While the central message of Charles Dickens' classic A CHRISTMAS CAROL is that money isn't everything, this inert cartoon version--with its lifeless animation and limp songs--appears to have been churned out simply to make a buck.
On Christmas Eve, miser Ebeneezer Scrooge (voice of Tim Curry) bristles at the suggestion that his clerk, Bob Cratchit (voice of Michael York), get an entire day off for Christmas. When Scrooge's nephew Fred invites him for dinner, Scrooge declines, even as he scoffs at men appealing on behalf of
a charity. On his way home, Scrooge stops at a pub for a cheap meal of hash and scraps for his dog, Debit (voice of Frank Welker). Arriving home, Scrooge sees the ghost of his dead business partner, Marley (voice of Edward Asner), who warns Scrooge that he will be haunted by three more specters.
The first, the child-like Spirit of Christmas Past, shows Scrooge visions of a neglected Scrooge as a boy; a teenage Scrooge with his beloved sister Fan; aspiring clerk Scrooge celebrating Christmas with his old boss, Fezziwig; and finally Scrooge's rejected love, Belle (voice of Jodi Benson). The
Spirit of Christmas Present (voice of Whoopi Goldberg) transports them to the Cratchits, who celebrate the holiday despite their meager means, and even praise tightwad Scrooge. Next, they visit Fred's party. The mysterious Spirit of Christmas Yet To Come shows Scrooge businessmen discussing the
death of an associate; the Cratchits mourning the death of Tiny Tim; and, finally, Scrooge's own grave.
Scrooge repents and vows to keep Christmas in his heart to avoid this lonely fate. He awakens Christmas morning a changed man; he donates money to charity and reconciles with Fred. He gives Bob Crachit a raise, buys the family a turkey, and distributes toys to the children.
The classic story line is followed fairly closely, and, apparently, the addition of the "cute" pet bulldog and a smattering of songs are meant to make this tale accessible to younger children. But director Stan Phillips should have concentrated more on the pacing of what could be an exciting tale;
this version plods like a lugubrious classroom literature exercise so it will never capture the attention of restless children pumped up with holiday sweets. The animation is quite shabby--its stiff movements, flat, undetailed look, and garish color schemes fall below standard TV fare--and will
likely bore kids weaned on lifelike CD-ROMs and three-dimensional video games.
Curry--using a voice similar to his villainous "King Chicken" character from TV's "Duckman" animated series--phones in a spiritless performance that, combined with the lethargic animation, makes Scrooge seem merely eccentric rather than menacingly avaricious.
The songs are uniformly listless and tiresome, with no tuneful hooks. The singing is only adequate -- except for Curry and Benson, who possess wonderful voices that are wasted on these artless ditties. Similarly, the incidental score is lamer than Tiny Tim. "Bah! Humbug!"
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