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“Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol” – Review

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I swear to God, if I hear “razzleberry dressing” once more I’m going to scream.

Originally broadcast in 1962, Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol was the first animated holiday special made solely for TV. Jim Backus voices the UPA character as he plays Scrooge on Broadway.

Things begin with your typical Magoo-ish sight (or lack thereof) gags, but quickly move to a very standard performance of Dickens’ classic, and, oddly enough, it’s the faithful rendition that really cheesed me off.

Where’s the fun?! Not once in the entire Christmas Carol portion is Magoo really Magoo. I mean he’s counting stacks of coins for crying out loud! Somehow Magoo is able to give a brilliant performance on stage, but once he’s off he’s back to walking into the women’s’ dressing room?! What gives?!

Honestly, what’s the point of having a Magoo special if you’re not going to take advantage of the comic possibilities? Why not just do a non-Magoo version and save me the disappointment? (Gerald McBoing-Boing as Tiny Tim is irritating too, but still not as bad as Magoo.)

Sadly, not only did they drop the ball character-wise, but decided to make it a musical to boot. Jules Styne’s and Bob Merrill’s music is grating at best. Take this lyric, sung by thieves looting Scrooge after his death – “We’re reprehensible / we’ll steal your pen and pencible!”

Pencible?!” What the hell is that?!

And the “razzleberry dressing” and “wooflejelly” stuff simply made me want to beat little Gerald McBoing-Boing to a pulp. Seriously, I can see myself walloping Tiny Tim with his own cane as we speak.

A lot of people have told me they have fond memories of this special, including the librarian that recommended it to me (curse you librarian!), but for the life of me I can’t fathom why – Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol is about the least special Christmas special I’ve ever seen.

Bah humbug!

Mark Anderson is a professional cartoonist whose family and business cartoons appear in publications nationwide.

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  • Optimal

    Anderson you’re a pompous fool.
    Every boomer alive knows this is the best animated Christmas classic ever made. Of course the repeats of “razzleberry” make us cringe, but it sticks in our brains like all genius product marketing jingles. If you don’t see the joy here, you grew up too fast.
    So sad for you.
    Time to go back to school, relive your childhood like Magoo did,
    and btw, learn to draw.

  • http://www.andertoons.com Andertoons

    Optimal, you’re missing my point. It’s like doing the Grinch with Smurfs instead of the Whos, but never including the word ‘Smurf’! Why not use what made the character popular in the first place?!

  • Roger Knight

    Mr. Anderson,
    I can not make you like something you don’t like. Also, I can explain it to you, but I can not make you understand it.
    You seem to have two major complaints: 1) it is not funny, and 2)the words “razzleberry”, “wooflejelly” and “pencible” grate on your nerves.
    “Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol” is a charming musical version of the original. “A Christmas Carol” does not work as a comedy on any level. Scrooge is Scrooge. However, Magoo as an irascible, nearsighted, old Scrooge does work, especially while counting coins and singing the praises of money.
    The music is the product of Jules Styne and Bob Merrill, a talented Broadway musical team. You may dislike “razzleberry” and “pencible”, but the music always fits in with the flow of the story. I love hearing Bob Cratchett sing about their Christmas that will be “more glorious than grand”. I look forward to it every year. What a wonderful sentiment! The song “Christmas was Warm” is sentimental without being maudlin. It makes me want to propose to Belle myself. The “razzleberry” is the children expressing their hopes and desires for Christmas. Would you have preferred that they had asked for a “Mighty Morphin Power Ranger” (another nonsense phrase)? “A Hand in each Hand” is a bit maudlin, but appropriate, because Ebenezer was feeling mighty sorry for himself. As an aside, I feel that Jim Backus can not carry a tune, but I forgave him long ago.
    By the way, I saw a razzleberry cobbler in the grocery store. It was a combination of raspberry and blackberry and was delicious.
    The visual characterizations of the three ghosts are great. The movie is true to the original story. The device of setting it as a play doesn’t detract. It was used to bracket the show around the commercial breaks.
    To sum up, it is apparent you had certain expectations of the show when you saw that Magoo was involved. You failed to remember what “A Christmas Carol” is about. Since the show did not meet your preconceived notions, you were unable to appreciate its charm and joy. No explanation will suffice for you and no amount of “Bah, humbug” from you will tarnish my memories and enjoyment of this wonderful musical “that I will cherish all my days.”

  • http://www.andertoons.com Andertoons

    I think a lot of the problem here is this is an older special that people remember fondly from years earlier. There’s history here and people love their nostalgia. I however don’t have the benefit of having seen this, or for that matter having even known about this, before a few weeks ago. And looking at this with fresh eyes sans sentiment I stand by my review. I guess I’ll never understand the attraction here, which is fine because I don’t plan on watching it again.

