Over the past few days, we've talked about some of the different forms that "A Christmas Carol" can take. There's the fairly faithful adaptation (I.E. "The Muppet Christmas Carol"), the out-right parody ("Blackadder's Christmas Carol") as well as that truly rare sort of film. One that tries mightily to make fun of Dickens' oft-told tale even while it's closely following all of the basic tenets of this classic holiday tale (I.E. "Scrooged").
But today I'd like to talk about another form that "A Christmas Carol" often takes. And that's the lazy TV writer's crutch.
To explain: In today's world, a team of writers that's working on a television series typically has to come up with 13 - 22 new episodes per season. And as that show's producer dummies out the production schedule for the coming season, he or she will usually pencil in a Christmas show. During which that program's characters are supposed to learn the true meaning of the holiday season.
The only problem is ... There are only so many good Christmas-based story ideas to go around. Which is why -- as the writers of a particular program struggle to come up with a decent concept for that season's holiday show -- someone at the table will invariably suggest that they do an episode that riffs on "A Christmas Carol."
You know the sort of episode that I'm talking about, right? Where one of the lead characters -- having just had this really horrible day -- will fall asleep. And while they're dreaming, they'll then encounter these three ghost-like figures. Who -- because the producer of this TV show is always looking for ways to save a few bucks -- will typically be played by other actors who already appear on that program.
Anyway ... These three ghost-like figures will then give that character a brief glimpse of their past, present and future. And as a direct result of that experience, this character now has a better understanding & a new appreciation of their life, their job, their family, their friends. Something like that.
Once this character awakens from their "Christmas Carol" -inspired sleep ... Well, just like Ebenezer Scrooge, they'll now pledge to live a better life, to be kinder to those around them, to heed all of the lessons that these ghost-like figures taught them, etc. You get the idea, right?
A pretty typical example of one of these "Christmas Carol" -inspired shows is the "Alvin & the Chipmunks" episode that I'll be writing about today. Which borrows just enough story ideas from Dickens' classic holiday tale that it can sort of kind of get away with calling itself "Alvin's Christmas Carol."
Copyright 1993 Buena Vista Home Entertainment
The gist of this 1983 episode is Alvin has become so obsessed with getting everything that he wants for Christmas this year that he's not doing his homework, he's cutting corners on his paper route. He's even being rude to Dave Seville as well as his two brothers, Simon & Theodore.
Which is why one night, as this self-centered Chipmunk is sitting up in his bedroom, once again revising his Christmas list (So that Alvin can then know exactly what to ask his grandparents for. So that this chipmunk then can be assured that he's getting absolutely everything that he's asking for this holiday season), the Ghost of Christmas Past suddenly appears before Alvin.
This apparition (Which -- not-so-surprisingly -- looks an awful lot like Dave Seville) tries to remind Alvin that there's more to Christmas time than just getting gifts. But when this selfish little chipmunk refuses to listen, the holiday spirit takes his hand. And then the Ghost of Christmas Past & Alvin fly through the air back to the not-so-distant past. And as these two stare through the window ...
... Alvin & the apparition observe a very humble holiday for the Seville family. Back when all that the chipmunks could afford to give Dave was a piece of paper, a pencil and an eraser.
Which admittedly sound like very humble gifts. But -- in the end -- they were exactly what Dave needed. For this songwriter took those materials and then wrote "The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don't Be Late)." The song that effectively launched Alvin, Simon & Theodore's careers.
Speaking of Theodore ... Once Alvin gets back to his bedroom, this chipmunk find a Ghost of Christmas Present that looks an awful lot like his chubbier brother. This holiday spirit then asks Alvin to peer into his magical Santa sack. Which allows the greedy chipmunk to see what's going to happen on Christmas morning.
The sack shows Alvin hogging all of the presents under the Christmas tree. Meanwhile, poor Mr. Carroll (I.E. That nice old man who lives down the street with his cat, Ebenezer) is alone for the holidays.
