A Chradvent Carolendar #11: A Christmas Carol (1984)

 

George C. Scott stars as Ebenezer Scrooge in a 1984 made-for-TV movie sponsored by IBM.

Today was difficult guys, I really, really felt it. I put it off right until the last moment. I won’t keep you in suspense – it was good – but right now it feels like it’s the only story in the world. And I’m barely halfway through. No matter. Onwards.

We start with some narration, but not with “Marley was dead to begin with”. An odd choice because it’s specifically the only line in the entire piece that works when narrated. Never mind. Who’s in this?

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The first Noel.

Aaaand SCROOGE! No messing about. Here he is. A nice, totally original exchange with Bob that establishes his character succinctly.

I may end up clipping quite a few good bits in this post, so pay attention will you?

This Scooge is another one of those Scrooges who isn’t a miser. He’s a sarcastic businessman and is so far the only Scrooge who delivers this line as a joke:

“Every idiot who goes about with ‘Merry Christmas’ on his lips, should be boiled with his own pudding, and buried with a stake of holly through his heart.”

A fresh take! This has the advantage of making Scrooge feel like a human being. We begin, then, to see a pattern here. Films that treat him like a cartoon character (with the exception of the cartoons) are less good than those that don’t.

The actor who plays Fred is very good. His speech about Christmas that usually ends with

“I believe that it has done me good, and will do me good; and I say, God bless it!”

is not delivered like he’s humouring his Uncle but instead as an earnest, passionate defense of family and Christmas. “Come. Dine with us tomorrow.” Like it’s the least Scrooge could do. Fred is completely confused as to why Scrooge doesn’t like him. They even add a line in at the end “Why can’t we be friends? We’ve never had a quarrel so far as I know.” Lots of nice, subtle touches that hint at a deeper, complex relationship. He leaves upset. This, I will say now, is the most Superior depiction of Fred. I think him and the guy from the fucking awful 1954 version should fight.

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Tiny Tim is introduced early. This was a good decision. In the book he isn’t introduced until halfway through Present and some earlier attempts to add in a line where Fred wishes Bob and Tim well usually feel forced. 

Scrooge heads to the stock exchange and, like in 1951, is shown to do business. Some gentlemen approach him about buying a warehouses full of corn (?) and Scrooge upsells them confidently. He’s established in-film to be a money changer so I have no idea what he’s doing with a warehouse full of surplus corn. Maybe it’s cheaper to throw on the fire than coal.

We meet the chuggers at the exchange, another nice, natural change, and once again Scrooge’s “surplus population” line is read to be a weary, dismissive opposition to the taxes he is forced to pay to support the workhouses.

We then spend a bit of time with Bob and Tim to establish Tiny Tim’s disability. There’s a lot of footage of people using their legs, running around using their legs, having a fun time with their legs etc. They put so much emphasis on other people’s legs it feels the kind of like really specific fetish writing where you can tell the author had a thing about glasses.

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Now it’s time, yet again, for the part of the film with the Marley knocker. Every day feels the same. Now I know how Bill Murray’s character felt in Groundhog Day and, to a lesser extent, Erik von Detten’s character in Christmas Every Day. Actually maybe to a greater extent.

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There are two ways to do the Marley knocker that I’ve seen so far. Either they superimpose an image of the actor’s face over the knocker or there is a physical morph. Most films go for the superposition with almost no difference in technique between here and 1935.

There’s a lot of build up to Marley’s appearance. Maybe too much build up. We spend a good six minutes in the company of strange noises and tense music. (Side note – this is the first time where I have actually noticed the incidental music. It’s very good and is employed to great effect consistently throughout the film.)

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Marley appears. He is the first Marley to unhinge his jaw, as per the book, and the effect is unsettling. All done through acting as well! No special effects here. 

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Hmm. It looks a lot sillier in gif form.

Some Marleys promise spirits at 1 o’clock, 2 o’clock and 3 o’clock and others promise  ghosts at 1 o’clock and then 1 o’clock the next day and so on. The second is what Dickens wrote, the first is what makes sense. Time travel as we understand it today wasn’t really a fully formed idea in 1843 so the way Dickens navigated the issue might not make immediate sense to our brains. This, I feel, is one thing that a film version of the story could bring to a modern audience. If you can recontextualise the ideas to more easily communicate the message of the story then go for it, Buster.

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Christmas Past! The effects aren’t bad considering they probably blew the entire budget on George C. Scott.

Scrooge is given the most detailed backstory yet: his mother died during childbirth and he boards over Christmas because his father resents him for it. We then meet his father, Silas Scrooge, for the first time. We never find out if Fan died in childbirth like her mother but we still draw a quick parallel between Scrooge and him and Scrooge and Fred. How “Little Fan” managed to be born despite being the younger sibling is never addressed.

Lots of nice subtle bits of dialogue. Silas Scrooge talking to his children:

“Carriage, Fan. Carriage, boy.”

In this version it was Silas who got Scrooge his apprenticeship with Fezziwig. This film does a good job in linking the vignettes across time skips. For instance, we later find out that the job Bob finds for Peter Cratchit came about through Fred. I think this kind of thing is called film making.

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I like this Fezziwig because a) he gets some dialogue and b) he doesn’t look like Eggman.

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Fezziwig from the 1970 musical
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Fezziwig from the 1970 musical

Belle jokingly accuses Scrooge of being too serious and Scrooge remarks that he doesn’t feel worthy enough to be with her and won’t until he has the means to support her financially. This is nice. Later, when she breaks up with him he is clearly now a workaholic but still not yet the miserable neocon we meet at the beginning of the film.

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Edward Woodward!!!

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Edward Woodward on stilts.

Funny moment at the Cratchit house when Scrooge joins in saying grace.

Tiny Tim’s “god bless us” isn’t totally shitty and pretentious and it even charms Scrooge a bit, leading to my favourite speech of the film:

Really great scene between great two actors at the top of their game.

During Bob’s toast of him, Scrooge says:

“He’s made a point Bob Cratchit has. Without me there’d be no feast; no goose at all. My head for business has furnished him with employment.”

He’s technically correct, of course. The Spirit simply says “Is that all you’ve learned from observing this family on Christmas Day?” and Scrooge’s muted response suggests that it is not and is a really excellent way of foreshadowing the completion of his character arc.

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We get a new scene here, an impoverished London family living off scraps. Scrooge is directly confronted with effects of his Classical Liberalism. He is outraged by what he sees and says

“There are institutions!” 

“Have you visited any of them, these institutions you speak of?”

“No, I’m taxed for them, isn’t that enough?”

“Is it?”

It seems there are two ways to do the Ghost of Christmas Present. Either jolly Father Christmas or discourteous giant. I like Edward Woodward’s large rude man best.

The introduction to ignorance and want is my favourite yet. We are reminded that Present is a spirit and has no corporeal presence.

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Nervous half-smirk when his “workhouses/ prisons” line is thrown back in his face.

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He’s slowly learning. We never see this process as clearly as we do with George C. Scott. He admits his mistakes and actually tries to negotiate with Present when abandoned. He is a man now willing to change.

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What a fucking cool introduction to the Future Ghost. For the first time, you really understand why Scrooge might be scared.

We’re taken to the stock exchange and hear the businessmen talk about someone who’s recently died (I wonder who?). Because we were introduced to both them earlier the scene is given renewed context and its placement in the film is better justified.

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Liz Smith! She alone lifts the whole Old Joe scene which is, mercifully, shortened. Halfway through Scrooge sees his watch and goes into total denial. It can’t be him. It’s a coincidence. No. He asked to see some emotion around this man’s death and all the spirit has shown is greed and avarice! The irony is not lost on the audience.

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That gravestone is still in the graveyard in Shrewsbury where they filmed it. St Chad’s church. Go along and see if you can find it.

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He wakes up etc etc. He orders the Turkey to be delivered to Bob’s house and, when asked who it was from, replies “I wish to remain anonymous.” Aha! A callback!!

We’re shown the Cratchit’s receiving the Turkey for the first time and my god does Tiny Tim look ill. 

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He looks like one of the kids from Akira.

Scrooge spends lunch with Fred and we are treated to Scrooge apologising to Fred and his wife in a scene that really cements this as my favourite Fred/ Scrooge relationship yet.

Bob comes in late the next morning, of course. I much prefer this to versions where Scrooge goes to the Cratchit house on Christmas morning, it all feels much more like something he would do. Scrooge tells Bob that he’s 18 1/2 minutes late. 

Hang on.

