Friday, December 07, 2012

'Merry Christmas, Uncle!' | Alastair Sim (1971)

In Richard Williams' animated version, Scrooge's nephew is introduced with the tinkling of the bell over the front door and a flurry of wind that scatters Scrooge's papers. He intrudes on what till now has been a soundless scene except for the ticking of a wall clock and the scratching of quills on paper. His intrusiveness is further emphasized by the animators' having him lean in close to the camera - his face filling the screen - as he questions his uncle's calling Christmas a humbug.

At first I thought this might just be the animators' showing off a bit - the shot is rather fancy and highlights the smoothness of the character's movement as well as the detail in his face - but when we cut to both the nephew and Scrooge in the same shot, the nephew's face is still very close to Scrooge's.

The nephew is friendly, but not overly jolly. That's a weakness in the animation. Though the characters are well-designed, they're not very well-animated. Their expressions don't change much and while their movements look natural, they're far too slow. That gives the conversation the feeling of sort of just going through the motions. Which is perhaps what the nephew's doing. He doesn't seem to really want Scrooge to come to dinner; he's performing an obligation as a family-member. Is he purposely being invasive too in hopes that that'll discourage Scrooge from accepting?

Unfortunately, Scrooge also seems to be just performing his duty as a character in the story. He recites his lines about boiling celebrants in their own pudding, but he stammers his way through them without seeming to mean them. There's no juice in him.

Cratchit is all but absent from the scene except for a reaction shot to... well, it's hard to tell what he's reacting to because the cartoon cuts to him at "every idiot" and cuts away again at "Merry Christmas on his lips," well before the mentions of boiling pudding and holly stakes. It's like Cratchit's cued in on the word "idiot," but it's equally difficult to tell what he's thinking about it. He looks surprised and a little mortified. Does he think Scrooge means him? So what if he does?

In the interest of time, Williams cuts the nephew's big speech and any mention of the wife. So there's no applause from Cratchit and no apparent reason for Scrooge's refusal to come to dinner other than his not liking Christmas. Partly because of this; partly due to the limitations in the characters' acting, Scrooge doesn't seem to dislike his nephew so much as simply disagree with him on this particular issue.

His first couple of Good Afternoons are even pretty laid back. He doesn't get really cranky until Cratchit opens the door for the nephew and the two exchange Merry Christmases. Is Scrooge less tolerant of his clerk's celebrating than he is of his nephew's? It's impossible to tell yet because we've had so little interaction between Scrooge and Cratchit.


Wings1295 said...

Have never seen this version, but I can picture the animation from that time. Might not be one I would enjoy.

Michael May said...

Yeah, I can't recommend it yet. I haven't watched it all the way through, but my main point of interest was in Alastair Sim's reprising the role. So far, that's not enough to make it good.


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