  • Robin Medeiros

    Don’t pay attention to this review. Bah humbug.

    This is a great cartoon/holiday special. There is an obvious dislike of it on the point of the reviewer to the point that he disparages any positive comments or critiques anyone who disagrees with him as shown in his most recent comment —

    “I think a lot of the problem here is this is an older special that people remember fondly from years earlier. There’s history here and people love their nostalgia…I guess I’ll never understand the attraction here, which is fine because I don’t plan on watching it again.”

    Bias much? Don’t watch it, but don’t critique those who like this just based on your own perceptions about nostalgia, “an older special” and the memory of the viewer. It’s just a veiled attempt to rank on those of us who like it due to our age. Say what?

    I’ve watched this numerous times, even recently and am touched by it. When I hear “I’m All Alone in the World” it brings me to tears. The music does a great job of furthering the plot and opening up how Scrooge became such a miser.

    And as your rank on Magoo — the cartoons that aired during this time period — which were interpretation of other classics won the prestigious Peabody award.

    If you don’t like it that’s fine; don’t like it. But don’t continue to criticize anyone who disagrees with you based on your bias. Be willing to have an open mind. And BTW as a librarian and a former video clerk I have recommended this for years and have never gotten a complaint. Maybe it’s just you…

  • http://www.andertoons.com Andertoons

    See that’s the great thing about a blog reviews vs. your standard newspaper/tv/whatever review – dialogue!

  • Randall

    After the Allistar Sim live action version, this rendition is probably the best filmed adaptation of Dicken’s beloved tale. Everything works here. Jim Backus provides heart and warmth when needed, and is the crabbiest S.O.B. you could ever meet when the role calls for it. I’m not a big musical fan, but nearly every song works here.

    As for a couple of complaints in previous posts — Do we fault Dr Seuss for making up nonsensical words? Do we consider Star Wars or Lord of the Rings to be low quality because every word uttered cannot be found in an approved Websters’ dictionary? Of course not. These are classics because of the story, settings, actors, and quality work. Same can be said for Magoo’s carol.

    As for the complaint that Magoo does not use his nearsightedness in every scene, I think that the reviewer has missed the point. Magoo’s nearsightedness IS used in the cartoon — it is just not OVERUSED. The sections before and after the play are pure Magoo, but working this into the classic story is a bit tricky. However the writers have done an excellent job here. Magoo as Scrooge looks at a portrait of his ancestor and believes he is looking into a mirror. After donning a hat, he approaches a bust of himself and again thinks he is looking in a mirror. When he meets the butcher he shakes the wing of the turkey and punches the poulter in the stomach thinking that he in fact is the turkey. Even Scrooge’s encounters with the door knocker and Marley’s ghost give classic glimpses of the Magoo character. However we should not expect the nearsightedness to be the only charactistic of Magoo, anymore than we should discredit Gerald Mc Boing Boing for actually speaking and not making noises only. No, in order to tell the story of A Christmas Carol, you have to be as faithful as you can to the original story first, and then let the inherited characters’ personalities shine from there.

    Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol is a 5 star holiday treat. I cannot recommend it any more strongly. If you have never watched, you are missing a classic.

  • Al Dente

    Ugh-never send a jaded adult to review a Christmas cartoon, much less one that doesn’t adhere to the reviewer’s preconceived notions about what it should be. I’m sure it would have been “hilarious” to have a near-sighted Scrooge that kept knocking into things.
    Yeah, that wouldn’t get old after an hour…

    And lest you think it’s just for aging boomers reliving their childhood, my friend’s three-year-old just saw this for the first time and LOVED it. And the other Magoo adaptations are great-impossible to find, but Paramount did put them out on VHS years ago….

    Oh, and Mark-“RAZZLEBERRY DRESSING”! Go ahead and scream.

    PS-on your website the type you overlay on your cartoons to prevent people from stealing them (I guess) makes them impossible to read….FYI

  • http://www.andertoons.com Andertoons

    Yeesh! OK people, I give! Forgive me oh great Magoo!!!

  • http://facpub.stjohns.edu/~wankelc Charles Wankel

    Mark, The 88 reviews on Amazon of the Magoo’s Christmas DVD display the wonderful feelings that razzleberry dressing songs have brought to people for decades. You seem to see this outside of the technological context of 1962 TV animation. In any case, anything that stays in my head for more than 40 years must be memorable. I just went to Amazon and bought the new 60 minute SONY Magoo’s Christmas DVD. I realize of course that it’s “different strokes for different folks.” You are entitled to your opinion. Just be aware that it seems to diverge from that of most people.

