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Friday, May 4, 2012

MR. MAGOO'S CHRISTMAS CAROL (1962)

Though the famous story is too abridged for a general recommendation, what with songs, commercials & a bookend sequence fitted to a one-hour tv time-slot, in many respects this groundbreaking animated Christmas Special is both unexpectedly faithful to its source and unexpectedly memorable. The trick to the thing comes in having Quincy Magoo (impeccably voiced & sung, as always, by Jim Backus) play Scrooge in a manner that’s informed by the traits of his myopic cartoon character, but not overburdened by it. (It’s the same magical balance of character comedy that George Cukor & W. C. Fields so famously managed on Micawber in DAVID COPPERFIELD/’35.) The simplified animation style of UPA, Magoo’s home studio, with its flat washes of color & uncluttered graphics, worked well with the limited television production methods of the time, and the show still looks charming on today’s larger screens. The line-up of Christmas Spirits is reordered: Present; Past; Yet-To-Come; presumably to put more space between the introduction of the big Christmas song and its reprisal at the end. It also holds off the two strong ballads Jules Styne & Bob Merrill cooked up for the Christmas Past sequence so they appear right in the middle of the show.* The two waïfs, Ignorance & Want, have gone missing, as does Ebenezer’s nephew & his crew, and the scarier elements are downplayed. But there’s a knockout background layout for the cemetery scene, done in the manner of Edvard Munch. One of many nice surprises in this unassuming winner.

DOUBLE-BILL: This is, on the whole, the best of the four CHRISTMAS CAROLs done in B’way Musical style. SCROOGE/’70 works too hard at being OLIVER!-II. An amazing cast makes it sound tempting, but take care!, Leslie Bricusse’s annoyingly generic tunes can really get stuck in your head. THE MUPPET CHRISTMAS CAROL/’92 feels like an idea no one sparked to, or perhaps a contract that needed to be filled. And Alan Menken’s actual stage version, A CHRISTMAS CAROL: The Musical/’04, which triumphed in its last holiday season with Jim Dale playing Scrooge, was completely miscast for the TeleFilm. Best to stick with the songless Alastair Sims version from 1951 which ‘sings’ pure Dickens.

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: *Hard to believe, but a third ballad was discarded by the songsters at the time, only to be repurposed a few years later for FUNNY GIRL as ‘People.’

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