Is… is that a reference to Rich Little’s Christmas Carol? It almost certainly isn’t, but my god, if it was…

It struck me at this point that Bob isn’t really much of a character. He’s basically a bit part in a story that has no real secondary character. It’s just Scrooge and several people that he knows. Bob exists to have his salary raised and to be Tiny Tim’s father, really, and many versions don’t really know what to do with him.

The narrator comes back for the last couple of lines. The narrator is another role that many adaptations struggle to work around. It is one thing for which I will give the Muppets credit.

We finish on the same closing shot as the 1951 version. Cute.

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Altogether then, really strong. What struck me, having watched 10 previous A Christmas Carols in a row, is that while this hit all the same story beats as the others it felt very fresh. Gotta applaud constant use of reintroduction, sharp funny dialogue, and pathos.

Like many this film is guilty of Scrooge feeling like a completely different character on Christmas Day. I understand this is sort of the point but it’s almost like he’s undergone a complete personality purge. There is nothing left of his pre-Christmas Eve self. I suppose this cannot be helped but I wonder if any future versions will address it. 

8 1/2 mine shaft gaps out of 10


Best one since Alastair Sim for certain. Was trying to work out whether it was actually better but the striking cinematography of 1951 and Sim’s natural charisma just push it above the mark.

A Chradvent Carolendar #12: Scrooged (1988)

I felt this one. I really felt it. The film’s about 1 hr 40 but it took me over 3 hours to watch because I had to keep pausing to breathe. Turns out that when you spend a full two weeks doing nothing but watching A Christmas Carol you get pretty fucking sick of it. Who’d have thought?

Scrooged (1988) is an average Bill Murray film and a poor ACC adaptation. The end.  

Fine, okIn Scrooged Bill Murray plays a mean spirited television executive who was born and bred in New York despite having a thick Chicago accent. It was directed by Richard Donner who did the original Superman.

The first thing I thought when watching the opening (below) is that this is the first big Hollywood film I’ve watched so far this month. The score, the showmanship, the production values, the terrible trite ending.

We start in the middle of a parody Christmas action movie starring Lee Majors, before immediately cutting away to Robert Goulet. If only Leonard Nimoy was narrating, could’ve had ourselves a hat trick.

Our Scrooge is Frank Cross. He is the youngest executive in television history which is convenient because that allows Bill Murray to play him. It’s not mentioned again.

He wields near omnipotent power over his board of executives. He shows them a recut trailer for a live televised version of Scrooge he’s producing and then fires Bobcat Goldthwaite for doing his job. What’s the point of employing people to have opinions if they can’t express their opinions? Maybe I’m being naive.

(Over the following 24 hours Bobcat Goldthwaite becomes an agitated homeless drunk who seeks revenge on Murray. This pays off when, given his job back at the end, he holds a room full of line producers hostage at gun point so Bill Murray can deliver a speech about the true meaning of Christmas. He gets his job back so he can help Bill Murray help him lose his job again? I think it’s meant to be taken at face value.)

Murray also bodily harms his subordinate colleagues.

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He flicks Goldthwaite’s earlobe shortly after this

Bill Murray is a cartoon villain who never stops talking. He’s not acting, he’s behaving. There is no differentiation between his characters here and in Ghostbusters or Groundhog Day. I’m sure this is hugely entertaining but the effect of this is that it I have no idea if his character is good at his job. He also delivers every line with a deadpan dry sarcasm that makes me doubt that he believes anything he’s saying. Is he bluffing? Does he hate being an executive? I have no idea what he’s thinking.

He also shouts a lot. He shouts when he’s angry, when he’s confused, when he’s stressed, when he’s trying to be intimidating, it’s exhausting.

There are lots of good jokes here and I won’t list them all. I like the fake 80s sitcom “Father Loves Beaver”, I like that they have Mary Lou Retten as a backflipping Tiny Tim in the movie-within-a-movie version of Scrooge. But all the fun vignettes are overshadowed by a strange, inconsistent tone that is half really grim and half irreverent ad libs.

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Best “do you believe me now” scare yet and a good demonstration of how inconsistent the film is. There is a point earlier in this scene where Bill Murray takes out a gun and tries to shoot Marley. This obviously fails but, as he’s firing the gun, Bill Murray dispassionately yells “Bang! Bang! Bang!”. Did he not want to do this movie?  I completely zoned out at this point. If you don’t care what you’re doing then why should an audience want to invest their time into your performance? That is not normal behaviour, even for a sociopath like Bill Murray(‘s character).

On that topic, from Wikipedia:

[What About Bob’s] producer Laura Ziskin recalled having a disagreement with Murray that led to him tossing her into a lake. Ziskin confirmed in 2003, “Bill also threatened to throw me across the parking lot and then broke my sunglasses and threw them across the parking lot. I was furious and outraged at the time, but having produced a dozen movies, I can safely say it is not common behavior.

Onwards. There are big gaps between ghosts. The next one was promised “tomorrow at noon”.

Bill Murray’s apartment looks pretty similar to Patrick Bateman’s.1988b
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Both are high flying narcissistic businessmen living in 80s Manhattan so they’ve almost certainly done coke and fucked. 

Our Fred here is Bill Murray’s estranged brother, James. James invites him over for Christmas Dinner and sends Scrooge a framed photo of them as children at the end. That’s basically all the interaction we get.

Bob Cratchit is Grace, Bill Murray’s PA, and Tiny Tim, Calvin, is her mute son. Instead of a Christmas bonus she gets a branded towel stressing more than anything else how desperately in need the Americans are of a proper labour movement. Her empoverished life in Harlem and Murray’s affluent lifestyle in Manhattan are a good parallel to the situation in Victorian London on which they were based.

We learn that Tiny Tim stopped talking after seeing his father killed in front of him. Jesus Christ. Sounds to me like some sort of PTSD but in the film it is dismissed offhand as a confidence thing.

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The Ghost of Christmas Past is a New Yawk cab driver. He takes Bill Murray back to Christmas 1955 when he was 4 years old. His cartoonishly evil father gives him five pounds of veal as a present. 

If this fucked Scrooge up so much then why is his brother so well adjusted and normal? Who knows.

We then fastforward to 1968 when Scrooge is…. old enough to have a job in an office? And live alone in an apartment in lower Manhattan with Karen Allen? But we just established that he’d be 17? It’s a weird scene and I don’t know what it accomplishes narratively. I suppose it establishes that Murray is too much of a workaholic to attend the office Christmas party but not so workaholic as to alienate Karen Allen, this film’s Belle. We then get an intensely boring and unnecessary romance scene. It’s not really ever clear why Karen Allen likes Bill Murray so much, he routinely gets angry with her and ends almost every interaction in a shouting argument. Still, for no reason, Karen Allen keeps coming back.

The Ghost of Christmas Present is insanely irritating.

And yet still only the second worst Ghost of Christmas Present.

Bill Murray doesn’t really show any pre-emptive signs of reformation whatsoever. The first two spirits are completely pointless and we may as well just skip to the Future Ghost.

The ghost is pure 80s practical effects joy. Look what Murray sees when he opens up the spirit’s coat, thinking it’s a guy in costume.

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Lots of really nice shots here, including this terrifying sequence where Bill Murray is cremated alive (dead).

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Having now fully reformed, Bill Murray then interrupts the live version of A Christmas Carol he’s been producing for television and has a nervous breakdown where he begs Karen Allen for sex and everybody sings Put A Little Love In Your Heart. Bill Murray breaks character and turns to the audience, quotes Little Shop of Horrors and wishes us Merry Christmas.

Oh, and Tiny Tim finally talks. It took a man having a psychological collapse on national television to get over his PTSD. A lesson for us all, I think, despite the fact that Scrooge and Tim barely interact in this film.

I do not like Bill Murray as an actor and I think his ad libs are tacky and overplayed. They’re as bad as any modern Paul Feig film. I will give Scrooged credit for being the only adaptation so far to wrap up Scrooge’s romance plot line. The only problem is that it does that at the expense of everything else.

5 instantly forgettable Bill Murray characters out of 10.


Today’s Chradvent felt mercenary and short. It’s taken me 6 hours to write these 1400 words and I never want to watch another movie again.

A Chradvent Carolendar #13: Blackadder’s Christmas Carol (1988)

Now we’re in familiar territory.

I have watched Blackadder’s Christmas Carol more times than I can count to the point where it’s lost all meaning to me. I know it line for line and have done since I was 15. I’m sure this won’t affect my judgement of it.

