About thirty years before Disney brought The Lion King and Beauty and the Beast to Broadway, Mister Magoo brought his version of A Christmas Carol to the Broadway stage. In Mister Magoo's Christmas Carol, Magoo is an actor, driving blindly down New York City streets, mistaking a restaurant for the stage door, being unceremoniously dumped backstage by two angry chefs, and, finally, getting ready to bring up the curtain on his critically acclaimed Christmas Carol.
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More than twenty years before Alan Menken created mesmerizing scores for Disney cartoons, Jules Styne (who also penned some songs for Peter Pan) and Bob Merrill wrote a score for Mister Magoo's Christmas Carol. The unforgettable music alternately tugged at heartstrings and evoked belly laughs at exactly the right moments, a score so memorable that I can recall the lyrics, melodies, and harmonies at the start of every Christmas season.
I have seen several versions of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, but none have moved me as much as the very animated, very nearsighted Mister Magoo's.
Why Mister Magoo Makes an Ideal Ebenezer Scrooge
- Mister Magoo's nearsightedness has made him somewhat oblivious to his surroundings, with a tendency towards introspection. The meanness so evident in other portrayals of Scooge is somewhat muted in Magoo's portrayal (as immortalized in the voice of Jim Backus.) He is as lacking in inner vision as he is in clearsightedness, but, seen in the context of his vision impairment, he is, somehow, more sympathetic and less scary.
- Magoo's Scrooge is physically small and stooped. His crochety voice quavers and scratches, never growling. Even his bluster is subdued, while his vulnerability shines through the grouchy mask he shows to the world.
- In perhaps the most touching moment of Mister Magoo's Christmas Carol, Magoo is transported back to his childhood, where he stands side-by-side with his youthful self. He watches his "child" sing When You're Alone, Alone in the World, tracing his hand on the blackboard, hoping to find a hand of his own to hold. Whenever I watch this scene, I remember my oldest son singing this song at Christmas, complete with hand movements, to the wild applause of his grandparents, aunts, and uncles. I remember Magoo's duet with his youthful self, the quavering elderly voice blending with the clear, sweet youthful one, the invisible Magoo putting a transparent arm around his "child."
The context of this scene crystallizes the process we all must go through as adults, coming to terms with our childhood mistakes and difficulties and the fact that our parents weren't perfect, and learning to forgive and move forward.
Why Mister Magoo's Christmas Carol Is Among the Best Adaptations
The vocal talents of a gifted cast, headed by Jim Backus as Scrooge and Jack Cassidy as Bob Cratchit, interpreted the Styne/Merrill score perfectly.
Each song is uniquely crafted. While Scrooge gleefully counts his clinking coins, singing Ringle, Ringle, Bob Cratchit sings, It's Cold in perfect synchronicity, his silent shivers in rhythmic counterpoint to the clinking coins.
The Cratchit family Chistmas song, We've Got the Lord's Bright Blessing, is an anthem to love conquering all, even poverty, and a tribute to what really matters. But it's strength lies in its progressions--from Tiny Tim's plaintive cries for rasselberry dressing and a Christmas tree, to his Dad's painfully honest answer, to the family's upbeat finale, singing of a "Christmas far more glorious than grand."
In a scene from Christmas past, Scrooge encounters his true love, Belle, as she prepares to leave him because she can't compete with his love of money. They sit on a park bench, watching snow fall on the lake, their dialogue leading up to Winter Was Warm as poignant as the song itself.
The grave robbers of Christmas future, singing We're Just Blankety-Blank-Blank No Good are, once again, too cartoonish to be really evil or frightening, except to the terrified Scrooge. They bounce up and down like pop-up figures, singing gibberish.
It's a tribute to Magoo's Scrooge that the prospect of Tiny Tim dying, and his vision of the tearful Cratchit family after Bob visited Tiny Tim's grave, was just as motivating as the prospect of his own death. The blankety-blank no-good robbers reminded Scrooge that he couldn't take it with him, but the transformation occurred as he envisioned the Cratchit's lives without Tiny Tim.
In a reprise of Ringle, Ringle, Magoo's Scrooge, on his way to pick up a turkey and presents for the Cratchits, sings:
Guineas and tuppence and thrupence and bob,
Give them away and nobody can rob you!
The "play within a play" that comprises Mister Magoo's Christmas Carol ends happily, with a stooped Magoo giving piggyback rides to Tiny Tim and sitting at the Cratchit dinner table, enjoying the act of giving and the act of receiving the love, warmth, and friendship of his adopted family.
Children can enjoy this cartoon without being frightened of the ghosts and spirits (or Scrooge himself.) Because so many of the lessons it teaches have accompanying theme songs, they will find themselves humming them over and over, along with their parents. If they hum, "We've got the Lord's bright blessing, and knowing we're together" enough, they may even find themselves assimilating its message, and learning that it's more blessed to give than to receive.
It's a wonderful impetus for discussion on the real meaning of Christmas, resulting, perhaps, in a decision by the children to adopt a needy family, participate in Toys for Tots drives, or visit shut-in's or nursing home residents to sing carols and spread Christmas cheer.
But the best part of Mister Magoo's Christmas Carol is that adults will be able to watch it over and over and love it almost as much as their kids.
Many Epinions writers have joined jenni1396 to share memories of their favorite Christmas movies with members. And having been living with the after effects of an ice storm this past week--downed trees, sporadic electrical failures, and no cable TV--I've been heading to the video store every night! My family really appreciates their holiday suggestions!
I join with AinsleyJo, BedrockTime, bgoodday, bmcnichol, bpotter1, caleo, cbgresh, ChrisJarmick, CjsMommy, dandj, dreamcatcher39, erin5oaks, francesca57, Grouch, gwsmith, HawgWyld, ImAmes, janesbit1, jenninca, jenni1396, Josh_G, keithpruitt, kelly60, KingJFS, lucky43560, Macresarf1, Magick1, martytdx, Mike_Bracken, monical2me, mrssmoopy, onecoolcat, pacbaystat, phineaskc, Poseidon, Presleysmama, sawasdee, seracorde11, shadow8, splitsurround, SPodgorski, teskue, andViper1963 in wishing all of you a happy Holiday Season and a New Year filled with "the Lord's bright blessings!"
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