It’s the season for some more of those “Christmas Carol things”

As I’ve written before, A Christmas Carol works on multiple levels: a story of regret when Scrooge sees all he’s lost, a man cut off from humanity learning to reconnect, a reminder that business works better when the people in charge aren’t shitty human beings. That’s not to say all screen adaptations work, however.

GHOSTS OF CHRISTMAS PAST (2021) is a name-only rom-com (it would double-bill well with the superior Ghosts of Girlfriends Past) in which a fortuneteller warns a young woman at the office Christmas party that unless she makes it up to all those guys she ghosted on, she will never find true love. This is not a bad principle but as most of the guys she dumped were only at the tentative-online-contact stage of relationships, it doesn’t feel she has that much to atone for (as someone who’s been ghosted that way, it’s frustrating but not that big a deal). “Ghosting is a really strong word with harsh connotations.”

By contrast SCROOGE (1970) is a solid adaptation of Dickens (though my friend Ross is a Christmas Carol buff and can’t get into this one) that boasts the star power of Albert Finney’s covetous, joyless moneylender, Michael Crawford’s Cratchitt, Dame Edith Evans’ Past, Kenneth Moore’s Present and Alec Guinness’ Marley. I don’t normally listen to the overture (taken from the stage show) on the DVD but reading recently about how those became a thing on Broadway in the 1950s (a sign of musicals taking themselves as serious theater), I did (it samples from all the musical highlights). I’d say this shows how Scrooge’s intense emotional swings from isolation to joy fit well with a musical format … but keep reading. “To be visited by a ghost at one o’clock int he morning is hardly conducive to my welfare.”

Netflix remade SCROOGE (2022) for animation this year and it does not improve, or even compare, to its predecessor (most Christmas adaptations can wring tears out of me; this one always missed it). This replaces much of the score and rock concert-izes the numbers that survive, which doesn’t work at all for me; what works even less is giving the arch-miser (underwhelmingly voiced by Luke Evans) a dog — seriously, if Scrooge had a dog he’d be as mean to it as the Grinch is to Max. They do a better job giving Scrooge an origin — Dad lost the family fortune, Scrooge worked through childhood to support them, so he’s obsessed with financial security — but throw in that one of his early foreclosure gigs was on toddler Bob Cratchitt’s family, something that never pays off (other than being the point that Isobel realizes he’s not the mans he wants). Outside of making it clear that Tiny Tim is really ill (most versions don’t do that) this brings zero to the table. “Look friend, there really is no great secret to any of this.”

Speaking of the Grinch, HOW THE GRINCH STOLE CHRISTMAS gives us Ebenezer’s rival as Christmas grouch, the Boris Karloff-voiced (Thurl Ravenstone provides the singing) recluse who, as we all know, conceives a scheme to deny those annoyingly perky Whos their loudly happy Christmas celebration. Chuck Jones does an amazing job bringing Dr. Seuss’s poem and sketches to animated life, making this a Christmas perennial for me for around half a century now. “And then the true meaning of Christmas shone through/And the Grinch found the strength of ten grinches plus two!”

WKRP IN CINCINNATTI‘s “Bah Humbug” episode isn’t as well known as the infamous turkey drop, probably because it has no one scene or lines as memorable as “The turkeys are hitting the ground like sacks of wet cement.” It is, nevertheless, excellent in its own right as Carlson (Gordon Jump) decides to stiff the station staff on Chrstimas bonuses (he’s going to spend the money on new equipment to impress his mother) but after he eats one of Johnny Fever’s (Howard Hesseman) brownies, he finds himself trapped in one of those “Christmas Carol things” and learns the true meaning of Christmas. A favorite of mine. “We can’t forget that Carlson has Genghis Khan for a mother.”

GHOSTBUSTERS: X-Mas Marks the Spot has the animated version of the team stumble through time, save some old Victorian man from three ghosts on Christmas Eve, then return home to find that Scrooge’s classic book A Christmas Humbug has discredited the Christmas spirit forever. Can they put right what they once put wrong? Well, of course, but it’s fun watching them struggle to do it. “No, Scrooge, don’t touch the magic window!”

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