Brer Rabbit's Christmas Carol (1992)

Brer Rabbit is a character with an extremely complex legacy going back to African folklore. Unfortunately, the vast majority of modern versions have racist connotations, largely due to the character's appropriation by white writers and filmmakers exploiting those stories (looking at you, Walt). Whether the character can be untangled from that exploitation is an open question I can't answer, but I believe it should go without saying that it shouldn't be white people trying.

Brer Rabbit's Christmas Carol was an hour-long 1992 made-for-TV movie, a sequel to a 1991 TV movie called Brer Rabbit Tales. It was produced and directed by Al Guest and Jean Mathieson, and I wish I had a concrete answer to the obvious question. Guest and Mathieson were Canadian animators who made a number of shows and TV movies over the course of their careers. Based on her IMDB picture, Mathieson appears to be white. Guest doesn't have a picture on his page, and I can't find any additional personal information about either. The actor cast as Brer Rabbit in this appears to be white (again, based on his IMDB picture).

It should go without saying that the quality of this movie is irrelevant to the race of the creators. However, I think there are very valid questions about whether the attempt to produce this in the first place was in good or bad taste, and the backgrounds of the people involved are absolutely relevant. I wish I had concrete answers in that respect. I will say I consider the casting extremely inappropriate, and - to the very limited extent I have any right to even make this value judgment - I didn't find the approach to the character as respectful as it should have been.

I haven't seen the prior movie, but my impression from this is that they were trying to pilot a series in the vein of "The New Adventures of Winnie the Pooh" using Brer Rabbit. There were a ton of shows spun off of iconic literary characters, though I can't think of any others this potentially controversial. It's possible the people making this weren't conscious of the potential issues with adapting this, but I doubt it. The characters' accents sound like the voice actors are reading dialects while simultaneously stripping out racial identifiers. In other words, I get the feeling they knew they were on thin ice and were trying to find a middle ground between just using the name and coming across as racist. In my opinion, they didn't get there, but - again - that's not my call to make.

Let's move on to the actual content of this special (I generally consider things like this specials even if they're technically categorized as TV movies). This isn't exactly a retelling of A Christmas Carol. Instead, it utilizes a trope common in television where characters familiar with the story attempt to fake supernatural experiences for a Scrooge-like character. Off the top of my head, Doctor Who, the animated Back to the Future series, and Quantum Leap all did variations of this premise.

In this case, the Scrooge analog is Brer Fox, who's mean-spirited and greedy towards all the animals, but in particular is in the middle of conning his friend and employee, Brer Bear, out of his home. Brer Rabbit learns about this and, since the animals are already in the middle of preparing a play of A Christmas Carol for charity (there's a sick mouse who... never mind), they decide to weaponize the sets, costumes, and story against Brer Fox to make him change his ways.

As is common with this trope, things eventually go off the rails. In this case, it's because Brer Bear overheard some of what they were doing, mistook them for actual ghosts, and went to rescue his friend. Also, he had help from Brer Gator, a kind old man everyone's afraid of, who has a bunch of toys he made for kids but has never been able to give them away, and... You get the idea.

At any rate, the first three Staves of A Christmas Carol go off relatively on book, though they're of course swapping in an animal who died earlier for Marley. Also, there's sort of a generic spirit guide Brer Rabbit controls who serves as a narrator for both Brer Fox and the audience. 

Brer Bear shows up as they're wrapping up the Ghost of Christmas Future section. He manages to wreck the theater, but oddly doesn't clue Brer Fox into the fact this is all a ruse. Instead, Brer Fox is knocked unconscious and winds up waking in his bed, believing the whole thing to be legitimate.

This doesn't last long. Almost immediately he runs into Brer Rabbit, who feels guilty about the trick and confesses everything. To his surprise, Brer Fox is even more amazed everyone cared enough to do that than he was by the idea it was ghosts, so his newfound Christmas spirit remains intact.

There's also an unnecessary subplot about Brer Fox misinterpreting some information about Brer Bear going to Brer Gator's as meaning he's going to be eaten. That resolves about the way you'd expect, with everyone - including Brer Gator in a Santa suit - having Christmas dinner together.

Despite not technically being an adaptation, they squeezed in a fair bit of dialogue from the original by having Brer Rabbit and other characters literally read from the book. There were also a few quotes dropped by Brer Fox, who I guess just coincidentally used the same words. Sure. Why not?

I doubt anyone will be surprised to hear this isn't great. The animation is pretty bad, even by the standards of the time. The character designs are particularly lazy: picture the most generic anthropomorphic animals imaginable, and you'll have most likely just created something far more interesting than what they came up with.

I already offered some thoughts on the voice acting: whatever they were going for didn't work, at least not for the three leads.

All that said, the bizarre premise, coupled with the special's willingness to toss in weird twists, makes the whole thing much less boring than it could have been. Take that as a backhanded compliment, but it wasn't hard to stay awake.

But as a whole, feel free to skip this, which shouldn't be difficult, as I sincerely doubt you'll ever hear of it again.


  1. Oddly having just seen the prior movie, there's some differences in design, like Brer Fox had brown hair atop his hair in the first film and the character of Miss Meadows (A young mouse) is absent.

    1. It was a fun compilation of the myths, though sanitized for children, of course, should amuse young children.

      Animation still is rather average, though a little better than the Christmas carol version.

      So overall, I'd say it was better.

      Also its interesting that they chose to make Brer Wolf, Dead. In the myths, as opposed to the Disney adaptation, Brer Wolf, and Not Brer Bear is the second-most recurring foe of Brer Rabbit. I wonder if they were inspired by the Disney or just thought a Wolf was too similar to a fox?

  2. The entire CHRISTIAN Christmas holiday has been appropriated by non-Christian secularists.
    So pardon me if your claims of "racist appropriation" ring hollow.

    1. On behalf of all the other non-Christian secularists out there, I just want to say you're right about us appropriating Christmas: it's ours now, and we're not giving it back. Go cry about, loser.


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