A Christmas Carol (1971)
I have a great deal of affection for Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, not only because it’s a fine piece of literature but because it lends itself so well to dramatisation. I therefore have a keen interests in all the respective adaptation, of which there are many*. Over the years there has been a trend to focus excessively on the sentimental aspect of the plot, resulting in a rather nauseating Disneyfication of the story. Although the redemption of the main protagonist is central to the narrative, the poverty and deprivations of the time are still very pertinent themes, especially in today's economic climate. I was therefore very gratified to rediscover the 1971 version of Charles Dickens' classic story which was originally shown on ABC. This short 25 minute animated feature realises the story superbly, capturing the tone of the book and accurately reflecting the darker aspects. Remember that A Christmas Carol is fundamentally a ghost story.
The TV special features Alastair Sim as the voice of Ebenezer Scrooge (a role Sim had previously performed in the 1951 live-action film Scrooge). Michael Hordern likewise reprised his 1951 performance as Marley's Ghost. Veteran animator Chuck Jones served as executive producer, while the great Richard Williams directed. This is a very distinguished pedigree for any animated production. The story is beautifully condensed considering the running time and captures the harsh winter environment of London in the 1843. The supernatural elements are intelligently realised, drawing directly from the source text. The scene where Marley's Ghost, removes the handkerchief that secures his jaw, so it drops to his chest terrified me as a child when I first saw it. The subsequent depiction of "Ignorance" and "Want" is also bleak and shocking.
Originally produced for television, A Christmas Carol won an Academy Award for best animated short subject in 1973; it remains the only film adaptation of the story to date to have done so. However, elements within Hollywood were unhappy that a TV show had won an Academy Award, which led to the Academy changing its policy, disqualifying any shorts that were shown on television first. Overall A Christmas Carol remains a benchmark for quality animations. The subtle line drawings and water colours bring Dicken's London to life wonderfully. The characters are vividly drawn and reflect a thoughtful design. The voice cast bring gravitas to the proceedings, resulting in a quality adaptation of the story. Unfortunately, this short animated film is not readily available. The VHS release is long obsolete and there is no mainstream DVD copy available. The film did feature on a limited edition DVD boxset of the work of Richard Williams. If you can track down a copy via the internet, then you will be well rewarded.