Wednesday, December 25, 2013

The Horror Of...Christmas Night, 3 Shades of A Christmas Carol

Christmas is almost passed. The night is here and with it the ghosts of the past, presence, and future. But it is cold, and the snow still blows. So it's time to get in and huddle down, awaiting morning. Enjoy some potato or a bit of mustard, then get tucked in.

So it's time, as the night comes, to enjoy some more Christmas horror. A Christmas Carol. I know, most don't think of it like that. But it is a ghost story. A haunting. A tale of a man that does evil deeds, that is forced to face his fate.

So let's consider 3 playful takes on the old story.

But first let's remember the tale. It's of one Ebenezer Scrooge. A wealthy and miserly man of London.

He works his one employee hard. He squeezes his clients. He rebuffs all ideas of charity or compassion. He is unmoved by suffering, particularly if it will fill his pockets.

And as a result of the life he lives he is haunted. First by the closest thing he had to a friend. Jacob Marley, ten years dead. He warns that he is being given a chance to change. He has a chance to avoid his punishment. And to motivate this change, 3 more ghosts will come. One to show him the past he tries to ignore. One to show him the present he is blind to. And one to show him the future he has built.

And as a result of his experience, he is changed. No longer can he be blind to the suffering around him. No longer can he deny his own loneliness and sadness. He is driven to embrace the world, and make it a better place.

...And there's something about Christmas to...

It's a story that sticks with us for a good reason. It is simple and resonate. Even today. But I'll get into that tomorrow.

So let's look at what Disney did with this story.

Mickey's Christmas Carol

Coming from Disney, the movie tells the story of Ebenezer Scrooge, played by Scrooge McDuck (who you may remember from Duck Tales). It was the first animated movie in 30 years with Mickey Mouse in it. In this movie, Mickey is Bob Cratchit.

As well, we have Goofy as Jacob Marley. Donald Duck as Fred. Mr. Toad as Fezzywig.

The results are an enjoyable animated tale, where all manner of Disney character step into the roles of Dickens' story.

On the whole, it is a parred down version. But it keeps decently close to the basic story. We have Cratchit, the nephew of Scrooge, Tiny Tim, and the charity workers Scrooge chases off.

The result of using these known (some better than others) characters is a certain familiarity. It also adds a nice level of humor (particularly when they maintain some famous qualities, like Goofy's clumsiness.). And, man, watching Mickey Mouse cry over his son's grave...That is rough.

Also, Pete's addition as the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come is interesting.

It's an endearing telling of the story. Worth a watch this season.

Muppet Christmas Carol

Another attempt to tell this tale was made by Jim Henson's Muppets. In this version, we get a curious world, it's a blend of some humans and lots of Muppets. Many of the main characters are inhabited by the Muppets. Kermit is Bob Cratchit. Fozzy is Fezz...Fozzywig. Honeydew and Beaker as charity workers.

Also, there's lots of singing.

Lots of singing.

For the tale we are taking the characters of Gonzo and Rizzo and having them play narrators, or a Greek Chorus. (Gonzo plays Charles Dickens.) The pair follow and comment on Ebenezer Scrooge and what he's going through.

As for Scrooge, he is a human. Michael Caine. A solid actor to have for the role. I can't help, but wonder what it would have been like to have a Muppet in the role. (And also named Muppets in the roles of the ghosts.) But that isn't what Henson was going for. (Also, as far as the ghosts, I'm guessing they wanted to work with some new Muppets. Experiment.)

The structure of the story is kept largely the same as in other tellings. Though they do try to fill scenes with Muppets were they can.

And that is all part of the magic of Muppet movies. The Muppets doing there thing.

(But I have to say, Honeydew and Beaker look amazing. This image alone makes me want to see them in some ridiculous steampunk adventure.)

And they do it well, from a thoughtful Kermit.

All the way to making fun use of Waldorf and Statler, as the ghost of Jacob and Robert Marley.

But the Ghost of Christmas Past was a bit on the wrong side of the Uncanny Valley.

Also, you get to see young Waldorf and Statler...And now you can never unsee them.

Pigs and Frogs. How does that work?
They are all felt on the inside. That's how.

Yeah. You are bound to have dreams like this if your
The Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come is a creepy figure. While I noted that I would have liked to have seen the cast of characters used in these roles (like in Disney's effort), this Muppet really sells the point that they can create new ones that beautifully fit the need.

(The Ghost of Christmas Present is quite lovable as well.)

And more singing! But, hey, it's a Muppet movie! Sing on!

This movie gets a lot of love from fans. And it is largely deserved. It is a movie that is worth coming back to year to year.

Blackadder's Christmas Carol

This is an interesting addition, as it really does deviate from the tale quite a bit. But that is what you can come to expect from Blackadder. He's the villain that is trying to get what he thinks is coming to him. ...Of course, this story oddly subverts the Blackadder norm.

This special was made in 1988, and takes place between the 3rd and 4th series of the Blackadder TV series. So, it takes advantage of what we know so far of the characters in the previous series.

The story starts with Ebenezer Blackadder coming home in a jolly mood. (All the Blackadders we will see are played by Rowan Atkinson.) He's a break from his ancestors, a moody lot and jaded lot. He's kind and caring. He gives until he has nothing left. He thinks the best of everyone. (And he's abused for it.)

