There are many, many adaptations of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, as I noted before. One which seems to have fallen by the way-side is a TV special released in 1971, animated under the eye of none other than Chuck Jones, one of the guiding hands of Looney Tunes. Seldom re-aired, not yet available on DVD, it’s solely available on VHS to date. But if you can track it down and have the means to watch it, it’s certainly worth a look. (Hopefully someone will eventually put it out on DVD, but it’s always a bit of a long shot on TV specials).
Release a DVD of a cartoon that isn’t part of a franchise? Bah! Humbug!
The story, I will assume you are all familiar with in one form or another. I will note that although the 22 minute run time does require a certain amount of haste with this adaptation, it does not leave any significant bits out, and even covers a few small scenes often omitted — notably, providing the full scene for the Ghost of Christmas Present, in which he shows people celebrating Christmas throughout the western world, and throws Scrooge’s words about the poor back in his face when confronted with the spectres of Ignorance and Want.
The special is narrated, intermittently, by Michael Redgrave, reading directly from Dickens’ story. This is mainly to explain or fill in details that can’t be communicated easily in the limited format of the show. But as those moments are rare, it works reasonably well. A lot of this is due to the voice actor for Scrooge, Alastair Sim — reprising his role from the 1951 film Scrooge, which has a fair amount of critical acclaim. Though I haven’t seen that earlier work, if Sim is half as engaging in live-action as his voice is here, it’s got to be a real treat. Whether cantankerous or gleeful, Sim’s Scrooge is alive in a way that few animated adaptations are. The other significant voice roles, Marley, Christmas Past, and Christmas Present, are voiced by Michael Hordern, Diana Quick, and Felix Felton, respectively. All make their spirits haunting but still with a core of compassion that is obvious in their tone.
The drop-jawed face of compassion.
The special is animated in a hand-drawn style, with shading implemented through lines and hash marks. It makes for a visually distinctive piece, and one that does seem a bit more inspired by Victorian-era drawings than modern cartooning. Another nice touch is the way the characters are far from flawless in their appearances; only a minor character or two are really grotesque, but crooked noses, weak chins, and other non-classical features abound. While cartoons, the characters do not have the perfect features of cartoons, but the irregular features of real people. No doubt this is because the animators based the human characters off of their voice actors; looking at pictures of the actors, Scrooge bears a resemblance to Alastair Sim, and Bob Cratchit looks like Melvyn Hayes (and also a bit like Bob Hope, but that’s probably coincidence).
Great news, I’m promoting you to Oscar host!
Since the special is quite short, it does wind up feeling a little bit rushed, particularly with some dizzying transition scenes. And the unusual visual style might add to the nightmare factor for small children. But these are the only things which detract from the work, and they only do so to a small degree. In the overcrowded mass of A Christmas Carol adaptations, this one winds up in the “good” pile.