Whereas Scrooged was the first parody this Chradvent, Blackadder is the first to do it with an ironic twist (Rich Little does not count). As a TV special, we go in knowing the main characters already. The Edmund Blackadder of the past two series of the show is a cynical, cowardly opportunist who’d make a good candidate for his own Scrooge-like redemption. So we know we’re in for a treat when Hugh Laurie’s narrator says:

‘In the reign of good Queen Vic there stood, in Dumpling Lane in old London town, the moustache shop of Ebenezer Blackadder, the kindest and loveliest man in all England.’

Maybe it’s just a fever dream but does the set here look like the set from Rich Little’s Christmas Carol?

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God, I hope it is a fever dream. 

Ebenezer Blackadder bursts in with a “Humbug! Humbug! Humbug, Mr Baldrick?“. (As the lyrics to the theme song state, he’s sickeningly good). This is not the Blackadder we know and love.

Also like Rich Little, Baldrick manages to spell Christmas without any of the constituent letters, an achievement for which Blackadder commends him. (I spent many German lessons when I was 12 trying to work out how. The closest I got was Kwyznuz, which is how you spell Christmas in Russian.)

But how Ben, I hear you ask, do you sustain the established format of Blackadder when your main character is the complete polar opposite of himself? As you can see, Blackadder’s lines are broadly unchanged.

“I fear, Mr Baldrick, the only way you’d get a big wet kiss at Christmas, or any other time, is to make a pass at a water closet.”

I spent a while trying to work out what it was that Rowan Atkinson was doing. Whatever it was it was very clever. I think it’s a couple of things; the first he’s a lot more patient with Baldrick, whom he calls Mr Baldrick, always finding a positive spin and acting as as somewhat an educator, taking an interest in his activities. The second is that while a lot of Blackadder’s lines are mean spirited, Rowan Atkinson delivers them with complete innocence. You almost get the feel he’s not really saying them. (You can notice this during regular episodes of Blackadder too. Edmund will often insult General Melchett to his face and Melchett won’t hear him.)

Incredible how well this works, actually. How many other sitcoms could you completely inverse and yet not change the fundamental dynamics of the main characters? I think it’s a testament to Elton & Curtis as much as Atkinson, though I’m not sure it would work outside of the confines of this one-off special.

All characters introduced in the Victorian segments are original; we don’t get, for example, Hugh Laurie’s George popping in. The airheaded Prince Albert and the irrepressibly horny Queen Victoria are throwbacks to Broadbent and Margolyes’ roles in the first series but they’re basically completely different characters. We also get Mrs Scratchit (collecting for her overweight son Tiny Tom), a young urchin (wanting money for gin), Mr Beadle and his enormous orphans (straight from Oliver Twist) and Blackadder’s irritating niece Millicent. 

They con Blackadder out of his money, food and presents. They even take the Christmas Twig. 

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W-where was he keeping that?

The Royals arrive in disguise complete with footman.

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They are on a mission to reward the kind and the generous and, as such, demand Blackadder hand over his Christmas turkey for the kind and generous old woman next door. There are no good reasons to be charitable in this world.

We never see our Marley, but Baldrick does.

‘Ooh, I forgot to mention, when you were out there, there was this enormous ghostly creature come in saying, “Beware, for tonight you shall receive a strange and terrible visitation.” I just thought I’d mention it. It come through the wall, said its piece, then sodded off.’

Robbie Coltrane preempts his role as Hagrid 13 years early.

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The Ghost of Christmas Past Present All Three is a grey-bearded Scottish alcoholic. Why? Why not.

Robbie explains that, while his job usually involves getting crooked misers to reform their ways, he just wanted to say stop by and say hello. How does Robbie make them reform? He shows them visions of their ancestors. This does bring into question how exactly showing someone their ancestors gets them to realise the errors of the ways but then this is borne out in the special as it has the opposite effect on Blackadder.

The little clips we get from Elizabethan and Regency Blackadder are nice little 6 minute condensed sitcom A-plots with all the faff cut out. They’re shallow but very good for what they are.

The third segment is set in distant future after Blackadder asks what his life would be like if he became bad:
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And then, if he didn’t: 

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That’s enough for Blackadder. He un-reforms and sets out to be bad. He starts immediately the next day with the intentional murder of a child.

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Our boy’s back!

(This is funny and it is what Blackadder would do but it represents a broader issue with A Christmas Carol; by the end there are literally no residual elements of Scrooge’s former personality left whatsoever. This is a bigger issue in the dramatic adaptations like 1951 or 1984 where the Scrooge we get to know effectively dies on Christmas morning. Maybe  Dickens just meant for Scrooge to be a metaphor without detailed characterisation.)

We’re confronted with Millicent, Scratchit and Beadle once more and each time Blackadder tells them, in a unique and charming way, to fuck off.

The way Rowan Atkinson delivers the line at the end of this clip specifically might be one of my favourite line deliveries of his ever. 

I’ve seen this special 10, maybe 15 times and I still laughed at that moment.

The Royals come back, this time to offer Blackadder a peerage and £50,000. He doesn’t believe they’re the real deal and insults them out of the house. Despite the message throughout of “bad guys have all the fun” we are eventually reminded that this is not the case and the final shot is of Blackadder realising that that really was Queen Victoria.

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A lesser sitcom would see Blackadder chase the Queen out of the house with a gag punchline.

This is the kind of neat, alternative retelling of the story that Scrooged so desperately lacked. It completely reinvented itself to suit the needs of the main characters. Less concerned with hitting the story beats as interpreting them. This is how you do pastiche.

7 1/2 novelty death warrants out of 10


I hope my pre-Chradvent knowledge of this one didn’t spoil the overall experience. The truth is, there’s not too much to write about. It’s very solid and the gags are great. If it had been as bad as Rich Little’s Christmas Carol I might have taken more issue with the contrived situations.

Also; the correct viewing order for Blackadder is: 

Back & Forth up to the point where Blackadder makes Baldrick’s life flashes before his eyes

The Black Adder

Blackadder II

Blackadder: The Cavalier Years

Blackadder the Third

Blackadder Goes Forth

The rest of Back & Forth.

I’ve experimented with this formula in marathon setting and using Back & Forth as a framing device really works. Best enjoyed with a casserole made from three beans and that one.

 

A Chradvent Carolendar #14: The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)

Happy now?

The principal reason I did Chradvent was because I kept on hearing people say “the Muppets’ version is the best version”. That seems like quite a bold claim considering it’s been adapted literally thousands of times for virtually every medium and performance genre. How can you be sure of your claim unless you’ve seen them all? I used to joke.

But you’re not laughing now, are you?

I’ll be upfront; I’ve seen The Muppet Christmas Carol more times than I’ve seen the Blackadder one. I watched it endlessly on VHS as a child and it’s always repeated on Christmas Eve. Cinemas all over the country host sing-along screenings every week of last third of the year.

Why do people like it so much? It received moderate praise when it came out but didn’t smash any records. I think I’ve broken down the reasons why so many people consider it the definitive Christmas Carol:

  1. It’s a recent mainstream Hollywood release
    (It’s easily accessible, it’s well publicised, a lot of people have watched it)
  2. It’s family friendly
    (All the dark stuff is balanced out by lighthearted Muppet stuff)
  3. It’s a musical
    (The songs are good & catchy. It’s fun to rewatch.)
  4. It’s a comedy
    (Who wants to take their kids to see a depressing, didactic, grown up film at Christmas? This will probably be the version most people grew up with)
  5. It’s adapted by an existing, well known franchise
    (Brand recognition. Muppet-lovers.)

The film is more than just these bullet points though, it’s a good film in its own right (but it’s not… incredible). I will go into depth here and will probably drop 2000 words but my summary is that while it is the most fun I’ve had so far this month, it’s a works much better as a broader Christmas film than specifically an ACC adaptation. So then the question is: how do you measure what is Superior? Star Wars might be more fun to watch than Citizen Kane but that doesn’t necessarily make it better. Hm.

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This is one of those cast-characters-as-other-characters deal like Mickey Mouse or… Rich Little. The main muppet guy – Kermit – is Bob. Same as how Mickey – who I believe is the main Disney guy – was also Bob. We see more of Bob in Muppets than we do in most versions and he even gets his own song where we see his legs. And not in a weird way like in the George C. Scott version.

