Tis the season to be jolly and joyous, or so says Kermit the Frog in the Muppets delightful adaptation of A Christmas Carol. And really it is. Whether most of us like it or not, Christmas is a time that captivates the heart and fills us with the most inexplicable sense of happiness. Of course, there’s always going to be the odd grinch who thinks Santa is a socialist trickster intent upon subliminally indoctrinating the masses with Marxist ideology, but for the majority, that wonderful essence of ‘Christmassness’ is very much unavoidable.
It forces us to places we might never have imagined. We may find ourselves buying presents for people we don’t even like, or singing along with infinite gusto to that God-awful Cheeky Girls Chrimbo tune. In some cases, late at night, after a heavy coma-inducing binge on mince pies, we might even sit through the abominable Christmas with the Kranks. And we might even enjoy it.
Luckily for us, however, Christmas isn’t all about shite movies. There are some good ones out there too, as Paul Berney has already discussed here. But, of course, above the greats and instant-classics of the Christmas movie scene, there stands the Goliath known to all, though in many different forms; the inevitable Dickens triumph A Christmas Carol.
Although versions of this 1843 story appear in many different shapes over the festive period, you may be surprised to learn that there have been over a whopping 70 film adaptations of the revered text. This can be charted right back to 1901 and the 3-minute silent pic Marlay’s Ghost all the way up to Robert Zemeckis’ 2009 motion-capture attempt. Now, while it would be perfectly feasible for me to look at each specific adaptation in terms of plot, theme and social background, I understand we all have mildly important lives to lead and we don’t want to spend our last moments reading through an elongated, though thoroughly engaging, textual analysis. I do, however, think it’s only fair that, as we will mostly likely come across A Christmas Carol in one way or another, we separate the good from the bad; the Dairy Milk from the Golden Barrel; the Galaxy from the Bounty (Insert further box-of-chocolates reference here).
The fact that most of us are allergic to films made before the 1970’s leads us to dismiss a large amount of the Carol backlog, although honourable mentions must be offered to MGM’s 1938 studio version which retains some of the Hollywood grandeur of that period, as well as a 1951 version produced on this side of the pond, considered by many to be the purest and most faithful to Dickens’ original work. Elsewhere, any of us unfortunate enough to endure any of the extremely loose adaptations seen on the True Christmas channel will vouch for self-immolation before sitting through another. Bah, Humbug, indeed.
Of the more recognised Carol forms, to be avoided at all costs is the 2001 production featuring Simon Callow and Kate Winslet. Its dull, poorly-crafted animation not only reminds you of Disney’s marvelous Mickey Mouse version, but also exaggerates the woefulness of a plot without any of that Christmas magic. What’s worse is it will remind you of that dreadful song Winslet sang once. And now it’s stuck in your head. Great.
Another forgettable version sees Albert Finney in Scrooge’s miserable boots, a drawn-out musical version that is unremarkable but for seeing yer man from Bourne belt out a few lacklustre tunes.
When it comes to the more decent Carol efforts, Richard Donner’s intriguing Scrooged is certainly worth a watch. In this crazed satire, Bill Murray stars as detestable TV exec intent upon bringing Dickens’ tale to new, nipple-bearing lows before being visited by three, albeit random, ghosts of his own At his erratic, eccentric best, Murray brings vats and vats of humour to an inventive, yet emotionally-lacking narrative. The aforementioned Jim Carey adaptation of 2009 bears the same vivacity of performance as Scrooged, embellished by enthralling animation and cinematography. While overly quaint, the film too is devoid of that emotional punch that renders Carol such an enjoyable story.
In the words of ex-Mastermind guru Magnus Magnusson, ‘I’ve started so I’ll finish’. And in this case, I’ll finish where I started. For me, as for many others, there is only one definitive Carol adaptation, the unadulterated masterpiece that is Brian Henson’s The Muppet’s Christmas Carol. Loaded with warmth and colour, this version combines comedy, music, sentimentality and great storytelling to provide an instantly likeable movie. It’s got all those affable characters alongside a decent Michael Caine as the central villain-cum-hero. Throw in that fabled Muppets wit and an array of catchy songs and what you end up with is a wondrous film that will have you brimming with joy from start to finish.