In a past status update, I had mentioned that Mother Duck and I endured a misplaced Christmas marathon (by misplaced, I mean it took place in March) comprised mainly of lesser-known Rankin/Bass Christmas specials (with a little bit of Charlie Brown mixed in). I say “endured” because some of these were rather difficult to sit through. But sit through we must because I had become very determined to review them, despite the toll they might take on my sanity. This week I’m focusing on two Rankin/Bass adaptations of Charles Dickens’ stories, Cricket on the Hearth (1967) and their version of A Christmas Carol, The Stingiest Man in Town (1978). We’re focusing on the first one today, folks, and it’s going to really illustrate what I meant by “endured” because this one is easily the worst Rankin/Bass movie I’ve seen so far.
Based on Charles Dickens’ story of the same name, from what I read of the original novella’s plot summary, the Rankin/Bass version does not appear to be very accurate at all, so any blame lies squarely on their shoulders, not on the original author. Starting from a more superficial standpoint, this is one of their earlier animated movies, and…it’s ugly. It’s really ugly. The songs are also not very good, either, and I remember there being tons of them. They don’t advance the plot and are often accompanied by weird animation that doesn’t fit the rest of the movie (think of Jessica’s song from Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town).
There’s also a song where a cat in a red dress sings about fish and chips.
The story is as equally frustrating as the constant barrage of useless songs, but I will try to summarize it as best I can. So…this supposedly lucky cricket named Cricket Crocket goes to live with a toy maker by the name of Caleb Plummer and his daughter Bertha. I say “supposedly” lucky because nothing really goes right from this point forward. Bertha’s fiancé, Edward, is in the Royal Navy and must go away for a few years. News arrives that Edward had perished at sea, and Bertha literally goes blind from shock and grief. Caleb is so distraught at his daughter’s sudden blindness that he stops making toys and spends their money on doctors instead. They end up poor and destitute and lose their home, leaving Caleb no choice but to work for a cruel toyshop owner named Tackleton in exchange for a room, scant food, and no pay.
So yeah, this is a fun Christmas movie so far.
Caleb lies to his blind daughter to make her believe that their lives are better than they really are. A mysterious stranger appears one day (who is clearly Edward in disguise), but before he can eventually reveal his true identity to Bertha, she tells him she’s marrying Tackleton. Because even the threat of his daughter marrying an evil man was not enough motivation for Caleb to admit that he had been lying to her this whole time. Edward reveals his identity to the Cricket and pouts, showing himself to be a bit of a manipulative jerk, as he expected Bertha to prove her loyalty to him before he would admit to her who he truly was. Because going blind from grief over his supposed passing was not enough proof that she truly loved him.
Not only is this movie depressing, and incredibly dull, but I can’t stand frustrating stories where conflict is created because characters won’t properly communicate with each other. You can also tell that the movie is boring when three animal characters get shot…and I didn’t even remember it because I must have zoned out at that point. I only knew about this when I read other reviews online. The only positive I can think of was that the relationship between Caleb and his daughter was kind of sweet, how he wanted her to believe their life was good and how he even slept on the floor, giving her the only bed, yet another aspect of their sad existence of which she was blissfully unaware. Of course, if he had at least been honest about his cruddy boss, then the story’s big conflict could have been easily avoided.
Needless to say, this one was a huge letdown, but will The Stingiest Man in Town (1978) fare any better? Well, yes, because I already said that Cricket on the Hearth was the worst. But…as to whether or not the next one is any good, you’ll just have to wait until Friday to find out!