Mickey’s Christmas Carol (1983)

“Bah humbug!”

Justin’s rating: Two shillings and a halfpenny

Justin’s review: Everyone certainly seems to hold very strong opinions on the best Christmas movies and TV specials, turning the annual arguments over them as much as a yearly tradition as actually watching them. Putting aside movies for the moment, I am here to say that there’s really only one Christmas TV special that tops the list, and it’s Mickey’s Christmas Carol. Yes, even above The Grinch and Charlie Brown and the Muppets and even the Star Wars Holiday Special.

OK, obviously this is as subjective and personal as they come, but Mickey’s Christmas Carol was such an integral part of my childhood holiday seasons. Released in 1983 when I was just 7, I think I watched this every single year thereafter while growing up. It both delighted and terrified me as a kid, and as an adult, I find it a masterful retelling of Charles Dickens’ classic story. I’ve watched a lot of Christmas Carol adaptations — Scrooged! is a good one — and there’s just something about Mickey’s that makes this the definitive version. Again, for me.

It’s so entertaining to see how Disney took a whole raft of its characters and worked them perfectly into this story, making it amusing without being an outright joke. In 26 minutes of runtime, we get a parade of characters from Goofy to Jiminy Cricket to even Mr. Toad, all fitted into this tale without sticking out. The best of all of these, of course, is the miserly, money-obsessed Scrooge McDuck, who became such a fixture of our childhoods with DuckTales later on that decade. He’s perfect as the grumpy antagonist to the world at the beginning, blind to everything but his precious finances, and yet he’s also entertaining and likable enough that you do want to see him redeemed.

We all know the familiar beats of Christmas Carol that I don’t have to go into the plot much here. Suffice to say, Scrooge is subjected to the visitations of three ghosts (past, present, and future) in an attempt to get him to change his ways and become a better… duck. True remorse and a desire for improvement come out of these vignettes, and by Christmas morning, he’s quite the chipper and generous fellow.

What I wanted to talk about instead is why Mickey’s Christmas Carol resonated so strongly in me. First of all, it’s downright entertaining. It’s hard not to find black humor in Scrooge’s attitude, and if that doesn’t make you laugh, then Goofy as Jacob Marley is probably going to do the trick. The Victorian-era world and charming characters are perfectly on target, doing a great job of sinking us into the details and personalities within a limited runtime.

But even better is the emotional component of this special. Yes, it’s blatantly out to make you Feel Things, but I never minded. As a kid, I always felt so very sorry for Mickey’s family and especially Tiny Tim, the disabled kid with the grim future. Extreme poverty wasn’t always seen in Disney movies, but here it’s right out in the open. Gawrsh, that ending always makes me tear up a bit when Scrooge is finally kind to Mickey’s family and loads them down with money and food.

And dare I say that this story also kind of, well, it didn’t scare me. That’s going too far. But it certainly creeped me out with a few of its moments. We don’t often think of Christmas stories as trespassing on the terrain of Halloween, but here we have ghosts, frighteningly big and empty mansions, graveyards, death, and even a hint of hell. None of this is outright played for scares, but there are a couple of truly atmospheric moments that are deliciously ghastly.

My final vote of confidence for Mickey’s Christmas Carol is that, unlike a lot of other adaptations, it really doesn’t overstay its welcome. The half-hour span is perfect for what needs to be told here; two hour movie versions are simply too long for this story and tend to meander and pad. This version, on the other hand, is a captivating storyteller who hooks us from the opening and keeps us dangling right until the end.

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