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Scrooge U : Part XXXIII -- "Christmas Carol -- The Movie" beefs up Belle

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Scrooge U : Part XXXIII -- "Christmas Carol -- The Movie" beefs up Belle

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Belle has always been one of the more intriguing characters in Charles Dickens' classic holiday tale. The woman who gave Ebenezer Scrooge back his engagement ring because she was the first to see how hard his heart was becoming.

Whatever became of Belle after she walked out of Ebenezer's life? Some adaptations of "A Christmas Carol" actually follow Dickens' original text. Which has the Ghost of Christmas Past showing Scrooge that his former fiancee has gone on to live a rich, full life without him. That Belle now has lots of children & a loving husband.

Mind you, the sight of this happy scene deepily wounds Ebenezer because he knows that this is the life that he & his fiancee could have had. If Scrooge had just chosen a different path.

Still other adaptations of this classic holiday tale (Like "The Stingiest Man in Town") show Belle old & alone. Suggesting that she never quite recovered from the social stigma that came from breaking off her engagement with Ebenezer.


Copyright 2003 MGM Home Entertainment

"Christmas Carol -- The Movie" imagines an entirely different path for Scrooge's fiancee. Where Belle actually appears to be making an effort to make up for all the misery that this miser has been causing the world by working as a nurse in a charity ward.

Which -- I know -- seems like a pretty significant departure from the way this story is traditionally told. But -- to be honest -- it's just one of many ways that director Jimmy T. Murakami & screenwriter Piet Kroon depart from the Dickens. With the end result being an animated adaptation that may not be faithful but is always fascinating.

How so? Well, let's start with the first 10 minutes of "Christmas Carol -- The Movie." Where we see Ebenezer Scrooge acquiring a new list of debtors from another money lender, Mr. Leach. Ebenezer then turns these accounts over to Old Joe. You know? The guy who usually runs the Rag & Bone Shop? The place where the undertaker, the charwoman and the laundress go to sell off Scrooge's belongings in the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Be portion of the story?

Anyway ... Ebenezer tells Old Joe to move on these accounts immediately. And even though it's Christmas Eve, Joe gets the necessary court orders and begins making the rounds. Rousting those who can't pay from their homes and then taking them straight to debtors prison.


Copyright 2003 MGM Home Entertainment

While all of this is happening, we're then introduced to Belle's world. We see that she now works for kindly old Dr. Lambert. Who is -- just this moment -- is discharging Tiny Tim after treating this poor boy for pneumonia.

Suddenly Old Joe & his goons burst in. And after collecting Lambert for falling behind in his payments, they then tell Belle that -- if she wants to get the good doctor out of debtors prison -- she's going to have to bring payment in full to the man who now holds his account. One Ebenezer Scrooge.

So Belle now writes a letter to Ebenezer that asks this old miser to take their personal history into account & show some mercy toward Dr. Lambert. Belle then hand-delivers this message to Scrooge's office. Only to have Bob Crachit accidentally misplace her note.

Mind you, all of this story comes before the start of the traditional version of "A Christmas Carol." Where Scrooge arrives at his office & begins barking at Bob Crachit, heaping abuse on his nephew, Fred, etc. Now to add to this that one of the very first things that we see Ebenezer do once he actually gets into work is this miser being kind. Slipping a tiny piece of cheese to a mouse in his office, while deliberately making sure that Bob Crachit doesn't witness this act of charity.


Copyright MGM Home Entertainment

And while we're now sort of plugged into the version of "A Christmas Carol" that we've previously known, the deviations from Dickens keep on coming. Take -- for example -- Tiny Tim's illness. Now Bob Crachit's son becomes deathly ill because Tim's part of a group of Christmas carolers that Scrooge tries to drive away from his window by throwing a bucket of water on them. So becoming wet on the cold streets of London is what causes Tiny Tim's persistant cough to return. And then ... Well, you can guess where this part of the story goes from here.

And when it comes to all of those spirits who visit Ebenezer on Christmas Eve, Murakami & Kroon mix up the batting order a bit. Given that they have the Ghost of Jacob Marley visit Scrooge in his offices just after Bob Crachit leaves for the night.

This sequence is particularly eerie. Given that -- even as Jacob is trying to tell Ebenezer to mend his ways -- Marley is always fighting against his chains, trying to prevent them from pulling him backwards out the window.

You see, this version of Jacob is literally chained to another set of miserable spirits. Which is why Marley can always pause a moment in Ebenezer's office before he must continue on in his unending journey of torment.


Copyright MGM Home Entertainment

Mind you, Scrooge clearly doesn't learn all that much during Jacob's visitation. Given that -- immediately after Marley's ghost is pulled backwards through the window -- the charitable gentlemen show up at Ebenezer's offices seeking contributions for the poor. And Scrooge quickly brushes these two off before heading home for the night.

