Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Animation Celebration: Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol

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.

7 comments:

  1. It's a personal favourite of mine as well! "Where are two shoes that click to my clack?"

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  2. Enjoyed reading your review of Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol, Jim. It is so wonderful how watching a simple little cartoon can carry us back to our childhood!

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  3. Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol remains for me a sentimental favorite, since I watched the very first broadcast back in 1962. I don't recall watching it (I would have been just turned seven), but know I did watch it because that very next Christmas in 1963 I have this oh-so-clear memory of being planted on the plush burgundy red sofa we had back then, kicking my feet (in their footee pajama legs) and chanting "It's almost time for Mr. Magoo!" because I'd loved the previous year's broadcast so much. (Not to mention I would have been allowed to stay up until the unheard hour of 8:30 p.m., as the earliest it could have aired was 7:30.) By the second viewing I practically had the songs memorized and kept them with me the rest of my life, especially young Scrooge's song. I was an only child raised by older parents, and I liked their things, not my own era's. So while the kids at school were gushing over the Beatles and Herman's Hermits, I still liked Perry Como and Andy Williams. Miniskirts repelled me; I wanted a swirly skirt like Loretta Young's! Needless to say, I very often felt "all alone in the world...why don't my fingers meet?"

    When I got older and fell in love, one that was unreciprocated, "Winter Was Warm" also gained great significance.

    When I was a few years older and read A Christmas Carol for myself, I was very impressed at just how much of the Dickens dialog they kept. It's never mattered to me that the spirits were out of order or Fred didn't make the cut. Nor did it matter that I didn't see it in color until after 1972. Just the thought of Jim Backus' heartrending cry to the "ghost" of Belle makes me tear up, but then I think of "razzleberry dressing" and giggle. I love the way instrumentals of the songs were incorporated as background music; the whole score is burned into my brain and can pop up anytime, even during the miserableness of summer.

    I didn't watch the NBC broadcast last year because I knew it would be all chopped up for commercials just like the syndicated broadcasts I endured for years before the DVD was released. As a little girl I asked my mom to get me a "proper" copy of Little Woman because I found out the one I had was abridged. Well, it's the same with Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol: I want it in all its glory, framed by the wonderful Broadway sequences, every musical note complete. God bless DVDs! This story isn't just a favorite, it's part of me, like tinsel on Christmas trees and Crosby singing "White Christmas."

    If you haven't read the Making of... book or seen the restored Blu-Ray version with the commentary...go! go quickly! There's still time for you to find out all the secrets behind this perfect little tale.

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  4. Just an addition, Jack Cassidy was a voice and he was David Cassidy's father. Shirley Jones is David's Stepmother, not Mother. :)

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  5. Excellent post Jim! I have to say, unlike most people, I don't have an ultimate favorite version of A Christmas Carol. I love them all, and this is no exception! I saw this as a kid as well, and much like your experience, had to hunt it down to see it again as an adult. I was amazed by how much I remembered, especially the music. It's definitely a classic...thanks for sharing!

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  6. Wonderful post Jim! I must admit i was never a huge fan of this holiday special but i will say after reading your post, i fully plan to give it another viewing this holiday season. It really was a classic that should be aired every holiday season.

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  7. Great post Jim. I remember watching this special when it would air on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon in December--courtesy my local TV station, out of Cleveland Ohio in the late 1970s. I'm fairly certain it was my introduction to Dickens' classic Christmas story. Thanks for jogging my memory.

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