  • http://www.andertoons.com Andertoons

    Charles – thanks for at least being civil, which is more than I can say for some posts. I think you’re right – I hadn’t even heard of this until this year and I’m coming at it with a very different viewpoint than longtime fans. It’s just not my cup of tea, and maybe wanting to beat Tiny Tim with his cane was a little over the top.

  • Mike Templeman

    I just happened to find this site while I was searching for a place to buy the DVD version of this classic (at least to me) holiday treat. I wore out my VHS copy last year! Along with others, I must disagree with Mr. Anderson’s review, although not in quite as strongly. I guess you have to be of a certain age to understand and enjoy this film. My young neices and nephews don’t seem to appreciate it nearly as much as I do, which is perhaps because of the rather primitive animation which seems ancient to a “Toy Story” generation. When I first watched this, cartoons were still in their infancy quality-wise, so I guess it doesn’t bother me as much. I was also struggling with that awkward stage in life where my family had just moved to a new city and I had to try to make new friends despite a not-too-advanced set of social skills. Every time I hear “I’m All Alone In The World”, I am transported back to when I was the “new kid”, and am flooded with memories – some painful, some wonderful. Anyway, I guess I would recommend that you rent before buying, since it is obviously not some people’s cup of tea!

  • Robin Medeiros

    Wow! Just got a chance to read your comment to my response. I admire your sparkling comeback — what a gem. The proficiency of your verbal skills is only exceeded by your extraordinary drawing skills. Simply brilliant!

  • http://www.andertoons.com Andertoons

    Yeesh! You still complaining about this?!

  • Chris Anderson

    Mr. MGoo’s Christmas Carol is possibly my favorite Christmas special. The music is wonderful. It is short and comedic but takes the story seriously. No, it is not a Duck Soup comedy but what is? And why would one want to ruin the depth that was in the original short story?

    I do love the Alistair Simms’ 1951 version but I love this in a differing manner. I am sorry that someone who has the same last name as myself does not like this work of art but do not assume his personal tastes are yours. This is a wonderful interpretation of The Christmas Carol.

    I bought the DVD last year and cannot wait to watch it again this year. I would also believe that this would make a wonderful introduction to the story for young children. Yet I am an adult of almost 56 and I still love it. I cannot wait to have grandchildren and introduce them to it.

    Chris Anderson

  • Chris Anderson

    My wife and I just watched it again. It is true that the art work is simple but so it Charlie Christmas. But beyond that it is wonderful. The music was written by the team that wrote “Funny Girl.” I particularly like the humorous ones such as the Razzleberry Dressing one, the one that the undertaker , the maid etc sing. But the song that is first sung by the young Ebineezer is very touching. The weakest song is the one that Belle sings. It is too smaltzy. But I still love this very much. I also like that it appears that Gerald McBoingBoing made his first serious appearance in the part as Tiny Tim. That is nastalgia but I loved Gerald!

    Chris Anderson

  • http:www.andertoons.com Andertoons

    Sugh…

  • http:www.andertoons.com Andertoons

    Oops, that was supposed to be “sigh…”

  • andante7

    I guess my only comment would be: why review this program in the first place? It’s been around since the early 1960’s, has had hundreds of TV airings, sold thousands upon thousands of DVD’s (it’s actually in it’s THIRD pressing!). The show is beloved by millions and has a cast of legendary voices not to mention boasting a score by TWO broadway legends. But in 2004, a cartoonist decides to write a smarmy review hurling brickbats at a classic. The show has proven itself and you should find somthing better to do with your time.

  • http://www.andertoons.com Andertoons

    So why read a review of this?

  • andante7

    Stick with drawing… you do that MUCH better than reviewing and responding.

  • http://www.andertoons.com Andertoons

    So I didn’t like it, what’s with you people?!

  • Sallie Parker

    Until I read your slam I had no idea Tiny Tim was Gerald McBoing-Boing. I was far too young for Gerald. If ever I noticed a resemblance in later years I just figured it was UPA stylization.

  • http://spotthefrog.squarespace.com/blog/ Mark Heath

    I’m with Mark Anderson on this. I’ve seen the program a few times, both as an adult and a child, and it didn’t excite me much. According to my wife, they made many of these programs, with Magoo acting on stage, playing various famous characters. I haven’t seen them, so I don’t know if Magoo played the parts with a Magooish slant. I hope he did. As Anderson says, what’s the point of using a very specific cartoon character, if you plan to toss the qualities that defined the character? Would we be applauding the Charlie Brown Christmas special if Charlie Brown wasn’t depressed, if Lucy wasn’t in it for the money and gifts?

