Scrooge History Lesson

Scrooge On Film

Long after it was published in 1843, Charles Dickens’ classic novel A Christmas Carol continues to be a perennial bestseller every December.  Besides being released in numerous different hardcover and paperback versions every year, the book is also one of the most filmed stories of all time.  Every year, a new version finds its way to TV or theatres, several becoming classics in their own right.  Below is a sampling of some of the more known film and TV versions of old Ebeneezer Scrooge finding the Christmas spirit.

A Christmas Carol (2009). Rubber-faced funnyman Jim Carrey lends his voice to numerous characters in this computer-animated feature.  Directed by Robert Zemeckis, this version of the story was originally shown in 3D in theatres, featuring some of the most dazzling effects of the day.   Carrey not only voiced the character of Scrooge, but each of the spirits, as well.  Gary Oldman, Bob Hoskins, and Colin Firth lend their voices, as well.  The combination of comedy, eye-catching animation, and top-tier talent made Carrey’s Scrooge an enormous hit the year it was released, and a bestseller on home video in the years since.  The comedy and slapstick is big in this version, making it enormously popular with kids and younger viewers.

A Christmas Carol (1984).  Great Scott!  This made-for-TV version of Dickens’ story is an all-time favorite for many, and has remained extremely popular since its debut.  Legendary actor George C. Scott plays Scrooge in what is one of the more powerful (and endearing) performances of the character on film.  Many critics argue it to be the best, most accurate version of the novel on film, and it was easily one of Scott’s most memorable roles.  He was even nominated for an Emmy Award for the performance.

An American Christmas Carol (1979).  Ebeneezer Scrooge by way of The Fonz.  This TV movie was made right at the height of Henry Winkler’s popularity on the hit TV show Happy Days.  Set in America during the Great Depression, the movie surprisingly captures that era well.  Scrooge is renamed Benedict Slade in this version, and the spirits are all more human than ghost.  These days, this “modern” version of the story looks a bit dated  (The Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come seems to have walked straight out of a disco), and isn’t helped by the then thirty four year-old Winkler in heavy prosthetics to make him look like an old man.  Still, it retains a huge cult following, and is available on home video.

Scrooge (1951).  This British film stars Alastair Sim as the miserly Scrooge in what is a fairly downbeat telling of the story.  Although a hit in Great Britain when it was released, the movie did not find much of an audience in The United States (where it was released as A Christmas Carol), and was met with mixed reviews at the time.  Years later, it became a hit on TV during the holiday season, becoming what is now considered a classic, and one of the best adaptations of the novel.  Many critics to this day consider Alastair Sim the definitive Ebeneezer Scrooge.

A Diva’s Christmas Carol (2000).  Music TV channel, VH-1 got into the Scrooge business with this made-for-TV adaptation.  Pop star Vanessa Williams plays—what a stretch—a pop star who has lost the true meaning of Christmas.  Thanks to some interesting casting choices (John Taylor from Duran Duran plays the Ghost of Christmas Present), some cool tunes, and a little wink at pop culture of the day, “Ebony Scrooge” is set on the straight and narrow once again.

A Christmas Carol (1999).  Make it snow!  Star Trek: The Next Generation star Patrick Stewart leads the cast in this TV movie.  Stewart had produced a very successful one-man show of A Christmas Carol onstage several times.  It seemed like a no-brainer to finally give him the role onscreen.  Broadway legend Joel Grey shows up at The Ghost of Christmas Past.  This version is somewhat darker than many, but very faithful to Dickens’ original story.  Stewart delivers an excellent take on Scrooge, shifting well from baddie to buddy.  Of all the more recent adaptations on this list, this one probably has the fastest-growing following.

Karoll’s Christmas (2004).  Tom Everrett Scott plays the Scrooge character in this TV movie that doesn’t feature Scrooge at all.  Scott plays Allen Karroll, a miserable greeting card writer who has grown to despise pretty much everything, including Christmas.  When the spirits come calling, it works out well for Karroll, despite the fact that the ghosts were supposed to visit his neighbor instead.  This version gets bonus points for adding an original spin to the classic tale.  Also, making Jacob Marley more like reggae legend Bob Marley is a silly but fun addition.

