Scrooge awakens to the sound of the clock chiming one-the very time his first ghostly visitor is supposed to arrive. In the book, he actually awakens at twelve and is shocked since it was two when he went to bed and the sky is still dark. The pacing purposes for which this was cut are very understandable, but the omission is still somewhat unfortunate since it establishes that Scrooge is now and for most of the story outside of time somehow. Without this, The Ghost of Christmas Present showing him Christmas Day, which should technically have already happened, and him later going back and experiencing that exact same day are a bit confusing.
In the book, when the Ghost of Christmas Past appears, its hand specifically draws back the curtains in front of Scrooge’s face. Here various curtains are drawn apart and a searchlight of sorts shines through, searching for Scrooge before finding him. I’m not really sure what the point of that change was. It strikes me as making the spirit less intimidating. I guess Robert Zemeckis wanted to build anticipation for its appearance.
Christmas Past (Jim Carrey) is the spirit who looks the least like Dickens described it by a long shot. In keeping with the giant candle snuffer it carries, its robe suggests a giant candle and its head is a flame hovering over it. This was probably inspired by the way the book describes this ghost’s shape as flickering “being now a thing with one arm, now with one leg, now with twenty legs, now a pair of legs without a head, now a head without a body.” The 1971 animated short directed by Richard Williams is one of the only adaptations that has tried to capture this. Watching it, I can understand why most don’t. I don’t think anyone would really argue that this improves on Dickens’s description, but I don’t dislike it. I do dislike Carrey’s vocal performance as this particular spirit though. His attempt to make it sound “singularly low as if instead of being so close beside (Scrooge), it (was) at a distance” basically consists of sounding overly breathy. After introducing itself, the ghost floats backwards out of the room, only to reappear at the opposite side of Scrooge’s bed as if it’s gone all the way around the world. It’s weird and random but I don’t dislike it. Then it does a weird little dance, not like this movie suddenly turned into a musicalGiven some of what we see, that might actually happen!, but like it just wanted to dance for some reason. It’s weird and random and I do dislike it.
Speaking of music, you can hear the tune of O Come All Ye Faithful or Adeste Fidelis on the soundtrack as the spirit introduces itself. This is the first, I believe, of several traditional carols used as background music in the movie. They all work very well.
As the spirit firmly takes Scrooge’s hand and leads him toward the window, we see it rise and, in a nice touch, the night outside turn to day. Scrooge and the spirit fly over across a snowy wood. This is different from the book where they are transported instantly, and it’s obviously done to include more action and eye candy. But I don’t mind. In fact, I enjoy it. Unlike some of this adaptation’s other attempts to add action and eye candy to the story, this one at least makes sense.Could it have been an homage to two other Christmas Carol adaptations that Disney has produced (hint: one casts Bob Cratchit as a mouse, the other as a frog) which also have Scrooge and the Ghost of … Continue reading
Scrooge is overcome with emotion when they arrive at the village where he spent much of his childhood and when he invisibly observes his old schoolmates heading home for the holidays. Then he and the spirit fly to his dark and dank schoolhouse where they find Scrooge as a boy all alone, glumly staring out a window and half-heartedly singing Venite Adoremus. The contrast between him and the other boys we just witnessed laughing and merrily singing Here We Come A-Wassailing is great. This is easily the most emotionally powerful moment in the movie and when the young Scrooge frowns, we get a brief foreshadowing of his later bitterness, something no other adaptation I can recall has.
The spirit then shows another, later Christmas. A teenaged Scrooge is surprised by the appearance of his younger sister, Fan (Robin Wright Penn), who ecstatically tells him that their father has had a miraculous change of heart and that he (Scrooge) is finally to come home. The ghost gently reminds Scrooge that when she died, Fan left behind a child-Scrooge’s nephew whom he treated so coldly recently. After the really well-done emotional moment we just had, this one feels too fast paced and underwhelming, especially considering how important it should be for both Scrooge and the audience. (He’s reminded that he once loved somebody, and we realize he was even capable of that at some point.) Part of the problem may be the young Scrooge’s reaction to seeing his sister after what’s apparently at least a decade is strangely calm. (Maybe he can’t believe her news.)
The ghost and the (present) Scrooge have another flying scene, this one across London at night, before arriving at the warehouse where Scrooge was apprenticed. There’s a nice acting moment for Jim Carrey where we hear Scrooge laugh for the first time. His former master, Fezziwig (an underused Bob Hoskins), tells the younger Scrooge and his fellow apprentice, Dick Wilkins (Cary Elwes), to clear away the desks for a giant Christmas party he’s throwing. The movie cuts to that party-or rather the Ghost of Christmas Past does-where we see Fezziwig dancing with his wife (Jacquie Barnbrook.) Dickens described Mrs. Fezziwig as being a very capable dancer and this adaptation, in another bit of random weirdness, shows her twirling like a top and rising into the air for a moment. If the movie’s animation were more often cartoony, this might have been fun, but combined with the realistic movements of motion capture technology, it’s just awkward.
