Around Christmas, nostalgia amid good cheer is currency of the realm, and the entertainment industry counts on seasonal sentiment to capture your attention and dollars. You get holiday-themed TV shows, music, and movies paraded before you from early November until the 12 days of you-know-what, tapping into time-worn Christmas symbols and themes — especially peace on Earth, generosity, and goodwill to all. But 2019 feels a little short on the cinematic end of things.
For whatever reason, there have not been many new and notable Christmas-themed movies released to theaters this year. Cable channels with access to classic film libraries may be the primary source of that holly-jolly on-screen comfort food, other than a few B-movie-level efforts via Netflix and Amazon and the annual hailstorm of corny wish-fulfillment fables, largely about romance found or regained via the spirit of Christmas, on the Hallmark Channel and Lifetime. As the saying goes, nostalgia ain’t what it used to be — although it’s always in fashion around Dec. 25.
I did catch one prominent theatrical shot at the Yuletide rom-com feel-good target: Last Christmas, leaning on Wham’s eponymous pop hit of yore for a theme song and theme. Regrettably, it was some tepid eggnog, despite attractive leads in Emilia Clarke (Game of Thrones) and Henry Golding (Crazy Rich Asians), as well as a sturdy supporting cast that included U.K. treasure Emma Thompson who also cowrote the earnest, but comedy-challenged script.
DICKENS’S ENDURING ENDEAVOR
While enduring Last Christmas, I noticed something light years better playing on a TV set in one scene: Blackadders’s Christmas Carol — a rather hilarious and canny 1988 parody of British author Charles Dickens’s Victorian morality tale A Christmas Carol. The latter is, of course, about the miserly Ebenezer Scrooge (Mr. Bah! Humbug!) who is visited on Christmas Eve by three ghosts representing his past, present, and future, and becomes a better man when they show him the error of his ways. The version featuring comedian Rowan Atkinson’s vile self-serving Blackadder character flips the plot. Here, Ebenezer Blackadder (Atkinson) is a kindly and generous descendant of a fictional, aristocratic, conniving family that has spanned generations of British history — as depicted in a brilliant series of epoch-leaping sitcoms. This unexpectedly noble Blackadder experiences a Christmas Eve conversion into a nasty and greedy fellow like his ancestors. A major reason why the humor lands and the plot twist delights is our familiarity with Dickens’s original story.
Is there anything more laden with the holiday spirit and poised to ignite Christmas warmth and cheer than A Christmas Carol? That might explain why there have been so many interpretations of it over the years. How many? Too many to waste time counting. There have been stage shows (including musicals), movies (including musicals), TV specials (including musicals), animated cartoons (feature length and short form), spoofs (like the Blackadder comedy), graphic novels, and audio recordings.
On the cinema side, we’ve had all manner of faithful retellings, starting with a number of live-action British films — including what strikes me as the very best and most iconic interpretation: 1951’s Scrooge a.k.a. A Christmas Carol, starring Alastair Sim as the quintessential Ebenezer. There are those who swear by Scrooge, the 1970 movie musical featuring Albert Finney as the title character; or 1992’s The Muppets Christmas Carol with Michael Caine playing Scrooge opposite Jim Henson’s felt favorites, led by Kermit the Frog as the elderly creep’s beleaguered employee Bob Cratchit. Although it just uses Dickens as a template, Scrooged — the 1988 modernization with Bill Murray as a cold-hearted, arrogant TV executive named Frank — is actually pretty effective. It’s certainly more emotionally satisfying than a less-than-magical 2009 motion-capture animation of the story directed by Robert Zemeckis and starring Jim Carrey as Scrooge, even if it tries to be faithful to the source material.
TOONED IN TO CHRISTMAS
Among the more conventional 2D cartoons, 1983’s Mickey’s Christmas Carol is a Disney version with Scrooge McDuck (naturally) as Ebenezer and Mickey Mouse as Bob Cratchit. In fact, there are quite a few toon takes with popular characters: a 1962 animated TV musical with the nearsighted Mr. Magoo; a Looney Tunes short from 1979 with Bugs Bunny, Porky Pig, and pals; one spotlighting the Flintstones; and one involving those little blue trolls, the Smurfs — not to be confused with elves, who are in a whole different Christmas bag.
It’s pointless to even address the scads of television series that featured episodes channeling A Christmas Carol, other than to say that they range from the vintage shows The Odd Couple, Sanford and Son, Family Ties, and Saved by the Bell to more recent fare such as Doctor Who and Family Guy. Apparently, whoever you are and whatever your taste, there’s a variation of A Christmas Carol to satisfy your nostalgia needs. And that’s no humbug.
Michael Snyder is a print and broadcast journalist who covers pop culture on Michael Snyder’s Culture Blast, via GABnet.net, Roku, Spotify, and YouTube. You can follow Michael on Twitter: