A Christmas Carol (1997)

This animated TV/VHS adaptation is mainly notable for its cast, which includes Tim Curry as Scrooge, Ed Asner as Marley, Whoopi Goldberg as the Ghost of Christmas Present, and Frank Welker as Scrooge's pitbull, Debit. Oh, yeah, also I should probably warn you they gave Scrooge a pitbull. It's that kind of animated adaptation. On top of everything else, it's also a musical, and not a particularly good one. The music itself isn't too obnoxious, but the lyrics are pretty idiotic.

Let's talk about the changes to the story, of which there aren't many. Surprisingly, this sticks relatively close to the plot of the original, though the dialogue is somewhat modernized and simplified. The biggest change is (surprise, surprise) the aforementioned dog, Debit, who plays a fairly substantial role. I should probably specify the dog can't speak: Welker's making cartoon dog noises, not Scooby-Dooing in the middle of Dickens's work. Still, it's a very unwelcome addition.

The dog starts out seeming like an extension of Scrooge: we see him bark at Fred and chase a mouse. But it quickly becomes apparent he's not as bad as his master, since the dog seems upset Scrooge refuses to donate to the poor. 

Debit actually tags along for the Marley sequence, as well as the first leg of Scrooge's journey. He basically serves as comic relief through Christmas Past after being inadvertently dragged there. Oddly, there's an opening for him to stick around through the present, too, but the movie instead leaves him behind.

The movie then hits more or less all the iconic beats and a few obscure ones, with the exception of Belle's family. The most surprising inclusion might be Scrooge's love of stories while he's at boarding school, a detail that gets expanded into a musical number, then gets a few callbacks via Tiny Tim having similar interests.

When we get to the future, there's a bit of streamlining and consolidation. The robbers are moved to the scene with the body, so they're shown stealing rather than selling their merchandise. This of course amplifies the plot hole where Scrooge doesn't recognize his stuff (since his body is not still in his house), but I do find some of the repurposed dialogue cleverly arranged.

The ending gets altered slightly, as well, with Scrooge arranging for Fred and his wife to be at the Cratchits, allowing him to wrap everything up with one visit. He still does the whole "I'm not going to stand for this," gag, but now he's doing it in front of Bob's family, as well as his own.

Let's talk characters and voice actors. The first two spirits are altered from their original descriptions, with Past reimagined as a precocious kid, and Present a woman. The kid is obnoxious: he doesn't work at all. The Ghost of Christmas Present is better. Whoopi Goldberg plays the part, and she's fun in the role. That said, she's doing a weird accent that makes her difficult to identify. That's not bad, but it does raise the question of why they went with her over a voice actress.

As always, the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come is silent. Visually, they went for a very '90s extreme dark spirit of death vibe with the design. It's all very silly: this just didn't have the budget or talent to pull something like that off.

If this movie has a saving grace, it's Tim Curry's Scrooge. The character doesn't work for the first third, where he's a typical cartoonish villain, but Curry does good work selling his gradual redemption. He takes this seriously and deserves credit for being the one genuinely good thing about this otherwise forgettable production.

Let's move on to the animation, which I'd describe as very indicative of the time it was made. And since we're discussing a movie made for a combination of television and a video release, that's not a good thing. This looks like most low-budget shows and movies of its age: simplistic designs, cheap animation, with the occasional computer-aided effect tossed in to make it seem more impressive than it is. Whether it entertained anyone at the time is irrelevant: today, a bunch of lens flares and halos add nothing.

Unfortunately, that's more or less the final analysis. Because this is animated, most of its value comes from the quality of that animation, and frankly what's here feels like it was tied together from recycled designs and generic styles. There's nothing artistic in how this looks, which all but drives the final nail into the coffin. On top of that, the songs - while not as bad as they could have been - are still a long way from good. Throw in a few ill-advised comic characters in the form of the dog and the Bart Simpson-esque Ghost of Christmas Past, and nothing's going to redeem it. Which is kind of a shame, because I really like what Curry brought to the role. He's good here, but it's too little, too late.