Originally posted to Reel World Theology.
There is probably no more well-known Christmas story than Charles Dickens’ 1843 novella, A Christmas Carol. It’s a tale that it seems everyone has heard, and that everyone knows – its ubiquitous nature sometimes diluting the message of this “ghost story of Christmas.”
The story of Ebenezer Scrooge, while simply told, is fraught with symbolism. A large theme of the story is the true nature of charity, and giving from the heart.
The most compelling theme, however, is that it’s never too late to change one’s ways. In fact, it may be the reason this story is so synonymous with Christmas. The birth of Jesus Christ spelled the beginning of man’s reconciliation with God. It’s the entire point of Christmas itself, or at least it’s supposed to be.
Given that the story is so universally understood, it seems that A Christmas Carol is a story that is ripe for film adaptation. Its imagery is imaginative. The story is compelling and, though it may start out grim, ends happily and engenders hope. Many renditions of this story have been made, going back to the early days of film itself.
I never get tired of viewing different interpretations of A Christmas Carol. It’s interesting to see how different storytellers approach the material. Some are better than others. Some present the themes better than others. Here are my four favorite incarnations.
4. Scrooged (1988)
Since A Christmas Carol is such a universal story, it has the capacity to be modernized with the setting changed from Dickensian London to, as in this version, 1980s New York City. Bill Murray plays the Scrooge character, Frank Cross – a success-minded television executive. All of the beats are there, including the visits by the spirits.
Murray is as hilarious as always. The makeup is wonderful (was that really John Forsythe as the Marley character?). The film itself has a delightfully quirky nature about it akin to Tim Burton. While director Richard Donner does a great job, it makes me wonder exactly what Burton would have done with this material.
3. A Christmas Carol (2009)
In the early 2000s, legendary director Robert Zemeckis became enamored with the burgeoning technology of MoCap. The result were three films made with performance capture technology, including the bizarre and overrated Christmas film, The Polar Express.
A Christmas Carol was Zemeckis’ third film with MoCap, a greatly benefitted from lessons learned in Polar Express and Beowulf. This is the most accurate version of the Dickens story I have ever seen. As a result, it’s much darker and grim – as it should be. The art direction alone is worth watching.
Jim Carrey plays Scrooge very well, and I was happy to see that at least the character’s older self doesn’t look like Carrey. The film only suffers from Zemeckis’ overindulgent “follow the object” scenes and multiple roles being played by the same people.
2. Mickey’s Christmas Carol (1983)
This version is very special to me. Firstly, this is character casting at its best, with each Disney personality perfectly suited to their literary character.
Secondly, as an animation fan, this film is historic. It was the first project for many of today’s animation giants like John Lasseter, Don Hahn and Mark Henn. The torch was being passed to the new generation, with veteran animator Eric Larson serving as a consultant and story man Burny Mattinson as director.
The film itself is wonderfully realized. The backgrounds have an old storybook quality, with color schemes so on the nose, one can feel the cold. Mickey and the gang have never looked better or elicited so much emotion. In fact, Mickey’s grief over the loss of Tiny Tim is one of the most heartbreaking pieces of animation I have ever seen.
1. The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)
Like Mickey’s Christmas Carol, this version features favorite characters in the various roles of the story. What makes it slightly top Mickey is the delightful mixing of the Dickens story with the Muppets’ trademark irreverent humor. The Great Gonzo’s commentary as the onscreen Charles Dickens is the personification of this concept, centering the audience and providing context in the Muppet style.
There was clearly a lot of love put into this movie. It was produced shortly after the death of Muppet creator Jim Henson, with his son Brian directing. It’s a love letter to Henson from his creative team, with wondeful moments of laughter and tears. The film has a homemade, “warm hug” quality that extends all the way to the wonderful songs written by Paul Williams.
Be sure to curl up with at least one of these films this Christmas weekend!