Blackadder’s Christmas Carol

titleDebuted in 1988

44 minutes

Plot in 3 Sentences: Ebenezer Blackadder is the kindest man in England and although he’s only planned a modest Christmas for himself and his employee, Baldrick, he ends up giving away all their money, food and presents. The Spirit of Christmas visits him during the night to congratulate him on his goodness and mentions that his ancestors were not as good, showing him the sly craftiness of two of them. When Ebenezer Blackadder sees what the future hold if he stays good versus what happens if he becomes devious and greedy like the others, he sees that ‘bad guys have all the fun’ and changes his ways.

Fun Fact: Robbie Coltrane’s appearance as the Spirit of Christmas is very similar to his appearance as Hagrid in the Harry Potter movies and, since J.K. Rowling started writing the first book two years after this special, some believe was inspired by this when writing the character.

My thoughts: It’s always great to see a take on Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol that is truly innovative and this one absolutely turns it on its head. Here, the Scrooge character starts out good and becomes bad because of what the ghost shows him and it’s very funny, particularly if you’re already familiar with the characters from the Blackadder BBC series.  The show ran for four seasons, each set in a different time period and centered around Edmund Blackadder (played by Rowan Atkinson), a scheming man whose motivations lean toward acquiring more power, money or status for himself. This special aired between Seasons 2 and 3 and showed new scenes from Season 2 (which took place in Medieval England) and Season 3 (which was set during the Elizabethan Era). The future scenes showed Blackadder’s descendant becoming a galactic High Commander and marrying a queen if he goes bad versus becoming a slave to Baldrick’s descendants if he stays good. The show is full of laugh out loud moments and silly characters, and there’s a great moral punch line where Ebenezer discovers that his new bad behavior has directly prevented him from receiving a special reward from Queen Victoria, showing how ultimately, you reap what you sow. It’s a fun and enjoyable take on the classic tale.

spirit-of-christmas

The Spirit of Christmas looks like he could use a good conditioner.

queen-elizabeth

I like to think Queen Elizabeth looked and acted exactly like this.

piglet-features

It’s too late to cover her ears now, Albert. She already heard Blackadder call her ‘Queen Piglet Features.’

future

It takes a courageous man to wear that skimpy costume.

Individual Superlative: Most Bizarrely Hilarious Rewritten Christmas Song – The very large orphans serenade Mr. Blackadder with a version of ‘God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen’ in which they replace almost all the words with repetitions of ‘piggy wiggy woo’ and that ridiculous version has become a holiday staple in our house.

Want to Watch it? Blackadder’s Christmas Carol  is available on DVD and iTunes.

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Scrooge Loose

TitleDebuted in 1957

6 minutes

Plot in 3 Sentences: Gumby & Pokey (posing as Sherlock Holmes & Dr. Watson) see Scrooge escaping from his storybook and pursue him. Scrooge disappears into a Santa Claus story, steals a bag of presents and replaces all the toys with rocks. Gumby ties up Scrooge and puts him in the bag, then Santa mistakenly takes him on his sleigh ride.

Fun Fact: Gumby gets his name from the clay used to make him, which creator Art Clokey got from his grandparents farm. They called it ‘gumbo’ so he named his new character Gumby.

My thoughts: The Gumby cartoons have always struck me as weird. The character voices are strange and sound like they were recorded inside a tin can and then played back at a faster speed. Gumby and Pokey were cool looking characters, but whenever they tried to animate human faces, they just looked so freaky. You see that here in both Scrooge and Santa Claus, who are both just really unsettling. It’s not all bad, though. There are some cool elements in this short, including characters jumping into books and moving around inside of book worlds, which helped make Gumby a spokesperson for the Library of Congress and its reading campaign in the 90’s. It’s also pretty funny when Scrooge pushes all the toys off the side of the table onto the floor, where both Gumby and Pokey splat into puddles of clay. And the ending is so abrupt and weird (see Individual Superlative below) that I was certain my copy had been cut short. But no, that’s the ending. Huh.

Scrooge

Gumby seems to have misgivings.

Tractor

For a Dickensian literary character, Scrooge has mad skills at driving tractors.

Scrooge is terrifying

Whoa…Scrooge is a really creepy character.

Terrifying Santa

Yikes! I think Santa is even creepier.

Individual Superlative: Most Apathetic Ending – When Gumby realizes that Santa has taken off with a bag full of Scrooge instead of toys, he just makes a joke and grins, watching the sleigh fly away.

