I love Mickey’s Christmas Carol, and if I reviewed it like I do other Christmas specials, I would only gush about how great it is – so instead, I’ll talk about . . . casting decisions.
In the original opening, Mickey explains that he and his friends performed a version of Dickens’s Christmas Carol. (This intro is often left out on TV now.) It was a much shorter version – some script cuts were necessary (made by Mickey, who also served as director) – but still manages to hit the high points. The question is: Did Mickey get the casting correct? Let’s take a look.
Scrooge McDuck as Ebenezer Scrooge
Obvious choice, with his name being what it is. Did I feel like Scrooge merely plays himself? At times (though his happy skipping near the end and the line “I’m going to make you my partner” feel authentic). The major impact of this casting decisions is that Mickey Mouse is not the lead. Did he do it to put the show first or did he really have no choice (because of the name thing)? I don’t know because he declined my many requests for comment. It did, however, have ramifications for another well-loved mouse. More on that soon . . .
Mickey Mouse as Bob Cratchit
Mickey pretty much plays Mickey in this movie, kind of like a mouse version of Kevin Costner. But I really like his version of the ever cheerful but put-upon Bob Cratchit. It has a level of depth that is not normally associated with Mickey. His tear in the final scene while putting Tiny Tim’s tiny cane on his grave . . . wow. Just wow.
Donald Duck as Fred
Okay, I get it. Donald had to be Fred once his uncle was cast in the role of . . . his uncle. To me, Donald has always been ill-tempered, destined to be that old drunk duck at the bar talking of days gone by when he was a success. Only no one would understand him – and not because he’s drunk, but because he’s hasn’t learned how to speak clearly. How does he have a career? I mean, explain to me how his uncle and Daisy can speak perfect English but Donald’s speech is still duck-like? Is there no voice training at Disney? The only line I can clearly understand is “I will! I will!” They even had to cut Fred’s famous monologue – and no, it wasn’t a time issue. It was a Donald issue.
Goofy as Jacob Marley
I’ve always appreciated Goofy’s work for what it is. He’s limited but likeable. That being said, he was horribly miscast as Marley. There is no way that Scrooge would have worked with someone as inept as Goofy’s version of Marley. Even if he had, Scrooge and Marley would’ve been out of business in days. Who should have been Marley, you ask? Pete, who would have been awesome in that role. But more on Pete later.
(P.S. Why isn’t Goofy called Goofy Dog? I mean, you have Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, Minnie Mouse, Jiminy Cricket and countless others with a last name of their species. Is it perhaps because we don’t want the audience making the connection that Goofy and Pluto are actually the same animal, but one gets to speak and wear pants, while one gets to live in a dog house and be the pet of a giant mouse?
Jiminy Cricket as the Ghost of Christmas Past
Jiminy, who was more popular in Disney’s classic era, was probably hoping that this performance would lead to a career resurgence, a la Betty White’s role in Lake Placid, but alas – it did not happen. But he’s made a nice career of playing the wise cricket nonetheless.
Daisy Duck as Belle
Much like Donald, this was the only role she could be cast in. Unlike Donald, she nailed this role. She plays the early Belle, before Scrooge finds another love, with a sense of childlike innocence and hope, and then manages to bring some anger when Scrooge chooses money over her.
(By the way, can we talk about the lack of roles for women in this production? There are only two females in it, and only one of them has a speaking part. Why didn’t Minnie say something to Mickey about this? Or wait, maybe she did. That would explain what happened to Mrs. Cratchit’s lines.)
Morty Fieldmouse as Tiny Tim
Super cute. The Michelle Tanner of the cast, and it works. He’s my second favorite Tiny Tim. After Robin Frog in A Muppet Christmas Carol, of course.