But, like his ancestors, he still has his ever present Baldrick. Smelly. Uneducated. Full of bad ideas. A true Baldrick. He's played by Tony Robinson

Ebenezer is a soft touch. He struggles to get buy as a seller of mustaches. And as the show goes on through it's first act, he is beset by all manner of people eager to peel away what he has left. Money. Food. Christmas presents. Decorations. Money. He's left with little by the end of all the visits that Christmas Eve. Even Queen Victoria stops by (in disguise) to snatch his Christmas dinner, for the poor woman next door.

"You're a wizard, Ebenezer." - How can I not make that
He's sad, but embraces his lot. And he's happy to see others well off, even if he's left to suffer. He's just not a normal member of the Blackadder family. But he's about to learn all about this.

That night he gets a visit. A Christmas ghost appears to him in bed, played by Robbie Coltrane. He's just stopped by to say hi, then leave. But he's happy to stay...if Blackadder has something "medicinal" on hand...he wants some booze. (Even the ghost is there to mooch.)

They get to talking and the ghost reveals to Blackadder that he is unusual for his family. He will never need to worry about getting haunted, he's too kind. Unlike most all of the rest of his lineage, scoundrels and sneaks.

He then decides to give Blackadder a free vision of one of his nasty ancestors. And he flashes Blackadder back to the Blackadder of the 2nd series of the TV show.

This Blackadder is enjoying a Christmas visit to the court of Queen Elizabeth. She's played by Miranda Richardson. He's brought her a gift meant to impress, as she has been laying out blatant hints that she wants a large portrait, or else.

But once he's in front of her, he finds her in one of her moods. She's decided that she hates Christmas, and gifts/ Henceforth, she will kill anyone with a present.

So Blackadder dumps his gift. He then meets an old rival, Melchett, played by Stephen Fry. He has a gift for the Queen, and Blackadder sends him racing in to give it, and be killed.

But the Queen's mood has shifted again. She loves the gift, and showers Melchett with gifts and honors. And then she turns to Blackadder, who has no gift for her, and orders his executions.

To cut it unfairly short, Blackadder turns to his quick wits, luck, and charm to weasel his way out, and back into the Queen's favor.

Ebenezer Blackadder is greatly amused to see his ancestor. He is a rogue. But he's also charming and successful. And daring. And these are things missing from his own life.

This annoys the ghost some. And he decides to go now. But Blackadder convinces him to stay, and show him more of his ancestors.

So the ghost shows him another. This one comes from the 3rd series. This Blackadder is a butler to the Prince Regent George. The prince is played by Hugh Laurie.

He is also working a con. He plans to tell the prince a sad story of an old granny who is on the verge of dying because she had nothing, no presents or anything. Then a handsome prince, named George, showered her with gifts. It saved her.

This will lead the prince sob some. Then while the prince is sobbing from the story, Baldrick will come in dressed as an old granny, and the Prince will give him all of his wildly expensive presents. And those Blackadder will sell for a nice price.

And the plan almost works. The story leaves the prince in a state. The granny arrives. The presents are taken. But Baldrick wasn't the granny. It was a real granny.

Undaunted, Blackadder has a new plan. There's an old woman wandering the streets late at night, laden with gifts. Blackadder will go out and rob her.

This story also amuses Ebenezer (Who is the grandson of this story's Blackadder.). He likes how he keeps trying and seems to get what he's seeking in the end. He's so much more successful than him.

But the ghost makes the point that that wasn't the point of those earlier Blackadders' lives. They were bad people. And Ebenezer, poor and mocked, is a good person. Goodness is it's own reward. And being good pays off in the end.

Blackadder wonders though. What if he were really bad? What would happen to his ancestors? He pushes the ghost to show him.

In the distant future, a Blackadder still stalks the universe. (As well as his Baldrick.) He commands the fleet of the Supreme Mistress of the Universe, Queen Asphyxia (played by Miranda Richardson).

He brings the Queen good news. He's defeated all of her enemies. Then he kills her triple husband (including Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie). And he demands that she surrender her rule to him, and then marry him.

It seems like a good end to the family line. Supreme ruler of everything.

But what if he kept on being good and kindhearted?

That future isn't as nice.

In that timeline, Baldrick is the fleet commander. And Blackadder is his slave. And Baldrick is a disaster losing horribly to his enemies, while Blackadder is forced to watch.

All of this creates a new worldview for Ebenezer. Baddies seem to be the ones who end up on top. He assures the ghost that he will stay a good little shopkeep, and watches as he leaves.

But the next morning, he is a new man. He no longer has time for Baldrick's inane thoughts. He takes back money from people that usually snatch it from him. And he tells off his one relative for being annoying. He then settles in for a nice quiet day.

He's set a new course.

Unfortunately, it's at the same time as the Queen is visiting him to give him a title, lands, and money for being so nice. And he mercilessly mocks her and throws her out of his home.

Then he learns who she was. He's become a true Blackadder.

It's a fun short take on A Christmas Carol. Like most of Blackadder, it subverts the norm. But if you can enjoy that happening, you may enjoy this...and all of Blackadder.

Each of these retelling adds there own brand's spin and style. From favorite characters to songs to a cynical sensibility. Whatever you preference, I hope you find the one that connects with you.

No comments: