Welcome to Christmas in July: Animation Celebration! July is the special time of the year that I turn the blog over to my readers. All month long I'll be posting essays written by people eager to share their passion and memories for animated Christmas entertainments.
Today's essay recalls the very first animated TV special, 1962's Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol. This essay comes to us from Jim Inman of Indiana. Inman is also a moderator of the Yahoo group Christmas Movies and Music. Please check out this friendly group--we have several more essays this month written by its members!
Summary – The visually-challenged Mr. Magoo arrives to the theater – late – for the stage performance of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Magoo entertains the animated audience, and the television viewer, in his portrayal of Ebenezer Scrooge, who finds the true meaning of Christmas with the help of three spirits and the Cratchit family.
If you have not had the pleasure of watching Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol, take the time to do so. Anyone who is a fan of televised holiday specials owes a great deal to this 1962 feature, as it was the first Christmas program in the genre. With the voices of Jim Backus (The Millionaire from Gilligan’s Island), Morey Amsterdam (Buddy Sorrell from The Dick Van Dyke Show) and several others, Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol brings a warmth to the role of Scrooge – one that shows him not as harsh as originally written by Charles Dickens, but with enough curmudgeonness that a child or adult will see the transformation on the screen.
The musical numbers in the 53-minute performance show off the additional talents of the voice actors – especially the closely associated “The Lord’s Bright Blessing” featuring razzleberry dressing.
The best part of the show is simply the story of the holiday tale, which varies from the original Dickens version by having the three spirits visit Scrooge in a different order – The Ghosts of Christmas Present, Christmas Past then Christmas Future, respectively. The dialogue is relatively close to Dickens’ original as well, although the viewers do not see Scrooge’s nephew Fred, and Scrooge shares his renewed holiday cheer with the Cratchit family instead of his own.
So why am I fascinated by this special? I remember seeing it on television when I was a kid in the late-1970s/early-1980s, and it wasn’t one of the regular specials I loved. Magoo’s bumbling around, and causing commotion, reminded me of a little old man in our church, and his actions made me laugh. I also think the cartoon spirits took away some of the fear from the film versions of A Christmas Carol. The cartoon made it feel more safe… and the elusiveness of the special made it one I always searched for.
For many years the special did not air on television, but 2012 brought the return of Mr. Magoo to its original home on NBC, in honor of the 50-year anniversary. Although heavily edited (and receiving subsequent negative response for eliminating key scenes), the opportunity to introduce a new audience to Scrooge, portrayed by a long-time loved character, definitely made Christmas television special fans appreciate “The Lord’s Bright Blessing” of Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol.
I was excited to see the special return to network television. Even with the edits, the basic story was still there… and that may be even more important. Everyone deserves a second chance. Money does not bring happiness. Treat your friends, family and neighbors with respect. Those basic principles go beyond Christmas, and should be remembered every day, in every way.