In the span of 26 years, Disney has made three versions of the classic Charles Dickens story A Christmas Carol. Three versions of the same story, just with a different set of actors each time. Which one should you choose for a family movie night?
Mickey’s Christmas Carol (1983)
It’s 1983, Walt Disney Animation has not released an animated masterpiece since the 1960s but they do give us this half hour animated version called Mickey’s Christmas Carol. Mickey and Minnie take on the Cratchit roles while Scrooge McDuck is the miserable Ebenezer Scrooge. Everyone in the Disney animation catalog seems to have a part.
The story follows Dickens’ tale with Scrooge being visited by the ghostly apparition of his dead partner, Jacob Marley, brilliantly played by Goofy. Goofy even manages to bring in his clumsiness and lightens the mood as he warns Scrooge of his impending ghostly visitors.
Scrooge goes on his journey, seeing his life in the past with the ghost of Christmas past Jiminy Cricket. I felt bad for Scrooge, it seemed like he had a good life and made one bad decision which altered the course of his future. Jiminy Cricket is the perfect choice for this role as spirit guide to the past. He’s so kind and sweet and, when he is tough on Scrooge, Scrooge listens.
Of course, the story passes along quickly. We see inside the Cratchit house as Mickey and Minnie play the roles of the poor impoverished family well. Mickey is the perfect choice as the suffering employee of Scrooge. He is so kind and sweet, you feel bad for Mickey as he mourns the loss of little Tiny Tim. Scrooge is scared into redemption and life carries on well for our animated friends.
The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)
But Disney wasn’t done with Dickens. Almost ten years later, The Muppet Christmas Carol made its way to theatres in 1992. A mix of Muppets and humans tell the tale of Scrooge’s redemption. Michael Caine is an excellent Ebenezer Scrooge. He projects his misery onto anyone who passes by and his sheer size next to Kermit who is Bob Cratchit, makes Scrooge a more intimidating force.
This being the Muppets we have a lot of humor mixed into the story. Our narrators, Gonzo who is acting as Charles Dickens and Rizzo the Rat acting as himself, take ample time to guide us along in the story. Always in the scene but never part of the action, these two make London fun by adding much-needed humor in the depressing cold setting.
The Muppet Christmas Carol tells the same tale as the Mickey version, but we get the Muppets take on everything that happens. Michael Caine is perfect in the role, but I found that as the movie progressed and, when the character of Scrooge changes for the better, Caine didn’t do much to change his mannerisms, he just added a smile. I guess you could look at it as that’s how close Scrooge is to being the happy helpful guy he becomes or the miserable miser who hates everyone.
A Christmas Carol (2009)
Disney still wasn’t done with Dickens. 2009 brought the 3D computer animated motion capture version of the Christmas classic back to the screen. I had a lot of high hopes for this movie. Robert Zemeckis, the genius behind Back to the Future and Who Framed Roger Rabbit, was directing and Jim Carrey as Scrooge, I thought what could go wrong?
When I saw it at the theatre I thought it was great. I even convinced the principal at my school that this would be a great movie to take the students too. She agreed and everyone seemed to have a great time. The problem is that this movie does not hold up well. Why? The motion capture animation.
Can you name a great motion capture animated film? Can you name a recent one? I just watched this movie last week, and I was bored. The faces on the characters are more frightening than anything else. They look more like something from The Walking Dead, than 19th Century London. Plus the way Scrooge is made up to look doesn’t seem right. This version of Scrooge would probably match up well with a creature from another planet than a miserable lonely old man.
I have a hard time caring about Scrooge in this version because he looks ridiculous. Yes, the movie does tell the same story as the previous versions, but there was a lot of extra scenes that seemed like they were added because it was a 3D film and they had to wow the audience with effects. For example, the scene where Scrooge is shrunk down and chased by a rat is unnecessary and silly.
I have a difficult time feeling any empathy for Tiny Tim or Bob Cratchit because well I know they aren’t real. I can’t connect with the motion capture versions of these famous characters and I don’t want too. I’m aware that Mickey and Kermit are not real either but I could connect with them. Emotion was obvious in the work of the animators in 1983 or the puppeteers in 1992, I didn’t see the emotion in 2009.
If you must choose only one version of A Christmas Carol go with the Muppets. They tell the tale of being kind and good to others well, plus they guarantee the humor that everyone loves and expects from the Muppets. Mickey’s Christmas Carol is fun, but it’s a short half hour — more of a time killer before dinner not a family movie night choice. Avoid the 2009 version of A Christmas Carol. It’s not a terrible movie, but it’s not good, and not worth your time.