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Musical Versions of A Christmas Carol: An Extended Analysis

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You probably noticed that we've been watching a lot of versions of A Christmas Carol. As we went, I started noticing how many musical versions there are. As a lifelong musical theater fan, I'm a sucker for a good musical. Because these are all adaptations of the same story, many use songs in similar places for similar purposes. I find it interesting how these songs can make very different choices, so let's take a few minutes today to explore that together.  I don't remember enough music theory to get too bogged down in whether these songs are necessarily "good" by any specific musical metrics. I'm interested in only a few things:  Does the song support the story, expand the character(s), or enhance the tone? Is it enjoyable to listen to: lyrics understandable and not annoying, tune catchy, performed well?  How do the songs which fulfill the same purpose in the narrative compare across adaptations? Here are the versions of A Christmas Carol I'll be visi

An Adaptation of Dickens' Christmas Carol (1974)

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This is a bit unusual for us, in that the media in question is a record, rather than a special. There are, of course, countless audio recordings of A Christmas Carol - as a rule of thumb, we don't bother tracking those down, as they're rarely well-known or influential enough to justify a review. This one is a little more interesting. Despite its unassuming title, this adaptation, courtesy of Disney Records, was the source material later adapted into the 1983 animated film, Mickey's Christmas Carol , which in turn led to the creation of DuckTales. Like the movie, the album features Disney characters playing the cast of Dickens's story. The lead role, of course, is Scrooge, featuring Alan Young as Scrooge for the first time. Young co-wrote the album and would of course reprise that role in the '83 film, as well as Scrooge McDuck on DuckTales (the McDuck surname gets a brief callout on the album when Ebenezer Scrooge lists a couple debtors). Quite a bit of the story an

A Christmas Story (1972)

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Not to be confused with the overrated 1983 movie of the same name , this 30-minute Hanna-Barbera special from 1972 tells the story of a dog and mouse attempting to deliver a boy's letter to Santa Claus on Christmas Eve. Like most Hanna-Barbera specials from this era, this has been mostly forgotten, which feels right to me. That's not to say it's particularly bad; it's just not particularly anything . It's relatively early, as far as Christmas specials go, so I assume it was a welcome deviation from the ones already in rotation. But fifty years later, it's not quite old enough to be "one of the first," so it's hard to overlook its shortcomings and aspects that aged poorly. The one aspect I did find interesting was the voice cast. This features two voice actors from Disney's Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh (Paul Winchell and Hal Smith), and the father's voice is instantly recognizable as Dr. Benton Quest (Don Messick). The whole cast is co

The Stingiest Man in Town (1978) [Revisited]

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We watched and reviewed this eleven years ago , but I'm revisiting it as part of my ongoing attempt to watch as many versions of A Christmas Carol as humanly possible. It'd be worth reevaluating this, anyway, since the context surrounding it has changed dramatically. This is a remake of a 1956 version starring Basil Rathbone broadcast live that was believed lost for decades before showing up in 2011. Technically, it was available when we ran our original review, but it wouldn't have been easy to find, nor were we anywhere near as thorough back then. Obviously things have changed. I actually just finished watching the 1956 version a few days before putting this on (in case it wasn't clear, these reviews aren't entirely being posted in the order I watched them in). Let's dig into how this special relates to its predecessor, adaptations of A Christmas Carol, and Christmas specials in general. First, I want to acknowledge Lindsay and I have very different background

Casper's First Christmas (1979)

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Casper is the title character, but this half-hour special features Yogi, Boo Boo, Quick Draw McGraw, Huckleberry Hound, Snagglepuss, Augie Doggie, and Doggie Daddy, in addition to Hairy Scary. For those of you lucky enough to not know what any of that means, Hairy is a ghost who's friends with Casper (sort of), and the others are anthropomorphic Hanna-Barbera characters. The special opens with Casper and Hairy's house scheduled for demolition. It's Christmas Eve, so Casper wants to decorate. Hairy, not sharing his friend's interest in the holidays, wants to go looking for a new house to haunt. Casper isn't sure whether Santa Claus will come to a house as worn down as theirs, but he writes a letter and leaves it in a stocking, just in case. As this is going on, the Hanna-Barbera gang are lost on the way to a lodge where they're planning to spend the holidays. If you want to impose continuity on this mess, you could interpret that as the Jellystone Lodge from the

