I have Michael at It Rains, You Get Wet to thank for this one; he brought it up in discussion of my Top 10 Christmas Specials, and mentioned it was the first animated Christmas special made for television. I had never seen this before, so I decided to track it down and watch it.
I did wonder a bit how this adaptation of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol would work. After all, if it’s Mister Magoo’s Christmas Carol, then obviously Mister Magoo must be playing Mister Scrooge, as he’s the only character in the right age bracket. But aside from a few early theatrical shorts while his character was still a little in flux, Quincy Magoo is ultimately a benign and friendly character, virtually the polar opposite of Ebenezer Scrooge (though a pretty good fit for how Scrooge ends up in the story.) The special solves this in a simple manner by having it be one of Magoo’s Broadway plays.
Although this does raise the question of how an actor on stage manages to walk through a closed door.
With the workaround of having them be characters in a stage play, the transition works rather well. Mr. Magoo, voiced as always by Jim Backus, makes for a very good Ebenezer Scrooge, especially when the story turns to the more sympathetic scenes to the character. Most of the other characters are just newly done for the show, but special mention must be made of Tiny Tim, who is portrayed by an unusually coherent Gerald McBoing-Boing (voiced here by Joan Gardner). A few laughs are gotten out of Magoo’s eyesight, but surprisingly the special is played mostly seriously — most of the jokes take place before and after the play begins, and the play itself is filled with songs that are mostly wistful and sometimes very lonely. The most fun song is probably the song given to the thieves in the third act, but all the songs are fairly good.
Villains always get the fun songs.
Although it makes the odd decision to have the Ghost of Christmas Present visit before the Ghost of Christmas Past, and it eliminates the character of Fred (Scrooge’s nephew), the special otherwise holds very true to the original text. Most of the dialogue is taken verbatim from Dickens’ story, in fact. As such, it’s one of the relatively few adaptations to properly reflect the fact that Scrooge’s miserliness is a symptom of his problems, not the cause; the reprisal of the song “Alone in the World” in both Past and Future drives home that it’s mostly isolation (both from the world and self-imposed) that makes Scrooge the way he is. Backus is surprisingly heartbreaking when singing as Magoo/Scrooge.
The special has UPI’s standard level of animation; it’s done well, if simply, and is visually distinctive. The characters are fun to look at, and the ghosts in particular all look great. Mister Magoo’s Christmas Carol would be notable if only for being the first televised animated Christmas special, but it’s also notable for being one of the better ones.