    For a christmas carol with songs, I prefer the 1970’s Scrooge with Albert Finney.

  • Peewee

    How dare you!…HOW DARE YOUUU!!! How dare you sit there and criticize Mr Magoos Xmas Carol!!! Its an all time Grrreaat!

  • fannie2620

    I especially liked the gypsies.

  • http://www.frankcoins.com Frank Provasek

    Gotta look at this in context…Mr Magoo was known to most kids of that era only through the cheap made-for-TV cartoons. But using that hook to get kids to sit through a fairly straight version of Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” is a pretty good trick. I was 5 when this first aired in 1962, and framing it as a PLAY muted some of the scary stuff, and also cleared up in my mind what ACTING was. Now at age 50, I sent a DVD to my 6 year old granddaughter and heard back that she responded similarly, even though she had never seen a Magoo cartoon.

  • Pam Bredeson

    Just reading these blogs for the first time while looking for the DVD version of Magoo’s Christmas. It’s my favorite and I’m approaching 58 years old. When young Ebenezer sings “I’m All Alone in the World” it still brings tears to my eyes. Clever lyrics, i.e., “Where are two shoes to click to my clack . . . ” Can’t beat it. Will always be a favorite of mine, but to each his own. God bless us, everyone!

  • John Geary

    I can see where an adult watching this for the first time might feel the way Mr. Anderson feels about it. To his credit, he points out he did not see this as a child, only an adult, and his comments are based on it. I don’t know him personally, but I get the feeling he doesn’t like anything “schmaltzy” or “feel-good” anyway, especially when you see the type of humor portrayed in his cartoons and take into account that it’s probably a reflection of his personality and the way he views the world. To each his own. For me, this was the first version I ever saw of A Christmas Carol, I saw it when I was six, and I loved it. I still love it! Even after not seeing it for decades, I could still remember all the songs, like “Hand for a Hand” and “We’re Despicable.” Who cares if Magoo is not “Magoo-ish”? This cartoon turned me into a real Christmas Carol fan. I’ve seen and own just about every movie and animated version of A Christmas Carol (including one version put on by an amateur community theatre group in which I played Marley and Old Joe!). If Mr. Anderson wants to see a REALLY bad version of A Christmas Carol, he should watch Scrooge – the musical version starring Albert Finney (give it half a star out of five! UGH!). Horrible adaptation! The message contained in almost every version of the story is uplifting, heart-warming and inspiring and can remind us all how good the world can be if we all care.

  • nanc

    Being a child of the 60’s, Magoo’s Christmas Carol is one of my all time favorites. I’m with Pam — the lyrics are great and the sad ones bring tears to my eyes and the funny ones make me laugh and smile. I love them all! When’s the last time any of you had a “Christmas far more glorious than grand”? Happy holidays to one and all.

  • Rob

    We watched this show as kids and I still watch it and love it just as much. Yeah, it isn’t a computer generated action packed show, it was the what they had at the time, at least give it credit for that. BUT I believe its the story and the songs that make it so good, not how hi tech it is. Any one who reviews it and has seen it since they were kids seem to agree its a great classic.

  • Muriel Swanson-Anderson

    OK, enough already !
    Time Out…
    Let’s move on people, everyone has a right to their opinion.
    amen

  • Isolde Jane Holland

    Out of curiosity, which version of A Christmas Carol do you like best? My favourite is the George C Scott one, with David Warner as an edgy Bob Crachit.

  • Lil

    I was just hunting for a recipe for Razzleberry Dressing, when I came across this review. I’d consider myself lucky, if I could write a review as thoughtful, detailed and elegantly worded as the reviews and comments I’ve read here, but alas (I hope I used that word correctly), I can only compliment you all.

    As far as the opinion of the reviewer goes, I’m sorry for you that you missed out on the pleasure of growing up with Mr. Magoo’s A Christmas Carol, and all of the warm memories that it brings back to those of us who had the pleasure of growing up with this Christmas classic, each time we watch it. For me, just thinking about that show, gives me a warm-fuzzy feeling inside. I look forward to seeing Mr. Magoo each year, and I’m sad if I miss it. It is certainly one of my favorites. I can’t explain to you why I like it so much, I just do. The only other versions of A Christmas Carol that I like, are the Alister Simms version, and The Muppets version. That probably says a lot about me, but it is what it is. So to you Mr. Anderson, I can only give you a big fat razzleberry. I hope that somewhere down the road, you’ll give Mr. Magoo’s Scrooge another chance. Take off your reviewer had and just watch it with an open mind and an open heart, and just maybe, it will find a little soft-spot in your heart, and become one of your Christmas favorites too. If not, sadly, it’s your loss.

