Near-sighted Mister Magoo (Jim Backus) arrives late at the theater, but they’ve held the show for him since he is the star. It’s a musical production of A Christmas Carol, and Magoo is Scrooge. Once Dickens’s story begins, it’s the old tale we know so well, told relatively straight. 53 min.
Mister Magoo’s shtick, of bumping into things and confusing lamps with people, was pretty entertaining when I was five. For anyone past that age, it works once or twice, and then gets very old. For good or ill, that isn’t a problem for Mister Magoo’s Christmas Carol, a faithful, though abridged retelling (with the addition of Broadway-style tunes), of the classic story. Except for a brief framing device, and some minor confusion at the end, Magoo is neither blind nor in denial. He’s Scrooge, plain and simple. Nothing is altered to make the story more fitting for the Magoo character.
One of many, many, many (did I mention “many”?) animated versions of A Christmas Carol, Mister Magoo’s version stands out as emotionally effective, and actually summons the tone of Dickens’s written work. Not something you can say of The Flintstones Christmas Carol. It also benefits from the voice talents of Jim Backus (Gilligan’s Island), backed by Morey Amsterdam (The Dick Van Dyke Show), Jack Cassidy (best known for his work on Broadway), and Paul Frees (who could be heard in almost every animated film for thirty years).
Show tunes have rarely been a boon to A Christmas Carol, with 2004’s A Christmas Carol: The Musical being a prime example of why Ebenezer Scrooge should swear off singing and dancing. But this time songwriters were hired who had worthwhile credentials. Jule Styne had a string of hits, including Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend, Just In Time, The Party’s Over, and Let Me Entertain You. In 1964, Styne’s and lyricist Bob Merrill’s songs for Funny Girl won awards and gave Barbra Streisand one of her standards, People. The two should have been able to cook up something interesting for a TV special. But they didn’t. The songs aren’t bad, just forgettable. They are time-fillers. I don’t remember them now after just watching this special, any more than I could hum them thirty plus years ago after seeing Mister Magoo’s Christmas Carol for the first time.
Of the many short versions of A Christmas Carol, Mister Magoo’s is better than average. If you aren’t picky, it will do.