We start on a nice long take where we’re showed that muppets and white people coexist and are then introduced to Gonzo (a self-aware Charles Dickens, also the narrator) and Rizzo (who is a sort of comic relief Greek chorus). We establish pretty quickly that the fourth wall is going to be broken a lot. This is a really inventive way of side stepping the narrator issue I’ve been waiting so long for someone to address. The story works best with narration, especially at the start, but no film yet has fully committed to it, either using it at the very end and beginning or not at all. Having Gonzo there to contextualise Scrooge’s thoughts and actions is really nice touch. It adds texture and… Dickens writes well. It’s nice to listen to.

Scrooge is introduced in shadow and we kick into a song.

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Gonzo’s narration interspersed between lyrics makes it all feel very ominous.

Michael Caine’s face isn’t revealed until the very last beat of the song and it’s very effective at setting Scrooge up as an antagonistic presence.

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We sail quickly through the chuggers (Bunsen & Honeydew), an orphan caroler (Bean Bunny) and Fred (some man) then Scrooge begrudgingly gives Bob and his army of rodent bookkeepers the day off.

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We can assume from the fact that Scrooge is employing about 8 extra people that this is the most successful branch of Scrooge and Marley across the Christmas Carol Multiverse.

At this point we usually get a few crucial lines that tell us how Scrooge is going to be played. Surplus population is one, boiled in his own pudding another, let me keep it in my way a third. Michael Caine Scrooge delivers them at face value but it is quite possible that an Alastair Sim or a George C. Scott delivery would not work here. There’s not room for an ironic twist on the original story that isn’t already covered by the inclusion of muppets. This Scrooge needs to be a faithful, static anchor in order for the rest of wacky stuff around him to work. In the man’s own words:

“I’m going to play this movie like I’m working with the Royal Shakespeare Company. I will never wink, I will never do anything Muppety. I am going to play Scrooge as if it is an utterly dramatic role and there are no puppets around me.”

You probably couldn’t get away with a 1951-style deep dive into Scrooge’s character because that version relies on subplots about domestic abuse and maternal death which might conflict with expectations for a muppet movie. Outside of the first scene, Michael Caine plays a very emotionally available Scrooge who is humbled by his visions.

There’s a nice moment as Kermit and the rats try to convince Scrooge to give them the day off – it will cost to burn coal, no-one else will be open.

First live action knocker morph. Scrooge’s reaction also very good.

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Scrooge wanders around the house for a while with a candle and poker. The incidental music is really creepy. After a bit, we settle in for the arrival of Jacob Marley and his brother Bob Marley.

Scrooge seems genuinely distressed by their appearance, like he’s about to burst into tears.

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He takes his poker to bed and sleeps above the covers, cute touch.

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I really like their depiction of the Ghost of Christmas Past; it’s not literal, interpretive, muppet or human. It’s weird and ethereal and I don’t know quite what it is apart from its own thing.

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They fly out of the window as Gonzo throws a grappling hook around Scrooge’s ankle to follow them. The logistics really don’t matter.

We’re in Scrooge’s old schoolroom now and he gets really nostalgic and sad. When he sees his younger self alone on Christmas he looks like he’s about to burst into tears.

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Scrooged could’ve done with some of the gravitas Michael Caine brings to the table here. This scene has almost no impact because of how much they preempt the crying by talking about it. Like the film was almost ashamed for having a bit of drama.

In contrast, Rizzo and Gonzo are good at keeping the comedy and drama together but separate. They often interject with gags or a fourth wall break but during the more emotionally tense scenes, like the one above, they largely steer clear. There’s loads of crazy muppet stuff at the beginning but this slowly fades as the story escalates. At the film’s conclusion Rizzo and Gonzo completely vacate the Ghost of Christmas Future stave, saying to the audience that they’ll meet again at the finale.

We then cut to Fezziwig, played by Fozzie Bear and renamed Fozziwig. Rizzo and Gonzo are present but did not travel with Scrooge and the spirit so we can only assume that they waited out the intermediate 10 years in real time.

Young Scrooge really looks like Michael Caine, wow.

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I checked and it’s not an Albert Finney situation – that’s a different actor. He’s in Emmerdale now. I hope he’s still playing young Scrooge.

He is introduced to Belle who is, reassuringly, confirmed as just a friend of Fozziwig and not his daughter. During this scene, Scrooge looks like he’s about to burst into tears.

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The Ghost of Christmas Present is one of the jolly types. This has a number of immediate advantages. It lightens up the middle of the film, gives Scrooge a more varied range of experiences and makes the “boy will die/ then let him do it” line more effective in comparison. They also made him absent minded, which is good twist on his nature as a literal embodiment of the Present.

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A song is an extremely efficient way to show Present taking Scrooge to see people from all walks of life celebrating Christmas. It’s also a good song.

Scrooge and Present are almost friends. They joke around, Scrooge seems to be having fun and tries to engage with the spirit. He wants to see family. The spirit takes him to Fred’s house where we get the parlour game in which he’s the punchline. Scrooge looks like he’s about to burst into tears.

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Tiny Tim is played by this frog. Presumably he couldn’t get all the way down those stairs because of neglectful Victorian doctors.

He gets his own song which is a little bit too cloyingly sweet for me but I suppose it’s right for the film.

It’s just not quite God Rest Ye Merry Mr Blackadder.

You really get a sense that Scrooge believes that Tiny Tim is remarkable. After that song, he looks like he’s about to burst into tears.

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He asks if Tiny Tim will live and the spirit delivers a line which I’d missed from other versions:

“That is the future. My realm is the present. However, I see a” etc

The spirit turns into early 90s CGI stars and we meet the Future Ghost with a dramatic musical sting, a dutch angle and yaoi hands.

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The Future ghost is one reason why I’m happy they didn’t do a total Mickey Mouse and have every character represented by an existing one. Originally Animal was going to be Christmas Future. Can you imagine?

Gonzo and Rizzo turn up briefly, again implying they have been living through the visions in real time for decades. Gonzo’s narratorial omnipotence is all over the place and deserves a film of its own.

Future time now. I like that Scrooge remains perfectly dry while standing in the rain.

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I won’t bore you with the Old Joe segment again but we are given a line of clarification from Scrooge that suggests he at least isn’t a total moron.

“I understand spirit; he case of this unhappy man might be my own. My life tends that way now. Merciful heavens.”

At this point Scrooge looks like he’s about to burst into tears.

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Then we go to the Cratchit house, find Tiny Tim dead and Scrooge looks like he’s about to burst into tears.

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We cut straight to the graveyard scene, where Scrooge

finally bursts into tears.

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And so his character arc is completed. For a few moments there I thought he wasn’t going to do it. What was this movie about again?

That’s basically it. It ends as you’d think. We’re reintroduced to the characters we met earlier and we go to dinner at Bob Cratchit’s house. Everyone’s at the Cratchit’s for dinner, even Fred! Not his wife though…

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At least this time Scrooge brought some food.

It’s a solid film, this. Scrooge’s character transformation is consistent and it doesn’t feel like a total 180 by the end! This is entirely down to performance (with a couple of helpful lines thrown in here and there). This version, muppets aside, is actually incredibly faithful. It hits the story beats effortlessly. It’s entirely likely that the writers did their own mini-Chradvent leading up to this, as it takes lots of small cues from 1951, 1970 and 1984. I still believe it’s a better Christmas film than it is an ACC adaptation – it’s sanitised and depoliticised – but you don’t have to be grimdark to be good. It’s definitely the most fun adaptation and one that you can easily come back to again and again.

8 “I love you, Mr Batman”s out of 10


I did it. I watched it and I can say equivocally it’s not the best, just very good. Cue a thousand facebook comments. It’s all downhill from here…

A Chradvent Carolendar #15: A Flintstones Christmas Carol (1994)

The bar’s been set pretty low, folks.

Let’s skirt past the fact that the Flintstones are celebrating the birth of Jesus several thousand years before he was born, even less adapting a story written in 1843. The Stone age had its own Victorian age and we just need to accept that. Moving on.

We are not handed another Mickey Mouse/ Muppets/ Rich Little character-for-character adaptation. Instead, the good people of Bedrock are staging their own one night community production of A Christmas Carol with Fred Flintstone as Ebonezer Scrooge. 

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And boy, is Fred happy to be playing Scrooge. Despite still learning his lines on the afternoon of opening night he has sick delusions of making it big on Broadrock. Caught in the throes of acting he becomes neglectful of his family, rude to his coworkers and negligent at work. He forgets to buy any presents, he forgets to pick up Pebbles from daycare and he’s dismissive and demanding of Wilma. Poor Wilma. In addition to being stage manager she’s also had to pick up the wardrobe manager portfolio due to illness, the mysterious “Bedrock Bug”. Fred doesn’t deserve her. At the very least we can take solace in the fact that in the Flintstones, unlike The Honeymooners on which the show was based, she’s not constantly under threat of domestic abuse

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Who the fuck is this character? She says she wants to rehearse the “love scene” with Fred. In A Christmas Carol? What? 

