Thursday, December 20, 2012

Film Adaptations of A Christmas Carol

Christmas movies. Am I right? I won't name them by name, but a lot of the new Christmas movies that - to their credit - attempt to tell an original story fall flat on their figurative faces. But there's always the old default: remake a familiar story. And A Christmas Carol has been retold dozens of times in film (and at least a hundred in television specials, to say nothing of the stage and radio adaptations). Here are some of the highlights of its history as a big-screen story.

Scrooge; or, Marley's Ghost (1901)
This is the earliest surviving screen adaptation of A Christmas Carol. It was a silent film, and very short, summing up an 80-page novel in the space of five minutes. It employed a number of the cinematographic tricks of its time, such as superimposing one film reel over another to give the impression of Marley's face appearing in the door. A popular practice at the time was to make film versions of old, familiar stories, which eliminated the need for too many intertitles (which are those frames with text in them to describe what's happening in silent films). Only a little under three and a half minutes of the entire film remains. You can watch it here on YouTube.

Still from Scrooge, or, Marley's Ghost (1901)
Scrooge (1935)
This was the first film version of A Christmas Carol that had sound. It starred Seymour Hicks as Scrooge. He had played the same role in a silent black-and-white by the same title in 1913, which had also been released in America in 1926 as Old Scrooge. This film was never copyrighted, and therefore exists in the public domain. It wasn't popular in recent times because of the poor quality of what remained, but it has been remastered.

A Christmas Carol (1938)
MGM made this version of the story, and cut out many of the more gruesome aspects in order to market a "family friendly" adaptation. (Example: Upon Marley's ghost's arrival, there are supposed to be phantoms wailing outside the window and creating quite a ruckus, but they are absent fromt this version - and many others.) This was the most famous version of the film until the 1951 version arrived on the scene. A colorized version was made available on VHS for its 50th anniversary, and is now on DVD (released in 2005) in a box set.

Theater poster for the 1938 version
Scrooge (1951)
This version was a flop in America (it was turned down for a screening at Radio City Music Hall for being "too grim") but it was one of the best films of the year in Britain. In the 1970s, it began to get play on PBS-before-they-were-PBS stations around the holidays, and is now considered a classic.

Theater poster for the 1951 version
Scrooge (1970)
A musical version (starring Alec Guiness, who you may know better as Obi-Wan Kenobi) that was the only film adaptation - so far! - of this story to be nominated for any Oscars (it got four nods), this film features eleven songs. Due to complications, Columbia Records has never released the soundtrack on CD, but an album was released in 1970.

Theater poster for the 1970 musical version
A Christmas Carol (1971)
I've actually seen this one (which is more than I can say for everything since the first one). You may recognize it, too: it was made for television and broadcast on ABC. It won an Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film. Chuck Jones (who you know and love if you're a fan of Looney Tunes and Merry Melodies, or the television animated version of How the Grinch Stole Christmas) was an executive producer. It was such a huge hit, after it was broadcast as a TV special, it was released in theaters as well.

Still from the animated 1971 version
Mickey's Christmas Carol (1983)
Another one I've seen. This was the first original Mickey Mouse theatrical release in over three decades. It was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film, but lost to Sundae in New York. Scrooge McDuck was an existing Disney character (since "Christmas on Bear Mountain" in 1947) when this film was made (though he was, of course, named after the part he played in this adaptation).

The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)
By our old buddy Jim Henson's company, the Muppet version of A Christmas Carol starred Michael Caine as Scrooge. This was the first Muppet project after Henson's death, and was directed by his son, Brian. It didn't do as well in theaters as Disney had hoped, considering it was up against Home Alone 2 and Disney's own Aladdin.

A Christmas Carol (1997)
If you're familiar with this version, then you probably know it as "the animated one that stars Tim Curry as Scrooge and Whoopi Goldberg as the Ghost of Christmas Present." It, too, was a musical, with eight new songs.

From the DVD cover of the 1997 version
Christmas Carol: The Movie (2001)
This version is part animation, part live-action, and stars Nicolas Cage as Jacob Marley and Kate Winslet as Belle. (If you're thinking, "Who's Belle?" she's the fiancee that leaves Scrooge in the original story.) It was not well received.

A Christmas Carol (2006)
Anthropomorphic CGI animals take over all the roles in this adaptation that was extra-cleaned-up for young audiences. (Examples: Tiny Tim doesn't die in the future possibility Scrooge sees; he just becomes as miserly as Scrooge is.)

The 2006 animated animals version
A Christmas Carol (2009)
And here it is... the most recent film adaptation of the 1843 tale, this one starring Jim Carrey (or, his voice, anyway) and featuring motion-capture CGI animation.

So, there you have it, friends. More than 150 years after the story was originally written, and we're still retelling it (more or less faithfully to the original text) through a medium that didn't even exist when it was conceived of. Grab your favorite version, some hot chocolate, and enjoy.


  1. You forgot about this one.

    The version from 2004 starring Kelsey Grammar as Scrooge. It was also a musical and was made for TV. I actually liked this one because of the cast and the songs were written by Alan Menken, one of my favorites from the stage. As far as I know it was not received very well either, as they added some stuff that was not in the book, My favorite has to be the Muppet Christmas Carol though.

    The one from 1999 with Patrick Stewart as Scrooge is another one you left off. Some people seem to really like that one, and who can blame them. Patrick Stewart is awesome. I think that everyone has their favorite and they are always going to compare every other version to their favorite one. :)

    1. She also left off the one with George C. Scott, which is the version my family watches every year. I think that he makes the best Scrooge.

      I actually just watched The Muppets Christmas Carol! I remember liking it more as a kid, though. It was still good, however.