorite Christmas Yet to Come segment — Michael Carter is genuinely haunting as a death specter, and the gloom and dread of life wasted builds to the gut punch reveal of Scrooge’s tombstone.
I also quite liked the redemption segment. Scott really comes to life with an infectious smile and laugh. And his reunion with his nephew is the best that beat has ever been depicted — I was choking up at Scrooge’s remorse and cautious warmth.
So it’s not quite an all-timer, but the 1984 Christmas Carol is definitely a strong one that gets better as its runtime goes — and same for George C. Scott as Scrooge.
Reviewed on The Goods here
You may as well call it “A Tale of Two Carols” because I’m not sure any Christmas Carol adaptation has given me more whiplash between the two poles of its craft.
On the one hand, this is one of the best pieces of storytelling for most of its runtime among any of the Christmas Carol adaptations I’ve seen. It leans heavily on the Dickens text to great effect, using the reality-defying nature of animation to capture vivid details of the novella usually ignored on film.
And some of the visual designs are truly marvelous. It goes to show what a visionary director with a big budget and great team can create with the material. From the creepy door knocker and Marley ghost, to the sprawling dormitory at Scrooge’s school, to the streetlife panorama element of Christmas Present usually ignored in adaptations, to — most memorably of all — the half-shadow Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come — there’s so much I loved in this.
Truly, this film does exciting horror-tinged stuff with Christmas Carol material that has never been matched in other adaptations.
It’s all packaged in the ass-ugly mo-cap CGI that looks like a PS2 cutscene. Some of these character models and textures are absolutely wretched to look at (the Ace Ventura-looking Ghost of Christmas Past might be the worst, but there are a lot of contenders).
More distracting still is that plenty of scenes are designed like a 3D thrill ride more than a piece of cinema. It’s extremely jarring to hop from a tense/moving moment to a wacky flight simulator. Why Christmas Yet To Come had to spend 7 minutes in a goofy chase scene, shrinking Scrooge to mouse size, I’ll never understand.
Scrooge himself looks quite good (you can tell they spent the time and technical budget on him), though Carrey’s vocal performance is mediocre, maybe approaching average.
The film starts promising and had me engaged, but gradually loses its emotional thread as the movie does more and more tech demo-type stuff. Alas, I’m left with quite a bit of cognitive dissonance about the whole thing and can’t give it a strong recommendation.
What did I just watch?
In all the adaptations of A Christmas Carol that I’ve seen, Ebenezer Scrooge is almost always depicted as a ghoul at the start who is gradually humanized.
Mickey’s Christmas Carol makes an excellent way to introduce younger kids to the Christmas Carol story, but it’s honestly appealing to all ages.