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Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Which ‘A Christmas Carol’ adaptation takes the cake?

From Christmas past, present and future, there is only one movie to rule them all 


By MALCOLM LANGE —- mslange@ucdavis.edu


Finally, December — the best month of the year. Why is it the best month? Christmas, Hanukkah (usually), New Year’s Eve and, most importantly, my birthday all occur in December. It also brings festivities, holiday drinks and, of course, Christmas and holiday movies. What would the world be without Christmas movies? A somber and desolate world (and I do not even celebrate Christmas).

Christmas, and holiday movies in general, tend to follow very similar themes; everyone makes fun of the Hallmark Christmas movies for poor acting, lazy writing and repetitive script templates. Another criticism is that these holiday movies accumulate an unnecessary amount of sequels or parodies. For example, there are six different “Home Alone” movies. Do we really need to see a child clobber and maim two people for an hour and a half six times?

One Christmas classic with many remakes or parodies is “A Christmas Carol.” Originally written by Charles Dickens in 1843 “A Christmas Carol” follows Ebenezer Scrooge, a wealthy and cold-hearted man, on Christmas Eve. Scrooge hates Christmas and claims it is a waste of money and time. He does not donate to the less fortunate, and he even mocks his nephew for his jolly Christmas spirit. Later, Scrooge is visited by three Christmas spirits. They remind him of his past to show him how free and happy he used to be; they review his present; and they show him his grim future if he does not change his ways. There are over 15 relatively mainstream remakes, parodies or backstories. However, there is one version that is superior in nearly every way.

We are looking past the original 1938 movie to the 1984 version as the baseline for what these parodies and remakes should follow. A good remake or parody will add to the story and give it a different take or quirk to make it new and exciting, even if the story is nearly 200 years old. Before comparing these more recent versions of “A Christmas Carol,” let us first look at the source material presented in “A Christmas Carol” (1984).

I was surprised to enjoy this movie as much as I did. The acting was great, and it holds all the same sentiments and important events of the original written story. It was entertaining for a 1-hour-40-minute movie with a relatively basic and overplayed storyline. As a result, I chose this to be the base standard to compare the other, goofier versions to.

The next movie I considered was “Scrooged” (1988), a classic starring Bill Murray. This movie is a very iconic take on the Christmas Carol story, where they modernize the characters and the issues Scrooge faces. For example, the Scrooge character is a TV producer working on a live broadcast of “A Christmas Carol.” It is a very goofy take, more comedic than the original, but definitely not my type of humor. I know many people love this film, but it did not tickle my fancy enough for a rewatch next year.

One adaptation that did secure a rewatch next year, though, was “Spirited” (2022). This was recently released (2022) and is by far the most clever version of this classic story with a musical twist. As usual, it follows a selfish man on Christmas who is visited by three Christmas spirits that attempt to turn his life around. However, most of the movie is seen from the perspective of the spirits of Christmas. We learn that there is an organization of spirits that, every year, studies grouchy humans and gives them classic Christmas carol treatments. Ryan Reynolds and Will Ferrell co-star in this movie and their wit and charm make it a consistently entertaining watch. Ultimately, this movie is a fun watch despite some unnecessary scenes and songs.

Among the ones discussed, something fundamental is missing from each one. Let me set the stage for you: imagine if “The Titanic,” “Sharknado” and “A Christmas Carol” had a love child with even more daddy issues, a colossal sci-fi interpretation and featured Dumbledore. That seems like an exciting and complex movie, don’t you think? Well, it exists, and it is the sole winner of the Best Christmas Carol adaptation. It is called “Doctor Who’s Christmas Special 2010.”

This holiday special follows Kazran Sardick (played by Dumbledore actor Michael Gambon) as the “Ebenezer Scrooge” character; he is the wealthiest and most powerful person on his planet. He has a machine that can control the sky, primarily the fog which covers the sky. Within this fog are fish and sharks that can fly around as if they were swimming. How? Because this is Doctor Who—don’t ask silly questions. The Doctor’s friends are on their honeymoon onboard the Space Titanic, which, shockingly, will crash into the planet that Sardick is on. The Doctor (played by Matt Smith) must convince Sardick to release the fog to allow the pilots of the Titanic to make a safe landing, but Sardick is reluctant, as controlling the fog is how he makes money.

The Doctor then assumes the role of the Christmas spirits and goes back in time to see what happened to Sardick that made his heart so cold. Now, the movie combines two different storylines: Sardick in the past with the Doctor and Sardick watching the Doctor’s recordings of his childhood in the present.

This interpretation is superior in many ways, as it has the cleverness of a great Doctor Who episode, the charisma of Smith and the emotional sentiments of the original “A Christmas Carol.” It is hard for any other version to compare when it has so many boxes checked: flying sharks, the Titanic, time travel, Dumbledore and Matt Smith combined to make the perfect “A Christmas Carol” adaptation. But, in the end, all of the adaptations point to the same conclusion: “A Christmas Carol” is a classic that has been reinvented in many different genres, and you should definitely watch at least one this December.


Written by: Malcolm Lange — mslange@ucdavis.edu

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by individual columnists belong to the columnists alone and do not necessarily indicate the views and opinions held by The California Aggie.


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