A Christmas Carol, that is.
Despite my loathing for the forced merriment of the holiday season, I’ve always had a soft spot for Mr. Scrooge. Even if my take on it is probably closer to Burr Shafer’s than what Dickens intended…
There’s also this tweet that seems to be going viral:
Somewhere between those two sentiments, I think, is the clue to my affection for the story. I don’t really care about the Christmas spirit. What I love about it is someone finally convinces a rich asshole to stop being a jerk to everyone.
Scrape away all the Christmas crap and that’s the core of it. Punish a rich jerk and make him understand why he has it coming. That’s the part that speaks to me. The fact that it takes place at Christmas is strictly incidental as far as I’m concerned.
For whatever varying reasons, the story speaks to a lot of people, apparently, because there have been dozens– maybe hundreds– of versions of the story done for film and television. Of course, I don’t think anyone is ever going to top the 1951 classic with Alastair Sim.
No, not even Patrick Stewart or Albert Finney, so don’t start with me, people. (Even those actors, I think, have acknowledged that Sim owns the role.)
What many people don’t know is that Alastair Sim was Scrooge TWICE. In 1971 Chuck Jones produced a magnificent animated version of the story and they got Sim back to voice the character of Scrooge. (The 1951 Jacob Marley, Michael Holdern, is back as well.)
The drawings were based on the original engraved illustrations for the story and the whole thing is just breathtaking. Fun fact — this originally aired on ABC but then it was released theatrically, which made it eligible for the Academy Awards, and it did actually win Best Animated Short Film in 1972. The idea that a TV show could win an Oscar made so many people angry that a rules change was implemented afterward so that a film originally produced for TV was ineligible for an Oscar.
One of the amazing things about A Christmas Carol, apart from its longevity, is its seemingly infinite adaptability. Variations on it have been a staple of movies and television practically as long as there have been movies and television. My favorite ‘updated’ riff on it is probably Bill Murray’s Scrooged.
Mostly because of the genius of recasting Scrooge as a modern-day television studio exec. Who can forget his wonderful idea for a Christmas special, The Night the Reindeer Died?
Never have I ever so wanted a parody to be real. I would watch the HELL out of that special; it would doubtless go on our personal Christmas classic list along with Die Hard and On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.
Bill Murray’s twisted TV exec is just the tip of the iceberg. We’ve seen Scrooge recast dozens of different ways; old, young, male, female, Muppet, whatever. Throughout the seventies and eighties, it seemed like every sitcom did their version of A Christmas Carol at least once. Sanford and Son did one, Family Ties did one, The Odd Couple did one, even The Flintstones and The Jetsons did one. Probably my favorite of these is the episode of WKRP In Cincinnati wherein Mr. Carlson hallucinates a version of the story after eating one of Johnny Fever’s ‘special’ brownies.
That’s not the MOST demented version, though. For the weirdest what-the-hell-were-they-smoking mashup between a television series and A Christmas Carol I think we really have to give it up for The Six Million Dollar Man.
In A Bionic Christmas Carol, cyborg secret agent Steve Austin dresses up like Santa Claus and uses his enhanced abilities to show evil government contractor Horton Budge the error of his ways.
It doubtless helped Steve’s cause that Budge was hopped up on cold medicine and higher than a weather balloon the whole time. Budge is played by Ray Walston, which is why the contract Steve’s trying to save is for a Martian exploration project. (Still waiting on the fanfic that explains Budge was a cover identity for Uncle Martin trying once again to get home.)
Also, Steve ends up in the same toy store as his Kenner action-figure self.
That is some black-belt level product placement, there.
Comics and cartoons have gotten in on the action as well. Of those, I think the cleverest is The Real Ghostbusters, where in one episode Peter Venkman and his crew are transported back to Dickens-era London, where they see three ghosts attacking an old guy. So, naturally, they zap all three of the Christmas ghosts haunting Scrooge…
…accidentally ensuring that the old miser never learns his lesson and eventually the world is Scrooged out, with everyone embracing the spirit of Humbug. So of course the Ghostbusters have to fix their mistake.
And we can’t forget the wonderfully insane Teen Titans take on it from the mighty Bob Haney.
“We’ll haunt you out of your grotty mind!” Isn’t that far and away the most badass line the Silver Age Robin ever uttered? Nick Cardy just drew the hell out of that one, too. It’s gorgeous.
There’s also the very odd Batman: Noël.
This one-off special casts Batman as Scrooge and Catwoman, Superman, and the Joker as the three spirits. In its own grimdark Batman way, it’s as endearingly nutty as the Haney/Cardy Teen Titans version.
Because, come on, if you’re going to do a Scrooge story with Batman, he kind of HAS to be the rich asshole, doesn’t he? “Are there no prisons? Are there no workhouses?” really is a Batman-esque thing to say when you think about it….
Anyway, those are my favorites. But you should feel free to sound off on all the ones I missed down in the comments.
Back next week with something cool… and a grudging, miserly happy holidays to you all.