Such is the power of an animation company that can adapt classic books into films and make those adaptations so memorable that they come to mind long before the source material does. Such is the power of Walt Disney. And even as an adult who by now has read and studied many of these books, I am most certainly no exception. I still can’t read stories like Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan, or The Little Mermaid without thinking of their Disney counterparts for at least a moment, no matter how different they are. Heck, it wasn’t until I reached my high school and college years that I learned at all that 101 Dalmatians, Winnie the Pooh, The Great Mouse Detective, The Black Cauldron, and even the effectively disowned Song of the South weren’t technically original Disney creations! I think for many of us, Disney has been the gateway through which we’ve been first introduced to numerous iconic books. One of the first in my own childhood was this rendition of this timeless holiday staple by Charles Dickens.
It’s now Christmas Eve, and the inhabitants of a little village in Victorian England are abuzz with preparations and aglow with the holiday spirit, even the severely overworked and underpaid accounting clerk, Bob Cratchit. The one exception is Ebenezer Scrooge, Cratchit’s bitter and stingy boss who views Christmas as nothing more than a nuisance at best and a money-waster at worst. But Scrooge gets a rude awakening when he is visited by the ghost of his late business partner, Jacob Marley. He explains that due to being greedy and selfish while alive, he is now eternally condemned in the afterlife, and unless Scrooge changes his own ways, he will suffer the same fate. Being warned that the three Ghosts of Christmas will come to him later that night, Scrooge must heed their advice, or risk losing everything and being forever alone in life and in death.
Now I know that most if not all of you are already quite familiar with this synopsis. That being said, there are some points that I can’t explain without giving spoilers for this particular adaptation. So, please consider yourself warned.
In addition to Dickens’ 1843 novella, Mickey’s Christmas Carol is also based on a 1974 Disneyland Record audio musical entitled An Adaptation of Dickens’ Christmas Carol. It debuted in the US alongside a Christmas re-issue of Disney’s 1977 feature film, The Rescuers (incidentally, also based on a book. Go figure). It was the first Disney animated theatrical short to both feature Mickey Mouse since 1953’s The Simple Things, and to garner a Best Animated Short Film nomination since 1948’s Mickey and the Seal. It also marked the debut of Alan Young as the voice of Scrooge McDuck, who would be played by Young up until his death in 2016.
The title itself is a misnomer, as the real star of the show is not Mickey; I’m sure you can guess who is. It goes without saying that Disney’s Scrooge got more than just his name from Dickens’ main character. Created by Disney comic artist Carl Barks in 1947, he was originally meant to be an antagonist for Donald Duck, just as much of a spiteful penny-pincher as his namesake. But his growing popularity over the following years has caused him to be increasingly shown in a much kinder and more generous light, even to the point of his becoming a canon member of the Duck family, as seen in the Ducktales T.V. series of the late 1980’s and its 2017 reboot. I think it could be argued that here, not only is Scrooge brought back to his miserly roots, but is therefore a “living” example of metafiction in his own right.
SCROOGE: (Writing in his book, thinking aloud.) Let’s see now, fifty pounds, ten shillings from McDuff. (Begins handling and clinking his gold coins cheerfully.) Plus his 80% interest, compounded daily. (Scoops his gold up in his arms, laughing gleefully.) Oh, money, money, money!
[The shop’s bell rings; Scrooge’s nephew Fred steps in.]
FRED: (Happily declares with his arms outstretched.) Merry Christmas!
CRATCHIT: (Jumps out of his chair as he greets him.) And a Merry Christmas to you, Master Fred!
SCROOGE: (Looks up, frowns, and continues writing as he mutters under his breath.) Bah, humbug.
FRED: Merry Christmas, Uncle Scrooge!
SCROOGE: (Slams his book shut peevishly and marches toward the two.) What's so merry about it? I'll tell you what Christmas is. It's just another work day, and any jackanapes who thinks else should be boiled in his own pudding!
FRED: (Hangs his head in disappointment.) Oh. . .
