Saturday, December 17, 2011

Old Sinner: Scrooge McDuck (1983)



Mickey's Christmas Carol lets you know you're in for a Victorian Christmas story before it even shows you the title. It opens with the classic Mickey Mouse logo, only Mickey's wearing a top hat and scarf. Then the title cards begin, showing sketched scenes from the movie over a brown parchment-like background and accompanied by an original song, "Oh, What a Merry Christmas Day." The final illustration is the London skyline (complete with required St. Paul's cathedral) that then morphs into the first shot of the movie.

One of the coolest things about Mickey's Christmas Carol is that unlike a lot of sitcom versions where Fred Sanford or George Jefferson or Mr. Carlson are visited by spirits and learn Scrooge's lesson for themselves, Mickey's version doesn't have - say - Donald Duck learning to be less grumpy at Christmastime. It's a legitimate adaptation and everyone stays in character for the whole thing. We get our first hint of this as the camera pans down to a busy street where the Three Little Pigs carol next to a bell-ringing, Santa-costumed Big Bad Wolf with a collection kettle. This obviously isn't just a Victorian Christmas version of whatever world the Disney characters live in. These classic characters are playing other characters.

Scrooge McDuck stomps through the scene, intent on getting wherever he's going with as little human contact as possible. When he's asked by a homeless dog to give a penny for the poor, he lifts his cane and scowls, "Bah!"

He reaches his office where the Scrooge & Marley sign hangs, though "Marley" is scratched out. No expensive paint; just a cheap scrawling-through with a knife. This Scrooge is still cheap, but proud enough not to want folks confusing him with his dead partner. He pauses to look at the sign and lets us know why Marley's no longer around: "dead seven years today." Scrooge also reminisces with a chuckle that Marley "was a good 'un. He robbed from the widows and swindled the poor."

Though a legitimate adaptation, Mickey's Christmas Carol isn't a serious one. Scrooge's greediness is over-the-top and played largely for laughs. He's not a miserable Scrooge; he enjoys being miserly. As another example, we learn that Marley's will left enough money for a tombstone, but Scrooge pocketed that and had Marley buried at sea.

Inside the office, Scrooge catches his clerk (Mickey Mouse) about to put a piece of coal in the stove. Unlike the other adaptations, we learn right away that the clerk's name is Cratchit. He claims he was just trying to thaw out the ink, and sure enough there's an inkpot on the stovetop with an ice-covered quill stuck in the frozen liquid. Scrooge is having no excuses though ("You used a piece last week!") and orders the clerk back to work.

As Cratchit goes back to his desk, he musters courage to ask for a half-day off for Christmas tomorrow. Mickey's Christmas Carol is a severely condensed version of the story and this is the first example of that. In Dickens' story (and most of the adaptations), this conversation doesn't happen until later when Cratchit's getting ready to leave. The half-day is also unique to Mickey's version, but again it makes Scrooge's cheapness that much more over-the-top and ridiculous. As does Scrooge's agreeing to the time off under the condition that he'll be docking Cratchit's pay accordingly.

As does Scrooge's wonderful "Talk is Cheap" needlepoint that decorates the office.

As does the revelation that Cratchit's last raise was a ha'penny three years ago. When Cratchit started doing Scrooge's laundry.

This part of the scene ends with Scrooge's going to his desk to look over the books. In typical McDuck fashion, he ends up hugging his gold and cooing, "Money, money, money!" before the door opens to reveal a visitor.
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