Pete as the Ghost of Christmas Future
Pete is amazing in this role. Hands down, the best GoCF ever to don those robes, which doesn’t actually say much when you consider that none of the others talk. That being said, he was still the best. However, I do feel that this classically trained actor gets typecast too often in villainous type roles, which means he’s seldom used to the fullest extent of his talent. Yes, he has carved out a nice little niche career as the foil to everyone – but clearly he wants more. And I want more for him. Unfortunately, as long as Mickey’s in charge, he will be stuck in these types of roles. At least he nailed the best line in the story . . . “Why yours, Ebenezer. The richest man in the cemetery!” He, my friend, is destined for the bright lights of Broadway once he breaks free of the shackles of the great mouse. Here’s hoping it happens sooner rather than later.
Minnie Mouse as Mrs. Cratchit
Is Mrs. Cratchit a mute in Dickens’s novel? No, she is not. But in this production, she is. Zero lines. None whatsoever. Minnie’s talents, and the character of Mrs. Cratchit, have never been so underutilized as they are here. She’s nothing more than scenery, much like Mr. Toad, who plays Fezziwig. So Mrs. Cratchit comes off as docilely accepting of her fate instead of that spunky woman who exclaims “Founder of the feast, indeed!” when Bob gives thanks to Scrooge. And Minnie would’ve have nailed that line. Perhaps Mickey and Minnie were having relationship issues at the time. Maybe about Mickey’s lack of casting females.
A Charlie Brown Christmas, based on the much-loved Charles Schultz comic strip Peanuts, comes on TV tonight on CBS. Many people view it as a classic Christmas tale, and I support their right to that opinion. I, though I watch it every year and own a copy (perhaps two), am not really a fan because I find Charlie tiresome, self-absorbed, and way too much into this whole martyr thing. (Note: I don't always feel this way about Charles Xavier Brown. Sometimes, gasp, I identify with him. Not here though.) If the special focused less on Charles (perhaps have him switch places with Marcy and simply call it "Marcy's Christmas,) and more on Snoopy, or on the rehearsals and production of what will clearly be a disappointing retelling of the Nativity, or pretty much anything besides the three-haired wonder, would be fantastic. That being said, I pulled out my DVD copy and decided to re-watch and revisit Charlie and his non-pals to see if perhaps I could discover the magic and the meaning that so many other people found in this tale. So without further ado . . . The 12 Observations of A Charlie Brown Christmas.
Observation 1: As a lead for a Christmas special, Charlie is, at best, questionable.
His first grimace occurs before the show even starts and then pretty much doesn’t leave his face for the rest of the show. And he complains. A lot. About everything. But never asks what he can do for someone else. Good grief, indeed.
Observation 2: What’s my motivation? I have no clue, Charlie Brown.
Is he trying to find the true meaning of Christmas, or he is lashing out about the commercialism of Christmas? It alternates throughout. If his motivation is to make Christmas less commercial, then one would think he already knows what Christmas is all about. But he says he doesn’t. Or does he? I have no idea.
Observation 3: Never mock someone who doesn’t give you a Christmas card.
Early on in this melancholy tale, Charlie walks to his mailbox, opens it, and it’s empty. He then talks about how he doesn’t need a reminder that no one likes him. (Somewhere, his loyal and saintlike friend Linus is crying loudly into his blue blanket.) Anyway, he sees Violet and thanks her for the Christmas card she sent him. She scoffs at him by saying she didn’t send him one, and he mocks her for not understanding sarcasm. I have a question for you, Chuck. How many Christmas cards did you send?
Observation 4: This entire group knows nothing about putting on a play.
It’s clearly a few days before Christmas, which means that the play should have already happened – but since it hasn’t, surely they’re ready to perform. No, they are not. Amateurs. They don’t even have a director, until Lucy, trying to help Charlie (sounds like a friend thing to do), names him director of the Christmas play.
What? How do you not have a director yet? Why haven’t you been rehearsing? Why don’t the actors have their parts or scripts yet? Why does Lucy have unilateral director-designating powers? Who let's a bunch of whatever-grade-they're-kids run loose in a theatre? Why did they cast someone as the “shepherd’s wife?” Where’s Franklin?