Want to Watch it? Scrooge Loose is available on YouTube.

Rich Little’s Christmas Carol

Title

Debuted in 1978

55 minutes

Plot in 3 Sentences: Miserly Ebenezer Scrooge has no use for Christmas. On Christmas Eve, he’s visited by the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future, who show him the error of his ways. Changed by the experience, he embraces the season and those around him.

Fun Fact: Rich Little used to incorporate a Christmas Carol bit in his stand-up routine, but Scrooge was Jack Benny instead of W.C. Fields.

My thoughts: When I was young, this special was an annual staple on HBO, along with Emmett Otter’s Jugband Christmas and The Christmas That Almost Wasn’t. We were big fans of Rich Little’s celebrity impressions at my house and I remember watching The Kopycats, which was a TV variety series based entirely around impressionists. In this version of Dickens’ story, Little plays every character as a different celebrity (or famous character) and some of them work really well (such as Humphrey Bogart as the Ghost of Christmas Past) and some of them really don’t (such as Inspector Clouseau as the Ghost of Christmas Future – it’s a terrible idea to get silly with the most serious part of the story). The show was videotaped and features a laugh track that is overused to the point of distraction. The writing throughout is peppered with one-liners and cheesy jokes and there are a few musical numbers thrown in for good measure. I remember enjoying this when I first saw it, but it is tremendously dated at this point and because of that, it just doesn’t hold up all that well.

Nixon as Marley

As Jacob Marley, Richard Nixon is wrapped up in tape instead of chains.

Groucho

Groucho is Mr. Fezziwig.  Now you KNOW those parties would be legendary.

Tiny Tim

This is just wrong.

Three Men

In case you ever said to yourself, “I wish John Wayne, James Mason and George Burns had done a movie together.”

Individual Superlative: RIP Everyone – It seems that every time this special gets mentioned, someone jokes about how all the impersonated celebrities are dead and many of them were probably dead when it was made. Actually, only six of them were already dead when this premiered in 1978 and three of them actually made it into the 21st century. But they’re all gone now, since Jean Stapleton passed in 2013.

Want to Watch it? Rich Little’s Christmas Carol is available on DVD and in segments on YouTube.

A Christmas Carol (1969)

Title

Debuted in 1969

45 minutes

Plot in 3 Sentences: Miserly Ebenezer Scrooge has no use for Christmas. On Christmas Eve, he’s visited by the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future, who show him the error of his ways. Changed by the experience, he embraces the season and those around him.

Fun Fact: This was the first in a series of animated versions of classic works of literature, called Famous Classic Tales. The series aired in late afternoons leading up to the Christmas holiday and was sponsored by Kenner toys.

My thoughts: This version of the classic Christmas tale is exceedingly bleak, animated in color palettes of grays and browns most of the way throughout. The story opens at Jacob Marley’s funeral and then jumps seven years to the events of Christmas Eve. It seems like the funeral scene is only there to illustrate Scrooge’s stinginess, since we really just see him complain about the cost of burying his partner. Early on, when his nephew Fred comes to see him, there’s a big song that made me think this was going to be a musical but then there are no other songs at all. A very weird subplot revolves around Scrooge’s inability to sneeze. He repeatedly uses snuff to no avail until the end, when he finally sneezes and the Cratchit children bless him. It almost seems like the writers felt the children would need a reason to say “God bless you” and they came up with this. As far as adaptations go, there are way better ones out there.

Tiny Tim is Bran Stark

Tiny Tim would have made a good Bran Stark.

Jacob Marley is Scary

When this guy shows up in your parlor, you give him your full attention.

Ghost of Xmas Past

The Ghost of Christmas Past has his work cut out for him.

Bob Cratchit is worried

Bob Cratchit is concerned that Scrooge has lost his marbles.

Individual Superlative: Creepiest Jacob Marley – When Jacob Marley appears to Scrooge, he is a moaning skeleton with gray flames coming out of his head.

Want to Watch it? A Christmas Carol is available on YouTube and is included on some Christmas cartoon compilation DVDs.

