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Film / A Christmas Carol: The Musical

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A Christmas Carol: The Musical is a 2004 Made-for-TV Movie that is based on a stage musical production that originally ran annually at Madison Square Garden from 1994-2003, which itself is based on a certain Charles Dickens novel. It was directed by Arthur Allan Seidelman.

The film version features Kelsey Grammer as Scrooge, flanked by an All-Star Cast, and premiered on NBC. Disney veteran Alan Menken provided the music, while Lynn Ahrens wrote the teleplay and lyrics.

This film provides examples of:

  • Acid Reflux Nightmare: Scrooge initially dismisses Marley as this, just like in the book.
  • Adaptational Angst Upgrade:
    • Scrooge goes through a lot more in this version of the story. First, he's forced to watch his father be arrested and sent to debtor's prison; his mother has no choice but to send her children away because she can't afford to care for them and dies soon after; he spends his childhood working in a boot factory and never sees his only sister again; he loses not just his fiancée Emily but also his old boss, Mr. Fezziwig, because of his obsession with money; and as the cherry on top, he literally watches Jacob Marley die in front of him in their counting house.
    • This also applies to Scrooge's sister Fan, who also faces the loss of their parents and separation from her brother, and is forced to work in a laundress's shop, and to Mr. and Mrs. Fezziwig, who eventually lose their business and are last seen in poverty. (This also happens to them in the 1951 British film, but not the book.)
  • Adaptational Attractiveness:
    • Marley looked rather grotesque in the stage show, with his actor sporting a prosthetic hook nose and pointed chin. The film greatly tones down his appearance, simply giving Jason Alexander a wild hairstyle and pale skin.
    • While the Ghost of Christmas Past is an attractive young woman in the film as played by Jane Krakowski, the Ghost appears as a childlike being in the book and as a young man in the 1994 stage play this film was based upon.
    • Jesse L. Martin's Ghost of Christmas Present is much younger-looking than the traditional character, who's usually portrayed as a large, imposing man with a thick beard.
    • The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Be, typically depicted as basically The Grim Reaper without a scythe, is here a woman in a pure white dress as played by Geraldine Chaplin.
  • Adaptational Diversity: The Ghosts of Christmas Past and Yet to Come are female and the Ghost of Christmas Present black.
  • Adaptation Distillation:
    • The Ghost of Christmas Past is represented as smoke from a candle, which Scrooge snuffs out after her visit is over as a Shout-Out to novel where he extinguishes the ghost with a giant candle snuffer at the end of the visions of his past.
    • The entire Christmas Yet to Come sequence is done as a single dance/musical number, "Dancing on Your Grave," which takes place entirely in the graveyard where Scrooge will be buried. Different songs are interpolated to condense the scenes from the book: "Jolly Good Time" is the portion where businessmen discuss Scrooge's death; "Link By Link" plays to show the sequence where Ebenezer's servants rob his body; "You Mean More to Me" appears to show the Cratchits mourning Tim; and "God Bless Us, Everyone" captures Scrooge's change of heart.
  • Adaptation Dye-Job: While Scrooge is a blonde in this film, most depictions have his hair as gray in his older age and brown or black in his younger years. His hair color is never mentioned in the book, though, and the fact that his hair isn't fully gray is justified, since according to the dates on his tombstone in the Bad Future, this version of Scrooge isn't yet fifty-five years old.
  • Adaptation Expansion:
    • This version gives us more of Young Scrooge's increasingly ruthless business dealings, showing him rejecting the Fezziwigs' application for a loan, and later shows the death of Jacob Marley as well. It's telling that the entirety of the Christmas Past sequence takes up about half of the film's length.
    • The Past sequence rewrites Scrooge's childhood to more closely resemble Charles Dickens' own. Rather than being from a well-off family but neglected in boarding school, in this version he came from a poor family, his father was sent to debtor's prison, and he was forced into child labor in a shoe factory.
    • Compared to the stage musical, the movie has more dialogue, particularly at Scrooge and Marley's firm in the past.
    • The musical introduces the Smythes, a poor family whose mother had recently died. These characters and their subplot aren't from the book, but they help establish Scrooge's greedy nature (he denies the father's request to delay their mortgage payment for the funeral) and his eventual guilt.
