MISTER MAGOO’S CHRISTMAS CAROL
Original Air Date: December 18, 1962
Everybody’s favorite sightless moron finds Christ-like redemption after a visitation from three ghosts in TV’s inaugural animated Holiday special that could be best described as downright Dickensian!
What better way to kick off the Animated Christmas Advent Calendar than with the first ever made-for-television animated Christmas Special?! Well, okay… admittedly, I could count about a billion specials I’d rather watch, write and read about, but you gotta pay Mr. Magoo his due. Television studios were unsure of the viability of TV animation, and I sort of admire the balls of using a cartoon character, who was basically one big blind joke, as a Christmas-themed testing ground for the entire medium of TV animation.
Which role will Jim Backus be more fondly remembered for: Thurston Howell III from Gilligan’s Island or the voice of Mr. Magoo? The answer, when the last baby boomer dies
What Mister’s Magoo Christmas Carol lacks in quality animation, political correctness and consumptive longevity, it made up for in sheer timeliness! Its success paved the way for Rankin/Bass’s Rudolph the Red-Nose Reindeer two years later, and A Charlie Brown Christmas three years later. So yeah, if you care at all for Christmas specials, or any televised animation, from The Flintstones to Family Guy, have a little respect for Magoo, will ya?
Like most adaptations of A Christmas Carol, United Paramount Animation had to figure out a way to cast its altogether likeable character in the role of Christmas’s biggest asshole. Whereas adaptations like Bugs Bunny’s Christmas Carol found an easy fit, with Yosemite Sam in the shoes of Scrooge, take a look at what other ensemble franchises resorted to in order to avoid the decision entirely.
With nary a villainous Muppet in the bunch, A Muppet Christmas Carol had to call in the services of Sir Michael Caine to play the notorious curmudgeon. And Disney had to drag Scrooge McDuck out of the comic pages and onto the screen for an unprecedented starring role (he’d only previously appeared in a single animated cartoon) even though 1983’s Mickey’s Christmas Carol was more notably the titular Mouse’s first appearance in a theatrical short in three decades!
So how did United Paramount Animation go about turning an otherwise likable, doddering old fart with poor vision into literature’s most notorious dick? By presenting A Christmas Carol as a play within the special.
Oh Mr. Magoo, you’re so handicapped!
Mr. Magoo crashes his car on Broadway, barely finds the theater, puts on his costume, and following a few comical acts at the expense of the visually impaired, he’s finally ushered on to stage to star in the part of Ebenezer Scrooge for the duration of the special.
It’s a good thing too, ‘cause Magoo’s Scrooge says some pretty horrible shit
A novel idea, to say the least, although its legacy has ironically taken a dump on itself: To incorporate more commercials for airings within the last decade, the opening sequence has been cut entirely!
Also out of character: Gerald McBoing-Boing in a rare speaking role!
Anyway, Magoo, I mean, Scrooge is visited by three ghosts… Actually, it all unfolds pretty typically… Seriously, need I bore you with the details of just how Christmas Carolly Mister Magoo’s Christmas Carol is?
The Ghost of Christmas Present – CHECK
The Ghost of Christmas Past – CHECK
The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come – CHECK
Visits own grave – CHECK
Well wishes from window – CHECK
True meaning of Christmas – SOLVED!
Some liberties are taken with Chuck Dickens’ source material, but it’s only some light streamlining that should only provoke the ire of pompous jerks who prefer their Christmas Specials hardbound and 200 years old.
This gay group is singing about robbing the graze of Mr. Magoo – TRA-LA-LA!
I never found the songs all that memorable, but you’ve got some pretty quaint low-fi musical numbers here, a highlight being the closing number where Jim Backus lays out his vocal ineptitude in such a hilariously, cringe worthy manner, it’s almost admirable for its honesty alone. (Plus Mr. Show nerds will finally know what the “Razzleberry Waterfall” is reference to!)
Oh, and looky there! The entire cast comes out to take a bow. The perfect bookend to the play-within-a-show, meta-presentation? Possibly. But I’m pretty sure it’s due to the writers going through a severe bout of comedic withdrawal, having not made a blind joke for 45 minutes.
You can go home now
None, but any tale generosity on or around JC’s B -day is worth a single cross, right? Actually, if I say that it’s because Charles Dickens novel is so old it was written before the birth of Christ, I bet there’s a handful of people who will take my word for it. So, let’s justify it that way… OH! But the special does contain a mosaic shot of a Tree Star that I consider to be nothing short of DIVINE:
Zero. Which, if not out of courtesy for the source material, would be otherwise unacceptable.
I guess. It’s almost unfair, since even the worst version of A Christmas Carol somehow perfectly embodies the season… But I refuse to give it a “5 out of 5 Ball” pass, so as not to encourage lazy network suits devoid of ideas into making further adaptations. Enough with the Dickens, K?
PRODUCT INFORMATION (Support the site!)
Amazon offers a standalone edition of Mister Magoo’s Christmas Carol and in The Original Christmas Classics Boxed Set, which also features Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Frosty the Snowman, and several more. Both present the special uncut, and are dirt cheap. If you’d like to read a more in-depth history on the creation of the historic special, Oxford Press has recently published a 128 page, hardcover book entitled, Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol, the Making of the First Animated Christmas Special.