Generally speaking, Ebenezer Scrooge is a miserly old fool who lives alone, who says "bah humbug" to the holidays. All he cares about is his business and the profits. He has one employee, Bob Cratchit, who has a family he needs to support, and a child, Tiny Tim, who has a life-threatening disability. Poor Bob Cratchit puts up with Scrooge's stinginess and inflexibility around the holidays because he needs the paycheck. Bob is a good family man. He can't tell Scrooge to go screwge himself. So he makes the best of his situation. Jacob Marley, Scrooge's business partner dies. He pays a penance for how he lived his life by being weighed down by chains for all eternity. He comes to Scrooge in the form of a ghost to warn him of the other ghosts that will be paying Scrooge a visit. After seeing all the mistakes he has made during the course of his life, and seeing how those mistakes have an impact on his and other's futures, Scrooge is reborn and sees the error of his ways. His life changes the very next day when he awakens from his dream and his transformation of change begins.
Whether you like this story or not, so many versions of it have been told through the years and it's hard not to like at least one version of it. There have been movies like Scrooged with Bill Murray, which put a funny and more current spin on the tale. There have been plays, tv specials, and books that have all adapted the story line. Recently, we went to see The Christmas Carol with Jim Carrey. If you are thinking about seeing this film, save your money and spend it instead on a DVD of your favorite Christmas special. I brought my 9 year old thinking that it might be a little scary but that she could handle it. How bad could it be with funny man Jim Carrey playing Scrooge, right? I was wrong. It was VERY dark, and no humor whatsoever, unless you find bonking someone on the head funny. People did laugh at that particular part, but only because they were craving a laugh.
We drove to the Imax theater in Providence because they have the best theater for seeing 3-d movies. The floor to ceiling screen makes one feel that they are IN the film. In the absence of The Polar Express no longer playing at the IMAX in 3-d, which was a tradition for my family to go every year, we went to see The Christmas Carol, hoping to start another family tradition and somehow replacing The Polar Express. I wasn't optimistic because we all love The Polar Express when it played there. As anticipated, we were all very disappointed and there will be no return visits. Why they stopped showing The Polar Express is beyond me. The theater was always packed every year. It's things like this that I don't understand. Can someone explain this to me?
Anyway, according to Wikipedia, A carol is a festive song, generally religious but not necessarily connected with church worship, and often with a dance-like or popular character. In the new Jim Carrey version, there is little song to be had. At the end, Andrea Bocelli sings "God Bless Us Everyone". But what a missed opportunity for other popular artists to create a great song track for the movie. Although, I am grateful that Disney did not choose Miley Cyrus to sing anything in it. I think I would have had to stand up and walk out.
My daughter didn't enjoy the movie because it was written in old English style and I kept having to translate what things meant. A lot of thousts, shants, etc.
Anyway, during my boredom in the theater, watching unnecessary scenes that were depicted only for the 3-d effects for making the movie a thrill ride, but lacked story line, I thought about another version of The Christmas Carol and how simple it was when I was a kid. The one I am referring to, which is my personal favorite rendition of this tale, is and always will be, Mister Magoo's Christmas Carol. It aired on TV for the first time in 1962. I'm not old enough to remember its debut, but I watched it every year during the holiday season as a repeat that the TV broadcast stations would air for Christmas specials. As a little trivia, this cartoon Christmas special was the very first cartoon special ever. It was such a hit that it opened the door for other classics like Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, A Charlie Brown Christmas, and Santa Claus is Coming to Town. All the joy we got from watching these classics we owe to Mister Magoo's Christmas Carol.
Back when I was a kid, you couldn't buy the dvd, dvds weren't invented yet, nor was the VCR (Video Cassette Recorder) and you couldn't tivo shows to watch them when you had time or to watch a show over and over again. The only opportunity we got to watch the Christmas specials were to watch them the ONE time they were on TV, on the date and time listed in the TV Guide magazine that was delivered to the house by subscription or by picking it up at the supermarket on the stand by the check out. We had to look up in the magazine when shows would be on. The shows were listed by day then by hour. If you wanted to know when All in the Family was on, you had to know it was on Sunday night and then look through the times and know what station/channel it might be on. It would give a brief description of what the show would be about. (My favorite part of the TV Guide was the crossword puzzle. We would fight over who would get to do it.)