  • Adaptation Name Change:
    • The name of Young Scrooge's fiancée is changed from Belle to Emily. This was allegedly done because Alan Menken had already composed a high-profile musical with an ingenue named Belle in it.
    • In a more minor example, the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come is only referred to as the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Be in this version. A lot of it has to do with using "be" in rhymes for the songs.
  • Adapted Out: Dick Wilkins, one of Scrooge's fellow apprentices from the book, is replaced with a young Jacob Marley.
  • All Just a Dream: While the stage version doesn't explicitly do this, the back of the movie's box, the bonus features, and audio commentary state that Scrooge's visitations were a dream. The sight near the end of the three Londoners who look suspiciously like the spirits dancing away together makes this ambiguous, though.
  • And Starring: The opening cast roll ends with "and Jason Alexander".
  • And You Were There: The actors who play the three spirits first appear in early scenes as a lamplighter, a charity show barker, and a blind beggar woman, respectively, who speak to Scrooge but are rudely brushed aside. Their true roles in the story are hinted by their reactions to Scrooge (e.g., the lamplighter saying "You'll be quite distressed when you look back"). It's later made clear that these people were the spirits in disguise, and attentive viewers will spot a piece of Past's costume wrapped around the lamplighter's wrist at the end of the film.
  • Big, Thin, Short Trio: The Ghosts of Christmas fulfill this trope, with Christmas Present as the Big, Christmas Yet to Be as the Thin, and Christmas Past as the Short. It's most obvious when they appear in their "human" guises at the end and skip away from the crowd.
  • Black Comedy: The other chained spirits Marley brings along are played for horror and humor, especially the headless ghost.
  • Brick Joke: A heartwarming variation. The song "A Place Called Home," first sung by young Scrooge imagining being reunited with his sister Fan and then by Scrooge and Emily as they picture married life together, specifically mentions "a red front door." When Scrooge reforms and goes to see his nephew Fred, we see that the house's front door is indeed red, meaning that Ebeneezer finally found his way home.
  • Canon Foreigner: Mr. Smythe and his daughter, Grace, aren't from the book. Scrooge's mother also appears in his childhood, when in the book she's never mentioned.
  • Casting Gag: As with The Flintstones in Viva Rock Vegas, Jane Krakowski plays a perpetually barefoot character in the form of the Ghost of Christmas Past.
  • Catch Your Death of Cold:
    • This version of Bob Cratchit has a cold and sneezes constantly due to Scrooge's stinginess with the coal in his office. Later, Scrooge himself is shown sneezing, implying that he's caught Bob's cold.
    • Mrs. Mops spends the entire finale chasing Scrooge down to give him his coat and scarf to prevent this trope, quoting it by name as she does.
  • Chain Pain: Marley and the other spirits chain Scrooge up as a warning of what will happen to him should he not change. The stage version tends to also have them strangle him with the chains or let him see firsthand how heavy they are to emphasize their points.
  • Children Are Innocent: Besides Tiny Tim, Grace Smythe gets through to Scrooge with her kindness and innocence.
  • Composite Character: Jacob Marley is combined with Dick Wilkins here, being both Scrooge's co-apprentice and eventual business partner.
  • Dark Reprise: The Christmas Yet to Come sequence is a medley of dark reprises: "Jolly Good Time", "Link By Link," "You Mean More to Me," "Nothing to Do With Me," and "God Bless Us, Everyone." The last two songs, along with "A Place Called Home," get a Triumphant Reprise when Scrooge is reformed.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Scrooge can be quite snarky. “Am I a charity? Am I the state?” when he refuses to show mercy to his client Mr. Smythe and his daughter Grace. And this gem: “At present I rather to go bed” when Marley’s ghost mentions the Ghost of Christmas Present. The Ghost of Christmas Present and Scrooge’s maid Mrs Mops also have their moments as well.
  • Decomposite Character: There are now three gentlemen who ask Scrooge for a charitable donation, not two like in the book. This allows their song to be sung as a full trio.
  • Do Not Taunt Cthulhu: Scrooge mocks Marley as being an Acid Reflux Nightmare, jabbing him with a finger until he gets agitated enough to really scare Scrooge.
  • Economy Cast: As in the corresponding stage version, members of an ensemble play a number of roles, including ghosts, party guests, and extras.