We now cut back to Belle watching over the remaining sick children in the charity ward. Agonizing how she's ever going to take care of all of these kids now that Dr. Lambert has been locked away in debtors prison.

From here in on, we pretty much follow the established path for "A Christmas Carol." What with the Ghost of Christmas Past arriving and then taking this flinty old miser on a tour of his past. Again, Murakami & Kroon try to make Belle much more of a presence in this version of Dickens' classic tale by casting her as Fan's best friend from school. Which means that Ebenezer is now able to meet his future fiancee much, much earlier in the story.


Copyright MGM Home Entertainment

We now chug through the usual moments. The party at Fezziwig's. Belle & Ebenezer becoming engaged. Followed by Scrooge's fiancee returning his engagement ring because his heart has become so hard.

Now it's time for the Ghost of Christmas Present to come on the scene. Where this holiday spirit first takes Ebenezer on a stylized trip through Christmas Day. The animation in this section of this movie is particularly striking. With Scrooge learning to wield the Ghost of Christmas Present's horn of plenty as they fly past these holiday scenes rendered in wild pastels.


Copyright MGM Home Entertainment

Mind you, this joyful interlude is interrupted by a scene which shows Old Joe & his crew clearing all of Dr. Lambert's equipment out of his office. Thereby making it impossible for this charity ward to stay in business. Then it's time to drop by the Crachits for Christmas dinner. Where Ebenezer now learns about the part he played in Tiny Tim's latest illness.

As Scrooge is trying to process all this, finally realizing the full depth of the misery that he's brought into the world ... Who should arrive but the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Be?

Now what's truly cool about this section of "Christmas Carol -- The Movie" is that this holiday spirit is composed entirely of shadows. So that -- when the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Be has something that he has to show Scrooge -- he just transforms himself into that particular scene. So that we now get to see the Crachits' first holiday dinner after Tiny Tim's passing done entirely in silhouette.


Copyright MGM Home Entertainment

Murakami & Kroon also do a neat callback to Jacob Marley's appearance in Scrooge's graveside scene. Given that -- almost immediately after Ebenezer arrives in front of his headstone -- a chain jumps out of the ground & wraps itself around this miser's waist. And -- as Scrooge apologizes to Bob Crachit for the role that he played in Tiny Tim's death -- he finds himself dragooned into the same group of ghouls as Jacob Marley. Who then drag the now-screaming Ebenezer off into the night sky.

Now Christmas morning arrives. And Scrooge discovers that he is not in fact dead. But very much alive and able to make amends for all the wrongs that he's done over the years.

So we now see Ebenezer go through all of the usual "Christmas Carol" moments. Sending that young boy off with a wad of cash so that he can then buy the prize turkey for the Crachits. But then -- for just a moment -- Scrooge backslides. Wondering aloud if that boy will actually do as he asked or just run off with the money.


Copyright MGM Home Entertainment

But then Ebenezer glances in the mirror and catches a glimpse of that immense chain that Jacob mentioned still wrapped around his waist. Scrooge now realizes that he's actually going to have to work this spiritual debt off. So the now-reformed miser then wanders through the streets of London, doing good. And -- en route -- Ebenezer once again encounters the Ghost of Christmas Past & Present. Who genuinely seem pleased to see Scrooge out amongst his fellow man, trying to undo all of the damage that he's done over the years.

Which brings us back to Belle. Who -- late Christmas night -- confronts Ebenezer on the steps of his home and then berates her old fiancee for closing Dr. Lambert's charity ward. Scrooge immediately apologizes and says that he'll forgive the doctor's debts. Ebenezer even promises to replace all of Lambert's now-lost equipment and underwrite the cost of running this clinic for the poor from here on in. As Belle wonders what's happened to her old fiancee to cause him to undergo such a huge change of heart, there's a hint that these two may eventually reconcile.

From there, we get the usual assortment of final scenes. With Scrooge promising to help Crachit & his struggling family and all that. And with that, "Christmas Carol -- The Movie" quickly draws to a close.

Okay. So this is obviously not a traditional adaptation of Charles Dickens' classic holiday tale. And I haven't even mentioned the most annoying aspect of "Christmas Carol -- The Movie." Which is this cloyingly cute pair of mice that Murakami & Kroon have shoehorned into the story. Who -- just as Jaq & Gus did with that key in Disney's "Cinderella" -- are constantly hauling Belle's note around, trying to get Ebenezer to finally notice it.

If you're willing to overlook that particular aspect of this adaptation (As well as the fact that the film-makers play pretty fast & loose with the traditional plot of Dickens' classic holiday tale), what you're left with is a very well animated version of "A Christmas Carol" that features a surprisingly strong vocal cast (I.E. Simon Callow as Ebenezer, Kate Winslet as Belle and Nicholas Cage as Jacob Marley).

In short, "Christmas Carol -- The Movie" is an interesting variation of this old holiday theme. One that you may want to check out sometime if you've finally had your fill of the Alastair Sim version of "A Christmas Carol."