Now obviously, there have been tons of film and T.V. adaptations of A Christmas Carol over the years before and after this one, many of which have also featured characters from well-established franchises aimed for and beloved by younger audiences: The Flinstones, The Jetsons, Mister Magoo, The Smurfs, Looney Tunes, Sesame Street, The Muppets, you name it! In my experience, these specials tend to present one of three scenarios:
#1) The franchise characters put on a play of A Christmas Carol and the episode’s story proper occurs literally behind the scenes within their own respective universe.
#2) A particular character who is already disagreeable in accordance to his franchise finds himself in a situation that mirrors the Christmas Carol plot, sees the error of his ways and learns to show his softer side by the end (though he usually remains disagreeable overall.)
#3) The characters reenact the story within a Dickens-style universe, but still act like their natural selves, utilizing any or all of the contemporary language, slapstick, running gags, quirky personality traits, etc., that they may be known for.
Mickey’s Christmas Carol does none of those things.
This is a genuine “real life” Victorian setting, not a stage set, and the Disney characters act and address each other according to the specific roles within Dickens’ story. There are some funny moments, certainly, but no in-jokes, pop-culture references, or forth-wall breaks of any kind. I find that pretty unique, especially considering these are cartoon characters that don’t typically specialize in olden day drama or tragedy. Even more impressive, though, is how tailor-made they feel for their parts. Mickey Mouse, as Bob Cratchit, retains his warmth, sincerity, and high spirits despite Scrooge’s ill treatment:
CRATCHIT: But sir, Christmas is a time for giving . . . a time to be with one's family.
[. . .]
SCROOGE: [. . .] You may go now.
CRATCHIT: Ah, oh thank you, sir! (Leaps off his stool.) You're so kind!
SCROOGE: Never mind the mushy stuff, just go! But be here all the other early the next day!
CRATCHIT: I will, I will, sir! And a Bah Humbug—(Catches himself just in time.) I mean, a Merry Christmas to you, sir!
Donald is still Scrooge’s nephew, only he goes by Fred now; he’s as stubborn as he ever was, but that just makes him and his enthusiasm for the holiday all the more endearing, even while he’s taking a beating:
SCROOGE: I say, Bah humbug!
FRED: (Resolutely.) I don't care! I say, Merry Christmas. Merry Christmas!
[. . .]
FRED: I've come to give you a wreath and invite you to Christmas dinner. [. . .] Will you come?
SCROOGE: (Yanks open the door in his outrage.) Are you daft, man? You know I can't eat that stuff! Here's your wreath back. (Shoves the wreath over Fred.) Now, out, out, OUT! (Kicks the squealing Fred out the door and slams it after him.) Bah, humbug.
FRED: (Comes back opening the door.) Merry Christmas! (Hangs the wreath on the doorknob then leaves.)
Goofy plays Jacob Marley; a decade before A Goofy Movie and he could still be serious (albeit a bit melodramatic), with his menacing, ghostly wail and his dignified tone of voice. But, of course, he could never get away with not showing off his typical clumsiness and hilarious trademark squeal:
MARLEY: Ebenezer? Remember when I was alive I robbed the widows and swindled the poor?
SCROOGE: Yes, and all in the same day. Oh, you had class, Jacob.
MARLEY: (Proudly.) Ha-yuk, yup! . . . (Catches himself.) Er, no, no! I was wrong! And so, as punishment, I'm forced to carry these heavy chains through eternity! (Pauses briefly.) Maybe even longer.
[. . .]
MARLEY: [. . .] Farewell, Ebenezer. Whoop! (Chuckles as he narrowly misses slipping on Scrooge’s discarded cane a second time, before gliding safely away through the door.) Fareweeeellll . . .
SCROOGE: (In sudden alarm.) Marley! Watch out for that first--
[We hear Marley’s squealing cry as he crashes down the stairs.]
SCROOGE: (Lamely.) —step.
Even the Three Ghosts of Christmas feel authentic without their Disney character actors being a distraction. Jiminy Cricket, in a manner of speaking, reprises the conscience role he played in Pinocchio (complete with a gold medal engraved with his official title—a very nice throwback) as the Ghost of Christmas Past, guiding Scrooge with wisdom and reason belied by his small stature:
SCROOGE: (Sighs happily.) Ah, I remember how much I was in love with [Isabelle].
