Well, folks, we’ve reached December. For me, that makes this month ripe for looking back on holiday movies. These, movies, of course, run the gamut. On one end we’ve got the family friendly fare, like How the Grinch Stole Christmas (the original, animated version, not the Jim Carrey version), and, on the other we’ve got violent shoot-em-ups, like Die Hard. Both ends of the spectrum, at least in my opinion, definitely belong, as they capture multiple angles on the perspectives people have over the holidays. Some people want the cheerful, and encouraging the kind of sharing and caring presented in the family movies. Others just wish that they could go completely ballistic, swearing their way through the season. And, of course, there are those that bounce between the two extremes.
To start out this December’s holiday reviews, I’m picking a movie that’s a retelling of a classic story, and putting it through a comedic lens. That classic story is A Christmas Carol, and this week’s review is for Scrooged.
An update and modernization of the tale of a miserly old man, visited by the spirits of Christmas to help him change his ways and hold a more charitable view towards the world, Scrooged casts Bill Murray as Frank Cross, a successul but jaded television executive. Of course, because of his work choices, he’s missed out on the love of his life. He overworks his assistant, and feels pressure when his employer hires someone clearly gunning for his job. When Frank is put in charge of a live Christmas Eve broadcast of A Christmas Carol, well, things start to come to a head.
Over the course of the film Frank is met by the three ghosts, shown the different aspects of his life that either created who he is today, or how his actions are affecting those around him. Of special note is the Ghost of Christmas Present (Carol Kane), who not only delights in causing Frank emotional pain, through their drop-in on his assistant Grace and her mute son Calvin, but also exacting a physical toll for his actions. Christmas Present is fond of punching Frank, which, coupled with Carol Kane’s size and vocal qualities, lends an extra level of comedy to the proceedings.
Naturally, Frank eventually realizes that he needs to be a better person, to hopefully avoid the terrible future he is shown. He rehires a man who he had just recently fired (portrayed by Bobcat Goldthwait), interrupts the broadcast to extoll the virtues of spending time with loved ones instead of the television, sees Calvin break free from his mute condition, and is ultimately rewarded with a kiss from his long-time love.
The movie takes an old story, and updates it for modern audiences, taking the morals and lessons from the story and casting them in a new light for a generation that might have never heard of Dickens. It doesn’t do anything extraordinarily new to the tale, but it does freshen it up a bit, and adding humor is a good way to broaden it’s appeal. Of course, the movie was made while Murray’s star was still shining brightly from the Ghostbusters franchise, so a lot of the marketing of the film slanted towards some sort of wink-and-nod, which actually may have lessened the impact somewhat.
All told, though, Scrooged does pretty much exactly what it sets out to do. It takes a classic story and updates it just enough to open it up to a wider audience. It’s not like putting Shakespeare and recasting it with talking animals. The broad strokes of Dickens’ tale are still there, and the talents of Murray help you not only see him as a modern-day Scrooge, but as someone that a lot of people can identify with. After all, how many of us spend our day-to-day lives either burdened by pressures from above to only pass those pressures to those below us, or, alternately, how many of us know someone who acts in the same ways as Frank Cross, only for us to hope that they’ll realize exactly what terrible things they’re doing?
Scrooged is by no means the best movie in Bill Murray’s career, but it is a solid one. The overall cast fits the roles as the tale was rewritten, and director Richard Donner’s capable hand steers the presentation to a comfortable retelling of what Dickens presented all those decades ago. Scrooged may not have some of the same joy in it as A Muppet Christmas Carol does, but that doesn’t mean it should be passed over. In fact, watching both movies (albeit not in the same sitting) present a good opportunity to look for that quieter moment, and ensure that you’re not walking down the dangerous path already laid out for us by Ebenezer Scrooge.
And really, if you’re going to spend time with the television as a centerpiece to your holiday gatherings, wouldn’t it be nice to get a positive message along with it?