I think we had to pay closer attention to TV much more back then because if you missed something, you had to wait a year to see it again. Yes, an entire YEAR. No repeats in the schedule. Hard for younger folks to imagine that. And yet in seeing it only once per year, we remembered the lyrics of the songs. There was no internet to look up lyrics or download the songs from. No "links" to click on to gather information from. No. You remembered the songs all from memory from hearing it once or twice. Even the AM/FM radio stations didn't play the songs from the Christmas Specials. The first time I remember seeing songs from Rudolph was on a cassette tape and that was in the early 80's. Before that, the only time you heard those songs was strictly on the TV when the shows aired. And yet, are there baby boomers that don't know the song "Why am I such a misfit, I am not just a nitwit, you can't fire me I quit, seems I don't fit in." Remarkable.
Anyway, back to Mister Magoo's Christmas Carol. I liked it because in one hour it gets right to the point. It's a cartoon that starts off with Mister Magoo playing the role of Scrooge in a play on Broadway. (Trivia Question: What was Mister Magoo's first name? In The Christmas Carol, his name flashes on the marquee above the theater that he is to perform in. Answer will be at the end of this blog.) The play starts with Scrooge counting coins, while Bob Cratchit sits at his desk, wearing his scarf and shivering in the cold, with only a candle to give him light and warmth. Scrooge sings, "Ringle, ringle, coins when they mingle, make such a lovely sound". Scrooge rejoices in his profits and is proud of himself for managing to avoid donating to charity. Bob Cratchit tries to acquire a lump of coal from the coal bin in the office, seeing as it's Christmas Eve and all, but Scrooge tells him he has already had his share of coal for the day. Christmas Eve is no different than any other day to Scrooge. Scrooge threatens Bob with his job and since Cratchit is the breadwinner for his family, he can't afford to lose it. So he shivers and conforms to the cold. They do a brief duet, one singing about how rich he is with all his tuppens and gold, the other singing about how he is cold.
Upon leaving work for the day, Scrooge says that he will see Cratchit in the morning. Cratchit respectfully reminds him that tomorrow is Christmas Day. Scrooge replies with "And I suppose you want the WHOLE day off then?" Even though Scrooge treats Cratchit horribly, he still wishes his employer a very merry Christmas, in which Scrooge replies "Bah Humbug!"
Have you ever known anyone likes this? I have. You try to be their friend and all they do is sneer at you. Cratchit is a forgiving soul and forgives Scrooge for what he does. Cratchit feels sorry for him because, after all, he may have money, but he is all alone. Cratchit, on the other hand, is poor and can barely make ends meet, but he has the riches of love from his family and is happy. The two men don't understand each other and dividing lines are drawn.
The one part that is missing in this rendition is the absence of Scrooge's nephew, Scrooge's only family member alive. I assume it's due to time constraints of having to fit the entire story into a one hour time block plus allowing time for commercials. The story doesn't suffer for not having that part in it.
Scrooge goes home and is visited by Jacob Marley, his business partner, who has passed away. He comes by way of a ghost and his face appears in the doorknocker. As a kid, I was so afraid of that scene. It's the first scene of a ghost coming and it's so scary that even Mr Magoo's eyes open wide. It's the first time that his eyes are not actual slits depicted by just a thin line by the cartoonist. If nothing else, this scene proves that Mister Magoo has real eyes! Anyway, Jacob tries to get his dear friend to change his ways before it's too late, before Scrooge has to spend eternity in shackles as well. He warns Scrooge that ghosts will be coming to pay him a visit. But Scrooge doesn't believe him and retires to his empty bed to sleep.
At the stroke of one, the Ghost of Christmas Present arrives. In the book and in most versions, the Ghost of Christmas Past comes first. But not in Magoos and I don't know why. The Ghost of Christmas Present takes Scrooge to Bob Cratchit's house to bear witness to the happiness and love that takes place there. Scrooge can't understand it. On the measly wages he is paying Bob, how can they be this happy? It is also foretold by the ghost that if the Cratchit's circumstances don't change, the baby of the family, Tiny Tim, will die.