I really wish this scene of the party were longer and in particular that we got more of Scrooge’s reaction to it. This Christmas Carol generally lingers more over action scenes than party scenes. If you ask me, someone who doesn’t want to linger on a scene of joyful partying has no business adapting A Christmas Carol.It’s frustrating to check out the movie’s deleted scenes on Disney+ and see that a bit was cut of the spirit using reverse psychology on Scrooge. And they actually put a decent twist on … Continue reading On reflection though, the scene is actually of a fairly reasonable length. It’s just that nearly all of the focus is on Past-Scrooge meeting and dancing with a beautiful young woman named Belle (Robin Wright Penn.) It’s common for Christmas Carol adaptations to introduce her at this point in the story. (In the book, we first meet her when she’s breaking up with Scrooge and their entire relationship is left for us to infer.) This one is a bit unusual in that there’s no dialogue between the characters, the filmmakers perhaps realizing they couldn’t compete with Dickens when it came to that. Everything is meant to be conveyed through Scrooge and Belle’s eyes. I don’t think it works that well, live action being better than motion capture for that kind of acting and traditional animation arguably being better than either. Still, the music is lovely.
The spirit takes us to a later Christmas-without any flying this time-when Belle ends her engagement to Scrooge on the grounds that he’s changed so much that he’d never be happy marrying a penniless girl like her. The design for the Scrooge we see in this time is a perfect halfway point between the younger one at Fezziwig’s and the old and pinched looking one we met at the beginning of the movie. Much the same can be said of Jim Carrey’s performance. Part of me wishes the script hadn’t removed the character’s elaborate sarcasm about the “evenhanded dealing of the world” which made him more interesting and arguably appealing in a weird way. Presumably, Zemeckis felt modern audiences wouldn’t be able to understand it. Then again, he also kept the slang term, “walker,” so it can be hard to guess what the reasoning was.
Robin Wright Penn, meanwhile, is outstanding in this scene, delivering Dickens’s stagy dialogueI’m not criticizing the source material here. It’s meant to be stagy. with perfect ease and just the right emotion. In this moment at least, her portrayal of the character is my favorite.And it’s not like she’s the only actress to do a great job with this scene. Lucy Gutteridge in the 1984 film and Lucy Fraser in the 1999 one are also wonderful. But the first movie … Continue reading
Incidentally, the book had a final vision of Christmas past where Scrooge saw Belle celebrating with her loving husband and their many children while Jacob Marley, the closest thing he had left to a friend, lay dying. This was almost included in but ultimately cut from the movie. Part of me wishes it had stayed since I love it when Christmas Carol movies include scenes that are often cut.The 1984 one is among those that include that particular bit. But another part of me agrees with the filmmakers that it wouldn’t really have fit in with the movie’s pace.
What it does include from the book is Scrooge looking at the Ghost of Christmas Past’s face and seeing “fragments of all the faces it had shown him.”
This is a highly cinematic detail that hardly any Christmas Carol movies feature. Actually, this is the only one I can remember that does. I think the faces flicker by too fast for them to really register, but I give this adaptation a thousand kudos for the attempt.
Another thing from the book is an angry Scrooge clamping the ghost’s extinguisher cap over its head in a vain attempt to put out its light. What’s not from the book is that after he seems to have succeeded, the cap rockets up into the night sky with Scrooge before disintegrating into what looks like fairy dust. In what looks like it might be a visual reference to E.T.: Extra-Terrestrial, Scrooge flies past the moon before plummeting down onto the floor of his bedroom back in the present.
The literary Christmas Carol certainly isn’t lacking in surreal images but every one of them means something. For example, Scrooge wrestling with the Ghost of Christmas Past obviously represents his wish to forget painful, guilt inducing memories. What exactly was that little flight into space supposed to symbolize? I’d make a joke about the filmmakers being drunk or on drugs, but the sad thing about that little bit of action is that it was too complex and well put together for that to have been the case. Some people must really have thought it was a good idea. Ah, well. I’ll admit the scene made me laugh though I’m not proud of that. And at least it was short unlike some additions to the story that we’ll see in Christmas Yet to Come.
Next Week: Scrooge Gets a Lift From the Ghost of Christmas Present.
|The 1971 animated short directed by Richard Williams is one of the only adaptations that has tried to capture this. Watching it, I can understand why most don’t.
|Given some of what we see, that might actually happen!
|Could it have been an homage to two other Christmas Carol adaptations that Disney has produced (hint: one casts Bob Cratchit as a mouse, the other as a frog) which also have Scrooge and the Ghost of Christmas Past fly like this?
|It’s frustrating to check out the movie’s deleted scenes on Disney+ and see that a bit was cut of the spirit using reverse psychology on Scrooge. And they actually put a decent twist on the book’s dialogue!
|I’m not criticizing the source material here. It’s meant to be stagy.
|And it’s not like she’s the only actress to do a great job with this scene. Lucy Gutteridge in the 1984 film and Lucy Fraser in the 1999 one are also wonderful. But the first movie portrays the character as angry where in the book she’s sad and the second one arguably cheats by updating the dialogue.
|The 1984 one is among those that include that particular bit.