Observation 5: Charlie Brown sexist?
As soon he becomes director, Charlie begins demeaning Lucy by calling her “script girl.” So . . . you’re calling the one who has the power to name you director and is currently the only one in town running her own business “script girl?” For shame, Chuckles.
Observation 6: The first rehearsal goes poorly.
Shocking. But Charlie Brown does exactly what any good director in his shoes would do: He goes to buy a Christmas tree. Wait, that’s not what a good director would do. A good director would, I don’t know, come up with a plan and rehearse the actual play.
Observation 7: Charlie really needs to appreciate what he has more.
If the message of this fable is that we need to stop wanting for what we don’t have and appreciate what we do have, then that’s a good message. Charlie has the best friend that anyone could ever ask for (no, not you, Snoopy. You’re kind of the opposite of man’s best friend) in Linus and all he thinks about is the people that don’t like him. I hope he at least sent Linus a Christmas card.
Observation 7: It’s “Christmas tree,” not “Christmas branch.”
You had one job, sir. To get a stinking Christmas tree. A good one. Sure, you were bothered that the other kids wanted an “aluminum tree” – but let’s face facts, you said you would get a tree. A Christmas tree. And you did not. Despite Linus’s warning, you got a Christmas branch. Why? Because clearly you know better than everyone. And then you’re shocked – SHOCKED – when your friends bash your branch tree. Sorry, Charlie, consider that bashing deserved
Observation 9: Did anyone read the script of this play?
After his choice of trees is ridiculed, Charlie laments that he doesn’t know what Christmas is about. So Saint Linus calls for the lights (Who’s running the lights? Woodstock, perhaps? Or is that where Franklin’s hiding?) and begins to recite the story of the nativity. And that allows Chuck to understand Christmas. But wait: Aren’t they doing the nativity play? Shouldn’t he already have read this story in the script that he’s directing? Shouldn’t everyone in the play have been able to tell him?
But at least Charlie gets the message of what Christmas is about. Oh wait, he doesn’t. He makes it about proving that he was right to buy a branch for a tree? Am I missing something? Wait, is this branch a metaphor for baby Jesus? Well, this story is way deeper than I thought. Though now I keep envisioning a branch wrapped in swaddling clothes and laying in a manger, which is weird. Anyway, Chuck takes his branch home and all of the kids follow him. Am I the only one that cares about the need to rehearse? I hope you’re not charging for this “play” because it will be terrible. Terrible, I say!
Observation 10: Branches are not meant to hold ornaments.
Charlie gets home and notices that Snoopy won the decorating contest. Is he happy for his dog? Impressed that a dog can even decorate a dog house? Of course not. He then proceeds to take an ornament off Snoopy’s house and put it on his branch, and the branch topples. Charlie says that he broke it. Well, actually you just bent it, and if you took the ornament off . . . never mind.
Observation 11: His friends are magic.
The friends arrive and see that the “tree” is bent over. Seriously, guys, you can just take the ornament off. Linus wraps his blanket around the branch and says that he always thought it was a good tree. Did you really, Linus? Then the gang steals all of Snoopy’s ornaments (Does no one understand how awesome and improbable it is that a dog decorated a house?) and turns Charlie’s branch into a full-grown Christmas tree. See? Magic.
Observation 12: We finally have a nice moment.
Charlie comes out, sees the tree and is shocked. I am too, Charlie. Then the others wish Charlie a merry Christmas and sing “Hark the Herald Angels Sing.” Finally, a sweet moment. And their rendition of the song is flawless. Clearly, they rehearsed this song. Unlike the play.
Well, those are my 12 observation A Charlie Brown Christmas. And after pondering it more . . . I’m still not much of a fan, though I will continue to watch it every Christmas. Why? No idea. Or perhaps it's simply because that's what you do at Christmas. Besides, you know, like the other stuff.
Here it is. Steven's blog, where his thoughts about things are revealed. Good luck.