Sunday, December 12, 2010

Scrooge Done Right

Busy,busy,busy....or perhaps busy, busy, lazy is more accurate. When I have had the time to attend to this humble blog, I haven't had the energy. 'Tis the season for for stress and lethargy. I have long shared Charlie Brown's feelings about this time of year as expressed in A Charlie Brown Christmas, one of the better holiday specials ever made, although it's expression of the commercialization of Christmas is increasingly looking like quaint understatement compared to current reality. If those specials were done today the commercialization theme would be part of A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving; Peppermint Patty would be dragging Charlie out at midnight to go shopping.

Speaking of holiday specials, a friend and I were discussing the plethora of viewing options, and she said she avoids almost all of them, as most are basically the same - sappy domestic distress solved by holiday-inspired reconciliation. I tend to limit myself to a few classics, such as the aforementioned Charlie Brown and How the Grinch Stole Christmas (the cartoon, not the Jim Carrey movie).

That last sentence forces me to digress. Why is it that so many live-actor movies based on cartoons/comics seem more cartoonish than their source material? Perhaps the producers equated cartoons with childish silliness, and felt they must incorporate that into the movie, resulting in an over-the-top feel that is an insult to the creativity of the makers of the original material who often tried to avoid doing such things in order to aim for a wide audience.

I have also watched many versions of A Christmas Carol. (Is there a more frequently redone story? I see Carrey is appearing in one just out now.). Here again I prefer the classic story, not the various modern adaptations. George C. Scott did a nice job, and the musical version with Albert Finney works surprisingly well, which is a tribute to the then 34yo Finney's acting skill. Mickey's Christmas Carol also has it's clever moments for a light Disney version.

But the two versions I enjoy the most both star the same person: Alastair Sim. His 1951 performance captures the combination of hard edge and pathos that makes up Scrooge, and in 1971 he partially reprised the role as Scrooge's voice in an Academy Award winning cartoon that, remarkably, I saw shortly after it came out as part of a special movie day at the Legion hall in my hometown, and can't recall having seen anywhere since until the above friend did a search and found it at Google video.

I watched it again and was glad to see it still held up after 39 years, although with Sim involved and the great Chuck Jones as executive producer I shouldn't have been surprised. The animation has a sparse colored-pencil look that distinguishes it from the more typical heavily-colored animations, and parts of it have an intensity that other versions lack. I had recalled being particularly struck by Marley and the two children Ignorance and Want at my first viewing, and watching it again did nothing to dispel that.

It was made for TV and is less than 30 min long, so it lacks certain elements seen in movie-length versions, but it gets the story across quite well. I think some TV network should do what it takes to get this on in place of some of the holiday dreck. For that matter,TBS likes to run the Grinch cartoon multiple times during the holiday season. I like the Grinch, but I wouldn't mind if they replaced one or two of those with this.

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