Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (December 7, 2015)
Time to revisit another childhood holiday favorite! In prior times, I checked out programs such as The Year Without a Santa Claus and A Charlie Brown Christmas. Now I take a look at 1962’s Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol.
Actually, it may be a stretch to refer to Magoo as a “childhood holiday favorite”. Given its original release date, it’s not something I watched during its initial appearances. Since I didn’t make my glorious debut until 1967, any earlier screenings would be pretty tough for me to make. When I did see it on TV in the 1970s, I liked it, but hey, I was a kid; I pretty much enjoyed all the different Christmas specials.
So how does Carol hold up to viewings for an adult? Pretty well, actually. A combination of factors mean it’ll never reach the heights of the best Christmas programs, but it offers a reasonably entertaining show.
Given the fame of A Christmas Carol, a synopsis seems somewhat pointless, but I’ll provide one anyway. Ebenezer Scrooge (“played” by Mr. Magoo, who’s voiced by Jim Backus) runs his own business and is clearly a skinflint and a jerk.
Isolated from others by his own accord, on Christmas Eve the misanthrope receives a visit from the ghost of his old partner Jacob Marley (Royal Dano). Condemned to remain in limbo, Marley warns Scrooge that he’ll suffer the same fate if he doesn’t clean up his act.
Scrooge initially discounts this incident, but then he receives additional visits from other ghosts. One takes him to Christmas Present, where he sees the poor but loving family of his employee Bob Cratchit (Jack Cassidy). Scrooge learns that Cratchit’s son Tiny Tim (Joan Gardner) will die without significant medical attention.
From there Scrooge goes to Christmas Past, where he watches his childhood emotional pain as well as some romance and his ultimate shift of focus from human affection to monetary gain. Lastly, the Ghost of Christmas Future shows Scrooge his own fate as well as that of Tiny Tim. When the ghosts finish with Scrooge, he changes his ways and becomes a serious party animal.
This production stages Carol in an unusual way. When I indicated that Mr. Magoo “plays” Scrooge, I meant it. The show starts with shots of the character on the way to a theater, and it concludes with curtain calls and other such stuff.
I never saw those moments during my childhood screenings, apparently because stations cut those parts to allow for more commercials. Really, that’s fine, as the pre-and-post Carol moments seem odd and pointless.
Although Carol suffers from some exceedingly cheap and stiff animation, it provides a surprisingly effective telling of the tale. A lot of the credit goes to Backus, who brings a lot of pep to his characterization. He makes Magoo’s Scrooge bitter and crotchety when appropriate, but he also adds warmth to the scenes in which his guard falls. The other performances seem more erratic, and Cassidy’s Cratchit comes across as dull, but that character’s always been a dud anyway, so I can’t really fault the actor.
Despite the clunky animation, the filmmakers manage to evoke some strong moments. Marley’s visit appears genuinely creepy, as are the moments that involve the Ghost of Christmas Future. In addition, we find some real sadness when we see Tiny Tim’s ultimate fate. I think Carol manages a level of depth that I didn’t expect – it embraces a much more dramatic tone than one anticipates from a Mr. Magoo special for kids, and it largely eschews comedy.
This adaptation largely presents the story as written, but it does take some liberties. Oddly, the Ghost of Christmas Present visits before we meet the Ghost of Christmas Past, and the tale also totally omits Scrooge’s nephew Fred.
I don’t understand the motivation behind the former alteration, but the latter occurs frequently, mostly because it allows Scrooge to end the production at Cratchit’s house. Forgive me for questioning Dickens, but I think that conclusion makes more sense, and Fred always seemed like a superfluous character to me.
No one will mistake Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol for the best version of that story, but no one should quickly discount it either. It zips through the tale a little too quickly, but it captures all the high notes and enjoys surprisingly solid execution. Carol provides a good piece of holiday entertainment with a strong dramatic tone that suits the material.
The Disc Grades: Picture A-/ Audio C+/ Bonus F
Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol appears in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. Despite the special’s age and modest origins, the image looked terrific.
Sharpness worked very well. The show always offered nice clarity and delineation, with nary a smidgen of softness to be found. I noticed no issues related to jagged edges or moiré effects, and edge enhancement also caused no problems. Print flaws remained absent, as I saw no problems there – a few shots demonstrated iffy clean-up animation, but even those distractions were modest for a cheap TV show from more than 50 years ago.
Colors appeared positive. The special went with a broad palette, and it replicated the hues well. Whatever limitations they displayed came from the source.
Blacks seemed deep and rich, however. Shadow detail played a minor role in the production, but when necessary, the program displayed solid clarity in its low-light sequences.
According to the display on my Blu-ray player, Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol came with a DTS-HD MA 5.1 soundtrack. According to the display on my received, Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol came with a DTS-HD MA 5.1 soundtrack. According to my ears, Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol came with a monaural soundtrack.
Which was fine with me. Carol boasted mono audio when created in the early 1960s, and it didn’t need a multichannel remix now. I found it perplexing that the disc would encode the material as 5.1 and play back 1.0, but I’m still okay with that.
Overall audio quality seemed positive. Dialogue appeared fine, as the lines showed fairly clear tones. The lines lacked an especially natural feel, but they were always perfectly intelligible and they showed no edginess.
Music and effects followed suit. Both appeared limited in range, so they lacked much warmth or vivacity. However, they seemed clear and reasonably accurate, without obvious distortion. Within the constraints of the source, this was a perfectly acceptable soundtrack.
How did the Blu-ray compare to the DVD version from 2002? Audio seemed smoother and more concise, while visuals appeared sharper, cleaner and more vibrant. This turned into a surprisingly substantial upgrade – I really didn’t expect the Blu-ray to be so much better than the DVD.
Carol offers no extras, a fact that comes as a surprise since the DVD listed above had some materials – and a prior Blu-ray came with even more goodies.
On the surface, Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol probably should be a cheesy and silly piece of work. In reality, however, it provides a solid adaptation of the holiday classic. The show doesn’t reach the level of greatness, but it usually works pretty well, and it seems quite enjoyable as a whole. The Blu-ray presents excellent picture and acceptable audio but lacks supplements. It’s a shame the Blu-ray drops the bonus materials from prior editions, but I can’t complain about the impressive presentation of the special itself.
Note that you can find Carol on Blu-ray in a couple of releases. The one I reviewed comes from a package called The Original Television Christmas Classics Anniversary Collector’s Edition. That box packages Carol with Frosty the Snowman, Frosty Returns, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, The Little Drummer Boy, The Cricket on the Hearth, and Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town. With a list price under $30, it’s a good deal.
To rate this film, visit the DVD review of MR. MAGOO'S CHRISTMAS CAROL