What happens when you combine the writers of the fantastic 1970 musical Scrooge with the cringe-inducing kiddie movie, Welcome to Monster High? You get a mixed bag of silly kiddie antics, musical numbers lifted from better movies, and some very strange adaptions based on the iconic Dickens novel.
Everyone on the planet knows the classic story of Ebenezer Scrooge (voiced by Luke Evans) and his miraculous redemptive arc thanks to three spirits, BUT in this colorful and very kid-friendly version, it’s been sweetened and sanitized to death. Example: the three spirits are referred to as “visitors” by Jacob Marley (Jonathan Pryce) and Scrooge has a pet dog named Prudence! Yeah, you heard me right. Scrooge has a pet dog! The writers are director Stephen Donnelly (Monster High–his only other screenwriting credit) and the recently departed Leslie Bricusse (Scrooge–the Musical, Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, Dr. Doolittle). One guess who added all the silly kiddie stuff. . . oh, and it doesn’t stop there either.
The entire film is chock-full of weird kiddie touches: Bob Crachit (who has one green eye and one blue eye) has eight children, there’s a gang of orphans that Scrooge “adopts” at the end instead of the traditional “turkey boy” that buys the Prize Turkey, the Ghost of Christmas Past (Olivia Coleman) is a wacky shape-shifting candle, the fun-loving Ghost of Christmas Present (Trevor Dion Nicholas) has three exuberant mini-minions that are always harassing Scrooge, and Scrooge’s nephew, Harry (Fra Fee) is so joyful and over-the-top you want to bury him with a stake of holly through his heart! However, if you’re a huge fan of the original 1970 musical with Albert Finney, Bricusse decided to not only add entire sections of dialogue from his past movie but throw in several of his favorite songs, like I Like Life, Thank You Very Much, Happiness, and I’ll Begin Again. Unfortunately, they’re not sung (or choreographed) as well as the original. *sigh*
There are so many parts of this saccharine-sweet movie that are made just for the little ones that only a few scenes justify the adult palate and manage to sneak in here and there. The first appearance of Jacob Marley is nicely done as a chilly ice demon. . . until he talks, that is! That same can be said for all three “visitors” (they’re Ghosts, people! Ghosts!!). Each one appears in its own unique and unusual way, even though the CGI is rather lacking. Another unique thing is showing Scrooge as a boy in the past, not in his old school, but as a factory worker blacking labels. Something that actually happened to Dickens! Also, the character of Tom Jenkins (Giles Terera) is a toy shop owner here, while he was a hot soup vendor back in 1970. Odd.
Directed by Connelly with that sweeping, fast-paced, crackling direction mostly seen in those Dollar Tree animation DVD’s for kids, this ain’t gonna please those Christmas Carol purists out there (like me). Still, it’s better than that nauseating, dreadful FX TV version with Guy Pearce! This was the last thing that the late, great Leslie Bricusse did and it’s nice to see that he could contribute something from his masterpiece, even if it does cater to a very young demographic. Seriously, though, do yourself a favor and watch his original 1970 musical. It’s simply brilliant and worth your time.
**Now streaming on Netflix