This is a beautiful film adaptation of the 1994 New York stage musical based on Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. The film is a bright, lively rendition of the old story, with an excellent music score, fine acting, singing and dancing that capture the true spirit of the Dickens' novel. Although there have been so many productions of this Dickens' classic making it hard to be different and good, this one surprisingly accomplishes both tasks beautifully.
Any musical based on a Charles Dickens novel is heading in the right direction from the start and to fit in with the musical genre the story has been heavily rewritten to accommodate the purpose of the excellent music score. Some Dickens purists may be horrified to see a sequence in which Scrooge's father is being sent to debtors' prison but it fits the dramatic mold of the original story and is based on the real life fact that really happened to Dickens’ father. Another addition is the opening sequence set in the London Stock Exchange but this again helps us understand Scrooge’s priorities and explains how money became his emotional downfall leading to the infamous night in which he learns his lessons.
The score by Alan Menken (Aladdin and Beauty and the Beast) with lyrics by Lynn Ahrens (Ragtime, Seussical, Once on this Island and A Man of No Importance) is lyrical, haunting and memorable. And although some of the original stage production score has been altered or eliminated there are some welcome additions such as the new song "A Place Called Home" which is pure nirvana. Other highlights of the score are the songs: “The Nights Of Long Ago” and “God Bless Us Everyone” among others.
This production benefits from a wonderful cast. Kelsey Grammer is a great actor and a very effective Scrooge. He is very mean, very nasty, very unlikeable until he learns his lessons and he grows on you. He also appears to be a well-trained vocalist carrying his songs extremely well. Jason Alexander’s performance as Marley is as good as I have ever seen from him. His song “Link by Link” is the comic highlight of the film. Jesse L. Martin playing the Ghost of Christmas Present also has a lot of fun with his role, especially in a music hall production number involving a chorus line of Rockettes dressed up as Tin soldiers.
Jennifer Love Hewitt as Emily, Scrooge’s young love interest, is wonderful and has an incredible lovely voice. Although she only appears in only two scenes, she demonstrates that she can also be a terrific actress. Her song "A Place Called Home" with the Young Ebeneezer is a genuinely moving moment. Jane Krakowski's Ghost of Christmas Past was a delight to watch. Her spectacular rendition of the song “ The Nights Of Long Ago” is perhaps the best song in the score, and sends chills down your spine. Also worth mentioning is the ensemble of Broadway and West End veterans supporting the leads which include Geraldine Chaplin, Ruthie Henshall, Linzi Hately, Patrick David, Steven Miller and Claire Moore.
This production also benefits from great production values. The special effects are effective and at times spectacular as in the musical number “Link by Link” involving ghost materializing out of writhing lumps in the walls and doors of the room while pulling out their heads. Most striking was the authentic set design, costumes, and digital landscapes which effectively take us back to Dickens' London. The choreography is the only weak aspect of this production. It is serviceable but at times appears too hectic and rather forgettable evoking more frenzy than the joy and warmth intended.
Don’t let the fact that the film was originally filmed for television fool you. There is no question of the talent involved in this production. Even with some minor flaws this is in my opinion one of the best versions of “A Christmas Carol” yet! It is a superb film – done in the style of the big musicals of the 1960s and an excellent way to spend and evening with your entire family this holiday season.