Friday Feature: Dickensian Edition

It’s that time of year, everybody. It’s Christmas time. This is our last post before Christmas and when I was trying to think of what to write, I said to myself,

“All the Who’s down in Whoville seem to have Christmas under control,
but I should tell them how the geeks enjoy Christmas! How droll!”

Then I said,

“Why Stewart, that’s broad. You’ll never be able to choose!
You’ll just write in circles until all your readers snooze!
Why not narrow your field, and slim down your pickin’s?
Why not tell them only about your favorite DICKENS!”

Then I decided to lie down and wait for the Rhymitall* to wear off.

When I recovered I started to think about the different versions of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol I’ve seen over the years. There are almost too many to count and most of them are pretty bad. So I’ve picked three (3) that pass muster. Each for a different reason.

The Muppet Christmas Carol

The Muppets. ’nuff said.

But really, you can’t make me not like the Muppets. Or Fraggle Rock. The world lost someone when it lost Jim Henson. Fortunately his legacy continued through his children Disney.

The Muppet’s version of A Christmas Carol doesn’t pull the heart strings for me as much as some other interpretations, but it does have fun little songs, Kermit the frog, Ms. Piggy, Fozzywig (!) and the whole gang.

Michael Cain is also there, and his singing voice is just not as good as his Muppet companions. We’ve forgiven him, however, since he’s the best Alfred there’s ever been (outside of Batman: The Animated Series).

A Christmas Carol (2009)

This might be a contentious choice, but I think 2009’s animated Christmas Carol featuring Jim Carrey (who plays Scrooge and all of the spirits) is far and away the best version of  A Christmas Carol there is. Among a myriad other reasons, this interpretation happens to be one of the closest to Dickens’ original story.

For me, this is also unquestionably Carrey’s best work, and it could have only been so in the context of motion-capture animation. It really was this technology that allowed Carrey to play all of the roles he did in a way that doesn’t come across as strange or distracting. In fact, seeing Carrey’s expressive brand in Scrooge and all the ghosts lends itself to a better story. It cements the idea that the the spirits aren’t teaching Scrooge anything new, but exposing his own, already present raw nerves by peeling away his cynicism.

It’s also worth noting that this movie, directed by Robert Zemeckis, avoids the dubious trademark of the director’s previous animated  Christmas film, The Polar Expressthe uncanny valley. By using the advanced motion capture technology with characters possessing exaggerated features (Scrooge’s enormous nose, Cratchit’s comically round face, etc.), A Christmas Carol has characters that are believably human and relatable, without being unsettlingly too like us.

Batman: Noel 

Bet you didn’t see this one coming, eh?

Batman: Noel is a graphic novel which came out in 2011 with art and writing by Lee Bermejo. I don’t know much about Bermejo’s other writing, but I think he does a great job  with this adaptation of the classic Christmas Carol formula for Batman. And Bermejo’s art is crazy good. His is an unbelievably detailed style, to the point where there are pages where I was almost annoyed that any text got in the way of the pictures. Movie costume designers should look to Bermejo’s art for guidance for how to translate super-hero outfits to live action film.

The story puts Batman in the role of Scrooge. I don’t want to spoil too much of it, but the “spirits” are other characters with a relationship to Batman. Noel toys with a Batman motif that’s been popular in the past few years – the idea that Bruce Wayne has lost himself in the cowl. He takes his role a the Dark Knight seriously, and it keeps him from any semblance of happiness and love. I think Bermejo writes Noel well, and shows us how the popular “ideal” of Christmas cheer and generosity can easily be lost in masked crime-fighting.

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And with that I conclude my list of favorite Christmas Carols. If you have one that you feel I left, out, feel free to comment! Just remember your Christmas spirit and don’t be mean. Or Santa won’t bring you any toys.

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*Rhymitall is a prescription drug to for those with an difficulty writing limericks, folk songs, or children’s books. Rhymitall may not be right for all people. Stop taking Rhymitall and contact your doctor if you find yourself unable to write in prose, if you experience an abundance of whimsy, or if you have a sensation of being lighter than air. These are serious side effects and may be linked to a more serious condition.

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