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Scrooge U: Part XXVII -- A kid-friendly "Christmas Carol"

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Scrooge U: Part XXVII -- A kid-friendly "Christmas Carol"

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To be honest, I don't know quite how to feel yet about this particular animated version of "A Christmas Carol."

By that I mean: I've watched this DIC Entertainment production back-to-front twice now. And there are aspects of this 1997 holiday special that I have to admit I find incredibly annoying. And yet -- just when I'm getting ready to pull this DVD out of the player & set fire to it -- the film-makers will then slip in something that shows that they were genuinely trying to put together a faithful adaptation of Dickens' classic holiday tale.

But, God ... The long stretches full of dumb ideas & lousy dialogue that you first have to slog through before you can get to any of the little gems that are hidden in this version of "A Christmas Carol" ... In the end, I don't know if the extra effort will actually be worth it for anyone other than all you hardcore Dickens fans out there.

"What's the basic problem with this particular adaptation?," you ask. Well, for starters, this is the kid-friendly edition of "A Christmas Carol."

Copyright 2004 Fox Home Entertainment

Which means that -- in a lot of cases -- the brilliant dialogue that Charles Dickens so carefully crafted for his holiday story winds up getting dumbed w-a-a-a-y down.

Take -- for example -- Scrooge & nephew Fred's famous exchange at Ebenezer's office on Christmas Eve. Where the miser first says "What reason have you to be merry? You're poor enough." And Fred fires right back with "What reason have you to be morose? You're rich enough."

Well, in the script that animation vet Jymn Magon fashioned for this animated version of "A Christmas Carol," Scrooge's nephew asks his uncle "What right have you to be grumpy?" Which -- you'll have to admit -- takes a lot of the power & the poetry out of this particular exchange.

Copyright 2004 Fox Home Entertainment

And then there's the matter of Scrooge's dog, Debit. Clearly the film-makers were concerned that Dickens' famous miser might be a bit too mean for kids. Which is why they then gave Ebenezer a comic canine to act as his sidekick. So that -- in the great Astro / Scoobie Doo tradition -- every time Scrooge said "Bah! Humbug!," Debit could then get a laugh by echoing his master's catchphrase by barking "Rah! Rumbug!"

And then you have those moments in this holiday special where Scrooge does things that are wildly out of character. Like chasing a street urchin away from his counting house door by heaving lumps of coal at that kid's head. But then Ebenezer quickly reverts to form and sends Bob Crachit out into the cold to retrieve those valuable bits of fuel.

Copyright 2004 Fox Home Entertainment

But then -- just when a "Christmas Carol" fan is ready to throw up his hands and abandon this particular adaptation of Dickens' classic tale -- you suddenly find yourself in a setting that's straight out of the original story. One that typically doesn't make it into the movie versions of "A Christmas Carol." Like the tavern where Scrooge has his supper before heading home for his fateful encounter with Jacob Marley on Christmas Eve.

But then -- of course -- the film-makers blow this opportunity by having the bar maid & the patrons of this pub break into a song that literally borrows its refrain from a famous 1990s bumper sticker: "Practice Random Acts of Kindness."

Given how tuneless this particular song is, it's no wonder that Ebenezer & Debit quickly gulp down their meals and head back to their dank quarters. Where Scrooge's old partner is now waiting for them.

Copyright 2004 Fox Home Entertainment

But then again -- in this section of this animated version of "A Christmas Carol" -- you get an indication that Jymn Magon really did want this holiday special to be a much more faithful adaptation of Dickens' classic tale. Given that -- after his face appears on the doorknocker -- Marley then appears to Scrooge on a tile above Ebenezer's fireplace. Which is another seldom-shown detail from the original story.

As is the moment when Scrooge's old partner leads Ebenezer to the window and shows him how the spirits below are trying to help the homeless. But because they're dead, these now-well-meaning ghosts have lost their ability to do any real good in the world. Which is why they must just stand & watch as that poor woman & her child suffer in the street.

