It is solely through bias that I consider Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol the best version of Charles Dickens’ oft-interpreted story of a miser who, through the efforts of the supernatural, comes to recognize the validity of not just the holiday, but his fellow man. It’s a tall order, considering there are three hundred bazillion versions of this story out there. My affection goes way beyond that, however. I’ll go out on a limb to say it’s easily one of my top five holiday specials.
Historically, Magoo’s is the first animated holiday special, airing all the way back in 1962 and sparking something of a golden age of television. Magoo’s presence begat Rudolph, Frosty and my number one, A Charlie Brown Christmas. That one, like Magoo, doesn’t get bogged down in the modern Christmas iconography and manages to tell a story of redemption, humanity and forgiveness, but where Charlie Brown has become an annual tradition, Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol sort of hangs by the wayside. It’s a shame, really, because not only is the story relatively faithful to the source material, it’s also funny and genuinely moving. It also benefits from having stellar songs from the writing team of Bob Merrill and Jule Styne, elevating the musical theater concept of the special beyond mere likeness. These were pros doing what they had on shows previously and would famously do in Funny Girl.
Sincerely, I don’t know how a tune like “Winter Was Warm” could fall through the cracks. Did the association with being in a “cartoon” keep it from becoming a standard? I suspect the lack of a soundtrack album has something to do with that. Also, Jim Backus’ vocals as Ebenezer Scrooge are faithful to the Magoo persona, meaning that voice is not really meant for musicals, but it comes across perfectly, embittered in one song and broken-hearted in the next. It’s fortunate that the show is on DVD, since there are handfuls of specials I vaguely recall that have never even shown up on VHS, let alone DVD. Not only is it great that you can pick this classic up and share it with your friends and family, but the DVD allows the slightly tech-savvy to pull together something like what you’ll find below.
And, of course, if this is your first experience with the show, you might want to pick up Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol from Amazon.com.