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There’s a wiki dedicated to Christmas specials that I just discovered and their description of this scene is great:

“It is implied here that Fred is in a secret relationship with Maggie behind Wilma’s back”

Fred… you bastard.

He rushes out to buy emergency Christmas presents (which he pays for on his Mesozoic Express card) and gives them to a stranger, a tiny child, to stand in the gift wrapping line so he can go get ready for his play.

After setting up that Fred’s a big dickhead and everyone hates him we jump into the production of A Christmas Carol. Barney is Bob Cragit and the firm is Scrooge and Marbley.

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They get around the narration issue nicely by having an actor off stage reading in the lines. The next 15 or so minutes are… a pretty faithful line for line adaptation of the original text. There isn’t any meta commentary and we almost forget that they’re staging a play. This becomes incredibly confusing later on .

We meet the chuggers and Fred.

 

I’ll assume we’re meant to know who they are. The Flinstones wiki is insistent that these are named characters but I have absolutely no idea who they are. Look, I watched The Flintstones as much as anyone did as a kid and even though I tuned out when they started introducing aliens I guarantee I have never seen these people before. Maybe that’s why they didn’t do a straightforward adaptation? Because there aren’t enough memorable Flintstones characters to fill all the requisite roles?

Across the whole show I can only think of maybe five or six adults and I just watched a 70 minute long Flintstones movie.

There are some kids outside having a snowball fight despite the fact that we just established that the stage snow was comprised entirely of animal feathers.

This inconsistency is pushed to its limit in the next scene. The Marley knocker.

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What sort of fantastical stone age technology are they using to physically morph a tangible object into a translucent human head LIVE ON STAGE? If it’s meant to be the actor’s actual head, why is it considerably smaller than Fred’s?

This becomes a running theme. Scrooge has retired to his chambers and is about to be visited by Marley. I don’t know where on the stage they managed to fit his room but all four walls are clearly visible.

Marley’s entrance:

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Again, this is a one night community theatre play. 

Wilma takes over as the Ghost of Christmas Past as the actress comes down with that mysterious Bedrock Bug. She too is translucent. Fred turns translucent when he touches her. Wish I had this show’s production designer but he probably died 6000 years ago.

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As you may have noticed, the animation is slightly better than the usual Flintstones fare. This is probably because it was made 30 years later with a higher budget. If you wanted to get a sense of what it’s like in action, think Tom and Jerry Kids. Probably same people involved, both were early 90s Hannah Barbera things. 

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How big is this fucking set? How are they changing it?

Immediately before they enter the schoolhouse, we have an act break. The curtain goes down. After a bit of backstage nonsense, it goes up again and Fred is playing Young Scrooge suddenly. How does that work? Never mind, we’re off to Fezziwig’s.

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HOW BIG IS THIS FUCKING SET?!

In this scene we see Old Scrooge (intangible, played by Fred Flintstone) watching Young Scrooge (tangible, played by Fred Flintstone).

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We meet Belle (played by Wilma because the original actress caught the Bedrock Beg) and then Belle breaks up with Scrooge as per the original. We then get ANOTHER act break. Barney specifically mentions this one is 10 minutes because Fred rushes back to the store to pick up his gift wrapped presents. No dice, Fred. He breaks into the department store (!!!) and is approached by a police officer called Philo Quartz, also the only black man in Bedrock. Philo lets him off (???) having also earlier let him off a charge of crossing a red light over the speed limit because Bedrock has modern era Zimbabwe levels of corruption.

They race through the next two ghosts. Lots of reality-breaking stage effects complimented by verbatim Dickens dialogue. It’s extremely surreal to watch. 

At the epilogue now, Wilma has been cast one of the chuggers (Bedrock Bug) and ad libs with Fred. Fred admits he was being a right dickhead earlier on the film and that he’s a changed man. Wilma asks why? I also ask why. He says the events of the play changed his mind. Ok. 

Tiny Tim was Bam Bam and he tries to deliver the “God Bless Us, Every One” line but gets stage fright and Pebbles jumps in and delivers it instead. Fred (Scrooge) and Wilma (that one male chugger, now wearing a dress) have a celebratory hug with Pebbles (one of Bob Cratchit’s children) and we end the play on the line:

“I’m not a Scrooge any more, I understand what’s really important. You and Pebbles and Barney and Betty.”

Yeah, fuck you Bam Bam. Can’t even say your lines right.

The film ends like this. Fred isn’t ever punished for leaving his Christmas shopping to the last minute, putting it all on the credit card and then delegating it to a seemingly orphaned child. At least he thanked Wilma. Still doesn’t deserve her though.

This was an odd one. It was a terrible film, an average Flintstones episode and a fairly accurate reproduction of the Christmas Carol story, beat for beat, line for line.

3 John Goodmans and Rick Moranises out of 10


I’m getting my second wind, I can feel it. This may change because I know what I’m watching next.

A Chradvent Carolendar #16: Ms. Scrooge (1997)

What a nothing movie.

Ms. Scrooge sees Cicely Tyson play a race swapped, gender swapped Scrooge living in contemporary Rhode Island. You might think this would make for an opportunity to do an updated political retelling of the story but instead we get a bland, uninspired 80 minutes that looks and feels like an episode of Murder She Wrote. This is the worst kind of bad because it’s just mediocre and boring; it’s not like we ascend to the dizzying lows of Rich Little.

I’m watching a version ripped from Canadian TV and this shot made me laugh
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Cratchit is late for work and woe betide he be late for work else the mean Ms. Scrooge crush his testes in a log book.

Here’s our protag, Ms. Ebenita Scrooge.

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I can’t really fault her performance here, you deal the cards you’re given, but I’m not entirely sure of her choice to use a voice halfway between Steve Urkel and Rich Little as Edith Bunker.

We learn that she employs 16 people, making hers by far the most successful branch of Scrooge and Marley’s across the multiverse. We also learn that she says “garbage” instead of “humbug”. An equally memorable catchphrase.

She has a cat called Mortimer, so she can’t be all bad.

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Extremely unceremonious arrival of Maude Marley. No build up. No mystery. No reaction from Ebenita. 

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This might actually be my least favourite Marley yet. Bored and unintimidating. It doesn’t even feel like she’s a ghost. It feels like she’s one of the Aunts from Sabrina the Teenage Witch.

She does tell us something interesting though; if Scrooge changes her ways then that’s her ticket “out of this”. This is a recurrent theme in Ms Scrooge; the spirits of Christmas that visit Scrooge are real souls who died and went to hell and are now trying to repent. 

 

 

We get Shitty Humphrey Bogart, Neckman and Late 2007 Goth. They’re all pretty uninteresting. Guess they blew all the costume budget on food for the cat.

It’s quite remarkable how little there is to talk about in this film. We race through the Past, Present and Future staves with only a few notable differences. 

The first is that we follow Scrooge’s early life very closely. For instance: we learn that, when she was young, her father died in a bad CGI house fire.

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I thought they were going to do something interesting about how her father, an African-American, ran a successful business in the 1930s American south. Nope.

Beyond that, we get a fairly detailed picture of her life to date. It’s something that other adaptations could probably afford to do. It’s just a shame that this one is so boooring.

The second major difference is that we see Scrooge die on screen. She collapses after refusing Fred’s request to help Tiny Tim. She almost falls over and Fred offers to help but she says no. Then she dies alone, surrounded by her money. Oh, Fred’s a Baptist minister.

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I will give them this: in refusing Fred’s aid out of pride, they managed to contrive an effective workaround of why Scrooge dies if he/ she doesn’t reform. The funeral scene, attended only by Fred, his wife and Bob Cratchit (who turns up late) is sad.

The third difference is that, instead of some unnamed condition, the film mentions offhand that Tiny Tim is dying of a “slow growing congenital tumour”.

I will admit that that was a significant factor in my decision to watch this film out of the hundreds of others available.

There’s so little to write about!!! I almost feel like I’m letting you down but then I remember that I’m basically writing the equivalent of a dissertation every 5 days of December and I stop feeling guilty.