Although the holidays are very sad and trying for some, and the suicide rate is usually up around the holidays, I believe that anyone can change their circumstance if they want to. I submit to you one of the songs from "Mister Magoo's Christmas Carol". It's probably the saddest song ever written for a holiday cartoon, but very poignant and relatable if you've ever spent a holiday alone. Or have been alone period. Scrooge is visited by the Ghost of Christmas Past. This ghost is depicted with blond shoulder-length hair, and a flame over its head. It is unclear in the cartoon whether this ghost is a girl or a boy. A type of "Pat" character from Saturday Night Live. Non-gender specific. If the ghost is a boy, he is rather feminine. I wonder if this is where the derogatory label of calling an effeminate man "a flame" came from? Ok, so you don't have that image in your head for the rest of this article, let's say the Ghost of Christmas Past was a girl. She takes Scrooge, the man, to see the childhood Scrooge in his loneliness as a child. It's the first hint of getting to see why Scrooge gets to be the grumpy old man he turned out to be. It's also the first time that he exhibits any kind of compassion. He tries to comfort the poor young boy, the child within himself, and we get to see why he is the way he is, adding a bit more understanding of the character. Jim Backus, who plays the part of Mister Magoo both in the Christmas special and on the TV show that aired during that era on a weekly basis, sings the song with such raw emotion, that one can't help but feel sorry for him.
"A hand for each hand was meant for the world, why don't my fingers reach?
Millions of grains of sand in the world, why such a lonely beach?
Where is the voice to answer mine back?
Where are two shoes that click to my clack?
I'm all alone in the world."
Also, it is this ghost that shows Ebenezer the joys of his ex-employer from his youth who threw a Christmas party and how happy the employees were. She also shows Ebenezer the love of his life, Belle, who broke off their engagement because of Ebenezer's changed morals and because she felt that she had been replaced by Scrooge's love of gold. The young couple in the past can't hear the older Scrooge's pleas and begging for Belle not to leave. A heart-wrenching moment for the elder Scrooge.
The fourth ghost appears to Scrooge in the form of the Grim Reaper. The Ghost of Christmas Future. Eerily, this is the only ghost that does not speak, but rather just points with a long, bony finger indicating what life will become if things do not change. Scrooge gets to witness the charwoman, undertaker, and laundress that have stolen his belongings to trade in for gold. One of the darkest, yet funniest songs in the whole cartoon is The Plunderer's March. As a kid, we thought the name of the song was the La,la,la,la,la,la song. Great lyrics like "We're reprehensible. We'll steal your pen & pencible" and "We're just blankety blank blank, no good."
The Ghost of Things To Come takes him to the Cratchit's house, where the family is distraught over their loss of Tiny Tim, indicated by an empty stool with Tiny Tim's crutch leaning against the fireplace. Enough to make me cry as a child. Poor Tiny Tim. Scrooge begins to see the error of his ways. But it doesn't sink in until he faces his own immortality by visiting his grave site and begins to make promises of change.
He awakens on Christmas day full of glee. He buys the biggest turkey for the Cratchits and has it delivered anonymously. He hands out green bags of coins to the lad who got the turkey, to the charity he denied the night before, and to the Cratchits, along with a raise for Bob. He gives Tiny Tim pony rides on his back. He is a new man.
The cartoon closes with the cast on stage taking bows in front of the audience. But mysteriously, or maybe symbolicly, the Ghost of Christmas Future, the Grim Reaper, is missing from the lineup on the stage.
My Kaneclusion: Whether you like Charles Dickens or The Christmas Carol story or not, there is a good moral to it. The nice thing about being human, and still being alive, is we have the capacity to change our circumstances at any time we want. If you are alone this holiday season, maybe it's time to make some changes in your life. Maybe it's time to give, rather than take. Maybe a little compassion and understanding would go a long way. Maybe it's time to tear down the walls that you have built up around yourself and let others in. Maybe instead of centering everything around yourself, maybe this year you could wish others peace and prosperity instead. And if not today, then There's always tomorrow.... Oh no wait, that song is from Rudolph. But I love that song too! My second favorite Christmas Special. Maybe next week's blog will be examining the messed up relationship between Rudolph and his father who makes him wear a black cover on his nose to cover up his nonconformity because he's afraid of what his friends will say and think. Oh, so many parallels to be drawn there!
Trivia Answer: Quincy was Mr. Magoo's first name. More trivia: Along with Jim Backus of Gilligan's Island fame, Morey Amsterdam, the actor that played the writer on the Dick Van Dyke Show, has a role as one of the voices. Jack Cassidy, the father of David Cassidy of the Partridge Family fame, plays a voice as well.
To see "Mister Magoo's Christmas Carol", do a search on youtube.com and start with part 1 (8 parts in all).