Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol
(or Mister Magoo's Christmas Carol
as titled in the film itself)

based on A Christmas Carol, 1843
by Charles Dickens

Review by
Jennifer Monroe Franson

Director: Abe Levitow
Writers: Charles Dickens; Barbara Chain
Music: Jule Styne
Lyrics: Bob Merrill
Cast (voices):

  • Jim Backus — Ebenezer Scrooge / Quincy Magoo
  • Jack Cassidy — Bob Cratchit
  • Joan Gardner — Ghost of Christmas Past / Tiny Tim
  • etc.

UPA Pictures: 1962

53 minutes February 2012


Charles Dickens' classic novella A Christmas Carol has spawned dozens of film adaptations over the years, so it was perhaps inevitable that one of the first made-for-TV animated holiday specials would take the story for its subject matter. Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol was first broadcast in 1962, predating even the venerable Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Its star was cartoon character Quincy Magoo, who had already appeared in animated features dating back to 1949.

Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol provided my own earliest encounter with the classic Dickens tale. My memories of that first viewing are sketchy, partly because I was very young, and partly because I developed a bad stomachache midway through the broadcast and was sent to lie down, returning only for the scary close of the movie. Still, a re-watching of the cartoon on DVD confirms it as the origin of two of my most persistent impressions of A Christmas Carol: the uneasy suspicion that, under all those robes, the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come was a relative of the Grim Reaper, and the conviction that Bob Cratchit looked very like a 19th-Century George Jetson.

Like others who have adapted A Christmas Carol for film, the creators of Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol chose to present it as a musical. As in most of the other cases, this is not completely successful. Most of the songs are unremarkable, and a Cratchit family paean to such unaffordable culinary delights as "razzleberry dressing" and "woofle jelly cake" seems deliberately to invite spoofs. (As a side note, this same song — in which Bob Cratchit reminds the family that, despite their poverty, they benefit from "the Lord's bright blessing" — would probably never have made it to TV in these can't-mention-religion days.) The most memorable of the songs, appearing early in the movie, is one in which Scrooge/Magoo celebrates the "ringle" of coins chinking into the strongbox.

As is always the case with film adaptations, the creators have made some departures, both large and small, from the original. A frame story which portrays Mr. Magoo as an actor staring in a stage production of A Christmas Carol was probably introduced to provide scope for Magoo's signature myopia and the comic mayhem produced by it. Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol takes the unusual step of placing Christmas Present first in the sequence of ghostly visitations — the only movie version, to the best of my knowledge, which does so. The switch works, however, as does a change in the Cratchits' holiday menu: in this version, their poverty is underscored by the fact that they cannot even afford the traditional goose for Christmas dinner; instead, they sit down to a holiday meal of soup. In some other respects, however, the cartoon is surprisingly faithful to the original story. In particular, the scene in the rag-and-bone shop, often omitted from other film versions, is included; the plunderers of the dead even join in a musical number celebrating their own nastiness.

By modern standards, or even by comparison with contemporary Disney productions, the animation is crude. Nevertheless, some of the background scenes — including, oddly, one of a graveyard — have an almost lyric beauty.

Viewers who feel that one cinematic Christmas Carol per season is more than enough will probably not want to choose this one. However, those who enjoy experiencing the classic Dickens tale in a variety of modes will want to add Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol to their holiday repertoire.


© 2012 Jennifer Monroe Franson

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