Honouring the Spirit of Christmas in Grand Rapids…

Originally published in the Grand Rapids Press, December 4, 2010

What’s your favorite version of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol”? A bit of a trick question because for me reading the original story in Dickens’ own words is the very best. I reread it when I got the basic idea for this week’s comic. I knew exactly what I wanted and where it was, but it is such a delight to read this book. It’s amazing, really, when you consider how well it is known and clichéd in some respects it has become. (And as an editorial cartoonist I say “thank God!” because there are so few literary references these days that are universally recognized.) But every time I read it, the story just jumps — funny, compelling, and extraordinary.

And I think you have to read the whole story to truly feel the intensity of Scrooge’s graveside transformation when he says, “…I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year.” Because it’s one thing to say those words, and it’s quite another to intend to follow through. In Grand Rapids we are blessed with people who seemed to have, in fact, followed through. Next month the new Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital will open (there were tours last week). Something like this doesn’t happen without the spirit of Christmas in somebody’s heart.

But to answer the original question, the best adaptation of A Christmas Carol for me is the one from 1984 with George C Scott. It’s authentic, magical, and Scott is diabolically mean and joyously reformed. I also like Scrooged from 1988. The casting is inspired, particularly Carol Kane as the Ghost of Christmas present and Mary Lou Retton as Tiny Tim. The worst (again, for me) is a 1970 “animated” version I remember seeing as a kid. It’s the straightforward story set in Victorian times, but will lousy limited animation and no soul. A classic example of  the “it’s a cartoon, the kids will like it” mentality that inevitably produces a turd. And along those lines, I’ve never seen Mister Magoo’s Christmas Carol, but I’ve heard a song(!) from it, which was painful. How about you?


  1. Hoz said,

    December 10, 2010 @ 12:39 pm

    Carol Kane is wonderful – she knows how to use a toaster.

  2. tyler said,

    December 10, 2010 @ 12:44 pm

    I would have to say Scrooged! Bill Murray is truly terrible in that movie. The scenes with Kane are hilarious and I was so sure Bobcat G was going to get him with the shotgun. I try and watch it every year as it doesn’t seem Christmas without it.

    The George C Scott movie was excellent as well.

    I heard the newer one with Jim Carrey was good, but have not seen it. Actually not sure it has been released yet…

  3. Mert said,

    December 10, 2010 @ 1:58 pm

    True, nothing beats reading the original story, when Dickens starts by pondering the “deadness” of a door nail, I am always hooked.

    As film versions go, the musical “Scrooge” with Albert Finney as Scrooge and Alec Guinness as Marley, is by far my all time favorite. Any film that has a big Broadway-esque dance number with the actors dancing on a coffin and singing “I’d like to thank you very much Mr Scrooge, it’s the nicest thing that anyone’s ever done for me.” is a winner in my book. Side note; I’ve seen this version twice on stage, and while it’s hard to improve on a classic tale, the scene where Scrooge realizes, all be it to late, that the ghost of Christmas Past is actually his dead sister Fran (something unique to this production) always leaves me in tears.

    For an animated version, Mickey’s Christmas Carol, gets the sprig of Holly in my Figgy pudding every time!

  4. Mike A-B said,

    December 11, 2010 @ 12:18 pm

    I had to look it up but the 1951 British version with Alastair Sim is my favorite. It was made at a time when the general population was still living a rather spartan lifestyle in post war Britain. With mere subsistence as the norm, this production really excels at creating the hardness of life depicted in the book.

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