One of the most memorable adaptations of A Christmas Carol is a short, animated film of the same name. Made in 1971 by animation icons Richard Williams, Ken Harris and Chuck Jones, this is by far the most eerie and dark version of the much-filmed Dickens classic.
Despite being condensed to 25 minutes, this Oscar-winning film’s storytelling will be comprehensible even to people unfamiliar with the original. Adding immeasurably to the production are the voice talents of two actors from the best live action version of the old chestnut (Alastair Sim and Michael Hordern, who reprise their 1951 roles as Scrooge and Marley, respectively).
But the real star here is the animation, which was inspired by illustrations in early editions of the book (especially the Victorian era drawings of John Leech). The images are lugubrious and scary yet hard to look away from, not unlike Goya’s Pinturas Negras. I first saw this film as a child and the visual of “ignorance and want” haunted my imagination for years. The film makers accentuate the power of the animation by employing arresting pan and zoom shots that are extremely effective both as storytelling devices and as setters of mood.
The threnodic tone of the film does not stop the essentially positive message of the story from emerging brightly in the end. Ebenezer Scrooge’s transformation to a life of charity and decency remains uplifting, perhaps even moreso for the considerable terrors of the night before.