Scrooge (1970)

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We did a few adaptations of A Christmas Carol back when we started this blog, but we lost interest pretty fast. It wasn't so much that we were bored watching them (if that were enough, there's a host of genres we'd have dropped a decade ago), it's that we felt like we'd said everything we could possibly say on the subject. To put it another way, I figured if I'd seen one of these, I'd pretty much seen them all. I now realize I was wrong. Hilariously wrong. In more ways than I can count. Granted, if I'd tried watching through one after another back then, I'd have basically been wasting my time. The variations wouldn't have interested me back then, and I was too new to all this to perceive how different versions reflect their times or what they meant to holiday media in general. Even so, I should have watched this one ages ago. I have no excuse save ignorance for waiting this long. It's not so much that this is good or bad; it's that it'

'Twas the Night Before Christmas (1974)

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Yes, we're embarrassed about this one. What about it? After being sure we'd done every Rankin/Bass Christmas special, we're still discovering that some slipped through the cracks. It only added to the surreality that while watching this, both Erin and I became convinced that we'd seen this at some point in our lives. I guess it just wasn't in the last 13 years. This isn't a stop-motion special, rather it's traditional animation in the Rankin/Bass style. The voice cast does good work, the dialogue isn't bad, the songs are pretty catchy. So why is this holiday special on the more obscure end? Maybe because the story is just a bit... odd. It starts out late on Christmas Eve with the first eight lines of Clement Clarke Moore's "A Visit from Saint Nicholas," of course, as recited/experienced by Joshua Trundle, a clockmaker. Then the story is taken up by a father mouse living in the wall of that house who is decidedly stirring. He tells us that e

Tom and Jerry: A Nutcracker Tale (2007)

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I jokingly apologized to Lindsay while starting this. After all, it's a direct-to-video Tom and Jerry movie from 2007 based on The Nutcracker clocking in at just under an hour: every one of those details is a red flag that this will be awful. Seriously, by all rights this should be borderline unwatchable. Really, no logical way this could in any way be redeemable. Right? RIGHT? Well, apparently my understanding of the metaphysical laws governing our reality is less foolproof than I imagined, because this thing was kind of great. More than that, it was great for what would have been the last reasons I'd have expected, if the possibility had even crossed my mind (which, again, it hadn't). The Tom and Jerry stuff is fine but ultimately unremarkable, save for the fact it's barely an afterthought. Sure, there are sequences of zany, cartoon violence, but it's a fairly small part of the film. The bulk of this, and the reason it's good is.... Actually, it's kind of

The Alcoa Hour: The Stingiest Man in Town (1956)

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There were numerous live adaptations of A Christmas Carol made in the '40s and '50s, the majority of which were either lost or weren't notable enough to warrant a release. The Stingiest Man in Town seems to have been one of the better-regarded examples, and even that wasn't entirely exempt from being discarded. Until a black and white copy was found in the home of an Alcoa executive in 2011, it was believed lost. Since it's kind of miraculous any version exists, I won't complain too much about not being able to watch it in the original color. Let's back up. The Alcoa Hour was an anthology series sponsored by Alcoa, an aluminum company that's still around. This is the same anthology responsible for the 1955 version of Amahl and the Night Visitors . This 1956 musical adaptation of A Christmas Carol was one of the show's most famous installments. This was also remade as an animated movie in 1978. Scrooge is played by Basil Rathbone, best known as the de

Elf Pets: Santa's St. Bernards Save Christmas (2018), A Fox Cub's Christmas Tale (2019), Santa's Reindeer Rescue (2020)

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I want to start by saying upfront: you should discourage your kids from watching these. I'm not joking. And I'm not saying that because these are awful - they are, but that's the least of their problems. These specials cross a line between obnoxious and inappropriate in how they market their toys to kids. I'm not just talking about using animation as an extended ad, either -- this goes way beyond GI Joe or Transformers. GI Joe never explicitly told kids owning their crap would help save Christmas; these specials - all three  of these specials - quite literally convey that message. You want Santa's sleigh to fly? Help by "caring for" one of these three magic toys. I am not exaggerating. I don't recall ever seeing a show or special do anything like this before. With that out of the way, let's talk about the specials themselves, or rather the specials as a group. While all three contain unique characteristics, the overall concept and structure is iden