Thursday, November 8, 2012

Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol (1962)


This hour-long animated TV special debuted on Dec. 18th, 1962 on NBC.

The year 2012 calls for many celebrations.  Not only is it the 200th anniversary of the birth of author Charles Dickens (February 7th, 1812) -- it is also the 50th anniversary of Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol.  Of course, Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol is important because it was the very first animated Christmas special made specifically for television.  Its importance should not be underestimated.  The 1962 special and its original ratings success would begin the golden age of animated Christmas TV specials, which would soon be followed by Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer in 1964, A Charlie Brown Christmas in 1965, How the Grinch Stole Christmas in 1966, and Frosty the Snowman in 1969.  And more would follow.  Let's remember this 1962 hour-long animated special again.


This animated musical TV special includes six original tunes.

The well-established and popular cartoon character Mr. Magoo appears in this TV special as an actor in a Broadway musical stage version of Dickens' A Christmas Carol.  The story begins with the nearsighted Magoo arriving at the theater and getting into costume.  Magoo is set to play the lead role of Ebenezer Scrooge in this show-within-a-show.

This animated TV special features a Broadway musical stage production of A Christmas Carol.

Magoo as Ebenezer Scrooge encountering the ghostly door knocker.


A translucent Marley warns Scrooge of the arrival of three more spirits.
You may already be familiar with Dickens' original story, however this animated version has a few changes.  Not only is the character of nephew Fred completely absent but the first ghost to visit Scrooge after Marley's warning is the Ghost of Christmas Present.  Clearly, this animated version of the familiar tale is shortened for economy, however the heart of the story remains.

The order of the appearances of the spirits is changed from Dickens' original book.  Here, the Ghost of Christmas Present is the first to visit Ebenezer.

Recognize Tiny Tim?  He's intended to resemble cartoon character Gerald McBoing Boing--another UPA property along with Mr. Magoo.

The Ghost of Christmas Present introduces Scrooge to the home of his employee Bob Crachit and his family.  Here, Scrooge learns that Cratchit's son Tiny Tim is sick.  The wealthy businessman is also surprised to discover that the Crachit family is happy at Christmas time despite their lack of money.

The Ghost of Christmas Past.

A young Ebenezer dances with his girlfriend Belle at Fezziwig's lavish Christmas party.

Next, the Ghost of Christmas Past escorts Ebenezer to re-visit the school where he spent the Christmases of his youth, feeling alone.  Then they move on to see Fezziwig's joyous Christmas party where Ebenezer worked as an apprentice.  Scrooge also re-lives the romance and the break-up of his relationship with Belle.  He's lost Belle's affection because he loves another: money.

"Say it isn't so, Spirit!"

The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come shows Scrooge a grim future.  None of the wealthy man's friends grieve his passing.  Thieves cash in what they steal from the Scrooge's death bed.  And, at the cemetery, Scrooge's awareness of his death reminds him he'll once again be alone.

"What day is it?"

Scrooge promises a raise in salary to Bob Crachit and showers the young Tiny Tim with affection.

Finally, on Christmas morning, Scrooge awakens to discover he has a change of heart.  He buys a turkey to be delivered to the Crachit family home and he goes there to celebrate Christmas with them.

The show-within-a-show includes a curtain call, reminding viewers that they were watching a stage production.  It also allows the familiar Mr. Magoo character to take on a role within the play, stepping outside of his nearsighted and bumbling persona.

This animated TV special features six original songs including "Back on Broadway," "Ringle Ringle," "The Lord's Bright Blessing," Alone in the World," "Winter Was Warm," and "We're Despicable."  The songs "Alone in the World," "Ringle Ringle," and "The Lord's Bright Blessing" are reprised for the ending.  These wonderful songs were created by the famed Broadway songwriters, composer Jule Styne and lyricist Bob Merrill.  They would team up again for the 1965 live action Christmas TV musical The Dangerous Christmas of Red Riding Hood starring Liza Minnelli, Cyril Ritchard, Vic Damone, and Eric Burdon and the Animals.


The voice cast includes Jim Backus as Mr. Magoo/Scrooge, the character he originated in the very first Mr. Magoo cartoon in 1949.  Broadway star Jack Cassidy voiced Bob Crachit and Dick Wilkens.  Cassidy made many TV appearances as well, most notably as Ted Baxter's brother on an episode of The Mary Tyler Moore Show.  I also recognize Cassidy as the real-life father of actor/singer David Cassidy (yes, I'm the hugest Partridge Family fan).  Actor/comedian Morey Amsterdam voiced Brady (Scrooge's friend that doesn't grieve his loss).  Amsterdam may be more recognizable from his role as Buddy Sorrell on The Dick Van Dyke Show.  And, Paul Frees voiced the stage director, the charity solicitor, Fezziwig, and more.  Frees has a very distinctive voice and also voiced the villain Boris Badenov on The Bullwinkle Show as well as Burgermeister Meister Burger in the Rankin/Bass classic Santa Claus is Comin' to Town.

The backgrounds are created with an attention to design detail.

In the segment with the Ghost of Christmas Future, the colorful creepy backgrounds do much to convey the dread and horror experienced by Scrooge.

Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol has a very stylized design and a bold use of color palette.   Yet the character design seems to leave the biggest impression.  Since this version of Dickens' story has often been an entire generation's first exposure to A Christmas Carol, it is these images of the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future that we often first imagine when recalling the story.  Aren't we lucky?  Though some may speculate that the Broadway show-within-a-show may be lost on most young kids, I believe this story element was probably lost on the youngest of children in the 1960s as well--and was a detail meant to appeal to adult viewers--as TV programming created in the 1960s was intended to entertain a wider audience including children, teens and adults.

"God bless us, everyone!"

This 1962 animated TV special was re-broadcast during prime time on NBC for five years and then went into syndication.  In the 1970s when I was growing up, I remember watching it in syndication on a Saturday or a Sunday afternoon every year.  Unfortunately, since then, Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol has become hard to find in the TV listings each Christmas.  Thankfully, it is available on DVD--and is currently streaming on Netflix.  Is watching Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol an annual tradition in your home?

Next up: a discussion of Darrell Van Citter's book Mister Magoo's Christmas Carol: The Making of the First Animated Christmas Special.

4 comments:

  1. The scene with young Ebenezer alone at school always makes me cry!

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    1. Me too! That song "Alone in the World" pulls at the heart strings. And when the older Scrooge puts his hand on the younger Scrooge's shoulder, comforting him--ooohhh! Get me the box of tissues! Thanks for commenting.

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  2. I haven't seen this one in years! Maybe it is time to watch again, with my kids enjoying it for the first time!

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  3. who could forget "razzleberry dressing?" psyched this will be on NBC again

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