  • Evil-Detecting Dog: A blind man's dog is hostile to Scrooge when they first meet, but kind to him in the end. The dog actually comes from the source material.
  • Ethereal White Dress: Instead of the traditional black hooded figure, the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come is an elderly female wraith dressed all in white.
  • The Faceless: Averted in this version. The Ghost Yet to Come does not wear a black hood to hide its face as in the book and many other adaptations.
  • Freudian Excuse: Scrooge’s tragic past is expanded here. His father was sentenced to prison for three years after not paying a debt, his mother (who lived longer in this adaptation than the original) died shortly after her husband was taken to jail, and Scrooge was separated from his sister. To make matters worse with Fan, she died while giving birth to Fred, resulting in Scrooge feeling more miserable and alone.
  • Gender Flip: The Ghosts of Christmas Past and Yet to Come are both of Ambiguous Gender in the book, but obviously female in the film. In addition, the Ghost of Christmas Past/Lamplighter was a man in the Madison Square Garden stage version, but a woman here, and the Lamplighter's lines are slightly changed to explain that she's filling in for her sick husband so he won't be fired.
  • Ghostly Chill: When Marley's ghost hugs Scrooge, a cold pallor spreads across his body until they break contact.
  • Gorgeous Period Dress: All over the Fezziwigs' party.
  • Hollywood Heart Attack: Jacob Marley dies this way at the end of the Christmas Past scenes. He remarks that he feels unusually tired, then moments later clutches his chest, stammers out Scrooge's name and falls down dead.
  • "I Am Becoming" Song: Scrooge's pleas to God and the Ghost of Christmas Future, in "Yesterday, Tomorrow and Today".
  • Ironic Hell: Some of the wandering spirits accompanying Marley have suffered even more ironic (and creepy) fates, including one who was "mean to the bone", another who "never had a heart", another who "never lent a hand", and a last who "wanted to get ahead".
  • It's the Best Whatever, Ever!: Tiny Tim calls what would have been his last Christmas "the best Christmas ever".
  • Let There Be Snow: It starts to snow just in time for the final number.
  • Lighter and Softer: The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come is portrayed as an elderly woman in an Ethereal White Dress, rather than the dark hooded Grim Reaper-like figure of tradition.
  • Literal Metaphor: The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Be's earthly disguise is a blind beggar woman who warns Scrooge that his refusal to see makes him blind to his own fate. Once he reforms and gives her some money on Christmas morning, she lifts her head to show that her vision has been restored—Scrooge's inner clarity is literally reflected in her own now-clear eyes.
  • Magical Negro: The Ghost of Christmas Present is a jolly black man who offers Scrooge, "perfectly free...some laughter, some magic... on me."
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: Ultimately, it's left up to the viewer to decide if the spirits really visited Scrooge or if it was just a dream.
  • Ms. Fanservice: The Ghost Of Christmas Past in this version is a young blonde woman with a very short dress that shows her legs due to her being played by Jane Krakowski. She even does a little pole dancing on one of Scrooge's bedposts.
  • The Musical: Onstage much of the runtime is covered in song, and while the movie has more dialogue, it's still mostly sung.
  • My Greatest Failure: While reliving his past, Scrooge clearly regrets how he treated the Fezziwigs and not trying to save his relationship with Emily.
  • Mythology Gag: The beggar woman who later becomes the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Be wears a black shawl and bonnet, evoking The Grim Reaper-like appearance of the original character.
  • Named by the Adaptation:
    • Fred's wife, who was unnamed in the original novel, is named Sally here. She and Fred’s last name is Anderson.
    • Scrooge's maid is named Mrs. Mops.
  • Not Even Bothering with the Accent: Rather than try a British accent, Kelsey Grammer merely uses the posh tone he used for Frasier.
  • The Oner: Used in the opening to show many characters who will feature later.
  • Ooh, Me Accent's Slipping: The actor playing Young Jacob Marley uses a British accent, and Jason Alexander somewhat assumes one in his one scene as the "living" Marley (right before he dies), although it's rather vague. During "Link by Link," Marley's big musical number as a ghost, he doesn't have one at all. Apparently dying rids you of accents.
