Charles Dickens, as one movie proclaims, was the man who invented Christmas as we know it today. FG Kitton, who wrote the original essay titled “The Man Who Invented Christmas”, appears to be wrong. A simple enough search will teach you very quickly that that the author of some of the greatest stories of the Victorian Era did not come close to inventing the holiday and if you think about it, that makes sense.
Afterall, if the holiday wasn’t still recognized and celebrated during his era, then what exactly were Scrooge’s employee and nephew doing on Christmas day? The truth is that he revitalized the holidays for the upper classes who had stopped offering feasts since there were no longer giant halls with great fireplaces for everyone to come and warm themselves by.
But the poor or lower classes continued to celebrate the birth of their lord with a large meal and maybe a gift or two. Since Bob Cratchit and his family are poor, they celebrate the holiday. Scrooge’s nephew, who married a girl of low fortune would also have celebrated all her life and would bring her husband in on the traditions if it wasn’t one for him already.
Still, there is no doubt that his revitalization of Christmas Day for the rich and the elite socialites of his time. The powerful story of a man realizing that he needed to find his redemption and live for others as well as himself had a profound effect on our world. It’s a story many needed and will continue to need to hear. Stop being selfish. Make mankind your business. Be kind and giving.
So, what better way to celebrate Christmas or the story of The Christmas Carol than to rank the movies and miniseries that have shaped our culture!
We will look at the following adaptations and then rank them from worst to best. We will be looking at Scrooged, A Christmas Carol by FX, A Muppet Christmas Carol, Scrooge (musical), A Christmas Carol (1984 TV movie), Disney’s A Christmas Carol, and The Man Who Invented Christmas. There are many iterations of the story, so I’ll focus on a combination of the most recent and most popular as I grew up.
7. A Christmas Carol by FX and the BBC: I really should have known better with this one. But to be honest, the trailer got me along with the massive amount of talent that showed up for it. Truth be told, it had a lot of potential. It took on a very dark, gritty version of the tale and made Scrooge out to quite a bit worse than a grumpy old miser. The biggest issue was the lack of empathy even after everything he saw and his refusal to change. He tries to save Tim, but he doesn’t do anything to indicate he will be a better man or that he will make amends with every other person he spit on. The real nail in the coffin though was the inherent blasphemy of Mary Cratchit summoning and controlling the three spirits of Christmas past, present, and future.
We didn’t even a get a “God bless us, everyone!” because they seemed to do all they could to avoid anything religious in nearly three hour miniseries.
6. The Man Who Invented Christmas: This movie, which was very loosely based on the above referenced essay by Kitton and some of Dickens’ own life, gave some fascinating insight into a man largely considered by most to be one of the greatest authors of his time. We get to learn a lot about Dickens and how he coped with his own debts, his relationships with his family. But, just to be clear, this movie isn’t much of a Christmas Carol and a lot of it is guesswork and conjecture as to how and why he came up with the characters that he did. For sheer inaccuracy while claiming to be based on a true story, I may have been a little harsh with the movie.
5. Scrooge: Albert Finney has always been an incredible actor, singer and dancer. It’s not that this musical is terrible that it’s number 5. It’s that the next four are just that much better. All that being said, the problems with this movie had a lot to do with how corny it could be. The song “I Like Life” was probably the most annoying to me, mostly because it’s very difficult for some people to fake being drunk, especially on being drunk on life.
4. Scrooged: Easily the funniest version of the movie, this film is either loved or despised. Bill Murray is in his element being a narcissistic, self-absorbed jerk who would rather send his brother a towel than a VCR in the 1980’s. Playing a network executive, Murray’s version of Scrooge not only tells the Christmas Carol in a modern era but makes fun of many elements of our culture of the time. The need for ratings, the need to push things beyond decency just to get attention and ratings. I make sure to watch this movie every Christmas.
3. Disney’s A Christmas Carol: Much as I hate to admit it, Jim Carrey knows how to act. Especially when he isn’t being filmed. When he’s filmed the over acting show-off can’t help himself. It’s why he struggles to get roles in serious films. Everyone’s just waiting for him to pull focus and do something crazy. But in the Disney version of A Christmas Carol, he’s heavily reigned in and allowed to play all three spirits and of course Scrooge. The job he does is truly magnificent, and the film is perfect the the majority of the family. Like all versions of this story, it is a ghost story, and some elements may frighten small children.
Potentially the worst part about the film is something called the Uncanny Valley. Some people have feelings of unease around things that are modeled to look real when they’re not. Wax statues, animation, and CGI in particular being the most common. In some moments the characters almost look human but then they move, and you’re thrown back into animation. It’s very strange and unsettling at times.
2. A Muppet Christmas Carol: There’s something current writers and millennials call “crack”. It’s not referencing drugs. It’s a term used to describe comedy in the stylings of wall-breaks, toilet humor, self-parody or mockery. All these things combine to create “crack”. Any and all live-action Muppet movies can be labeled as “crack” humor. But when you get someone as incredibly talented as Michael Caine to come in and play as if the muppets are not silly puppets dropping jokes on the regular, you get what we call “Crack treated seriously” and it’s often glorious! Especially when it’s pulled off as well as it was with Caine.
Michael Caine plays a near perfect Ebenezer Scrooge. Mean, terrifying, sad, and pathetic at times it’s almost a shame that he did his version with a bunch of puppets.
1. A Christmas Carol (1984): George C. Scott is most often remembered for his stirring performance as General George S. Patton in the movie Patton. But to me he will always be Ebenezer Scrooge. His deep, raspy voice and his surly shouts of “Cratchit!” have never been duplicated and they likely never will be. At times the movie was frightening as the ghost of Christmas present revealed Ignorance and Want, at times it was humorous as Scrooge pranked Cratchit once he’d decided to become a better man. All throughout, it was touching and unlike the bottom adaption on the list, this Scrooge understood it was his choice to become a better man no matter how difficult. All he had to do was open his heart.
Merry Christmas guys! And God bless us, everyone!
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Some information in this article was referenced by a UC Santa Cruz article; Did Dickens really “invent” Christmas? (ucsc.edu).