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Top 10 Versions of A Christmas Carol
By Tim Janson
December 20, 2013
More than any other holiday, Christmas is about observing traditions. It doesn’t matter what the tradition is as every family has their own. But undoubtedly one which many of us share is sitting down to watch our favorite Christmas films each season. Since first published in 1843, Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol has been one of the most adapted stories with dozens of versions produced for film and TV. We’ve set about picking our ten favorite versions of the classic concentrating on those that stick to the source material in terms of plot, setting, and character names as opposed to parodies and pastiches like “Scrooged” or “Blackadder’s Christmas Carol”. No matter which version is your favorite, watching A Christmas Carol is always a favorite tradition.
10. Scrooge (1935)
This is the oldest sound version of the film and starred Sir Seymour Hicks as Scrooge. This short version excludes several secondary characters like Scrooge’s sister Fan and Old Fezziwig. Most of the ghosts, including that of Jacob Marley, are not actually shown onscreen, although their voices are heard. Only the Ghost of Christmas Present is actually seen in full figure. And in another unique twist, Hicks plays both the old and younger versions of Scrooge. The film has recently been popping up on TV thanks to it being remastered.
9. Mickey’s Christmas Carol (1983)
This short animated version of the film was produced in 1983 before traditional cell animation enjoyed a renaissance with films like The Lion King and The Little Mermaid. Most of the Disney cast stars with Scrooge McDuck as Scrooge, Mickey as Bob Cratchit, Goofy as Jacob Marley, and Donald Duck as Scrooge’s nephew Fred. At only a ½ hour the story is heavily truncated but serves as a nice introduction to the Dickens tale for younger kids.
8. A Christmas Carol (2009)
Also produced by Disney, this version of the classic was a 3D computer animated motion-capture film directed by Robert Zemeckis and starring Jim Carrey as Ebenezer Scrooge as well as the three ghosts of Christmas past, present, and future. The sterling, mostly British cast included Gary Oldman, Colin Firth, Cary Elwes, and Bob Hoskins. The film featured some inventive scenes including a miniature Scrooge being chased through the streets by the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come.
7. A Christmas Carol (1938)
This was the first American produced sound version of the film although it starred British actor Reginald Owen as Scrooge. It also starred Gene Lockhart (father of Lost in Space’s June Lockhart) as Bob Cratchit. Lockhart would become even more well-known for another Christmas classic, “Miracle on 34th Street”. The film takes many liberties with the original Dickens story including Scrooge firing Cratchit for ruining his hat, and Scrooge showing up at Cratchit’s house Christmas morning instead of just sending the prized turkey anonymously.
6. Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol (1962)
Mr. Magoo, the bumbling, nearsighted animated character voiced by Jim Backus (Mr. Howell of Gilligan’s Island), starred in his own version of the Dickens classic in this 1962 NBC special. The special was highlighted by songs from the well-known Broadway songwriting team of Jule Styne and Bob Merrill. This baby boomer favorite appeared on TV regularly on TV throughout the 1960s and 1970s but disappeared for decades until returning to NBC in 2012.
5. A Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)
This film was collaboration between Disney and Jim Henson Productions and has become surprisingly popular among both children and adults for its humor and endearing warmth. Kermit the Frog plays Bob Cratchit with Miss Piggy as his wife. While the Muppets play most of the roles, Michael Caine gives a memorable performance as Scrooge. Despite the Muppet humor the film is surprisingly faithful to the original story and also helps introduce younger children to the classic.
4. A Christmas Carol (1999)
This 1999 made-for-TV version stars Patrick Stewart as a more robust Scrooge than seen previously. This version is much more bleak and atmospheric than other adaptations. An opening prologue follows a horse-drawn hearse carrying Jacob Marley to his final resting place with only Scrooge in attendance at the funeral. One of the best aspects of the film is how well it captures London of the mid-1800s. Bob Cratchit and his wife don’t have pearly white actor’s teeth but rather they are yellow and dirty as one would expect from a member of the poor class of the period. While Stewart’s performance may not rank as one of the best, the film has a first rate supporting class including Dominic West and Joel Grey. The film also featured the best visual effects of any version up until the 2009 animated adaptation.
3. Scrooge (1970)
Produced in London, this was a musical adaptation of the Dickens story featuring Albert Finney as Scrooge, Sir Alec Guinness as Marley’s Ghost, and Dame Edith Evans as the Ghost of Christmas Past. Finney was only 34 at the time but through makeup was effectively aged to play Scrooge without the need of another actor to play Scrooge as a young man. The film includes a harrowing scene where Scrooge falls into a deep pit into Hell. Greeted by Marley he is taken to a frozen, rat-infested version of his office and wrapped in heavy chains to spend eternity. The film is highlighted by several outstanding songs including the foot-tapping “Thank You Very Much” which was nominated for an Academy Award for best song. Overall the film received four Academy Award nominations.
2. A Christmas Carol (1984)
Starring George C. Scott as Scrooge, this adaptation debuted on CBS in 1984 but was released theatrically in Great Britain. This version arguably has the finest cast. Besides Scott it includes David Warner as Bob Cratchit, Edward Woodward as The Ghost of Christmas Present, Roger Rees as nephew Fred, and Susannah York as Mrs. Cratchit. It may be the most faithful of all the Christmas Carol adaptations, adding scenes which complement the original tale rather than distract from it. While Scott’s portrayal is one of the two best, Warner’s portrayal of Bob Cratchit is undoubtedly the greatest.
1. A Christmas Carol/Scrooge (1951)
Originally titled “Scrooge”, this definitive version was released as “A Christmas Carol” in the United States. Like the 1999 Patrick Stewart adaptation, this is a rather gloomy and somber look at 1800s England. This is reflected particularly in the claustrophobic set pieces of London Town. There are some unneeded additions to the story such as expanding on Scrooge and Marley’s rise as prominent businessmen. The spectacular cast includes Mervyn Johns as Bob Cratchit, Michael Hordern as Marley, and Ernest Thesiger as the undertaker. But what earns this version the top spot is the unparalleled performance by Alastair Sim as Scrooge. His transformation from a “squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous, old sinner” into the kind, compassionate “as good a man as the old town ever knew” is unmatched by any other.