Mickey’s Christmas Carol

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…

Signed: Your festive neighbourhood queer

The Christmas Collection

29/11/19 The Muppet Christmas Carol

06/12/19 Dr Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1966)

14/12/19 Home Alone

25/12/19 Die Hard

05/12/20 Disney’s A Christmas Carol

12/12/20 Dr Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas (2000)

19/12/20 Home Alone 2: Lost in New York

25/12/20 Die Hard 2: Die Harder

05/12/21 Mickey’s Christmas Carol

12/12/21 The Grinch (2018)

18/12/21 Home Alone 3

Disney’s A Christmas Carol (2009)

Motion Capture doesn’t seem to be such a big deal anymore. It gets used in practically every summer blockbuster, and has been pivotal in creating costumes for the heroes of the MCU for over a decade. However there was a time when this technology was relatively new and its limits were being tested. Most people know of one of its earliest applications, creating the creature Gollum for Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, but few remember some of the following applications. The Polar Express was released in 2004 and was filmed entirely in Motion Capture, before being animated by computer, even being recognised as the first all digital motion capture film by Guinness Book of World Records. The film’s director, Robert Zemeckis, chose this method of production as it allowed for a grand scale on a small budget and would do the best job of representing the original storybook’s illustrations. These same decisions would lead Zemeckis’ to apply this same method of production to an adaptation of the classic Charles Dickens novel A Christmas Carol.

Released in 2009, Disney’s A Christmas Carol follows the money-grabbing Ebeneezer Scrooge as he is visited by the ghosts of Christmas past, present, and future, in an attempt to change his selfish ways before it is too late. Disney is no stranger to A Christmas Carol, having adapted it with Mickey Mouse in 1983 and The Muppets in 1992. The former of these is probably the best 26 minute summary you could ever hope for, with the latter being a personal favourite that has already been subject of a review. However, this take is unique in that it is probably the darkest adaption of the tale there is, which may have something to do with how accurate it is to the original novel. There are plot elements here that I had completely forgotten about, because I have not read the book in around a decade (but have watched The Muppet Christmas Carol every year since I was a child), Ebeneezer’s sister Fran makes an appearance, as well as two gaunt children clinging to the Ghost of Christmas Present called Ignorance and Want. It’s much more of a tragedy than I remember it being, and it is nice to be reminded. A Christmas Carol is about a man who needs to be subjected to his deepest regrets and fears in order to change the course of his life.

I think it’s important to remember that when the original novel was published in 1843, ghostly apparitions were not viewed as a lighthearted subject of discussion. Today we are inundated with ghoulish tales from Scooby Doo to Ghostbusters to Casper, so seeing this take, especially in a children’s movie, is relatively refreshing. The colour palette matches the overall tone of the movie in that it is dark and dingy, but when it needs to be bright and cheery, it has no problems doing so. A perfect example of this, and often something that best exemplifies their respective iterations, is how the Ghost of Christmas Present is presented. Here, he sits upon a mountain of food and is only about twice the size of Scrooge whilst the walls are adorned with golden garlands in a room that has tripled in height. As the scene progresses, the room in which they sit seems to hover over the city, allowing them to see the goings on of the townsfolk, and the Ghost of Christmas Present grows older until he has become grey. By the scene’s end, the Ghost has become hostile towards Scrooge, and as they stand in a seemingly endless room, he unleashes the disturbing Ignorance and Want before literally turning to dust whilst laughing manically, in a moment that’s flat-out uncomfortable. It’s tense, getting more so as the film races towards its conclusion. That’s not to say this tension hasn’t been present since the beginning, we are often left in complete silence as if to signify how lonely Scrooge is, but when there is music it is often a joyful and triumphant arrangement of a Christmas carol. The score was composed by the excellent Alan Silvestri, who previously conducted the score for both The Polar Express, and the Back to the Future trilogy. It seems that if your film demands triumph, it demands Alan Silvestri.

So what of this grand scale that Zemeckis spoke of? As previously mentioned, there are the scenes featuring the Ghost of Christmas Present, but there is also the grimy city of London. There are several times that we find ourselves flying over the rooftops, and even from the ground, the buildings look as big and grand as they have ever been up close. This is amplified during the chase sequence with the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, which doesn’t feel like it should be here, but ends up being thrilling anyway. Both ghosts, along with the Ghost of Christmas Past, are voice by Jim Carrey, who also voices Scrooge, in a decision that potentially adds more depth to the tale. The ghosts have often been viewed as an extension of Scrooge’s thoughts, but with this choice they seem to become direct extensions of him. Carrey playing multiple voice roles was a focal point of the advertising, but if you didn’t know that (or forgot like me) you may not recognise that they’re all him. Of course, the rest of the cast, including Gary Oldman, and the late Bob Hopskins, are terrific, but there is a reason that Carrey got his name prioritised in the advertising.

The observant among you may notice that I have failed to talk about the Ghost of Christmas Past, but there is a reason for that. His design creeps me out… and… his Irish accents baffles me. I actually think that Dickens wrote a description that is extremely difficult to pull off. I mean, how would you design a being that is both old and young at the same time? As for the Irish accent, it continues to baffle me.

Until Next Time…

Signed: Your festive neighbourhood queer