We usually save this hour-long made-for-TV animated film for later in the season, but we needed a shorter film for Saturday night and chose this one because of an obscure connection to the first film in our cinema garland, which we will watch on Sunday night (All Mine to Give). There are several things to recommend Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol. First of all, Mr. Magoo! The near-sighted cartoon character from the 1950s has always been one of my favorites. I believe this was the first nationally broadcast Christmas cartoon: December 18, 1962. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Charlie Brown, and the Grinch would come several years later. Even though this version truncates and twists Dickens’s tale a bit, it is still an effective version. Add some of the best voices in the industry and Jule Styne’s music and Bob Merrill’s lyrics, and you’ve got some surprising depth.
The film is framed by the trope that Mr. J. Quincy Magoo is starring in a Broadway musical version of Dickens’s classic story. Magoo rushes to the theatre, his near-sightedness causing numerous comic mishaps, and the play finally begins. There are a few changes in the plot (Scrooge’s nephew, Fred, is completely omitted) and much more is made of Ebenezer’s lost love, Belle. The biggest change is perhaps in the order of the ghosts’ appearances. Unlike the novella and most movie versions, the Ghost of Christmas Present is the first spirit to visit Scrooge, perhaps to give an earlier glimpse of the Cratchit family and Tiny Tim.
Can any secular story be more connected to Christmas than this narrative that shows how honoring the season’s spirit requires more than one day but transforming our lives and the lives of others every day?
While no live actors appear in this animated film, there are many notable voice actors. Royal Dano, who gives voice to Jacob Marley’s ghost, appears in the next film on our watch list, All Mine to Give. Jim Backus, best known perhaps for his role as Thurston Howell III in TV’s Gilligan’s Island (1964-67), plays Magoo, as he had since the character’s debut in 1949. Among the other actors are Morey Amsterdam, who had started appearing in The Dick van Dyke Show in 1961, and Jack Cassidy (as Bob Cratchit), who appeared frequently on TV in the 1960s and 1970s.
WHY WE LOVE THIS MOVIE
Beyond Mr. Magoo and the story (including the cartoon glimpses of Broadway), we love the songs by Jule Styne (music) and Bob Merrill (lyrics). Three years earlier Styne collaborated with Stephen Sondheim on Gypsy (1959) and then one year after Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol, Styne and Merrill hit Broadway gold again with Funny Face (1963). Of the six original songs in the film, two are quite sad (“Alone in the World” and “Winter Was Warm”) and two are rousing comic numbers (“It’s Great to Be Back on Broadway” and “We’re Despicable”). In retrospect, it’s rather amazing to see such musical substance in a TV cartoon.
WHERE CAN YOU SEE THE FILM
Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol doesn’t appear to be scheduled on any cable channels yet for 2018, but I’ll post updates if any are found. It is available on-demand from Xfinity for $7.99 or Amazon Prime for $4.99. The DVD is available from Target, Walmart, Amazon, etc. for $6.69. Clips from the film are available on YouTube.