Weekend Film Recommendation: A Christmas Carol

To mark Christmas in July celebrations, this week’s recommendation is a memorable animated short adaptation of “A Christmas Carol”. Made in 1971 by animation icons Richard Williams, Ken Harris and Chuck Jones, this is by far the most eerie and dark version of the much-filmed Dickens classic.

Despite being condensed to 25 minutes, this Oscar-winning film’s storytelling will be comprehensible even to people unfamiliar with the original. Adding immeasurably to the production are the voice talents of two actors from the best live action version of the old chestnut (Alistair Sim and Michael Hordren, who reprise their 1951 roles as Scrooge and Marley, respectively).

But the real star here is the animation, which was inspired by illustrations in early editions of the book (especially the Victorian era drawings of John Leech). The images are lugubrious and scary yet hard to look away from, not unlike Goya’s Pinturas Negras. I first saw this film as a child and the visual of “ignorance and want” haunted my imagination for years. The film makers accentuate the power of the animation by employing arresting pan and zoom shots that are extremely effective both as storytelling devices and as setters of mood.

The threnodic tone of the film does not stop the essentially positive message of the story from emerging brightly in the end. Ebenezer Scrooge’s transformation to a life of charity and decency remains uplifting, perhaps even moreso for the considerable terrors of the night before.

Author: Keith Humphreys

Keith Humphreys is the Esther Ting Memorial Professor of Psychiatry at Stanford University and an Honorary Professor of Psychiatry at Kings College London. His research, teaching and writing have focused on addictive disorders, self-help organizations (e.g., breast cancer support groups, Alcoholics Anonymous), evaluation research methods, and public policy related to health care, mental illness, veterans, drugs, crime and correctional systems. Professor Humphreys' over 300 scholarly articles, monographs and books have been cited over thirteen thousand times by scientific colleagues. He is a regular contributor to Washington Post and has also written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Monthly, San Francisco Chronicle, The Guardian (UK), The Telegraph (UK), Times Higher Education (UK), Crossbow (UK) and other media outlets.

8 thoughts on “Weekend Film Recommendation: A Christmas Carol”

  1. i saw this when it was first aired, i was 10 or 11 and immediately understood the power of this version. i had read the story and this cartoon embodied so much of that story i was amazed. as i recall it hasn’t aired much since that first airing.

  2. I prefer the George C. Scott version that CBS did in the 1980’s, mainly because George C. Scott’s performance is unforgettable.

  3. This will sound funny or stupid I guess, but my favorite is Bill Murray’s “Scrooged” … The first time I ever saw Alfre Woodard, and I have been smitten with her since. It’s just a great movie. Dickens + Paddy Cheyevsky (Network). Great stuff.

  4. Someone pointed out that Frank Capra’s “Its a Wonderful Life” is another take on the Christmas Carol story, except it is the Bob Cratchit figure who has the supernatural experience on Christmas Eve and is uplifted.

    It occurs to me how superior is the Dickens story, for at the end of “It’s a Wonderful Life”, the miserly banker Potter (the Scrooge figure) is still mean, crotchety, unredeemed and unforgiven.

    1. That’s really a thought-provoking comparison. As you no doubt know, It’s a Wonderful Life was considered a depressing film when it appeared, and did lousy box office. It was saved by television re-broadcasts over the years and is now seen as uplifting. I agree with you that the Dickens story is superior, although perhaps less realistic as nasty old people in general stay nasty.

      1. I am a big fan of both stories. The guy I feel really sorry for is the one who punches George Bailey in the kisser for insulting his wife. Somehow he and his wife (like Potter) get left out of the general catharsis at the end – at least I never noticed him at that point. I suppose George apologised and piano lessons resumed.

        But you are right – George Bailey and Bob Crachit are good men, IAWL is about a good man plunged into hopelessness and despair, redeemed by supernatural forces. Scrooge needs the spirits to see the hopelessness and despair he will not admit to himself. The second one has to be the rarer.

  5. A Christmas Carol is a major text for me too! I like the Albert Finney one too. And I don’t think there any versions I don’t like. I will have to watch this one, I don’t know if I’ve ever seen it. Thanks for the suggestion!

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