Copyright 2004 Fox Home Entertainment

But for every item that indicates that the film-makers really did intend on creating a much more faithful adaptation of "A Christmas Carol," there are the other, dumber ideas that just spoil the proceedings. Like when Debit latches onto Scrooge's robe, supposedly because he's trying to prevent his master from being pulled out the window by the Ghost of Christmas Past. Only then to have the dog join his master, the miser on a trip back to his youth.

And what is the sense of hiring Jodi Benson to do the voice of Belle if you then saddle this Broadway-trained actress with another perfectly awful song? One where the young couple's troubled relationship is likened to a bridge. Where Young Scrooge keeps singing about how you have to have money in order to build a stable foundation for a relationship, while Belle warbles about how her fiancee doesn't need gold but needs to bridge the emotional gap that's grown between them. So now you've got 1990s psycho-babble masquerading as a show tune. Which really doesn't fit a story that's set in 1840s England.

Copyright 2004 Fox Home Entertainment

Speaking of Ms. Benson ... DIC's version of "A Christmas Carol" has a surprisingly strong vocal cast. Tim Curry voices the role of Ebenezer Scrooge, while Ed Asner lends his gravely tones to Jacob Marley. Michael York does Bob Crachit's dialogue while Frank Welker barks for Debit.  And as for the African-American version of the Ghost of Christmas Present pictured above, would you believe Whoopi Goldberg?

Given that the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Be is a non-speaking role, DIC refrained from hiring a celebrity to play that part. But even so, they threw enough frights in the third act of this holiday special that this animated version of "A Christmas Carol" is actually rated PG for (And I'm quoting from the actual rating board's warning here) "Some Scary Scenes."

Copyright 2004 Fox Home Entertainment

But you know what I liked best about this animated version of "A Christmas Carol"? Those little moments where the film-makers tried to create some connective tissue between the characters. Like how they first showed Young Scrooge (who has been left behind at school over the holidays) dealing with his loneliness by imagining that his favorite literary character -- Robinson Crusoe -- was right there in the room with him.

And then later -- when Scrooge is visiting the Crachit home with the Ghost of Christmas Present -- imagine the miser's delight when he sees that Tiny Tim is reading his old favorite book, "Robinson Crusoe." Which immediately allows these two characters to bond.

Copyright 2004 Fox Home Entertainment

Then there are the clever call-backs to earlier jokes in this holiday special. Like how Debit first chases the charitable gentlemen out of Scrooge's office so that his master can avoid making a donation to the poor. Then -- as the end of this animated version of "A Christmas Carol" -- the dog once again pursues this duo. Only this time around, Debit's actually trying to stop the charitable gentlemen so that Ebenezer can actually make a contribution for the needy.

Like I said earlier, these little touches and seldom-seen vignettes from Dickens' original short story may make this particular holiday special interesting viewing for "Christmas Carol" fans. But as for the rest of us ... I'd imagine that you really have better ways to spend your time over the holidays. Which is why I'm going to suggest that you take a pass on DIC Entertainment's version of "A Christmas Carol."

Tomorrow (Provided that my laptop doesn't blow up. It's making some pretty weird noises right now. I think that those two showings of DIC's animated version of "A Christmas Carol" may have made the poor thing nauseous) ... We see if Cicely Tyson makes a good miser in the 1997 TV movie, "Ms. Scrooge."

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  • You've done well to come up with any kind of review for yet another 'straight' animated version. Your reference of the dog catching hold of Scrooge on his journey into the past reminds me of Caine taking off with a couple of Muppets tagged on behind. Worth mentioning the tile scene though - I agree thats a rareity but its a useful scene builder.

  • Jim Hill continues his look at the many adaptations of Charles Dickens' classic holiday tale. This time around, Jim talks about a 1998 animated version that -- to be frank -- reeks like a wet dog

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