  • Lil

    Sorry for the typo, that was supposed to say: take off your reviewer “hat” (not had)

  • TishTash

    The Paley Center in NYC just ran a retrospective on Magoo’s Christmas Special. At the screening, people audibly sniffed during “All Alone.” Afterwards the audience gave a rousing standing ovation. Just an amazing evening.

  • mikki

    For those of you who are looking: the Razzleberry Dressing Recipe

    1 cup vegetable oil (almost any kind will do)
    1 cup raspberry vinegar (no other kind will do)
    1 t. black pepper (a little will do)
    2-3 Tbs raspberry mustard (yum!)
    Fresh raspberries & blackberries

    Mix first 4 ingredients in bowl or blender. Fold in fresh berries. Serve cold on salad or warm on meat.

  • Lisa

    Surprised by the author’s take on this. Obviously, a very literal-minded person. Mr. Magoo can’t step out of his blindness to do a good turn as Scrooge and heaven forbid someone engage in a little word play by turning “pencil” into “pencible” (which I found one of the most charming lyrics in the most charming song of the production.

    I’m not saying this is a masterpiece. It gets a little gooey sweet, much as I imagine razzleberry dressing to be, but it’s accessible, fun and injects several notes of humor into a story that, until the end, has a gloomy feel throughout. I loved it as a kid, got the vido, and my kids loved it, too.

  • Melissa

    I think it’s funny that I’m not the only person here who found this forum while searching for a Razzleberry dressing recipe! ;-) If I can’t find one, I’ll create my own, using raspberries, cranberries, orange flavor, maybe a little appple, cinnamon, etc.
    Anyway, I love Mr. Magoo’s Christmas carol! One of my favorite things to watch at Christmas time.

  • Joe Phillips

    Oh, lighten up! This is a charming cartoon classic, the songs are great, and the forced rhymes (reprehensible/pencible, anibule/cannibule) are fun. You probably hated Mary Poppins and “supercalifragil-“whatever too. Grow a sense of humor!

  • Joe Phillips

    Didn’t you ever have a childhood?

  • Mark but not the Mark

    Unfortunately I am now more with Mr. Anderson. When I was a kid I loved this special it was my favorite but now not so much. Though I don’t hate it as completely as he apparently does.

    I do feel that making Mr. Magoo be Mr. Magoo in the play would have destroyed the story, and of course the explanation for why he isn’t could be that they rehearsed the play so thoroughly that he didn’t need to see he just knew where everything was.

    Though I will have to point out there were a few Mr. Magoo-isms. 1 set is when he pokes the man’s belly, shakes the turkey’s wing, and slaps the turkey, when sending the turkey to the Cratchits. There was at least one other place also near the end but now I can’t remember it.

  • Mark but not the Mark

    One other comment I forgot to add. This is really not a very close telling of the story. It has huge gaps and many changes. It is closer than some but really way off the book. Read the book if you haven’t. If you don’t want to read the book then watch the George C. Scott version it is the one that to me is the closest to the original, though I don’t like Mr. Scott’s portrayal of Scrooge.

    It never ceases to amaze me that the people in Hollywood are always convinced they know better than the original author how a story should go.

  • Mark but not the Mark

    I agree with John Geary the 1970 musical version with Albert Finney was horrible.

  • Brian

    I liked the Magoo version of A Christmas Carol. It is a child’s introduction to a classic tale. Mr. Magoo is not Mr. Magoo in this cartoon. It is Mr. Magoo playing the part of Scrooge. Therefore, it would get him out of character if he suddenly became Magoo in the middle of the performance.

    It is not supposed to be funny. One does not expect the the Dickens Classic to be funny. If they turned it into a funny spoof on A Christmas Carol, that would really be screwed up and worthless.

    I do understand, though, that one can be really peeved by something that is popular that really isn’t that good. You don’t have to worry much about Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol being popular. They haven’t shown it for years. In fact, I found this site when I was reminiscing about the show and did a search with the words “razzleberry dressing” (the very phrase you hated to the point of wanting to beat a cripple) because I remembered that phrase from the show.

    If you want to rag on a show that really isn’t very good but is considered a classic, how about ‘A Charlie Brown Christmas”? What’s funny on that one? I never really understood how telling stories about severely depressed children (“Peanuts”) was somehow entertaining. If someone out there thinks it is funny, please describe the funny scene.

    Magoo is a very dumbed down version of A Christmas Carol that introduces children to a classic tale. I like it, but it appears few others did because they never show it on network TV any more.