What a favor I have done you, my gentle readers and Dickens lovers! I have taken it upon myself, in keeping with the situation, to evaluate the universe of versions of “A Christmas Carol.”
This was no easy task. There are four or five widely known versions of this holiday classic, but the off-versions, the non-Scrooge versions–the American, Scottish, musical, Rankin-Bass, Disney, Pixar, pop star, African-American, Canadian, mobster, Susan Lucci, British, and trailer trash versions have become plentiful, indeed!
Since the Seymour Hicks first non-silent ACC (“A Christmas Carol”) film debuted in 1935, another 43 film and television-based versions of Scrooge’s story have been produced, not counting several live once-on-TV teleplays done in the 1950s and also not including every single skit or sitcom-inspired takeoffs ever done. (Ref. see Alex P. Keaton and French & Saunders). My universe included anything recognized on IMDB (or Rotten Tomatoes) or on a Scrooge ten best list. Interestingly, at least five sites purported to have the complete list, but none did. Even Wikipedia under the heading “Adaptations of ‘A Christmas Carol’ only listed 25 of these 43 adaptations of “A Christmas Carol.”
Meanwhile, I have cracked my ol’ Excel Ninja knuckles and settled down to pivot table away to provide some Fascinating Analysis ™of these versions.
What Kind of Scrooge Am I?
Well, Marley was dead to begin with. That is to say, To Begin With, let’s look at the type of versions of “A Christmas Carol” made in these 83 years of Scrooge-making. It will probably warm the cockles of your heart to know that about two-thirds were a non-musical play with human actors, but there have also been a fair number of cartoons, musicals, cartoon musicals, and, well… then there was “The Passions of Carol,” and I’ll leave that one right there on the upper right of the pie chart.
A second observation is that there are more versions attributed to somebody besides Charles Dickens than those simply named “A Christmas Carol.” That is to say, when you count up the Flintstone’s, Disney’s, Frederick March presents, Mickey’s, Smurf’s and so forth titles including three–count ’em three–titles called “Christmas Carol: The Something” (The Movie, The Musical, The Amphibious Land Craft &c), you end up with more things titled as a variation on the theme than the ones called ACC. That’s completely separate from several other versions that just use the name Scrooge or the name Carol–i.e. “It’s Christmas, Carol!”–and others that use the story without referring to ACC at all. Such as two versions called “The Stingiest Man in Town.” Carol Merrill will now show you the pareto. (See what I did there?)
Alastair Sim, Vanessa Williams, or the skunk?
You might be surprised to see how many versions also star a Scrooge who is not a white male. As the years move forward, there have been an increasing number generated with other casts–at least three, for example, with mostly black casts. Of course, the cartoon versions include many non-humans playing our anti-hero , whether it’s Grouchy Smurf or Carface, the pit bull, from the “All Dogs” version. As I started to assess the types of versions completed, I also plotted the audience rating for comparison.
The number of white male versions of ACC peaked during the 1970s, the heyday of the Albert Finney, Henry Winkler, and Mr. Magoo. No surprise that the number of female-starring versions has been on the increase, as in particular the Lifetime and Hallmark channels have found the source material fertile ground for offerings like “A Carol Christmas” and “Christmas Cupid.”
One sad note. Apparently, the Robert Guillaume all-black version called “John Grin’s Christmas” was well loved by one viewer who rated it a 10. Unfortunately, it’s no longer attainable and said viewer’s daughter left the much-watched videotape in the VCR of a children’s hospital, and it was lost in 2010! There seems to be a story within a story there, which I’d be fascinated to know. I hope IMDB reviewer Stevandupree found another copy.
These newer versions haven’t necessarily been as kindly received by audiences as, generally speaking, the white male versions of Scrooge seem to fare better–with one notable exception. For inexplicable reasons, the highest rated version is “Mickey’s Christmas Carol” from 1983, which earned a Rotten Tomatoes audience rating of 90 and RT score of 100%. To me, it’s unconscionable how that could have occurred when “Muppet Christmas Carol” only earned an 84/75 (Audience/RT) and Albert Finney’s Oscar-nominated “Scrooge” earned an 84/75, but there you go. Oh hell! In double-checking my research, I just came across another version, “Mr. Scrooge to See You” from 2013, which would change all my graphs. Nope, I’m not doing it, sorry, especially when it only earned a 44 on IMDB, among the lowest scores of all. Anyway, even the gold star standard version–1951’s “Scrooge” with Alastair Sim–only earned an 89/85, but that’s the one to which all the others compare.
If you do want an excellent top twenty assessment, I recommend this one by Collider.com. There’s also a funny review by a peer northern Californian who decided to watch eight of the versions shown on our local PBS station and drove himself nearly insane doing it (the Tory Spelling version seemed to put him over the edge).
I will note that in nearly half of the newer versions, where Scrooge was no longer a moneylender but held some other occupation, that occupation was related to the entertainment industry. Whether Scrooge was a television executive, publishing tycoon, or diva popstar, writers in the entertainment industry seem to enjoy portraying their bosses as ripe for redemption.
Are You Not Scrooge? Are There No Workhouses?
Of course, Charles Dickens was British so the Brits had an early lock on many of the versions, not to mention some of the most highly rated. But the American have come on strong more recently and, at this point, outnumber the ones across the pond, even if you only count the ones where the main character is named Ebenezer Scrooge. Yes, there have been so many versions now where our protagonist is not named Ebenezer, that in the U.S., those now out number the traditional ones. To be fair, I am counting the ones where women are named “Ebbie,” “Ebony,” or “Carol” but carry the last name Scrooge in the not-Scrooge category. Yet, arguably, I am including the western film with Jack Palance as a rootin’-tootin’ card-cheatin’ miser in the Ebenezer category, so I think the trend in the underlying data is fairly represented.
Additionally, the audience ratings for versions where Scrooge is named … Scrooge… slightly outranked those where he/she/it is named something else, especially in Canada. Those Canadians usually do know what they’re doing, and they’re so nice about it, too.
An Indigestible Bit of Bubble
Now we come to the piece de la resistance, which is to say my bubble chart. I’m very proud of this chart because I learned how to bubble in Excel expressly for this post, and it was no easy task.
I had to adjust the ratings just a bit (technically, the rating is the Average IMDB rating over 60) in order to make the bubbles more visible. Also, Adherence to Dickens is based on my subjective assessment from the detailed descriptions of these films, since I have not, truthfully, watched all of them. However, you can rest assured that my inter-rater reliability would be high since I was the only assessor.
If you’ve never seen one, you now know that bubble charts plot three things simultaneously, with the hope that the data will sing its secrets with more gusto. Indeed, two things are evident here. One is that audiences appreciated the versions done in the 1950s and 1980s more than other decades. The other is that they liked the ones closer to the Dickens story more, with the lowest ratings going to those in the 1990s and 2000s. A positive trend, however, is that recent adaptations–like 2018’s Scottish entry starring Stuart Brennan as a sportscar-driving business tycoon–have managed to take a fresh spin and do it well. We may want to hunt that down on Amazon Prime.
I hope I was, like Scrooge, better than my word in this statistical recap. We now know that Scrooge has been done so many different ways that it might be worth combining your favorite oldie version (Sim? Finney? Michael Caine?) with one of the newer ones. I’ll also note that I did try running a Regression Analysis on this, but my R-squareds wallowed in the teens no matter which variables I added. So either you can’t predict when a version of “A Christmas Carol” will be good (black female pop-star? white old banker? McDuck? Grouchy Smurf?) or I’ve forgotten how regression worked. Could be either.
We probably need to watch a few more, just to make sure.