[A wind blows and the lights inside go out.]
GHOST OF CHRISTMAS PAST: In ten years time, you learned to love something else. [. . .] You loved your gold more than that precious creature, and you lost her forever.
[. . .]
SCROOGE: (Distraught.) Please, spirit, I can no longer bear these memories! Take me home!
GHOST OF CHRISTMAS PAST: (Candidly.) Remember, Scrooge, you fashioned these memories yourself.
Willie the Giant (who first appeared in the Mickey and the Beanstalk segment from the film Fun and Fancy Free), is the Ghost of Christmas Present, oafish and dimwitted, but also goodnatured in a way that reflects his compassion and love for life’s gifts:
SCROOGE: (Stammering.) Please, let me go! Don't eat me!
GHOST OF CHRISTMAS PRESENT: Why would the Ghost of Christmas Present—that's me—want to eat a distasteful little miser like you? Duh, especially when there are so many good things to enjoy in life? See? [. . .] It's the food of generosity, which you have long denied your fellow man.
SCROOGE: (Scoffs.) Generosity? Ha! Nobody has ever shown me generosity!
GHOST OF CHRISTMAS PRESENT: You've never given them a reason to. (Plucks a grape off Scrooge’s foot and gulps it down.) And yet . . . (grabs Scrooge from inside his robe.) There are some who still find enough warmth in their hearts even for the likes of you. (Drops Scrooge into his robe pocket.)
SCROOGE: Hmph! No acquaintance of mine, I assure you.
GHOST OF CHRISTMAS PRESENT: Duh, you'll see.
And as the Ghost of Christmas Future, I think this is the closest we will ever come to seeing Pete as not a mere inconsiderate jerk, but an actual evil villain, sinister and frightening:
SCROOGE: (Peers nervously into the grave.) Spirit, whose lonely grave is this?
[The Ghost flicks a match, revealing Scrooge's name on the tombstone; he removes his hood and reveals his face as he lights his cigar.]
GHOST OF CHRISTMAS FUTURE: Why yours, Ebenezer. (Knocks Scrooge into the grave.) The richest man in the cemetery! (Laughs evilly as Scrooge struggles frantically to climb out, away from the hellish flames that spew from within the coffin below.]
Along with the main cast, half the fun of this movie comes from the additional cameos offered. From brief unspoken appearances of others in the original Disney roster, like Chip and Dale and Huey, Dewey, and Louie, to the inclusion of far more obscure members, like Mickey’s twin nephews, Morty and Ferdie Fieldmouse (the former of whom plays the short but pivotal role of Tiny Tim), to even a nod to characters from some of Disney’s previous feature films like Robin Hood and The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad. Whether major or minor, they each add some Christmas cheer in their own special way.
For anyone looking for an entertaining but faithful and palatable adaptation with which to introduce children to Dickens’ illustrious story, in my opinion, you really can’t go wrong with Mickey’s Christmas Carol. Of course, as is true in other family-friendly versions, a lot has been changed, glossed over, or omitted from the original source material, and Mickey, Scrooge, and the rest of the gang naturally inject this retelling with the typical humor and silliness we’ve come to expect from a Disney animated short. And yet they still succeed beautifully in treating the darker and more solemn moments of said source material with respect through their performances, keeping its splendor, spirit, and even the whole world of its author alive and intact, while never dismissing the cartoon qualities we all know and love. In essence, a timeless holiday classic from the past, brought to new life by a timeless animated cast to create a new timeless holiday classic for the present and future.
Credits: All images, audio, and links belong to their respective owners; no copyright infringement is intended.
“The Call” — Briand Morrison and Roxann Berglund
“Canon and Variation” & “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” – Twin Musicom
All other sound clips are from Mickey’s Christmas Carol (production by Walt Disney Pictures; distributed by Buena Vista Distribution).
Watch the original preview and episode videos here!
Listen to the episode here!
Mickey's Christmas Carol on Wikipedia
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