When it comes to Christmas Day Ms. Scrooge is repeatedly told that she “suddenly looks really pretty”. She then buys a turkey for Bob anonymously and then immediately turns up to reveal to the Cratchits that she bought said turkey. Tiny Tim eventually makes the connection. Him and Scrooge then exchange the following stupid dialogue:

“Don’t you get it? It was Ms Scrooge who sent us the turkey!”

“How did you guess that?”

“I didn’t guess, I put two and two together.”

“You like numbers?”

“Yeah I like math best of all in school.”

What?

This was by far the most unremarkable, forgettable adaptation of A Christmas Carol I’ve seen yet. Every chance it could’ve taken to do something original or interesting it didn’t. I mean, it was technically competent but… why?

4 slow growing congenital tumours out of 10


Just less than 800 words this Chradvent. Don’t worry lads, tomorrow will be a doozy.

 

 

A Chradvent Carolendar #17: An All Dogs Christmas Carol (1998)

An All Dogs Christmas Carol is the third film in the All Dogs Go To Heaven franchise (which I haven’t seen) and the grand finale of the All Dogs animated series (which I haven’t seen). As such it was completely incomprehensible. I‘m sure this could’ve been avoided had I been more familiar with All Dogs Cinematic Universe but there was absolutely no way I was going to sit through 2 films and 40 episodes of a shitty cartoon series just to appreciate whatever the fuck this was a bit better. Chradvent is killing me as it is.

Like the original FrankensteinAn All Dogs Christmas Carol is a story within a story. This is the only comparison to Frankenstein I will make and there are no other similarities but I’ll still include it because it pads for 40 words.

What else… it was released straight to DVD and Don Bluth was not involved in any way.

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I… ugh. I really don’t want to do this.

Annabelle is some sort of angelic whippet who is reading a story to the assorted puppies of Heaven. We are repeatedly reassured that this is a true story and the one responsible for it was: B̺̹EL͈̮̞ͅL̰̥͖̟A̙͙̥͔͈D̮̖͈O̝͟N͖N̛̤̻̤̩̤̟͕A̴̩̯̲̠̰

Nope, me neither. 

ROLL CREDITS

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Dom DeLuise? The Dom DeLuise

We get a pretty bland opening number as the dogs of San Francisco set up their Christmas tree.

I have no idea who any of them are. Tiny Tim is some dog with a bad leg.

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From the few clips I’ve seen of the original I don’t remember everything looking so bland and shitty as it does here. Look at this:

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Compare it to this scene from the first film:

What a pivot. 

This is underpinned by the film’s bad guy, Carface Crothers.

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Compare and contrast:

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What a fucking pivot. 

Carface summons Shenron the Eternal Dragon with what we later learn is a hypnotic dog whistle.

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He uses this to steal everyone’s PRECIOUS BONES and makes off with them. He also makes off with the collection tin for Tiny Tim’s operation. 

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That character you see at the front there, unceremoniously dumping his PRECIOUS BONES onto the pile, was the main character of the last two films. He gets maybe twenty minutes of screen time maximum. 

The dogs come to their senses after Carface leaves and decide NO. The PRECIOUS BONES are theirs. They break into Carface’s house where he’s counting gold coins (presumably he went to one of those Cash4Bones shops in downtown San Francisco) and demand Carface return Tiny Tim’s collection tin alongside the PRECIOUS BONES. Carface says he’d love to chat but “his boss won’t let [him]”. 

This heralds the entrance of B̺̹EL͈̮̞ͅL̰̥͖̟A̙͙̥͔͈D̮̖͈O̝͟N͖N̛̤̻̤̩̤̟͕A̴̩̯̲̠̰, demonic sister of Annabelle. 

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What a sucky, nothing design. Don Bluth would’ve never settled for that. He’d have drawn something like this:

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I think this movie is making me retroactively like Don Bluth a lot more than I actually do. Also, Belladonna isn’t really Carface’s boss – it’s clearly some sort of freelance situation in the vein of Uber.

She unveils a grand scheme to steal everyone’s presents by hypnotising all the dogs using a massive oversized version of the whistle Carface used earlier. It’s not really on the same level as this, is it?

Scared away by B̺̹EL͈̮̞ͅL̰̥͖̟A̙͙̥͔͈D̮̖͈O̝͟N͖N̛̤̻̤̩̤̟͕A̴̩̯̲̠̰’s terrifying demonic visage, Dom DeLuise and the other dog run away down a secret hatch (???) that leads into some sewers (?????) 

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But… the front door was open… you opened it… how did you know that going through this trapdoor would allow you to….

Maybe this was a callback to a previous escapade that I missed. I optimistically checked both the Alldogsgotoheaven wiki and the Don Bluth wiki and no, it’s not. Also, far more importantly, I learned that in the second film we see Carface die and go to Hell. Guess he just CAME BACK!

The dogs (I don’t know their names) then receive a vision from Annabelle (the good one) who explains that they need to stop B̺̹EL͈̮̞ͅL̰̥͖̟A̙͙̥͔͈D̮̖͈O̝͟N͖N̛̤̻̤̩̤̟͕A̴̩̯̲̠̰ (the bad one) from her evil, wicked scheme to steal everyone’s Christmas presents. 

But why did Carface steal all the bones? Oh, whatever.

Annabelle then says she is not allowed to interfere but gifts the main dog, the one who isn’t Dom DeLuise, a “miracle dog tag”. It quickly becomes clear that this grants the wearer COMPLETE AND TOTAL OMNIPOTENCE.

The dogs decide to fake three Christmas Carol-like visitations for Carface and by fake I mean make happen literally. You might think that it’d be fun to see someone convincingly fake a haunting well enough to make a villain turn over a new leaf, but no. Using the power of the Doomsday Medallion they hijack Carface’s television and pull him inside of it, sending him back in time.

This scene also has some of the suckiest animation I’ve seen yet.

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During that 6 second clip he says the following:

“In this story you will be visited by three ghosts. Each will arrive by the chiming of a bell, hmm?”

His actions and his words do not match at any point. Why won’t he stop moving? There’s no shading, everything’s brown and his eyes. are. dead.

Dog DeLuise is the first ghost. In Carface’s past we see him as a puppy, a “heckraiser”, who eventually gets turfed out onto the streeets because he pissed behind the Christmas tree. Truly a relatable story. 

For the Ghost of Present, he gets pulled into the radio. What next, a fucking gramaphone? Truly the malevolent forces of the Shadow Amulet act in stupid, confusing ways.

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Who’s the Ghost of Present?

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Uhh… who?

The Alldogsgotoheaven wiki says she’s called Sasha – stupid name for a dog – and she’s Charlie’s on and off girlfriend. She’s in on this now? I guess Charlie’s the dog who isn’t Dom DeLuise?

Whoever they all are, Carface is taken to see Tiny Tim, whose owner doesn’t rat him out for breaking a plate. This makes Carface break down in tears.

We also get some more context on Tim’s illness: he has a bad leg. This will still kill him, we learn. But then why are the dogs collecting for Tim despite the fact he has human owners? Even if the dogs managed to raise the thousands of dollars presumably necessary how would they explain it? Whatever.

Carface is sucked into a comic book and the main dog is the Ghost of Future. For some reason the whole segment is an allusion to the 1994 Jim Carrey film The Mask.

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He starts with “It’s showtime!” and it carries on in that same way for a while. It’s all very weird.

Instead of showing anyone’s tombstone or empty crutch, Ipkiss’ divine future vision shows the giant hypnotic dog whistle being activated. Under its spell, Tim carries a present out of the house and Carface gets upset, saying that Tim will be kicked out for this! It can’t go on! He repents!

Hang on a second guys, I see a flaw in B̺̹EL͈̮̞ͅL̰̥͖̟A̙͙̥͔͈D̮̖͈O̝͟N͖N̛̤̻̤̩̤̟͕A̴̩̯̲̠̰’s plan. Sorry to break up the flow. Hypnotising the dogs won’t get her all the presents in San Francisco, it will get her all the presents that each individual dog can carry in its mouth out of the dog flap. At best she’s going to end up with some stocking fillers and a Terry’s Chocolate Orange.

Also, having been granted total knowledge of the future, can’t the main dog use his new knowledge to educate himself on the flaws of her machine? Can’t he trap her in a television or a radio or something? Can’t they just destroy the device? Why leave a margin of error? What if Carface doesn’t reform? What if it makes no difference if he does? For that matter, what role does he play in Belladonna’s plan? He’s completely surplus to requirements. The construction of the giant whistle is already completed by Christmas morning without his help and all he actually gets to do when it comes to it is pull the lever.

