How Would You Start A Christmas Carol?

What is Christmas without A Christmas Carol? I’ve watched two versions so far (The Muppet Christmas Carol and Mickey’s Christmas Carol), and I was struck by how differently the two approached the introduction of Scrooge: the Muppet version chose to use explicit characterization while the Mickey version used implicit characterization(See Show – Don’t Tell for more info on explicit v. implicit characterization).

The Muppet Christmas Carol

Although a the scene opens with background comments that help introduce the setting (and sneak in some inside jokes), the Muppet interpretation really starts when Gonzo (A.K.A. the Narrator, Mr. Charles Dickens) breaks the 4th wall and paraphrases the first line of Dicken’s novel. Then, as Scrooge walks onscreen, the background cast starts to sing about how cold, mean, and grim Scrooge was.

I admit that Scrooge does act pretty grumpy and cold as he stalks through (which is implicit characterization); however, the explicit characterization is really obvious. They don’t try to hint at what Scrooge is like. They go right out and say it.

This is Ebenezer Scrooge
Oh, there goes Mr. Humbug
There goes Mr. Grimm
If they gave a prize
for bein’ mean
The winner would be him

No one’s really paying attention to implicit characterization at that point unless it disagrees with what the people are saying.

The blunt option works for them in this case: it lets them introduce a bunch of characters, provide humor through the song, and set up a sort of parallel frame for the story. Could they have done all that with implicit characterization? Yes. On the other hand, breaking the fourth wall and bluntly telling us how nasty Scrooge is – all that fits the Muppets to a T. Start how you mean to go on, right?

Mickey’s Christmas Carol

This movie starts with a song, too, but it’s a background song over the credits. The sketches of the characters make for a clearer characterization than the song does (and that’s not a lot). Also like the other, the images pan through a city street with other background characters. That’s where the implicit characterization starts.

As Scrooge crosses the street to his counting house, he dismisses a beggar’s request for a penny. In case that wasn’t enough implicit characterization, they go on to have Scrooge talk to himself as he examines his sign, and that one brief conversation is enough to tell us all we need to know about Scrooge.

                        BEGGAR: Give a penny for the poor, gov’nor? Penny for the poor?
                        SCROOGE: Bah. [He walks on then pauses at his sign.] My partner,
                        Jacob Marley, dead seven years today. Oh, he was a good’n. He
                        robbed from the widows and swindled the poor. In his will, he left
                        me enough money to pay for his tombstone, and I had him buried at
                        sea!

There’s no big parallel setup and no blunt characterization. But it works. It has humor (if a little darker), it’s own 4th wall break (he talks to the camera for that last line), and it communicates Scrooge’s character clearly.

I can’t really say that one of these is better than the other – they’re such very different styles – but I think it’s fascinating to see how two such different methods can introduce the same story. And my favorite part of it is that both methods work.

Now, that’s something to think about, isn’t it?

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