ABC’s A Christmas Carol

By Andre DeCuir, Muskingum University

Animation ultimately is the best method in conveying the importance of change in A Christmas Carol because animation, in a sense, occurs in the text itself. For example, when the young Scrooge reads alone in the schoolroom, the “exotic characters from that reading troop into the barren room and enact their familiar adventures” (Stone 15-16). Vibrant, colorful figures move about in an otherwise still room, having a “softening influence” on Scrooge. The vision gives “a freer passage to his tears” (72). An animated version of A Christmas Carol that aired on the ABC Television Network on December 21, 1971 acknowledges major themes such as the powerful flux of memory and emotion in creating flexibility necessary for significant change. The pulsating animation style of the characters and backgrounds create a world never static, always on the verge of change. Here, Scrooge can eventually pass through his crusty oyster shell into this world, diffusing kindness and generosity.

Stylistically, the film resembles John Leech’s 1843 illustrations for A Christmas Carol. The lines in the animators’ drawings, however, were not “cleaned up”; in other words, lines in the hair, faces, and clothing of the characters and in the backgrounds were not completely erased. When the drawings were filmed one by one and set in motion, lines of differing lengths and thicknesses gave another dimension of movement to the characters. A character might be standing still, but the lines within the character’s outline shift slightly, giving the character a “shimmering” appearance. In a close-up of Scrooge, the individual hairs of his eyebrows wave, and the curls of one of the gentlemen collecting for charity appear to have a life of their own.

John Leech’s illustration, “Scrooge Extinguishes the First of the Three Spirits”

This technique is most appropriate in the animation of the scenes involving the Ghost of Christmas Past, a figure Leech did not draw, perhaps due to the complexity of Dickens’s description. The ghost’s head and limbs vibrate and then divide like cells into multiple appendages, faithful to Dickens’s description: “now a thing with one arm, now one leg, now with twenty legs” (68). In addition, the features dissolve from those of a youth to those of an old man and back again. We see Scrooge quickly “morph” like the ghost, frame by frame, from a youth and adolescent in the schoolroom to a young apprentice at his desk at Fezziwig’s.

The style continues with the next two ghosts. At warp speed, the Ghost of Christmas Present whisks Scrooge to the Cratchits’ home, to the hut of miners, to a lighthouse, and to the deck of a ship on a stormy sea. Even the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come takes Scrooge and the viewer on a dizzying, zigzag route from the chamber housing the sheet-covered body to the Cratchits’ house where Bob Cratchit kneels at the bedside of Tiny Tim, muttering, “’My little child!’” (Dickens 122).

The rapid movement of the scenes, writes Sammon, “suggests the flow of time” (134). The fluid animation of the characters, coupled with the speed of the scenes, creates a malleable world where barriers will be short lived. In such a setting, significant change such as Scrooge becoming a better man overnight is inevitable.

Questions for Discussion:

Williams’s animated version only runs 26 minutes. Discuss an omission or omissions that you believe are needed in this version. Does the film make up for the omissions in other ways?

Reread Dickens’s description of the Ghost of Christmas Past. The original illustrator, John Leech, did not contribute illustrations of this ghost. Why not? What ideas about memory and change could Dickens have possibly attempted to convey through the ghost’s strange appearance? How does the animated version convey those ideas?

Harry Stone acknowledges that in the text itself, there are “rapid shifts from scene to scene, . . . telescoping, blurring” (16). The scenes in the animated feature flow quickly, almost too quickly. Discuss the significance of this flow, perhaps linking it to the flux of memory and emotion and its role in the conversion of Scrooge.

Further Reading:

Buckwald, Craig. “Stalking the Figurative Oyster: The Excursive Ideal in A Christmas Carol.” Studies in the Novel, vol. 27, no. 1, 1990, pp. 1-14.

Dickens, Charles. A Christmas Carol. The Christmas Books, Volume One. Penguin, 1985.

Guida, Fred. A Christmas Carol and Its Adaptations: Dickens’s Story on Screen and Television. McFarland, 2000.

Sammon, Paul. The Christmas Carol Trivia Book: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Every Version of The Dickens Classic. Citadel, 1994.

Stone, Harry. Dickens and the Invisible World: Fairytales, Fantasy, and Novel-Making. Macmillan, 1980.