And pull the lever he does. Three visitations indeed. Stupid idea. 1998l.png

Couldn’t Belladonna have just done that? She’s not doing anything else. In the end Carface redeems himself by blowing up the giant whistle, though I’m not entirely sure how. 

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He connects the barrel to its power source which turns it red hot and causes it to explode, I think? Also the lightning cel overlaps the cel it’s meant to be behind oops.

That’s the end really. The dogs gather back under the Christmas tree and Carface returns the presents and Tim’s collection tin, which he has now filled. 

One of the dogs remarks 

“This will be a story to repeat for years to come.”

You’re telling me, mate.

Carface says :

“Don’t expect this to last for long, I have a business to run.”

And Sasha replies with 

“Well at least it lasted for a day.”

It’s always a sign of quality when your Scrooge says he’s only going to be nice for the remainder of the film. I guess they wanted to milk his highly interesting character in a future series. They never did, it got cancelled and they never made a fourth movie. 

Then it’s back to Annabelle, who’s reading the story to the puppies in heaven. 

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Wait a minute – these puppies are dead, aren’t they? Why is Tiny Tim still living on this miserable Earth with a broken leg when he could be in eternal paradise? 

This was bad, but it was for kids. You can forgive it a few things for that but being aimed at a younger audience is no excuse for mediocre storytelling and animation, especially when it’s a sequel to one of Don Bluth’s better movies. 

Whatever.

2 1/2 dogs whose names I never learnt out of 10


So, so lame. I think I may have even preferred The Flintstones one to this. At least The Flintstones doesn’t have murderous dogs in its back catalogue of films.

A Chradvent Carolendar #18: A Christmas Carol (1999)

I need one day away from this and I think I’ll be fine. I have lost over two weeks to A Christmas Carol now. I’ve had to turn down work to do this.

Today we’ve got another fucking American television movie. Feels like every few years the Hallmark channel said “we haven’t flogged the A Christmas Carol horse for a while, who’ve we got on the books?”. In this particular effort to piss away $2 million on costume rental, Patrick Stewart stars as Ebenezer Scrooge and Richard E. Grant as Bob Cratchit. Cool.

We start with a funeral procession. Marley’s. This Ebenezer Scrooge has the tallest and most powerful top hat yet.

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I like the funeral. No need for a narrator to repeatedly insist that Marley is dead like we’re all idiots. Someone at the funeral takes issue with the phrase “dead as a door nail” and instead suggests “dead as a door knocker”. OOoooOOOooooOOo.

Scrooge promises Marley that the firm they built together will prosper. Aha! Here’s a new angle. Could it be that it’s his heterosexual comradeship with Jacob Marley that spurs his retreat into work and miserdom?

Spoilers: No. 

Fred and the chuggers help us get a sense of SirPatStew’s Scrooge; he is a stern, angry, bitter man who does not tolerate fools gladly. The wiki states that this film took a lot of inspiration from the 1951 version. I refuse to criticise Patrick Stewart’s acting but I will say that Sim managed to make Scrooge simultaneously intimidating and pathetic and you just don’t get the same depth here. It isn’t helped by boring cinematography and a lacklustre cast. If it weren’t for Richard E. Grant, whom I love, and Patrick Stewart, whom I love, this would be an insanely mediocre film.

Scrooge threatens to murder some innocent carol singers with a blunt steel instrument.

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This was such an iconic moment that it made it onto the box art:

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You can even see the poor little carol singer on the left awaiting his imminent brutalisation.

First Marley knocker that is both a morph AND a superposition. Aha! It’s the late 90s now, The Phantom Menace is out and CGI now no longer looks fucking unwatchable

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Look at how bloody cute Sir Patrick looks in his pyjamas.

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Marley is the first really convincing ghost I’ve seen yet.

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I like that he’s both translucent AND has a shadow. He unhinges his jaw and Scrooge kindly helps him with it.

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That was nice of him.

The rest of the Marley scene plays out as it usually does, with the rare addition of the wandering spirits outside the window.

The Ghost of Christmas Past looks like an 18th century Belgian metrosexual.

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Scrooge’s sister has been renamed Fran because we’re in the 90s now and can’t call someone Fanny and in the same line use the words “maternal death”.

Belle breaks up with Scrooge because he’s a neoliberal cowboy.

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Scrooge snuffs out Past as he does in the book. I guess this hadn’t really been attempted properly before but this is the late 90s now, baby. Quantum Leap exists. 

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The Ghost of Christmas Present is a bored homeless man.

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He’s played by an actor called Desmond Barrit, notable for playing the Wizard in Wicked on Broadway. The actor who played the Ghost of Past is Joel Grey…. notable for… playing the Wizard in Wicked on Broadway. Huh. Also Nigel Planer did it. If you had asked me where their talents overlapped I would NOT have said that.

What am I doing, thinking about a film that isn’t A Christmas Carol. Sorry.

The Ghost of Christmas Present looks tired and old. He delivers all his lines like he’s just seconds away from death. Also, because they wanted to make him look taller than he was he’s awkwardly bluescreened in. He takes us around the country in a bad CGI tornado.

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When he’s even more old and ready to die, the Ghost of Present temporarily transforms into Geoffrey Rush.

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We get ignorance & want here but it sucks. Now it’s time for the future ghost: 

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You might think this looks cool or you might think this looks like a Jawa from Star Wars Episode IV but either way it loses all impact when shown in an ordinary setting, as it is immediately. 

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Looks like the top half of a pram’s been stapled to a duvet cover. They should also definitely not have given it human hands. Props to this film for delivering one of the most awkward transitions of Chradvent.

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Reminds me of the time Homer made Flanders a dating video.

Old Joe is not only a Vicar of Dibley reunion, but the second time Liz Smith has been in Chradvent.

 

yada yada Gravestone yada Tiny Tim yada yada.

Scrooge wakes up in the morning, does this:

Then anonymously buys the turkey for Bob, goes to Fred’s house yada yada raises Bob’s salary yada yada yada.

The film ends on some narration, which is a shame because it so cleverly sidestepped the need for any at the start with the funeral scene.

Bit of a disappointment, this film. Started so promisingly with an interesting twist but again made way for another straightforward, bland adaptation which has been done so much better before. PatStew and REGrant are very good and they elevate it just a bit above mediocrity. And I’ve just realised I’ve barely talked about Richard E Grant at all! What a shame that he was wasted so.

6 cold dead eyes of a dying Ghost of Christmas Present out of 10


Attempting to replicate what someone else did before is dooming yourself to failure. You’re missing out on the spirit of originality that made the first so successful. You can’t, at this point in the late 90s, simply do what Alastair Sim did. So aware are we of previous adaptations that they will always exist for comparison in the mind of the viewer. Why not mix it up a little? I think the producers of tomorrow’s Chradvent may have taken this a bit too literally.

A Chradvent Carolendar #19: A Christmas Carol (2000)

Ross Kemp is a fucking geezer who dresses like The Matrix.

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He lives on the fuckin estate apples and pears. Look at this fucking lady falling into those fucking Xmas logs. Cooorrr.

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He’s only goig’ to chuck the fucking telly! Oi! Guv! Leave it out!

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Fucking hell, mate.

Oo ‘ello, it’s fucking Liz Smith! Third time she’s come up this fucking Chradvent. Whatsatthen.

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Eddie Scrooge’s a bit of a fucking gangster. He’s hard. Bit of a loan shark, yeah?

Bob’s a bit of a twat if you know what I mean. Too nice. Why’s he even fucking working with Scrooge? Does fuck all. 

Fred’s a fucking rozzer.

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‘ello Marley. 

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Christ!

Marley’s a ghost, yeah? but he don’t stick around for long, he fucks off after about two minutes. Prick.

Oi! Yer dad’s on the telly! 

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‘Ello Dad!

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Oh fuck off Dad.

His mum died. Now that’s some fucking sad shit. Dad off down the fucking Coach an’ ‘orses every evening, Ross Kemp has to bring himself up. Also his sister who we never see again. 

Right, Dad’s fucked off, now what? What? It’s Christmas eve again? Christ, it’s like that fucking Groundhog day film, you know, er, Groundhog day. Now Ross is a hard man, but even hard men get a bit confused sometimes. And vice versa.

Fucking Marley again, he’s the Ghost of fucking Christmas Present. What a mug.

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Looks like an episode of fucking Eastenders. Now that’s a fucking programme.

