A Christmas Carol: The Best And Worst Versions
Charles Dickens was in somewhat dire straits. His wife was pregnant yet again, and the serialization of Martin Chuzzlewit was drawing a lukewarm response. Inspired by his research into the awful conditions of England's poor, he banged out A Christmas Carol in less than two months. It was initially a bit of a financial disappointment, but is perhaps the work of his that has reached, one way or another, the largest audience.
So on Christmas Eve, as you settle down to see whether you'll be visited by three spirits, let's take a look at the best and worst Christmas Carols.
3. Scrooged (1988)
After enduring a critical drubbing for his (not all that bad) attempt to "go straight" with The Razor's Edge, Bill Murray went into seclusion. But for a cameo in Little Shop of Horrors, he was absent from screens he had dominated with hits like Ghostbusters and Stripes. So anticipation was extremely high for Scrooged, his version of A Christmas Carol, and in the end that anticipation killed it.
It couldn't live up to the hype and was dismissed. But decades removed from that hype, it stands as a solid re-telling of the tale. Murray's conversion scene isn't exactly convincing, but the rest of it works great.
Kudos to David Johansen's Ghost of Christmas Past, who takes Murray's Frank Cross back to his childhood home:
Frank Cross: I get it, you're here to show me my past and I'm supposed to get all dully eyed and mushy. Well forget it pal, you got the wrong guy.
Ghost of Christmas Past: That's exactly what Atilla the Hun said. But when he saw his mother: Niagra Falls.
For many, this is the classic version. Alistair Sim is a convincing Scrooge, especially in the scene (not in the book, by the way), where he asks forgiveness of his nephew Fred's wife. Bonus points for including the haunting ballad "Barbara Allen."
1. Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol (1962)
For so many onetime kids, this is the version. Never been a scarier Ghost of Christmas Future, for one thing. Looking at it now, the bizarre-ness of it all stands out -- the strange and pointless framing device of Magoo being in a Broadway version of the story (in what appears to be the world's longest and narrowest theater), the twisted and cheap animation, all infused with great songs by the legendary Jule Styne, who wrote the music for Gypsy and Funny Girl.
Every put-upon kid, pouting about the utter unfairness of a life where you didn't get dessert that night or were not allowed to stay up late, at some point identified with "why such a lonely beach?"
3. A Christmas Carol (1999)
Starring Patrick Stewart. Subtitled No Scenery Left Unchewed, or at least it should be. Stewart originally did this as a one-man show, and we cringe to think of the false-modesty-endowed bows he took, no doubt all but collapsing from the superhuman effort required to provide such a performance. We bet it was better than James Brown and the cape.
The added a supporting cast for this TV movie, and ton of hyped CGI that looks lame. The production's CGI is to Avatar what Stewart's performance is to subtlety: not in the same zip code, solar system or universe. His pre-conversion Scrooge makes Ty Cobb look like Mr. Rogers.
2. A Christmas Carol (2009)
It's not the creepy motion-capture technology (How anyone can watch The Polar Express is beyond us); it's not the over-acting by Jim Carrey. It's not even the fact they blow the whole Christmas Past section by skimming over it far too quickly and with absolutely no emotion.
No, what does this in is the Christmas Future setpiece, where -- for no good reason at all beyond showing unconvincing special effects -- Ebeneezer is shrunk and endures a wild chase scene with some horse trying to kill Mini-Scrooge. Oy.
Disney's disabled all embedding, but if you want to see the trailer and experience the true meaning of what Dickens was trying to say -- that things coming at you are really, really cool -- here it is.
1. Ebbie (1995)
Three words: Starring Susan Lucci.
It's a modern-day version, with Lucci as a hard-charging executive and....well, let's just say "Jake" Marley's ghost uses a cell phone at one point.
The web seems to be Ebbie-free when it comes to clips. On this page, seemingly deranged people protest that even Lifetime can't bring itself to show the thing anymore.
Which, we suppose, is proof that Dickens' story is strong enough to withstand anything and still appeal.