Tomorrow ... How exactly do they celebrate the holidays down in the Briar Patch? Well, I guess we'll find out when I review "Brer Rabbit's Christmas Carol."

Your thoughts?

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  • I wasn't comfortable with the way this film flitted into animation after the opening scenes. The story of Dickens writing 'A Christmas Carol' is extremely interesting (Brian Sibley's 'Unsung Story' is a good source to learn about it) so the concept of involving the storyteller himself is a solid one. Callow IS Dickens, having established himself on stage and screen in Ackroyds 'The Mystery of Charles Dickens' and, before that, in the Beebs acclaimed readings of his show adaptations. Much might have been expected then but the drift away from the original story in ultimately unsatisfying especially given the terriffic work done on such episodes as the flying scene with the Ghost of Christmas Present.The inclusion of the big names and obligatory 'hit' don't lift it to anything of any artistic merit and I, for one, was left with something that under achieved on what it promised. The thing it will be most famous for, to me, was the chance to get decent merchandise from the pizza promotional characters which included a talking Marley that offered "Mend your way" when his stomach was pressed,before cutting off abruptly. The version that includes Mr Dickens writing the novel or playing a significant part, remains unmade and that's a shame.  

  • To explain Jess' above note: The theatrical version "Christmas Carol -- The Movie" was released with a live action opening sequence which showed Simon Callow playing the role of Charles Dickens. Dickens is giving a staged reading of "A Christmas Carol" in Boston when a woman in the audience screams because she's seen a mouse. The author then restores order in the theater by mentioning that a tiny mouse actually plays a very large role in this holiday tale. And -- as Dickens continues his reading -- the live action portion of this picture then gives way to the animated sequences.

    Sadly, here in the U.S., the DVD version of "Christmas Carol -- The Movie" that MGM is currently distributed has had its live action intro removed. So that all you get is the cartoon portion of this motion picture. This is the version that Jim reviewed today, not the one that Mr. Porlock is talking about.

  • YAAAAAAAAAWN -  now that Christmas is over, can be PLEEEEEEEEEEASE have something OTHER than Christmas Carol reviews.  I appreciate the research and writing taken to review over 30 of these adaptations, but enough is enough already. As everyone sings in the musical, Scrooge, "Thank ye very much..."  :-)

  • I don't think pilgrim57 speaks for most of us! If there are more to read about, please keep them coming! GREAT job!!!

  • I thank Nancy for the clarification but I'm quite aghast at the action of the distributors in chopping the film. It may not be a fave but they should leave it as it is.I certainly don't agree either that these reviews should be coming to an end because we spirits of christmas don't live only in one day of the year, we live the whole 365 ! When I was growing up, I thought I was the only person who was interested in this book and its many versions on stage and screen. Even as I realised that Brian Sibley, John Mortimer and Ray Bradbury were all fans, I wasn't aware of the many ordinary folk who, like me, knew a lot of versions and had their favourites. Its been great to come across them all here even if, as I've found, we rarely agree on which is the best !

  • "I don't think pilgrim57 speaks for most of us! If there are more to read about, please keep them coming! GREAT job!!!"

    Exactly. And most importantly, this will once and for all prove that Jim Hill can finish a series (and a long one at that). 33 down, 7 more to go.

  • The director's name should read  Jimmy T. Murakami ,  with an M , not Kurakami .

    http://www.jimmytmurakami.com/bio.php

  • Hope Jims got some English Carols in there as well as the derivative series stuff. There's a few he's not mentioned yet PLUS the BFI has just issued a series of early silent DVD's, one of which contains four surviving minutes of the earliest known filmed version from 1901.I agree its a great series - especially to get everyone talking !

  • Having only submitted one previous comment to Jim Hill Media and y'all act like I've said a swear word in church. Thanks skoolpsyk and askmike1 - I never intended to be speaking for everyone, but I did want to express an opinion. I originally came here to enjoy Jim Hill and his writer's news and insights into what I had enjoyed to be "mostly about the mouse" -- but a month long feast of Christmas Carol reviews was just a bit too much for ME.

    Mr. Hill, I apologize for having said what I felt. I looked forward to coming to your website because I love all things Disney, but after reading all of these Christmas Carol reviews, I found myself hoping it would be the last one I would read. Perhaps it would have been better had you placed your Christmas Carol reviews in a special seasonal sidebar to be enjoyed in their entirety while information that is "mostly about the Mouse" nourished readers who come here for that purpose. I hardly ever read the comments section, and I never expected I would be criticized for expressing what I felt, said mostly tongue in cheek. All of this Christmas Carol review was just too much Turkish Delight for me - but the negative comments about my opinion have made me feel that perhaps I'm not that welcome. Mr. Hill, I apologize again for having expressed such an unpopular opinion and wish you continued success with your blog.

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