The New Scooby-Doo Mysteries: A Nutcracker Scoob

Title

Debuted in 1984

24 minutes

Plot in 3 Sentences: The gang is helping out with the Christmas pageant at Mrs. Featherwig’s orphanage and Winslow Nickleby shows up, offering to buy the building (because he wants to find the emerald hidden there by a past member of his family.) During the rehearsal for A Christmas Carol, a ghost shows up and frightens everyone and everyone thinks it’s Nickleby, trying to scare them away. But they discover it’s actually the maid, Nanette Musette, who was hoping to steal the emerald for herself and Mr. Nickleby has a change of heart about the orphanage after Tiny Tina saves his cat, Snowball.

Fun Fact: This was the series finale of The New Scooby-Doo Mysteries and the last time any Scooby-Doo show used the ‘villain behind the mask’ plot until the A Pup Named Scooby-Doo series premiered four years later.

My thoughts: When it comes to Scooby-Doo, I have to admit that I’m a traditionalist. I grew up with Scooby-Doo, Where Are You? and The New Scooby-Doo Movies, which paired the Mystery Machine gang (rather bizarrely) with celebrities like Sandy Duncan and the Harlem Globetrotters. Most of the Scooby-Doo shows that came after the first series seemed like they were stretching the show’s basic concept a little thin. Like most people, I have no use whatsoever for Scrappy Doo, Scooby’s annoying nephew. By the time they got to this series, it seemed like the show was just going through the motions. There are lots of overly silly moments in this that don’t make much sense and, overall, I can’t say it’s worth your time to watch it unless you’re a serious Scooby fan. (And even then, there are better Scooby-Doo Christmas specials.)

Tiny Tina

Yeah, that teddy bear is wise to the pure evil that is Tiny Tina.

Bed mover

Who knew Shaggy would be the best person to call to help you move?

Cleaning Freddy

The most mysterious thing about Nanette is the way she cleans everyone she meets.

Sugar Plum Fairies

What is going on here? Never mind, I don’t want to know.

Individual Superlative: Creepiest Association – Sure, they may have named Tiny Tina after Tiny Tim, but she looks and talks exactly like Talky Tina from the “Living Doll” episode of The Twilight Zone and that makes her just no damn good

Want to Watch it?  A Nutcracker Scoob is available on DVD.

Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol

TitleDebuted in 1962

53 minutes

Plot in 3 Sentences: Mr. Magoo plays Ebenezer Scrooge in a Broadway musical adaptation of A Christmas Carol. The play follows the original Dickens story. At the end, though, he accidentally causes all the scenery to come crashing down.

Fun Fact: Mr. Magoo isn’t the only famous character in this production. Tiny Tim is played by Gerald McBoing-Boing, from the Dr. Seuss book and 1950 Academy Award winning animated short.

My thoughts: This special deserves some serious respect, because it was the very first animated holiday special made for television, which explains the seemingly odd plot point of having the whole story being part of a theater performance. That framework was there to explain why Mr. Magoo was playing Ebenezer Scrooge because such a thing had never been done before and they felt it needed explaining. And it was a real musical, with the Broadway team of Bob Merrill and Jule Styne, who both have some heavy hitting musical theater cred. One thing that sets this apart is its inclusion of many lines of Charles Dickens’ verbatim dialogue, which is usually rewritten to be a little more accessible for kids. They also change the order of the ghosts, putting The Ghost of Christmas Present first, giving Scrooge a chance to meet and admire Tiny Tim before seeing his younger self. I have always loved watching this and add it to the lineup just about every year.

I'll bet kids quoted his line all the time: "Oh! captive, bound, and double-ironed! Not to know that no space of regret can make amends for one life’s opportunity misused!"

I’ll bet kids quoted his line all the time: “Oh! captive, bound, and double-ironed! Not to know that no space of regret can make amends for one life’s opportunity misused!”

The Cratchit children are not made of wood. We know this because it's in the song.

The Cratchit children are not made of wood. We know this because it’s in the song.

The Ghost of Christmas Present dresses to match his head flame.

The Ghost of Christmas Present dresses to match his head flame.

Admit it. You want some razzleberry dressing.

Admit it. You want some razzleberry dressing.

Individual Superlative: Most Fun Sing-Along – Many of the songs are very singable, but let’s be honest…it’s all about the “LA! LA! LA LA LA LA LA!” of the Plunderer’s March, which is tremendous fun to belt in your living room.

Bonus Picture:  LA! LA! LA LA LA LA LA!

Bonus Picture: LA! LA! LA LA LA LA LA!

Want to Watch it? Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol is available on VHS, DVD, Blu-ray, iTunes & Amazon Instant.