They say a picture is worth a thousand words. With a story as long as A Christmas Carol, it makes sense that any visual adaptation would be lengthy. However, this isn’t always the case; the earliest films based on the festive favourite by author Charles Dickens were lacking in minutes. A 1901 British adaptation clocked in at just over 6 minutes, an American 1908 adaptation (which is now lost) at 15 minutes, and another American adaptation in 1910 at just 13 minutes. Even the first feature-length adaptation The Right to be Happy was only 55 minutes, just shy of the average 90-minute runtime of later feature-length films. Perhaps the most famous of these short tales was Mickey’s Christmas Carol in 1983.
Running at 26 minutes, and initially released along with a re-issue of 1977’s The Rescuers (in the US) and a re-issue of 1967’s The Jungle Book (in the UK), Mickey’s Christmas Carol features a variety of classic Disney Animated characters perfectly cast in the various roles. The titular mouse brings his childlike optimism to the role of Bob Cratchitt, employee of the notorious Ebeneezer Scrooge, whilst the miserable miser himself is aptly portrayed by Scrooge McDuck, who was named and partially based on the character. McDuck’s Scottish accent gives his iteration of Scrooge a unique quality without ever falling into the absurdity that such an accent can lend itself to. The trio of ghosts are comprised of early-era Disney characters like Jiminy Cricket, Willie the Giant, and Big Bad Pete. Jiminy served as a companion and conscience to Pinnochio in the 1940 film of the same name and brings equal level-headedness to his role as the Ghost of Christmas Past. Willie was the antagonist of Mickey and the Beanstalk in 1947’s package-film Fun and Fancy-Free. He’s much kinder but equally dim in his portrayal as the Ghost of Christmas Past. Pete has been an adversary of Mickey Mouse since the very first short film from Walt Disney Animation, 1928’s Steamboat Willie and his menacing aura is perfect for the role of the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come. The background characters are comprised of an array of background characters from various films like 1933’s The 3 Little Pigs, 1949’s The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad, and 1973’s Robin Hood.
One of the film’s finer qualities is that it never focuses on the Disney characters, treating them merely as actors absorbed by their roles. Later Disney films like 2019’s The Lion King would bank their success almost purely on the name of the IP, so it’s refreshing to see the opposite happening here. It aims to tell a story and it’s almost a happenstance that the roles are taken by Walt Disney Animation characters. It understands that the most important aspect is bringing A Christmas Carol to children en masse, although there’s no knowing how successful this goal was. There are of course figures for the Rescuers re-release to which it was first attached ($21,000,000) but subsequent DVD releases and television airings make it difficult to pinpoint any specific number. It is safe to assume it did well given it airs every festive season on national television (stations may vary) and it remains within the pop cultural zeitgeist. It is also the first of (currently) 3 adaptations, being followed by 1992’s The Muppets Christmas Carol [REVIEW HERE] featuring the titular creations of Jim Henson, and 2009’s Disney’s A Christmas Carol [REVIEW HERE] featuring the voice of Jim Carrey.
The most unfortunate aspect is that, despite managing the bare bones of the story, it manages very little else. Each part of the tale is lighter in substance than the original novel and indeed almost every other adaptation. The Ghost of Christmas Past never visits Scrooge’s childhood, opting only to show the Fezziwig party, and the Ghost of Christmas Present spends only moments with the Cratchitts. Many moments that may seem iconic to some, like Scrooge’s fireside dinner and the revelry at Fred’s Christmas lunch, are omitted entirely. Arguably the closest section in terms of content is The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, which doesn’t include Scrooge’s belongings being scavenged but does include a couple of gravediggers (aptly played by a pair of weasels) making light of the miser’s death, noting that it’s unsurprising that nobody attended his funeral. It’s the most memorable scene of the entire story, dripping with a dark atmosphere and oozing the colour red. Using the smoke from Pete’s cigar is an excellent, and very 1980’s, use of props.
It’s the atmosphere that makes Mickey’s Christmas Carol so great. From the timeless look of 2D, hand-drawn animation, and the set design, to the song Oh, What a Merry Christmas Day which was written specifically for the special and plays over the opening. It sounds like a Christmas carol and is full of all the heart, soul, and warmth that those songs contain. Even if you don’t feel nostalgia for those classic Disney characters, this is still a worthwhile addition to the ever-expanding list of adaptations.
As Tiny Tim continuously proclaims:
God Bless Us, Everyone…