Thursday, July 11, 2013

TV on DVD Review: Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Great songs and voice acting bring this classic to life
Cons: Ghosts in the wrong order; missing characters
The Bottom Line
Wonderful songs in
Fun version of a classic
Sure to entertain

"You're the One Who is Too Tight to Buy Himself a Pair of Spectacles."

Somehow, over the years, I have never managed to watch Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol.  Part of that was because I couldn’t see how a comedy character could adequately capture this story.  But I just sat down and watched it this week.  While it will never be my favorite version of the story, it is very good.

Mr. Magoo (voiced by Jim Backus) is starring on Broadway as Ebenezzer Scrooge.  And this hour special follows the story from the book.  Scrooge is a miser who can’t see the point of Christmas until he is haunted by three spirits who show him the error of his ways.

The Broadway setting is what allows this story to work.  The wrap around portion has the comedy, but once the story starts, things get serious as they tackle the familiar tale.  Yes, there are some comedy bits in the story, but at appropriate times and not when Scrooge is supposed to be serious.  That’s important considering how emotionally serious this story is supposed to be.  We only see the characters on stage during these behind the scenes shots.  Once the story starts, we see them in enviroments like we would any other animated story.

The special is only an hour long (well, 52 minutes), so that means some scenes and characters have been cut for time.  It is amazing just how much of the story they are able to squeeze into that amount of time, especially when you consider the music.

And the songs are wonderful.  They certainly have a Broadway feel to them, and are so good at capturing the emotions of the characters at that moment in the story.  These are easily the highlight of the special.

On the other hand, they change the order of the spirits and have the Ghost of Christmas Present come before the Ghost of Christmas Past.  I actually found that out going into the special, and I tried to keep an open mind, but it just doesn’t work for me at all.  Scrooge’s emotional arc is helped by his trips to the past and then the present, and to see it in the other order ruins things.  I don’t know why they did this – maybe for commercial air time?

The animation is definitely a product of the area.  The backgrounds can be a bit simple and flat.  Overall, you can tell this is lower budget TV animation.  Having said that, there are some cool effects over the course of the special.  I especially like the way all the ghosts are translucent all the time.  That couldn’t have been easy.

The voice work is very good.  Jim Backus does an amazing job of putting real feeling into Mr. Magoo playing Scrooge.  And he’s supported by some talented folks of the era like Paul Frees, Jack Cassidy, and Morey Amsterdam who also are great at bringing their multiple characters to life.

While the ghosts, Marley in particular, will still scare very small kids, this may tie with Mickey’s Christmas Carol as the least scary version of the story, so it might be the best way to introduce kids to this timeless tale.

I watched the new Blu-ray set of the movie, which includes a Blu-ray disc and a separate DVD disc.  I have nothing to compare the picture quality to, but I must say I found it stunning.  It is sharp and crisp and doesn’t look at all like it was created 50 years ago.  The sound is in full surround, but the back speakers are used mainly for music.  Since this special was originally in mono, that works for me.  Extras on the Blu-ray disc include a couple collections of storyboards shown side by side with the finished scene and a gallery of background artwork – both the finished pieces and the in process work.  There's also a demo version of one of the songs from the special.  Finally there’s an audio commentary.  Hosted by super expert Darrell van Citters, he shares some trivia as well as interviews people who were involved in the creation of the film.  It’s an interesting look at what went into creating this special.  If you want more behind the scenes information, there’s also a booklet included that shares even more.

Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol will never be a definitive version of the story for me, but it is well worth watching.  If you’ve missed it, change that this year.  And if you love it, you’ll want to consider adding this Blu-ray edition to your collection.

NOTE: I was sent this Blu-ray set in exchange for my honest review.

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