A Christmas Carol (1982)

This is the second animated Australian adaptation I've seen where Scrooge was voiced by Ron Haddrick, the first being released thirteen years earlier. I was actually a little surprised to find they were made by different studios: in addition to Haddrick, the animation is relatively similar. All that of course invites the question of why this was made at all. The answer, it seems, has less to do with A Christmas Carol and more to do with Charles Dickens. Burbank Films Australia, the studio behind this, produced a series of films based on various works from the author, and this is part of that collection. I suppose that puts it in similar company with the 1959 episode of Tales from Dickens.

Of course, that doesn't answer a more pressing question: namely, why should anyone watch this? Unfortunately, the answer there is they probably shouldn't. That's not to say there's nothing good here, but to be frank it doesn't really stand out in any meaningful capacity. It's stylistically similar to the 1969, but the animation is a little less inspired and I suspect less expensive. The 1969 Haddrick version wasn't particularly impressive, but it had elements that stood out on artistic merit. I really can't say the same for this.

On top of that, it repeats something I consider a flaw. In both, Haddrick voices Scrooge as a generic cartoon villain. I understand the impulse, but in my opinion it weakens the narrative and makes the whole thing feel less significant.

That said, if you're looking for a version faithful to the original text, this performs significantly better than its predecessor. With a few minor exceptions, this sticks to the original story, touching on virtually every significant moment and character from the story.

One notable, if minor, exception comes in the form of references to death. This certainly doesn't cut them entirely, but some of the story's harsher lines and concepts are pared back, presumably to make this less objectionable to a younger audience. One obvious example is Scrooge's line about decreasing the surplus population: the phrase "surplus population" makes it in, but not the part of the poor dying and decreasing it. It's an odd compromise.

The sequence where the Ghost of Christmas Present uses his powers to enhance food and goodwill is expanded in an odd - and somewhat counterproductive - way. Scrooge accuses him of going too far when he transforms two men about to fight into friends, so the Spirit causes snow to fall on the head of one to reverse their cheer, returning them to mildly annoyed men in line. He adjusts this the other way a moment later, but it's a strange choice that seems to misrepresent the nature of the Spirit's powers.

A few larger deviations occur in the section set in the future. First, the scene at the Exchange is shifted to a restaurant for reasons I can only guess at. Maybe they thought that would be a more familiar setting for kids watching.

There's also a sequence in Scrooge's office in which he finds a stranger running his former business, which is expanded from a very brief sequence in the book. The charity collectors come by and the new owner donates happily. I don't think this is a particularly bad addition, but it does slightly lessen the one potential use this has as a sort of video Cliff's Notes for the story.

Other than that, there's of course some slightly altered dialogue, which I assume was done to make this as accessible and easy to understand as possible. Some scenes alter the tone, as well. At the end, we see Scrooge far less openly contrite than the original: he doesn't really apologize to anyone, but rather just changes how he's acting. His trick on Bob Cratchit is one example: he gently teases the man, but he doesn't act like he's about to fire him before revealing his true intent.

The designs of the last two spirits are more or less in line with usual depictions, though the first looks like a cross between a Roman senator and Peter Pan. I don't mind that choice - the description in the book is somewhat open to interpretation. It's certainly an unusual take on the character, though.

The main thing that stood out to me watching this was how low the budget must have been. It'd be hard to miss the cost-saving tricks on display here. There are extended sequences comprised of still paintings the camera moves over. Other scenes will animate a few characters in the foreground while everything else is still. And scenes where that wouldn't work have been simplified to remove all but the named characters. Fezziwig's party is stripped down to a handful of participants, almost all of which are named. Likewise, Fred's gathering now has only four guests. In both situations, the movie makes sure the characters are taken from the book - Dick appears at Fezziwig's, while Topper shows up at Fred's - but the crowds are simply gone.

Musically, this embraces classical Christmas songs, with "Oh Come, All Ye Faithful" being the opening theme. I don't mind the use of these songs, though it's another sign this didn't cost much to make.

Tonally, this skews slightly towards drama, though there's quite a bit of comedy added to Scrooge's dialogue and behavior. Likewise, the opening retains some of the feel of the ghost story at the core of the piece. But the resolution in particular seems to be aiming for something serious and upbeat, without being silly, leaving the whole leaning towards drama in my opinion.

Overall, I respect the filmmakers for trying to keep this relatively faithful. But if that's what you want, there are better options out there. This isn't particularly bad, but with the vast number of adaptations available, there's no reason to choose this over countless others.