Every Christmas season, I watch or listen to no less than four different versions of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Since 1999, I annually enjoy the Patrick Stewart version and since 1989, Christmas Eve is not complete without some cookies, egg nog and Alastair Sims’ Scrooge (1951), a film I first watched when I was about five years old. I also have enjoyed Lionel Barrymore’s 1939 radio broadcast every year since I first listened to it back in 1989. Finally, I make an effort to discover at least one new version every year. So, I’ve started things off this year with the 1969 animated version of this classic tale.
There have been numerous animated adaptations of Ebenezer Scrooge over the years. From Mr. Magoo to Rankin-Bass to Walt Disney. However, the crème de la crème for me is always the 1971 Oscar-winning short film from Richard Williams. I remember first watching this in the early 70s and was thrilled when I rediscovered it about a decade ago. But, it wasn’t the only animated version being shown on television in the early 70s. Last year, I discovered there was a 45-minute version made in 1969 and, luckily, it is currently on YouTube.
This was made by Zoran Janjic (Valley of the Dinosaurs) for Air Programs in Australia. It was first broadcast on CBS Television on December 13, 1970, as part of the Famous Classic Tales series. It’s entirely possible I would have seen this as a young child but I honestly have no memory of it. I found myself immediately comparing it to the 1971 version, which is unfair considering the animation, while adequate, is nowhere near to the same level. But it is twice as long, allowing more of the story to be told.
Ron Haddrick is the voice of Scrooge and does well. He seems to be less compassionate during the ghostly visitations, which makes his transition at the end seem a little more abrupt than usual. There is also a running gag with Scrooge trying to sneeze but being too tight to give it up. He finally does so in the final scene. I’ll admit, I found this a little odd but it was probably added for the younger audience.
The opening sequence has Scrooge passing by the grave of his partner Jacob Marley and we see a flashback to a conversation between the grave digger and Scrooge, something I don’t recall seeing in any other version. There is an odd musical number from Scrooge’s nephew Fred, which made me think it was going to be a musical throughout. However, this is never done again, making the song’s placement stand out and left me wondering why it is the only song featured. Unfortunately, very little seems to be available online about this version but I suspect there may be more to the production’s backstory.
Marley’s Ghost is a highlight as it is a truly horrific drawing. It is the most grotesque depiction of Marley outside of the Disney version, which is more scary than graphic. On the other end of the extreme, the ending is one of the most disappointing moments of this version. It ends with Scrooge going to the home of Bob Cratchit rather than being the surprise benefactor. We don’t get to see the encounter between Cratchit and Scrooge in the office, nor do we see a true connection between Tiny Tim and Scrooge. This is similar to the 1938 MGM adaptation, another one of my least favorite versions.
Despite the unsatisfactory ending, the 1969 animated version is worth 45 minutes of your time. It won’t become an annual viewing for me but I will revisit it in future years. So, put another clump of coal on the fire and prepare the bowl of steaming bishop, this should be fun for families as well as fans of Charles Dickens and the Christmas season. It is currently unavailable on DVD but, as indicated earlier, you can easily find it on YouTube.