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Look, I’m no twat, I know the value of a fucking shilling but why can’t this Bob geezer buy his family some fucking Christmas presents? The one thing that fucking loan sharks have going for them is that they’re minted. Scrooge employs Bob ‘cos he owes him too much money? What the fuck kind of business plan is that? Bob does fuck all, mate. Can’t believe Scrooge would be such a mug not to just break his fucking legs on the spot.

Oh, and his kid’s got cystic fibrosis. Poor fucker.

So Scrooge gets fucked up over this bird, right? Then fucking Marley only goes and calls ‘im a mug for getting sad. Says it’s not love, it’s greed. Why you fuckin’ showin’ ‘im it then? 

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Ignorance and fucking want? Nah, just some homeless kids who died. Scrooge could’ve fucking helped them but didn’t cos he said he was fucking skint (lying prick).

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Fucking xmas eve again. What the fuck is this? Scrooge pretending to be fucking changed but he ain’t really. Does a bit of fucking charity work, doesn’t wanna accept some bloke’s money. Fucking gets angry, dun ‘e?

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Will give him that. That’s a fucking nice twist on the original story. Shows him trying but missing the fucking point. Takes homeless kid to his fucking true love Bella the nurse and Constabable Habib from the fucking Thin Blue Line. Kid’s already dead. Christ Ross, get it together you twat.

‘oo the fuck is the fucking Future Ghost?

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Awright, whatever.

What the fuck is going on here?

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Whatever the fuck it is it ‘appens for a full 25 seconds.

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Aw fuck, he’s just gonna miss the new Doctor Who. 

‘ello, it’s xmas eve again. Cor. Scrooge only goes and fucking sacks Bob. “Your debts are a small price to pay for getting rid of you, you’re useless”. Fucking spot on mate.

Liz Smith gets a fucking hamper. Lovely bloke, that Scrooge.

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He turns in Marley’s killer (knew who it was the whole time, the mug) and says he’s going around to Fred’s for din dins. Fred tells him he’s a fucking vegetarian and you can already see the look of regret on Ross’ cheeky face.

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Scrooge doesn’t do a complete fucking 180 here, yeah? Feels like the same person after the ghosts come along and fuck him up. Like that. First time that’s happened. Same old cheeky witty geezer from before. Hard as fucking nails but with a heart of fucking gold nails.

Oh yeah, the Future Ghost was his fucking kid from the future when he gets with that Bella bird. Guess this film was actually a fucking stealth anti-abortion drama. 

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That’s the end.

4 out of 10, you cunt.


Oi! Scrooge! No!

A Chradvent Carolendar #20: A Carol Christmas (2003)

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This is going to be bad, isn’t it?

Carol Cartman is a mean talk show host who’s nasty to crew members on set because she’s a nasty horrible mean lady who’s nasty and mean. Want to know how mean she is? She gives everyone soap as a present. 

Bob Cratchit = her PA, Roberta Timsins
Fred = her sister Beth
Belle = an incredibly handsome man called John Joyce who’s almost comically charitable

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He’s so great he gets a larger headline than the President’s victory over Congress.

Carol is hosting a live Christmas special, which is an idea so obviously doomed to failure that any producer who ever thought it up deserves to be punched in the face with a turkey.

While being mean and nasty and not liking her nephew’s handmade Christmas presents, Carol Cartman says “bah humbug” because you have to say that when doing A Christmas Carol even if it sounds awkward and makes no sense in context. What makes it even stranger is that A Christmas Carol clearly exists in-universe because the film ends with a reading of it. 

Marley is Aunt Marla played by the lady from Grease who wasn’t Frenchy or Rizzo:

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While lecturing Carol, she gestures to herself and delivers the line “I’m doomed to wander the Earth like this!

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I have legitimately no idea what we’re meant to be horrified at. Is it meant to be all the gold chains she’s wearing? Are they meant to be the spectral chains with which she threatens Scrooge? Cos if so it’s not exactly a disincentive.

The light skippy music underscoring every single scene makes it all feel like an episode of Desperate Housewives. Also because it’s 2003 everyone is wearing those slightly flared Mom Jeans that were all the rage. These two elements bring a powerfully sharp early noughties edge to this film which I didn’t realise I missed until I saw it.

The Ghost of Christmas Past is….

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Gary Coleman. Here we go. Gary Coleman – WHO IS IN CHARACTER AS HIMSELF – takes us on a series of fantastical magical adventures through history. We learn that Aunt Marla was a key figure in Carol’s life, manipulating her into the soap distributing showbiz goddess she is today. 

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As you can see in that screenshot, she forces Carol to choose between her career or getting married. Let’s see… who wrote this? A woman with an understanding of how a media career might play out for a family person?

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Of course.

Aunt Marla does things like set Carol up with some agents. This upsets John because he was going to propose to her at a party they were meant to be going to. Carol insists on going to the meeting but she could hardly know otherwise. If John really loved her he’d understand that this is what she’d wanted her entire life and that they don’t need to be around other people in order to get engaged. If anything it’s extremely egocentric.

Marla is openly hostile to Greg or John or whatever his name is. She tells him to his face that he’s nothing more than a brief stopover on their way to the top. She says “No offence, but good riddance” when he leaves the set one time. Why didn’t he just tell Carol about this? Would she not have believed him? If she wouldn’t have then maybe this relationship wasn’t so hot anyway.

But when Aunt Marla plans a secret meeting with an Executive Producer, she crosses that line between everyday villainy and cartoonish supervillainy. 

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She announces her true intentions; to team up with this producer on a tv programme hosted by Carol that would start as a regular talk show but eventually turn into a programme dedicated to interviewing “freaks”. 

It pains me to say this, but this is even more stupid than the gift stealing satanic poodle from An All Dogs Christmas Carol.

That’s her endgame? For 20, 30 years she’s been planning this? What if literally any one element of her plan failed? Why Carol? Why couldn’t she just do it? 

All this new information makes Carol absolutely furious:

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Ok, end of that segment now. We never see or hear anyone mention Aunt Marla ever again.

It’s time for the Ghost of Christmas Present. Who’s it going to be, Urkel?

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FUCK yes. I take everything back, I love this movie now.

Oh no guys. His character is written very badly. He never stops talking and makes loads of weird self-referential jokes. To preserve Shatner’s legacy I shall therefore never make reference to him here again.

We’re taken to meet Tiny Tim (Lily) who is inexplicably a redhead despite neither of her parents being redheads. Punnet squares people, come on.

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Tim’s deadbeat dad comes around and informs Bob he’s taking her to court for custody. This is, I suppose, a better modern twist on Tim than diagnosing him with a slow growing congenital tumour.

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Nothing says 2003 more than a stretch hummer. 

We get treated to the usual dystopian future of A Christmas Carol. Here, in the not too distant future, Carol has been forced into interviewing freaks and walks out on the production, ending her career in television. This is, of course, would be a massive disaster for Marla’s scheme… were she still alive. This film would’ve been more interesting if we were following her reclamation.

There are some other scenes including an elderly Carol opening a car park – true humiliation. In fact, most of these visions seem to show Carol being humiliated. Is this her ultimate punishment? Come on Tom Amundsen. 

At her funeral (she died) Bob and some cameraman are the only attendees. Bob tells us that Lily now lives in Chicago and hates her because of all the time she spent with Carol. Completely unrelated to the custody hearing then?

It’s time for the complete personality 180. The first thing Carol does when waking up is triple Bob’s salary. Triple?! Christ. Go easy. 

Carol then uses the live television broadcast to not interview a freak but instead to preach the true meaning of Christmas which literally ends with “be nice to each other”.

The smallest studio audience in the world go hog wild for it, I tell you hwhat.

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The executive producer from earlier leans over to Carol and basically says “this was good, we’ll do this instead of the freak stuff”. You signed a contract Hal! Don’t go back on it now! This Christmas stuff is only once a year, the freak stuff will make you millions mid-season!

Carol goes around to her sisters, makes amends, pretty-boy John stops by because he saw her live broadcast, they make amends, yada yada and then everyone gathers round and Carol’s sister’s husband reads the entire of A Christmas Carol to the assembled family. The quintessential Christmas story it may be, but a family storybook it ain’t. Can you imagine anything more depressing for your children than a vivid description of Ignorance and Want just before you hang up your stockings?

They all sing joy to the world as the spirits watch on. But! That’s not all. I take issue with Wikipedia here:

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Wrong, bitch! Scrooged, bitch! If there’s one thing that Chradvent has taught me, and there is only one thing, it’s that.

3 1/2 more Hallmark Christmas Carol adaptations to go out of 10


Weird to think that in 10 years time people will get nostalgic about the time when this film was made as they do now about films from the 90s.