And speaking of hogging ... The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Be (Who -- yes -- looks just like Alvin's brother, Simon) has some pretty disturbing news for this greedy little rodent. Unless this chipmunk can get his conspicuous Christmas consumption under control, he's going to have to start buying his "A" shirts from Omar the Tentmaker.
It's this glimpse of an over-sized Alvin that finally compells this chipmunk to change his ways. For once, he decides to put someone else first. Which is why Alvin first empties his piggybank, then buys Christmas presents for David, Simon and Theodore.
Then -- on Christmas Day -- Alvin stops by Mr. Carroll's house and invited this lonely old man & his cat to come join the Seville family for a holiday dinner.
You see what I'm saying here? With the exception of the visited-by-three-ghosts stuff and the whole selfish-character-redeemed-in-the-end thing, this really wasn't a version of "A Christmas Carol." But that didn't stop the folks at Buena Vista Home Entertainment from attempting to market the VHS version of this "Alvin & the Chipmunks" episode as a really-for-real adaptation of Dickens' holiday tale back in 1993.
Thank goodness Paramount Home Entertainment (I.E. The company that recently acquired the rights to release this "Alvin & the Chipmunks" episode on DVD) has abandoned that approach. Rather than continue to sell this as a stand-alone title, the folks at Paramount first renamed this episode (It's now called "Merry Christmas, Mr. Carroll"). They then bundled this cartoon in with two other holiday-themed "Alvin" titles (Including a 1981 "Chipmunk Christmas" special that was directed by animation legend Chuck Jones) and released this trio as the "Alvin & the Chipmunks : A Chipmunk Christmas -- 25th Anniversary Special Collector's Edition."
Mind you, if you want to hear about a much more entertaining cartoon adaptation of "A Christmas Carol," come back tomorrow. And I'll tell you about Yakko, Wakko and Dot did to Dickens.
Poor as this version is, the accusations levelled against it are by no means unique to animation series' or cartoons themselves. Look at the stupid 'topical' joke on English beef deleted from the Patrick Stewart version, the desperate writing in of another character into the Sim classic as a vehicle for Jack Warner (or the reference by Scrooge to a non-existent August Bank Holiday at the start of that same version.) I always have problems with film makers who, for financial expediency or the sake of doing something different, think they can make changes to the plot that Dickens originally wrote. If they are that good, perhaps they should write something fresh. The world needs another classic novel at this time.
Personally, I see no problems at adaptations like this. THat's why it's called adaptation. It doesn't necessarily have to follow the original text line by line. Otherwise, we'd be stuck with about 50 versions of the exact same tale when only one would be enough. Spins like Scrooged, or this one, or even the Muppet one, which is faithful but not that much (Dickens didn't write about Rizzo, after all) homage the original story but also give us something fresh.
Perhaps I should have said 'improvements' rather than changes. Obviously, like yourself, I enjoy the homages - particularly the Muppets.I don't want fifty versions all exactly true to the book but sometime or other, after all the differences this series has outlined, I would like to see someone have the courage to make just one.
Yay....this article marks the halfway point of the series! If Jim can finish the other half, this will mark JHM history. 20 down.....20 to go. :)
Adaptation involves knowing the original text, not others' adaptations. Does anything from this episode look like it was based on anything other than the writer having a passing knowledge of Christmas Carol?
I'd say of the crop of 80s toons riffing on Christmas Carol, the Real Ghostbusters' was one of the most interesting even if a couple things didn't make sense.
I think the questions should be whether or not these adapatations can stand alone as quality productions irrespective to the material they were based upon. While I am personally sick to death of the same 3 or 4 Christmas stories hauled out and dusted off for yet another Holiday season, and "taylored' to fit a new cast, occasionally they do hit the mark. Thankfully, not ALL Producer's are "dummies", as T.V.'s "The Odd Couple" did an intresting and entertaining turn of the Dickens tale for example, and thank goodness, "Baywatch" did not.
AUGH! What is WITH Simon's outfit? It's HORRIBLE!