This week, I’m reviewing a pair of Rankin/Bass adaptations of Charles Dickens stories. Last time, we reviewed Cricket on the Hearth (1967), which was…really not very good, if I’m being honest. And this time, we’re taking on a more well-known Christmas story, The Stingiest Man in Town (1978), better known as A Christmas Carol.
There’s really no reason to cover the story for this particular review, as I can’t imagine too many people not being familiar with the general premise of A Christmas Carol. So, instead, we’ll get right into how this movie stands out from the countless other retellings. Compared to their earlier animated works, this movie is definitely one of the better looking ones. Being Rankin/Bass, you’re also going to have to expect a lot of songs, and as the previous review already established, a lot of the songs in these specials are not that good. (We were spoiled with Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, we were.) Even so, I am pleased to say that the majority of the songs from this special were not that bad. The only one that truly pained me was “Humbug” early on, which is…really kind of awful. Not sure what it was, but the song was a tuneless mess and initially set my hopes for this movie plummeting.
Fortunately, other songs fared much better. For example, when Jacob Marley appears to Scrooge, he sings a fittingly foreboding song called “I Wear a Chain”. I honestly felt dread during this song, and Marley wasn’t even warning me! “One Little Boy” was another memorable one, mostly for the emotional message it conveys. This is the moment Scrooge realizes that Tiny Tim will die if things don’t change, and the Ghost of Christmas Present uses Scrooge’s earlier cruel words against him. (Actually, this didn’t make a whole lot of sense because Scrooge never commented on “decreasing the surplus population” in this version, but you’ll see later that this wasn’t the only thing cut out of the movie.) Despite this minor mistake, you really get the feeling that Scrooge cares and is changing now that he better understands the suffering of others and how he might be able to ease it. I also want to give this movie credit for a greater emphasis on the real reason for Christmas, the birth of Jesus Christ, with the song “Birthday Party of the King”.
The story moves along at a pretty quick pace and skips a number of scenes, such as Scrooge’s time as a boy at the boarding school, and there is nearly no time spent with the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, which is a shame. (That was always the coolest ghost, if you ask me.) So if you’ve already seen other versions of this story, you might be pleased that the movie doesn’t drag on and rehash scenes we’ve already seen countless times. On the other hand, it is definitely not a good choice if you’re new to the story or if you’re sharing it with someone who hasn’t seen it before, as the emotional impact is not going to be as strong with important scenes completely absent. I also want to mention that I found it strangely amusing that this depiction of Scrooge might be even worse than usual, at least in the early scenes. Such as the time he basically stole food from a street vendor. I know Scrooge is mean and super cheap, but I’m not sure if I’ve ever seen him outright steal before! Just…wow.
Also, we have a narrator who goes by the name of BAH Humbug. He’s a bug. He adds nothing to the story and barely even interacts with any of the characters. He really shouldn’t exist.
Being my favorite Christmas story, I have seen a whole bunch of adaptations of Dickens’ much-loved A Christmas Carol. And Rankin/Bass’ The Stingiest Man in Town ranks…somewhere in the middle. (I know, a very helpful assessment…) It’s worth a look if you’re a fan of this classic Christmas tale and Rankin/Bass, though before I go, I want to recommend the 1951 adaptation where Scrooge is played by Alastair Sim. This is probably the best version out there, partly because it does a better job at expanding on Scrooge’s past and relationship with Jacob Marley. Of course, if you’d rather a more lighthearted take, I am also partial to The Muppet Christmas Carol from 1992. I’ve got more reviews coming up in the future, but for now, the week of “Charles Dickens meets Rankin/Bass” has come to a close! Farewell, dear readers!