The all-time classic tale of Ebenezer Scrooge, told in song by a cast led by Kelsey Grammer.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★ As I said in my review for The Muppet Christmas Carol, playing the plot from A Christmas Carol is almost cheating. It is the seminal festive story, grandly explaining the joy and celebration of Christmas, and challenging those not in the spirit. It needs not trashy TV, commercialisation and big red Santas, but instead extols the virtues of spending a day away from work, with your family, and searching for joy in all you can. This is the Christmas story.
Ho-ho-who's in it?
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
(We open in an executive boardroom, circa 2003.) Executive 1: So we're going with the musical Christmas Carol. Who's going to play Scrooge? Executive 2: There's no-one left! The Muppets took Michael Caine, the perfect Ebenezer, and we've been struggling for someone suitable ever since. Executive 3: We've missed out on Tim Curry and Patrick Stewart too. (The room breathes a collective sigh of worry. There's a long pause.) Executive 2: What about Kelsey Grammer? He'd be fantastic! That voice! "You boy! What day is it?" (The executives all nod in agreement.) Executive 1: Can he sing though? This is a musical after all? Executive 2: Of course he can! It's Christmas! (The executives jump in the air, cheering, and break into a rendition of "It's The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year". Exeunt, pursued by a bear, who is also singing.)
I've been putting off watching A Christmas Carol: The Musical for a while, because I've been scared. Scared that Kelsey Grammer, an actor I have deep respect for, would fall flat in a singing, dancing, camp-as-you-like-it rendition of what should be a gritty tale. Played straight, I know Grammer could be an incredible Scrooge, but I was terrified his talent would be lost in a loose sing-song version.
I was wrong.
As with the original story, current-day Scrooge leads us through the tale but doesn't act as the central character himself. His realisation provides us with windows into other stories: his upbringing and development, and the tale of the Cratchit's. Through this, it is not left for Grammer to lead the singing, but to weigh in as-and-when. As a story-teller he does not disappoint, as a singer he equally holds his mark.
There are fabulous performances elsewhere, including all three Ghosts, and an excellent show from the unknown Steven Miller as young Scrooge. Mr Fezziwig is portrayed as well as I've seen him, a cheery happy character full of life and joie de vivre.
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ As a film that shows the development of happiness in old Ebenezer, this is great for so many people. However, the treatment of the Ghost of Christmas Future is very dark (as perhaps it should be), showing the ransacking of Scrooge's grave as his former colleagues laugh at how unpopular he is. It's the fall before the rise, but be warned that it's pretty deep.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★ I'm not really a musical kind of guy (despite my unfettered love for Pitch Perfect), but ACCTM is done well. The songs are cheery, but reasonable. They tell stories, but don't have heavy narrative. There are no "Christmas classics" in it like Jingle Bells, or Santa Claus Is Coming To Town, and that's completely for the best. The film's music exists in its own, entirely suitable world.
I found it hard not to rate this film against Les Miserables, which is hugely unfair. However, whilst the lip-syncing is sometimes completely off, there is some genuine merit to some of the singing in ACCTM. In particular, a three-way harmony between Scrooges old and young and Jennifer Love Hewitt is memorable as a solidly delivered piece.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
For this series I've had to get to the films I watch in various ways. Some I owned, some were borrowed from friends, some I had to buy, some I found (ahem) online; A Christmas Carol: The Musical was one I ordered from Amazon. The biggest thing I can take away from this is that I'm glad I bought it, because it means I can watch it again next year. And I will watch it again next year because, unlike some of the other films I've looked at, this is exactly what I want to see in a Christmas movie: the passion and spirit of the winter festival wrapped up neatly and delivered well.
Next Christmas, let's all watch this one together.