See It Instead: The Man Who Invented Christmas.
We deck the halls with three versions of Charles Dickens’ Christmas Carol worth your farthings. And big surprise, Rankin/Bass gets another holiday movie onto our list!
We’ve had one whole day pass since Thanksgiving, so it must be time to roll out the Christmas content. Remember when we used to wait for it to actually be December? Nope, me neither. Hell, Bad Mom’s Christmas has been out since November 1st! This week we saw the release of The Man Who Invented Christmas, which is neither a documentary about Jesus nor a plug for the guy behind the Hallmark greeting card company. In fact, it’s a comedy about how Charles Dickens came up with his famous holiday serial, A Christmas Carol.
The tale of Ebenezer Scrooge and his reluctant acceptance of the holiday spirit is perhaps one of the most filmed stories in the English language. It even was adapted in 1901, which film buffs may appreciate as being about a hot minute after film itself was invented. All told there have been around 20 film versions of Dickens’ story (and myriad more TV specials and cartoons), so we decided to go down the list and pick our three favorite variations on the Yuletide classic.
The Man Who Invented Christmas (2017)
This dramatic comedy blends historical fact with charming fantasy to recreate how Charles Dickens may have created his most famous story. Dogged by poor finances and a looming deadline, Dickens is at wits end to come up with another serialized novel. Blending real people with his active imagination, he dreams up a crotchety miser who hates the holidays: Ebenezer Scrooge. Scrooge becomes a vivid character who virtually haunts Dickens as he pieces together a tale that will come to define Christmas for millions.
The Lighthearted Pick: The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)
The classic story of Scrooge, Tiny Tim, and the three spirits who change a hard man’s heart on the night before Christmas.
You might think the Muppet’s version would be all fluff and puppets, but Brian Henson’s version remains remarkably close to the source material. The charm in this film comes from the classic Muppet formula: insert the lovable misfit puppets into key roles of a classic story and then fill out the rest of the cast with stellar performances. Every Muppet movie is bursting with A listers hoping to add “hung out with Kermit” to their film resumé, but The Muppet Christmas Carol is all Michael Cain. His Scrooge is one of the all time bests, by turns irascible, terrified, and jovial. It’s quite a portrayal considering he’s playing off stuffed bears, frogs, and whatever Gonzo is supposed to be!
The Serious Pick: The Stingiest Man in Town (1978)
This family friendlier version of A Christmas Carol is based on a celebrated radio play version and is packed to the brim with musical numbers and the Rankin and Bass holiday style.
As iconic as the Animagic stop motion style of Rankin and Bass is, I prefer their traditional animations. Their fantasy offerings such as The Hobbit and The Last Unicorn are vibrant and stylish, and even their holiday fare has a unique aesthetic that you recognize immediately (not surprisingly, as many of their talent went on to work for animation powerhouse Studio Ghibli.)
Much like their other Christmas specials, the music is bright and cheerful and plentiful. Walter Matthau lends his cranky vocals to Scrooge while radio icons like Dennis Day and Paul Frees provide much of the levity. If you prefer your morality plays to have a tune you can hum along to, this is your version of A Christmas Carol.
The Unconventional Pick: Scrooged (1988)
Frank Cross (Bill Murray) is a ruthless and egotistical TV executive who is forcing his staff to work through Christmas, ironically to produce a live version of Charles Dickens’ Christmas Carol. As the night wears on, Frank starts to get the Scrooge treatment himself as three ghosts visit him and try to convince him to stop being such a schmuck on Christmas.
It’s the 1980’s, so Bill Murray is doing what he did best: play an unrepentant jerk who you nevertheless wind up liking. He is surrounded by a tremendous cast with stars like Robert Mitchum, Alfre Woodard and Karen Allen providing the heart of the piece while comedians like Bobcat Goldthwait, Karol Kaine, and even Buster Poindexter help Murray deliver the laughs. The way Scrooged re-imagines the events of Dickens’ tale is inspired lunacy with a barb of social critique that makes the film stand apart from more traditional approaches. Much like Groundhog Day, Murray manages to add heart to his comedic performance, and several scenes in this film had me misty-eyed. Is it too late for Murray to keep making holiday themed comedies? Just point a camera at him on Easter and see what he gets up to, is all I’m asking.