Rich Little’s Christmas Carol (1978).  This special wasn’t just highly entertaining, it was also very, um, “impressive”.  Impressionist Rich Little played almost every single role, which leads one to believe that it must’ve taken forever to film the thing. There was W.C. Fields as Scrooge, Truman Capote (!) as Tiny Tim, and Paul Lynde as Bob Cratchit. Originally aired on HBO in 1978, the special looks quite dated now (most of the people Little impersonated are dead), which is probably why it doesn’t seem to be broadcast anymore. In the early 80s, however, HBO showed it constantly during the month of December.  It’s more for the adults than the kids, but mostly because 21st century toddlers will have no idea who half the impressions are supposed to be.

Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol (1962).  The very first animated holiday special made specifically for television, this 1962 cartoon is still as enjoyable today as when it first aired. Sure, there are some liberties taken (The Ghosts of Christmas Past and Present appear out of order) and the animation looks dated, but the songs are still catchy and the spirit of the tale rings true.  This beloved cartoon classic shows up all the time on Christmas-related video box sets and special edition collections, and has been in syndication forever.  One of those rare animated specials that can be equally enjoyed by children and their parents.

Mickey’s Christmas Carol (1983).  First shown by Disney during a re-release of The Rescuers. At the time, it was the first animated feature from Disney in thirty years. Mickey Mouse as Bob Cratchit is inspired, and the animation is still excellent. It’s a very nice blend of Dickens and Disney, although it’s much more for the kiddies than any of my other choices on this list. Still, at less than thirty minutes long, it’s hard not to enjoy it at any age. And what better choice was there to play Ebeneezer Scrooge than…Scrooge McDuck?

A Carol Christmas (2003).  Nothing says “Christmas Carol” like…Tori Spelling?  Here Spelling plays an insufferable TV talk show host who needs the Christmas Spirits to teach her not to be essentially like most TV talk show hosts.  Bonus points for the great casting choices of Gary Coleman and William Shatner as Past and Present, respectively.  And Spelling plays the redeemed villain will obvious glee.

Scrooged (1988).  Just try to Bill Murray movie without having the song “Put a Little Love In Your Heart” stuck in your head for three days. A big hit in theatres and on home video, this movie gets something very right that so many other adaptations (loosely-based or otherwise) seem to get wrong: It shows the “Scrooge” character as flawed but not completely soulless. Even when he’s a complete ass, Murray’s Frank Cross retains some humanity underneath his bitter narcissism. Dickens didn’t write Scrooge as the one-dimensional character that so many adaptations have made him out to be, and neither does this light-hearted, fun flick.  Yes, it’s dated and quite 80s in its look and feel. But what’s wrong with that, exactly?

The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992).  Music, mayhem, and Muppets!  Michael Caine as Scrooge is an example of brilliant casting, and the story being anchored by The Great Gonzo (playing Charles Dickens) and Rizzo the Rat was a great way to keep the laughs coming. Paul Williams’ music is so very catchy, and there’s at least four different songs in here that you’ll find yourself humming well after Christmas has come and gone. Surprisingly, this is also one of the most faithful adaptations of the story and manages to capture a real Dickensian feeling, despite the fact that you’re watching Kermit the Frog strolling around 19th century England. It’s surprisingly very romantic, and already being called a classic by many.

A Flintstones Christmas Carol (1994).  It wouldn’t be Christmas without cavemen, right?  Everyone’s favorite prehistoric family gets into the Christmas spirit…hundreds of years before Christmas ever would have actually happened.  In this movie, Fred Flintstone winds up acting like Ebeneezer Scrooge all because he gets the part of Ebeneezer Scrooge in a local play.  Cavemen acting like people from Victorian England makes one a person wonder if The Flintstones are actually a family from a post-apocalyptic future and not the prehistoric past.

Scrooge (1970).  Sing it, Scrooge!  This musical version of the Dickens tale earned Albert Finney a Golden Globe Award for his portrayal of everyone’s favorite miser.  Popular enough to later spawn a stage musical based upon it, this Carol sometimes raises eyebrows due to a very graphic scene with Scrooge actually visiting Hell.  Some have deemed this segment a little bleak to be showing the kiddies, even for what is commonly the spookiest part of the story.  It all works out in the end, of course, and Scrooge actually gives thanks to his old partner, Jacob Marley…by talking to his doorknocker.

As long as there are movies and television, people will be making new versions of A Christmas Carol.  For fans of the story, there will be no shortage of Scrooges to come along in upcoming years.  Whether you choose one from the past, present, or future is all up to you.

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