Tuesday, December 23, 2008

A guilty Christmas pleasure

Over at Parabasis, they’re fessing up to repeat viewing of various Yuletide chestnuts. As I stated there, my personal fave is the 1962 TV special, Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol. This hour-long musical version condenses Dickens’ classic tale admirably. Apart from some odd dramaturgical concessions, like changing the order of the ghosts, the teleplay sticks amazingly close to the original 1843 language, lifting entire passages from the novella.

Of course the show wasn’t the first to deploy this stock-in-trade, nor was it was last – as my own adaptation attests. The animation influenced not only my text, but also the composer’s – Rick Lewis and I share our admiration for this cartoon that has, in subtle ways (?), made it into our own version.

In order to insert Mr. Magoo into the TV version, the authors invented a framing device in which Magoo is on his way to the Broadway opening of a brand new staging of the holiday classic – starring himself. After some folderol concerning getting ready to go on stage, the fable begins and we disappear into its absorbing narrative. But we’re reminded of the frame at every commercial break, when curtains close upon the action and the cartoon audience applauds! At end, as the myopic Magoo takes his final bow, he trips on the stage riggings, causing the set flats to collapse – thus literally “bringing down the house.”

The frame doesn’t do much for the story except explain Mr. Magoo’s presence in it, but there’s something charming about the old-fashioned opening and closing of curtains, and the frequently iterated reminder that this story is being presented specifically to you – no sleight of hand, finally, no suspension of disbelief. It’s a redemptive story of goodness willing out just in time, and you don’t need movie magic to believe in it.

Years ago I bought the DVD, which is still wrapped in cellophane. Every year I brandish it, but my partner scowls and points out that there is no end of life-or-death football to witness on TV. This year, however, when we’re all but snowed in and could use a spiritual makeover, I feel certain I will prevail.

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