  • Or Was It a Dream?: After Scrooge's reformation, the three spirits dance away happily in their earthly disguises, confirming that some part of the experience was real.
  • Patter Song: "Nothing To Do With Me" has Scrooge speaking/singing in quick rhythm as he disparages those around him.
  • Politically Incorrect Villain: In some versions, including the movie, Scrooge tells the lamplighter she's not fit for the job since she's a woman. He also disparages the poor, lame, and blind.
  • Punctuated Pounding: Downplayed, as Scrooge punctuates each statement of what he thinks Marley is by poking him. The stage production sometimes has him push Marley around as well, until he snaps and howls at Scrooge.
  • Race Lift: In the film, the Ghost of Christmas Present is played by the African-American Jesse L. Martin.
  • Recurring Riff: "A Place Called Home", "Christmas Together", and "God Bless Us, Everyone" function as overarching themes, rather than isolated songs.
  • Scary Black Man: The Ghost Of Christmas Present is serious and scary when he's not being jolly.
  • Shout-Out:
    • Scrooge and The Ghost of Christmas Past fly into the past like in the 1938, Muppet, 1997 and 2001 versions.
    • The director used the dance scene from West Side Story to inspire a romantic scene at the Fezziwigs' ball.
    • A musical passage during the same ball briefly quotes "Thank You Very Much" from Scrooge (1970).
    • Scrooge shouts at his younger self to go after Emily when she leaves him, just like he does in the Patrick Stewart version.
    • Emily gives Scrooge back her engagement ring when they breakup, like she does in Scrooge (1935), Scrooge (1951) and Scrooge (1970). note 
    • After the Ghost of Christmas Present leaves, Scrooge is left alone and asks what he did to be so abandoned, a reference to a similar scene in the George C. Scott version. Like the George C. Scott one, Scrooge meets the charity solicitors in the stock exchange rather than his counting house as seen in the novel.
    • In the future sequence, Mrs. Cratchit places Tiny Tim's crutch against his grave marker, just like Mickey-as-Bob does in the same scene in Mickey's Christmas Carol.
  • Show Within a Show: "Abundance and Charity" is done as if it were the musical being filmed onstage, complete with a visible orchestra and audience. note 
  • Stealth Pun: The Ghost of Christmas Past is noticeably Hotter and Sexier than most portrayals, and is depicted as smoke from a candle. In other words, she's smokin' hot.
  • Suddenly Voiced: Played with; the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Be is traditionally a silent character, who only communicates with a point of the finger. Here, she speaks and sings as a beggar woman, then becomes silent after her true form is revealed.
  • Tempting Fate: Scrooge closes "Nothing To Do With Me" by saying at this rate he'd end up dancing in the snow and giving money to the poor, which is exactly what happens.
  • Tragic Bromance: Scrooge and Jacob Marley were genuinely good friends in this adaptation. The first thing Marley's ghost does upon appearing is burst into tears and hug Scrooge, and later, Scrooge is distraught at having to relive Marley's death in the Past sequence. Ruthless though he already was beforehand, we get the sense that Marley's death was the last straw that fully hardened Scrooge's heart.
  • Unexplained Accent: For some reason Scrooge's younger self has an accent his present-day self lacks.
  • Ungrateful Bastard: Scrooge did not bother to help Mr. Fezziwig when the man came to him for financial help, not caring if his former mentor and his wife were reduced to poverty. Mrs. Fezziwig calls out Scrooge for his refusal in helping the man who treated him like a son.
  • Villain Song: Downplayed as it's not a full villain song, but Old Joe and Mrs. Mops' part in "Dancing on Your Grave" still qualifies, as they sing it while stripping the dead Scrooge of his belongings.
    Old Joe: These are nice,
    I’ll give you three and eight, mum.
    These are nice,
    And I’ll take these besides.
    These are nice,
    And these’ll fetch a great sum!

    All: What a lovely profit he provides!
  • World of Ham: This production is delightfully hammy. Kelsey Grammer as Scrooge is particularly over-the-top in his "evil" form at the beginning of the movie. Jesse L. Martin has a blast as Christmas Present, and Jason Alexander's version of "Link by Link" is a full-scale production number, complete with terrible puns and dancing ghosts. Even some of the chorus members get in on the act—the dancing sailors and drunks in "Christmas Together" come to mind.