Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Wednesday Wackiness: Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol

It’s great to be back, back, back. It’s great to be back on Broadway

This charming short film should not be dismissed as just another animated Christmas special. It was the original Christmas special—the first animated film to be created specifically for television broadcast on Christmas. It predates all of those other Christmas specials that we all grew up with. And, truly, it’s a remarkable little film.

Produced in 1962 by Henry G. Saperstein for UPA and directed by Abe Levitow, the film centers around beloved myopic thespian Quincy Magoo who is about to make his triumphant return to Broadway in a musical adaptation of Charles Dickens’ 
A Christmas Carol. While the introductory and interstitial portions of the film which show Magoo as “himself” (not as Scrooge) are often cut for broadcast on television, the approach to the story is that this is Mr. Magoo playing Ebenezer Scrooge—on stage—with a cast of American actors (including frequent Magoo costar Gerald McBoing-Boing in an unprecedented speaking part as Tiny Tim) playing the characters from Dickens’ work. Recent broadcasts which cut the behind-the-scenes theatrical aspects of the film, are diluting the filmmakers’ original intent. They didn’t want us to think that Mr. Magoo was Scrooge, that wanted us to remember that this was part of his ongoing adventures as he played the part in his much-anticipated return to the stage.
While the plot of the “Christmas Carol” differs from Dickens’ book for the sake of time, the dialogue is surprisingly spot-on, with many of the characters speaking lines directly from the original work. The most magnificent parts of the show, however, are the music and the songs. Composed especially for the film by the famed Broadway team of Jule Styne and Bob Merrill, the music is as good as any Broadway show. Songs such as “Winter was Warm,” “When You’re Alone in the World,” “Ringle, Ringle,” and “The Lord’s Bright Blessing” are epic, sweeping, emotional tunes with as much to offer as any Tony-Award winning show’s score.
With a talented cast that includes Morey Amsterdam, Jack Cassidy, and Paul Frees alongside Mr. Magoo’s usual voice, Jim Backus (Thurston Howell, III/James Dean’s father in Rebel without a Cause—to name a few), the film is humorous and touching.
Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol was recently restored to all of its original 1960’s glorious color and is available on DVD. If you haven’t seen it in years or haven’t seen it at all, you must add this film to your Christmas collection.

Here’s a clip of one of my favorite scenes. The Laundress, The Charwoman and the Undertaker—along with Old Joe—since “The Plunderers’ March” also known as “We’re Despicable.”

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