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  Mr Magoo's Christmas Carol And Goodwill To All Men
Year: 1962
Director: Abe Levitow
Stars: Jim Backus, Morey Amsterdam, Jack Cassidy, Royal Dano, Paul Frees, Joan Gardner, John Hart, Jane Keen, Marie Matthews, Laura Olsher, Les Tremayne
Genre: Musical, Comedy, Animated, Fantasy, TV MovieBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: Mr Magoo (voiced by Jim Backus) is now a star on Broadway! He is beside himself with joy as his celebrity is all down to his work in a stage adaptation of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, here he plays its central character Ebenezer Scrooge, and he is on his way to appear in the lead tonight, though thanks to his short-sightedness, he is half an hour late and the director is at his wits' end. To compound matters, Magoo mistakes the restaurant next to the theatre for the theatre itself, and is escorted from the premises still believing he had it right, not wrong, but soon he has been frogmarched to the wings and is ready to take his role in his moment of triumph.

Mr Magoo was one of the stars in animation house U.P.A.'s crown, probably the most famous of their characters, though he fell out of favour in more recent years when his central gimmick of not being able to see very well was accused of being insensitive, especially when he was featured in a Leslie Nielsen-starring live action movie which was a resounding flop and seemed to put paid to any further revivals of any kind of enthusiasm. However, one artefact of that once global popularity remained a feature of the Yuletide television schedules, and that was this version of Dickens which he had appeared in, back when the Scrooge story was not as well-trodden as it is today.

Every major, recurring, cartoon character has a Christmas special in them, or so it would seem, but Magoo got in their first, showing up before Charlie Brown made the definitive variation and Rankin-Bass flooded the market with their festive shorts, so he could correctly be observed to have started the trend. Certainly, if you saw this at the right age it would be among your favourites, even finding it scary or sad if you were young enough, though the question remained: would you find it funny? Magoo was a comical character, yet for almost the entire feature he doesn't get any amusing lines or so much as a sniff at a comedy set-up, as the tale is related with surprisingly straight faces all round.

Arguably it took till 1983 and Disney's casting of Scrooge McDuck in in the lead for Mickey's Christmas Carol for one of the big cartoons to get this right, but Mr Magoo retained the pleasingly stylised look of his other productions, and had songs by Jule Styne and Bob Merrill though Backus did not possess one of the most pleasant singing voices you'll ever hear, and when he was doing the Magoo voice it was not much better, though good on him for trying. Another U.P.A. fixture was Gerald McBoing-Boing, and he showed up as Tiny Tim, even if the thought of little Gerald (who speaks normally here) dying thanks to the bone-chilling winter cold was perhaps grimmer than the programme makers would have intended - good thing about that happy ending, huh?

As it was, this was pretty faithful to Dickens, though the Ghosts of Christmas Present and Past were switched for reasons that nobody seems entirely clear on. But while there have been funny variants of the tale since, this one was assuredly not that as it may have been bookended with humorous passages (though how funny the crushing to death of the stage director was is something for your conscience to decide), the central portion did not even make much play of Magoo's central conceit, that he could not see very well. Indeed, he had no trouble in seeing everything set before him, and did not need spectacles to do so, making the notion of Magoo as Scrooge both an ingenious method of getting the audience to know the tale yet also purely coasting on his name recognition to get the audiences tuning in for the message about peace and goodwill and God bless us, everyone (and keep watching the commercial breaks, thanks). This was actually released into cinemas after it was such a hit, but it really was a case of needing to see it young to have it connect with you; everyone else may wonder what the fuss was about.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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